A martyr is “One who voluntarily suffers death rather than deny his religion by words or deeds…the term may also refer to anyone who who sacrifices his life or something of great value for the sake of principle – a definition that will admirably serve the purposes of this study. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 2001, p.894). Thus martyrdom is the act of killing such people. That it was so prevalent in many lands over two millennnia is a worthy subject of study, involving investigation of (changing) social climates, and above all of the relations of State, Church, and people at different periods in history. Martyrs believed in a personal salvation in the act of suffering death, but it is important to remember that in the eyes of the sect (mainly Christian) the act resonated throughout society, albeit local, as an encouragement, a statement of identity, supportive of its ideals; the martyr became , as Anne Dillon puts it in her CONSTRUCTION OF MARTYRS, “a powerful ideological tool” (p. 370)In fact, martyrdom became as close to Christ/God as was possible on earth; it became an ideal. The martyr was to others, possibly waverers, a model of Christian virtue, an exemplar, whose grisly death served only to strengthen faith. Allied to this were the accounts of brave last words, and the refusal to recant in the face of torture and ultimate death
Although this study is mainly concerned with Christian martyrdom, which began in earnest in the times of the Roman Emperors, it is necessary to remember that religious and/or racial persecution had a history going back several centuries before the birth of Christ. During the period of the Antiochene domination of the Jews, particularly in the second century BC, there were several martyrdoms (referred to in the Biblical Canon and in the Apocrypha, especially Maccabees) of notable figures. The stories of Abraham in the lime kiln, Isaac nearly sacrificed by his father, and Daniel in the lions` den, indicate Judaic interest in the significance of martyrdom. Maccabees, for the present purpose an important text, relates the story of the mother and her seven sons, who took a stand against the persecution of king Antioch. The preferability of martyrdom to living with religious stain is established among Jews centuries before Christ was born.
MEANING OF MARTYR
The word “martyr” means “witness”, from Greek, that is to say one who bears witness even unto death of his or her, conviction of the truth of his/her belief. The ultimate witness, is a martyr dying for faith, rather than denying it. The Apostles themselves were “witnesses” of what they had learned from Christ and as Peter says of the twelve, they were witnesses to the Prince and Saviour of Israel. Witnesses of Christ in these early times were always in deadly danger. The word martyr in the sense of a witness came to be understood as belonging to one who might have at any moment to deny his faith. The present meaning began to be employed in the New Testament, as in Acts 22:20, where the phrase “the blood of thy martyr Stephen” is used , and in Revelation, 2:13, where we read of “Antipas, …my faithful martyr”. Later on in “Revelation” St.John speaks of the “souls of them that were slain for the Word of God anf for the testimony which they held” (6:9). In the period of Christian persecution, it is generally recognised that the first people to die for their faith were Stephen and James, later to be canonised by the Catholic Church. This occurred in the first century AD, as their deaths were closely followed by the martyrdoms of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul in Rome. In the second century, the significant figure of Ignatius (of Antioch) wished for martyrdom as a certain means of being with God. For him and for many, martrdom was a consummation devoutly to be wished. Not everyone viewed this end even in the face of torture,with admiration, especially not the Roman Emperors, some of whom were puzzled by the Christians` fortitude, and some of whom believed the Christians were actively provoking authority. The latters` refusal to recant or to offer sacrifice to the Roman State gods seemed fatuous to the Emperors when they could so easily save their skins.
Some of the accounts of martyr deaths have to be taken with a pinch of salt of course but most are genuine, drawn from reliable sources or from the accounts related by victims themselves or from transcripts of the “examinations”, and trials. Early “martyrologies” can be unreliable, and embellishment over time or with hindsight is inevitable. Even important figures such as Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp who were among the earliest martyrs, have accounts of their deaths not universally accepted by scholars. “No other act embodies as much power or acclaim” (Merriam Webster Encyclopedia) …the spilling of blood in martyrdom. The first Christian martyr was Christ himself. He died as a man in order to redeem mankind and to forgive their future sins Therefore early Christians thought to imitate their leader by suffering (as he did) and by ultimate death. Of course, the “climate” was conducive, as persecution of Christians in the early centuries of Rome was rife. Consequently, every Christian who died under Roman rule was martyred. They were chosen for death as they were seen as a threat to Roman authority and religion. They were true witnesses to the power of Christianity; in Tertullian`s (2nd century) famous words, “The martyrs` blood was the seed of the Church” (Apologeticum) New converts were indeed created by these public displays of death, the spilling of sacrificial blood, endured with such fortitude. Victims believed they were sacrificing themselves to God – and this belief sustained them. The heart of the belief was that the act of martyrdom granted an immediate place in heaven, near to God. Nothing sums up more graphically the desire for martyrdom than the words of Ignatius (1st century) in his “Epistles”: “Grant me nothing more than that I should be poured out as a libation to God, while there is still an altar ready…I am God`s wheat and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread…entreat Christ for me that through these beasts I may be found a sacrifice to God.”
Idea of “witness”
Ignatius believed himself to be a “witness” unto death, just as the Apostles were witnesses of Christ`s teaching and mode of living; St. Peter later alludes to them as witnesses to the Prince and Saviour of Israel. Their life must have been hazardous, as the possibility of harsh retribution was always before them. In essence, the followers of Christ generally and the Apostles in particular might be called upon to deny their faith or suffer death. Centuries later, of course, people who had never seen Jesus convinced of the truth of Christianity, laid down their lives. Here we might clarify the term “confessor” (used later in this study) and commonly in martyrologies: a term applied to those who were not actually put to death but endured torture and/or imprisonment for their faith. “Martyr” in the sense of someone who suffered death , not just torture, actually came into its own only in the fourth century, AD. To qualify as a martyr the victim had to be a Christian, not a heretic or schismatic. As St.Clement of Alexandria (circa florebat, 200 AD) writes in his “Miscellanies” (Book 4) heretics “banish themselves without being martyrs.”
“I am a Christian, “ was we believe the standard retort of a victim to persecutors who began the interrogation with a question designed to elicit homage to the Emperor. Of course it was like signing a death warrant : the retort placed Christ before the temporal ruler. The martyrs` religion demanded universal allegiance; all other religions were false, especially that of polytheistic Rome, with its false gods. The martyrs indeed bore witness to truth (as they saw it). Fundamentally it was loyalty to a cause. The story is told of Perpetua (martyred and eventually canonised) who laid her hand on a nearby pitcher and said “Can you say this pitcher is not a pitcher? No more can I say I am not a Christian.” She HAD to tell the truth even unto death. But she did not seek it. In fact, actions which were intended to provoke the authorities were frowned upon by Church hierarchy. One such activity was the deliberate breaking of idols, a “provocation” which was condemned by the notable Council of Elvira (in 306). However several prominent Christian writers at this time, such as Tertullian, and Eusebius, admired the stance of Christians who it seemed sought martyrdom. Other writers, for example, Lactantius, were not so approving. Others took a middle way: as St. Cyprian observed, in his “De Unitate”, speaking of those eager for persecution and death, “he who cannot be delayed may be crowned”.
It must be realised that in these early centuries AD failure to worship the State gods, was regarded as an act of treason. Denying the Supremacy of the Emperor and official gods was seen as not only treasonable but atheistic. In fact, laws proscribing Christianity were passed before the second century. We read in St.Peter, 4:16 (his First Epistle) words which must allude to the proscription: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian let him not be ashamed: but let him glorify God on this behalf.” Written probably towards the end of the first century. Here we may look at the illuminating correspondence between the Emperor Trajan (98-117) and his Governor or legate in the province of Bithynia (as it then was): Pliny the Younger. The latter found himself in some difficulties trying to manage, keep in order, the many Christians under his jurisdiction. One aspect that did puzzle him was the stoical attitude to privation and suffering of the Christians arising from their new strange belief… and he wished to know “what made them tick” – to use modern parlance. Accordingly he had some of his (Christian) slaves tortured to find out just that. But discovered nothing more. He was so perplexed by it all that he decided to write to his Emperor, Trajan, seeking guidance on three main points: whether the age of the accused should be taken into account; secondly, whether Christians who recanted should be pardoned and thirdly, whether just being a Christian should be adjudged a crime punishable by death.
Trajan replied that age did not matter and that Christians were not to be actively hunted down by magistrates but that any denounced person who admitted he was a Christian had to be punished. Those who repented and sacrificed to the gods were to be pardoned. This marked a notable year in Christian persecution (112) as it virtually made outlaws of Christians. The Emperor`s reply clearly indicates that he did not view Christians as a serious threat to law and order but that as adherents of an illegal religion they were criminals. Christians were always likely to be denounced – in much the same way as, centuries later, people were in fear of being denounced as witches. Under the Emperor Severus, matters worsened in so far as he decreed it unlawful to become a Christian in the first place, thus (hopefully) inhibiting growth of the new religion. The Emperor Decius, (250-253 was determined to combat Christianity, persecuting with great energy, and issuing an order that all Christians must offer sacrifice to the Roman gods at least once a year. This edict of course resulted in a type of inquisition, empowering officialdom to punish whom they regarded as recusants.Under this new duress, many waverers apostatized. Worse was to follow: in 257, Valerian enacted that clergy were to offer sacrifice…. under threat of exile, soon after to be changed to threat of death. Confiscation of property was implied, which affected laity (who did not sacrifice) equally and even Christian slaves found in conflict with the law were punished. It was not until circa 260 when Gallienus became Emperor that this punitive edict was revoked and persecution grew less severe. However this comparative calm was not to last, as under Diocletian (284-305) an edict was promulgated by which all Christians had to renounce their religion immediately. Slavery and death were the usual penalties for refusal. Imprisonment of clerics was instituted; freedom granted to those who apostatized and offered sacrifice; offering sacrifice was in fact made compulsory for all citizens (including of course all Christians). As can be imagined, there were many martyrs during this time of ferocious persecution, only to end with the accession to supreme rule of Constantine in 313, by which time far from wiping out Christianity it had grown stronger
Persecution had begun therefore from the time of Nero in about 64 AD , a period of some 250 years. In that time there were many nameless martyrs and some notable ones, such as Pope Sixtus II , St. Cyprian of Carthage, Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas, to name but a few.. The situation the Christians were in was rather like that of the Jews under Hitler: they were blamed for each and every catastrophe that occurred! As Tertullian observed in one of his works, the “Apologeticum”, (circa 200 AD), “if the Nile fails to flood., if the sky stands still, if famine or plague, the cry is heard, `Christians to the lions` “. We owe good deal of our knowledge of the plight of Christians to thinkers, theologians, historians like Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian. There are also what are known as the Acts (Acta) , testimonies of sufferers themselves, and the “Passiones”, accounts done by scribes or the persecutors at the time of trial and examination of potential victims. Not all accounts are totally reliable however, and of course there is little extant testimony from pagan sources . There IS some however by those desiring to vilify Christians. Apparently most accusers came from these unedified ranks, simply by making a charge, and “interesting” a prosecutor who wished to investigate the evidence, and press charges. An “interrogation” followed, which resulted in torture and a public death. The body was then taken away by other Christians. The situation is nicely summed up by Lucy Grigg: “The community now had in its possession and history, the starting point for a victorious martyr. According to the ideology of martyrdom the dead Christian had won, even if the Roman authorities took a different view” ( A BRIEF HISTORY OF MARTYRDOM, p.15). It was therefore the symbolic imitation of their Saviour`s death which was of importance to the Christian community – and to the victims. Christ it was well known was the first Christian martyr. Hence many instances of martyrdom appear to be voluntary. As we have mentioned earlier the death of Ignatius does not seem to be “purely” enforced, a stance corroborated by his words in the “Epistle to the Romans” where he desires no action that may deflect him from his goal of martyrdom.
It is always difficult to try to place oneself in the mindset of people who lived long ago. It is important however to appreciate that potential martyrs did regard themselves as in some way part of the atonement for sins of mankind – of which Jesus was of course the greatest exemplar. Hence the desire (or vogue) for “voluntary” martyrdom. On some occasions it does seem as if potential martyrs, desiring glory, actually provoked officialdom into punitive action which occasionally resulted in recantation, giving this particular mode a rather bad name. If however one believed with Cyprian, that persecution is the punishment of God for a less than ideal Church, its teaching and discipline, then martyrdom is acceptable as an appropriate action in helping to assuage the sins of community. Martyrs achieved a type of heroic status, as Lucy Grigg points out in her book, MAKING MARTYRS IN LATE ANTIQUITY, (pp 21-23, passim). “Confessors” – a term found frequently in writings concerning persecution, were not regarded as true martyrs as they were not actually put to death but may have died in prison or survived torture. They, it seemed, were a thorn in the side of orthodox belief and its devotees (see Cyprian, “De unitate” who vehemently attacked those who “lapsed” , namely conformed to heathen practice for the nonce.
As we have earlier pointed out, most accounts of martyrdoms are to be found in “Acta” – basically Court records and in “Passiones”, relations of those who had avoided death, but suffered imprisonment and torture, and also in the “letters” written at the time by Christian notables: some of which are not historical. Some however are reliable and original. All these accounts are written from a Christian perspective – but there are accounts written from a pagan background – which confuses the issue somewhat! It became a little easier dealing with persecution issues after the accession of Constantine. Now the boot was truly on the other foot. Christian literature dwelt lovingly on the fate of its erswhile enemies, particularly seen in the works of Eusebius and Lactantius (of whom more anon), Unfortunately, soon the former persecutors became persecutors themselves. But the “cult” of Christianity flourished. As Grigg says, the triumphal church was now State sanctioned. “Martyrs and their texts had new roles to perform in the brave new world – one in which bodily suffering was firmly established as a privileged means of spiritual access”. (MAKING MARTYRS: p. 26) Naturally before this comparative Nirvana was reached, an incalculable number of people had been killed, especially in the reigns of Nero, Domitian, Diocletian and Decius, whose Edict of 250 wreaked terrible havoc among Christians.
After an arrest, the victim was first cast into prison, where he/she endured horrifying conditions of brutality. Later they were interrogated by magistrates who tried to persuade them to recant usually by torture. Those who were not put to death were condemned to forced labour in the mines, where they were worked to death. Not surprisingly, in later ages especially, great veneration was shown to these unspeakably brave souls of the first three centuries, as witness the honour shown to relics and innumerable church and shrine frescos. Much of the narration has passed into legend: “the world of history and the world of spiritual significance” as Helen White puts it in her TUDOR BOOKS OF SAINTS AND MARTYRS. (p.4). However it was the truth of Jesus Christ`s message that buoyed up the sufferers; they had no doubts, no uncertainties, about the redeemer who became man., was crucified and died for all humanity. Many of them were not peasantry, but were comfortably off, making their “voluntary” martyrdom all the more remarkable. The martyr is “more than an example; he is a revelation” (White, p 6). He (the potential martyr) had been told by Jesus that persecution, suffering and death would be his lot; the remarkable thing is that so many accepted it – almost cheerfully. Encouragments to “stand fast” came from distinguished figures in early religious writings , from such as Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian, who promised “great rewards prepared in heaven” (Origen, “Exhortation to Martyrdom”, written 235. – who was himself to be killed in 258 ). Many of the early accounts of the deaths of the persecuted are valuable and even appealing in their terrible way, such as the accounts of the demise of Polycarp and Perpetua (more later).The most revealing and reliable of the early historians is Eusebius, whom we have mentioned more than once, but because he is so important, I make no apologies for naming him again. His “Ecclesiastical History” is indispensable to the student of early church history.
Veneration of martyrs
The person who had suffered death was not only venerated by the Christian community by his manner of dying but was valued as a posthumous miracle worker whose remains (and relics) were thought to have almost magical powers. His/her tomb (or site of martyrdom) was often a place of pilgrimage, marked by displays of piety and admiration. Early Christians were proud of their martyrs, the obscure and the notable. They (the martyrs) were extraordinary people who must have possessed great qualities. However, as we have mentioned, the written accounts (martyrologies) of some of the victims were embellished over time, giving rise to what we now call hagiography (accounts of the life and death of martyrs and saints). Unfortunately these hagiographies often seem to have as their principal aim the creation of religious fervour, rather than verisimilitude. As Bowersock put it, “Martyrdom was conceived and devised in response to complex social,religious and political pressures and the date and the circumstance of its making are still the subject of lively debate”.(MARTYRDOM AND ROME, p.5) Like the books of the Bible, many martyr stories, if not most, have deviations from the original meaning and wording (v.the comments above re hagiography). Some as we have observed are almost totally reliable. We have mentioned some of them, historians or theologians, but the testimony of a Christian Latin poet, Prudentius (348-410), in his major work, “Peristephanon” is of great moment, as it recounts the persecutions and ensuing privations of the martyrs under Roman domination. As is clear from the writings of such scholars the severity of the punishment meted out to the accused often was dependent upon the status of the individual, and the cruelty and animosity of the presiding magistrate.
Riddle, in his book, THE MARTYRS, speaks of the element of social control which influenced greatly the behaviour of the early martyrs, which is understood to mean the group collective response to threatened martyrdom, fostered by community feeling and the embryonic Christian Church. As Riddle points out, a basic element in this control lay in the force of the value of unity, in which the Church (or churches) acted as social agencies. “Whether operating with a degree of informality or in organised purpose in ritual and authoritative discipline the social control over candidates for martyrdom was effected by the Christian societies” (Riddle: THE MARTYRS, p. 52) Here it is worth mentioning that an element of masochism may have been exhibited by some martyrs – an idea that has gained credence in recent writing on the subject (of martyrdom). It may indeed be so, but it is a thesis that is hard to credit in view of the extreme tortures and manner of death of the victims. Whether there was also an element of (sexual) exhibitionism particularly among women is another debatable point.
Apparently it was not unusual for victims who were being examined to have members present of the church group to which they belonged – mainly to give them moral support . Continuing his theme, Riddle speaks of the collective value held by potential martyrs of such as perpetual happiness, a sharing or “living” with the Deity, eternal damnation, and so on, that was unquestioned. Preservation of identity (with the Christian group) was all important. Personal immortality was also a consummation devoutly to be wished. “They [the martyrs] were able to meet their [fate] only because they were members of societies which kept effective the influence of their social bonds”: (THE MARTYRS, p. 98). Clearly, techniques of social control were early evolved by the nascent Church; persecution obviously played a major part in religious writing and practice and very early dictated to some (a large?) extent the matter of the gospels. However “just because” a person was martyred did not itself command admiration and reverence in the community or Church eyes especially: it was really what you died for, what you believed in, that counted; as we have remarked a person could die and be a heretic (in ecclesiastical eyes): one had to be a conforming Christian i.e. Roman Catholic true believer to receive the ultimate accolade. The death had to be seen as “an instrument of propaganda for convert making) – White. ibid, 21), and continuing this theme, the martyr deaths were hopefully used as a vehement contrast to the pomp and circumstance of the later Church. Martyrology and with it, hagiography were born, albeit some if it was legend
THE “MAIN EVENTS”
Legend and “embroidery” were inevitable in accounts often passed down orally, or written in “scrolls” or information derived from letters. Most of what we now know is in the “Acts” and “Passions” mentioned earlier, plus the above, and of course the writings of Eusebius, especially his “History of the Church”which was written contemporaneously with a period of great persecution (circa, 300 AD). It is clear that for many if not most Christians, there were two main “events”: as Joyce Salisbury points out in THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS: their own death ,and the Second Coming of Jesus – which might happen at any time – when the faithful would be eternally rewarded. After all, was not the soul immortal? The first notable martyrs were Stephen and the Apostle James, who died like countless numbers after them believing unshakeably in the immortal soul and the Resurrection of the body. As a result, as we can read in the Biblical book “Acts”, the “word of God increased and the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many priests were obedient to the faith” (6:7) Christians of course came from the ranks of Jews, some of whom initially persecuted the converts in their midst. Salisbury has a telling sentence which sums up the situation at this time (first and second century, primarily) : “Christians were brought to execution by Romans, but according to the texts, Jews came to cheer”. (p. 107). She develops this theme by asking if the situation was such that Jews were celebrating the cruel deaths of rivals (Christians) while the latter chose to implicate Jews in the crime, and thereby attack their rivals. Christian theology was already anti-Semitic. In these early centuries, there are many instances of the (RC) Church waging vendettas against Jews, even to the extent of Pope decrees over-ruling the dictates of Roman Emperors.
MARTYRS AND MOTHERHOOD
In her book THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS Joyce Salisbury has an illuminating chapter dealing with martyrs and motherhood. Indeed, many of the female martyrs were mothers, as distinct from the general conception that most (almost all) were virgins. Christian martyrdom (of women) in the course of time developed along new lines: “Motherhood with its emphasis on family, on continuity, and on creating and preserving future generations would seem to be incompatible with personal salvation gained through martyrdom” (p.113). When Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman empire (4th century) , martyrdom ceased to exist (officially) and Christian mothers held families together, responsible for bodily and spiritual health. They now knew that mortal sacrifices were no longer needed ( as they had been to establish the infant Church) and that the future of the Christian community was assured. Throughout these early days, it had in a sense been accepted by writers (and RC clergy) that basically motherhood and martyrdom did not really go together, and that only virgin blood was appropriate for sacrifice. This belief certainly obtained until the 4th century when other counsels prevailed.
Idea of suicide
By the 6th and 7th centuries, the Church was firmly established, but threats to the new order prevailed in the growth of sects and deviation from accepted dogma. Ascetics gained spiritual power and influence, as did leaders of sects, and many of these were venerated as all but martyrs. Just as the borders between martyrdom and (in the eyes of many), suicide, were blurred in the first centuries after Christ, so it was difficult for Church authorities to distinguish between fanaticism and scrupulous adherence to the orthodox faith. Early writers, such as Tertullian, had urged the faithful to martyrdom, but as time went on, the Church view was that this was no longer the only certain hope for salvation. St Augustine (354-439) had advocated the contrary view, however, attacking what he saw as voluntary martyrdom. In 561, was held the important Council of Braga (in modern Portugal) which categorically forbade anything that smacked of suicide or voluntary death. Much later in the Middle Ages, suicide was prohibited, and “matters of morality became issues of law” (Salisbury, ibid); so that much Church law found its way into secular law.
I should like to end this section by quoting some verses in the “Acts” in the New Testament which epitomise both the faith of the martyrs, and to some degree validate the earlier claim that that which was foretold was the ultimate guiding principle of Christians yet to be born. Paul is addressing King Agrippa: “Having obtained the help of God, I continue to this day , witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people , and to the Gentiles”.
We began this chapter with an attempted definition of the word “martyr” as applied in the Christian epoch and made some reference to earlier martyrdoms. The meaning and significance of religious death, followed, and the threat perceived by Roman rule to its cohesion, leading to the view that failure to make obesiance to the Emperor and the gods was a form of treason. Next we looked at a definition of “confessor” and the growth of martyrologies and hagiography. At this point it was necessary to stress the fundamental constancy and fortitude of the many martyrs in the face of torture unto death, related mainly in the “Acta” and “Passiones” (and the accounts of principally, Eusebius) . The persecutions of the Emperors, some of whom were named. For many of these Rulers, Christians were scapegoats, being blamed for every misfortune. Next we considered the idea of “voluntary” martyrdom, which was for many later Christians considered an heroic act. Even the suspicion of suicide, among these fanatical believers was in some cases entertained. As we saw a special Church Council had to be called to prohibit this form of self destruction. Early Christian writers, in the main, encouraged potential martyrs and we looked at some of their words. Then we discussed the concept of social control, which was mainly an attempt by the Church and Church/religious groups to offer some kind of moral support in the forthcoming travail and in the final hours. We believed there were two principal “events” dominating the lives of early Christians: their own death (often martyrdom) and that of the Second Coming of the risen Christ. The concepts of martyrdom and motherhood were examined, the latter usually given short shift in ecclesiastical annals, in the belief current at that time of virginal blood being mainly (or only) most suitable for self- sacrifice. When the main fury of persecution was over, the Church had new problems, some of which were dissenting sects, breakaway groups and the emergence of charismatic “teachers” or spiritual leaders.
Introduction to chapter two
A little of the history of martyrdom has been given above, but really the whole picture has to be seen against the background of Christianity`s founder, Jesus Christ, his teachings and example, who died a martyr`s death. This first chapter attempted to consider the concept of martyrdom and the motivation of those willing to die for their cause, the new religion. In the next chapter we will consider in some detail mainly the religious persecution of the early years, the rationale behind it, resulting in mass murder. Basically Roman Emperors delegated power to accuse, interrogate, torture, imprison and condemn to death, to their legates and jurors, often petty officials who relished “examining” victims. Although most accounts of martyrdom appear to be of men, this slant is one-sided, as there were many female victims, given little publicity by the later Church. It has to be said that prurience and much violence of a sexual nature played a part in the martyrdom of women throughout the history of religious persecution. Notable individuals who suffered death, and the (social) groups to which they belonged are considered. Some accounts are given. It seems appropriate here to make some mention of the words of contemporary writers on the subject of martyrdom.
© A.B. Finlay Ph.D