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Evangelical antihierarchical sect originating in the seventh century (possibly earlier) on Rome's eastern borders in Armenia, Mesopotamia and N Syria. Characteristic doctrines include: Adoptianist* Christology; rejection of mariolatry,* images, and hagiolatry; the authority of Scripture (especially esteeming Luke and Paul, and rejecting the OT, like Marcion); believers' baptism. Some, but not all, were dualists, though they repudiated Manichaeism.* The earliest reference to them occurs in 719, when John Otzin, catholicos of Armenia, warned against “obscene men who are called Paulicians.” The name may be derived from their regard for Paul the Apostle, or from Paul of Samosata* (with whose teaching they had some affinity), or from an unknown Paul who learned the doctrine from his mother Callinike.

Their founder was probably Constantine-Sylvanus (c.640) of Mananali, a Manichaean village near Samosata, who labored at Cibossa for twenty-seven years before being stoned to death (c.684). His persecutor, Simeon, was himself converted and became Constantine's successor, only to be martyred (690). The sect was protected by Emperor Constantine Copronymus (741-775), himself probably a Paulician. Numbers increased greatly, especially under Sergius-Tychicus (801-35). Savage persecution under Empress Theodora (842-57), in which some 100,000 were martyred, developed into a war of extermination under Basil. Though victorious for a time under the leadership of Carbeas and Chrysocheir, with help from the Saracens, with whom they found refuge, after Chrysocheir's murder (873), the Paulicians were decimated and dispersed.

In 973 John Zimisces transported a great colony to Thrace, effectually introducing their thought to Europe. They continued to exist in scattered communities in Armenia, Asia Minor, and the Balkans, influential at least until the twelfth century, even spreading to Italy and France. Probably they developed into and amalgamated with sects like the Bogomiles,* Cathari,* and Albigenses.* The Crusaders found them everywhere in Syria and Palestine. Anabaptists in the sixteenth century had contact with apparent Paulicians. A colony holding their beliefs settled in Russian Armenia in 1828, bringing with them the manual of Paulician doctrine, The Key of Truth.

K. Ter-Mkrttschian, Die Paulicianer (1893); F.C. Conybeare (ed.), The Key of Truth (1898); G.H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (1962).