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Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy$

Geoffrey de Ste. Croix, Michael Whitby, and Joseph Streeter

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199278121

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199278121.001.0001

Voluntary Martyrdom in the Early Church *

(p.153) 4 Voluntary Martyrdom in the Early Church*
Christian Persecution, Martyrdom, and Orthodoxy

G. E. M. De Ste. Croix

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Ste. Croix's published studies of the early Church advanced the thesis that volunteers for martyrdom constituted a significant element in the evidence for the persecution of Christians by Roman imperial governors. To underpin this thesis, Ste. Croix collected and analysed the evidence for volunteers in order to demonstrate the prevalence of such individuals among the wider body of martyrs, and to suggest that these enthusiasts actually contributed to the wider implementation of persecution by antagonizing Roman governors, most of whom were predisposed to be tolerant, and local populations who had clearly been able to co-exist with Christians before being disrupted by the antics of a minority of perfectionists. The largest single body of evidence concerns persecution in Palestine and was composed by the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea.

Keywords:   martyrs, volunteers, evidence, Eusebius

IN considering the relation between early Christianity and its environment, historians have paid far too little attention to the phenomenon which I shall call voluntary martyrdom. By a volunteer martyr, or volunteer, I mean a Christian who deliberately and unnecessarily provoked persecution and thus sought a death which he might have avoided without any sacrifice of Christian principle. There is sufficient evidence to show that voluntary martyrdom was by no means confined to heretical or schismatic sects but, although frowned upon by the dominant section of opinion in the Catholic Church, was a great deal more common among the orthodox than the Christian apologists have cared to admit. In all probability quite a substantial proportion of the ‘noble army of martyrs’ of the first three centuries consisted of volunteers and those whom I shall presently define as ‘quasi-volunteers’. It is impossible to doubt that the prevalence of voluntary martyrdom was a factor which both contributed towards the outbreak of persecution and tended to intensify it when it was already in progress.

In my class of voluntary martyrs, as I have defined them, I include only those who (a) explicitly demanded the privilege of martyrdom; or (b) came forward of their own accord in times of persecution and made a public confession of Christianity which was bound to lead to instant execution; or (c) by some deliberate act—destroying images, for example, or assaulting a provincial governor while he was sacrificing—clearly invited arrest and execution. Intermediate between these volunteers and the ordinary martyrs are those whom (p.154) I shall call ‘quasi-volunteers’. These fall into three groups: I. those in whom we cannot demonstrate a conscious desire for martyrdom for its own sake, but who were rigorists of one kind or another, going beyond the general practice of the Church in their opposition to some aspect of pagan society—for example, Christian pacifists who refused military service; II. those who without, as far as we know, actually demanding or inviting martyrdom, deliberately and unnecessarily attracted attention to themselves, for example by ministering openly to arrested confessors, and hence brought about their own arrest; III. martyrs who are not recorded to have been directly responsible for their own arrest, but who after being arrested behaved with deliberate contumacy at their trial. Being Christian confessors, they would probably have been put to death in any event, but some of them brought upon themselves particularly unpleasant forms of execution.

It is difficult to decide how one should regard those Christians who, after being arrested, or in fear of arrest or of some violation of their chastity, deliberately committed suicide, ‘religious suicide’ as I shall call it. I will not in fact be treating them as volunteers or quasi-volunteers, nor have I attempted to record them all. Their motives are seldom, if ever, known to us: sometimes they may have been actuated by a very understandable desire to escape a possibly lingering and painful death, or may have feared that when subjected to torture they would deny their faith and thus destroy their immortal souls. Sometimes, on the other hand, especially when a neurotically sexual element is present, one may suspect the existence of some pathological yearning for death, which is so evident in some of the voluntary martyrs. Anyone who concerns himself seriously (as I do not feel qualified to do) with the psychological aspects of martyrdom must obviously take these cases into account. I shall limit myself to giving a brief account of the ‘official’ attitude of the Church on this question.

My principal aim in this paper is to show that a large body of evidence exists for voluntary martyrdom. I shall therefore set out this evidence, in three parts: first, the passages in which the practice is condemned by leaders of orthodox opinion; second, the evidence for individual volunteers, including quasi-volunteers, roughly in chronological order; third, some other relevant material, (p.155) including a discussion of Jewish antecedents. Finally, I shall draw some conclusions.

Official Disapproval of Voluntary Martyrdom

In trying to state the official attitude of the Church towards voluntary martyrdom we are confronted from the first with an obvious conflict between theory and practice, between the verdict on principle by particular churches, clerics, and at least one episcopal council, and the attitude actually adopted by the Catholic Church towards numerous individual volunteers.

Apart from the works of heretics and schismatics, including Tertullian in his later, Montanist, phase,1 I know of no open advocacy or approval of voluntary martyrdom in principle by any surviving Christian writer of the first few centuries, apart perhaps from two situations in which it is sometimes countenanced. First, where a lapsed Christian repents and wishes to atone immediately for his fall,2 and, second, where one of the faithful sees other believers on the point of lapsing and hopes to prevent this by making a voluntary confession at the decisive moment.3 Certainly the practice of voluntary martyrdom was repeatedly condemned in general terms, as we shall see. This is natural enough and eminently sensible during the pagan Empire, when an act of provocation might endanger both the individual concerned and the Christian community—the individual because he might lapse under torture, and the community because a persecution (at any rate a local one), or an intensification of persecution, might well follow. However, the treatment of individual (p.156) volunteers is not at all what the general statements about voluntary martyrdom might lead us to expect: the deeds of very many were evidently remembered with enthusiasm by the faithful and they are certainly recorded without disapproval in the sources, which virtually never make an adverse comment upon any particular volunteer who remained steadfast to the end. It is incorrect to say that ‘Christians who deliberately courted martyrdom were denied the name of martyr’.4

This curious contradiction between theory and practice has largely escaped the notice of historians. Thus Le Blant, in an address delivered in 1875, could say, ‘Dans le camp des chrétiens…la foule avait ses entraînements, et, trop facilement parfois, saluait comme des martyres des personnages que l'Église se refusait à inscrire au nombre de ses saints’ [‘in the Christian camp…the crowd had its passions, and sometimes too easily hailed as martyrs those whom the Church itself refused to include among its saints’] without acknowledging that the Church frequently capitulated to the masses.5 Rather more recently Delehaye has written, ‘Nos texts donnent l'impression que, sauf le cas d'hérésie, la mort héroïque du martyr arrêtait sur les lèvres du juge ecclésiastique le reproche que son inconsidération aurait méritée…Les tourments et la mort subis sans défaillance pour la vraie foi, étaient, en pratique, le seul critère du martyre’ [‘Our texts give the impression that, excepting the case of heretics, the heroic death of a martyr would stop the ecclesiastical judge from voicing the reproach that his lack of consideration should have deserved…in practice, the only criteria for a martyr were the torments and death suffered without weakness for the true faith’].6 The explanation may (p.157) be correct as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough: it fails to explain the contradiction between theory and practice. We still need to ask why voluntary martyrdom was condemned unequivocally if virtually every successful volunteer received as much veneration as an ordinary martyr. If the Church was prepared to forgive, and even applaud, all such infractions of discipline, why did it condemn them without qualification beforehand? Why did it not merely issue a warning against the dangers of volunteering for martyrdom, both to the individuals concerned and to their church? The answer, surely, is that in practically all cases of voluntary martyrdom the mass of simple believers forced the hand of their more intelligent and worldly-wise leaders and insisted on having the volunteers venerated just like other martyrs.7

The evidence for condemnation of voluntary martyrdom down to the time of the Great Persecution can conveniently be presented in roughly chronological order.

1. Passio Polycarpi 4; Eusebius, HE 4.15.7–8. In the persecution at Smyrna just before the reign of Marcus Aurelius in which Polycarp suffered,8 a Phrygian named Quintus, accompanied by some others whom he had induced to follow him, came forward voluntarily to offer himself to the authorities as a Christian; but his courage failed him and under threat of torture he apostasized. What the others (p.158) accompanying him may have done we are not told. The church at Smyrna, in whose letter the Passion of Polycarp is preserved, expresses its disapproval of this action as contrary to the advice of the Gospel. The reference is no doubt to Matthew 10: 23 [‘when they persecute you in this city, flee into another’], a text often cited in this connection.9

2. Clement of Alexandria, Strom.–3;–77.3;–67.2 (about AD 200). Clement condemns the practice of voluntary martyrdom in the most vigorous terms in three separate passages. He defends the orthodox position against the Gnostics who deprecated physical martyrdom as a form of suicide (Strom., and at the same time rebukes volunteers with a most ingenious argument (Strom. they become accomplices in the crime of those who put them to death, an accusation which is difficult to resist on logical grounds. There is nothing whatever in Clement's polemic to suggest that the volunteers he had in mind were ‘heretics’.10

3. Tertullian, De Corona Militis 1.4.4–5. In one of the most aggressive works of his later phase, written (perhaps in 211) after he had become a Montanist,11 Tertullian reveals that the orthodox Christians of Africa were perturbed by the openly anti-militarist tendencies of the Montanists, which were endangering the then satisfactory situation of the African Church. Praising a fanatical soldier who had been executed for refusing to wear a wreath at the distribution of a donative (and who would therefore fall into our category of quasi-volunteers of type I), Tertullian denounces those Catholic Christians who had passed strictures on the soldier ‘ut de (p.159) abrupto et praecipiti et mori cupido, qui de habitu interrogatus nomini negotium fecerit’ [‘as being headstrong and rash, and too eager to die, because in being interrogated about a matter of dress, he brought trouble on the Christian name’] and had complained ‘that a peace so good and long is endangered for them’. The orthodox had good cause for anxiety in the activities of such men, and in this pamphlet of Tertullian, who was in effect exhorting Christian soldiers to desert—as Gibbon put it, ‘a counsel which, if it had been generally known, was not very proper to conciliate the favour of the emperors towards the Christian sect’.12

4. Origen, Comm. in Johannem 28.23 (18), written perhaps about AD 232–5, also rebukes would-be volunteers, and at some length, using much the same arguments as Clement and appealing to numerous texts of Scripture. This passage, in the mature Origen, is all the more weighty in that Origen himself, when a mere boy, is said to have been on the verge of becoming a voluntary martyr.13

5. Passio Cypriani 1.5 (AD 257). Cyprian tells the proconsul that church discipline does not allow the presbyters of Carthage to give themselves up of their own accord, but that he will find them if he seeks them out. Cyprian's attitude is commended by Augustine, Contra Gaudentium 1.31.40.

6. Cyprian, Ep. 81.1.4 (AD 258): ‘Let no one among you stir up any trouble for the brethren or offer himself up to the Gentiles of his own volition.’14

7. Commodian, Instr. 2.21 (‘Martyrium volenti’), writing probably in the second half of the third century, urges those who would rush into martyrdom to be satisfied instead with living the good life.15

8. Council of Elvira, Canon 60 (either c.300 or towards 320). Anyone who smashes an idol is not to be counted as a martyr. The (p.160) practice is not warranted by the Gospel and was unknown in the Apostolic Age.16

9. Lactantius, DMP 13.2.3, speaks of the man who tore down Diocletian's first persecuting edict when it was posted up in Nicomedia on 24 February 303 as acting non recte, and unfeelingly says that he was legitime coctus.17 Eusebius on the other hand is sympathetic to this martyr (HE 8.5), although he was in fact, of course, executed for an act of civil disobedience and only indirectly as a Christian.

10. Augustine, Brev. Coll. 3.13.25. Mensurius, bishop of Carthage, writing in AD 304–5 to Secundus the bishop of Tigisis, says he has forbidden his flock to honour those ‘who gave themselves up of their own accord and volunteered that they possessed Scriptures which they would not hand over, when no one had asked them to do so’.18 Mensurius also refers uncharitably to ‘criminals or debtors to the treasury, who took advantage of the persecution, wishing to be rid of a life burdened by many debts, or thought they could thus purge and wash away their crimes19—or at any rate make money and live like fighting cocks in prison on the charity of the Christians’.20

11. Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. (Easter AD 306). Four of the fifteen canons (numbers 8–11) refer to voluntary confessors. They are in general mildly censured (Canon 9) for ignoring the precepts of Jesus.21 Peter expresses himself rather obscurely at places, but it appears that he countenanced voluntary confession only when (p.161) undertaken by those who had lapsed but repented (Canon 8), or by those who wished to set an example to prevent others from lapsing (Canon 11).22 Peter refuses to condemn those who had left everything and fled (Canon 13).23

In the Christian Empire few opportunities for voluntary martyrdom presented themselves, and references to it are correspondingly uncommon. The orthodox attitude is stated briefly by Gregory of Nazianzus (Or. 43.6): ‘It is the custom of martyrdom for people not to go as volunteers to the contest…nor when present to withdraw—for the one is the mark of rashness, the other of cowardice’. The same sentiments are expressed in more detail by Athanasius (Apologia de Fuga Sua 22 [31]), who disapproves of ‘rashly tempting the Lord’ and regards flight from persecution as a divine law.24 The practice of the blessed martyrs, he says, was to flee, but to submit to martyrdom when discovered. It is interesting at this point to find him suddenly changing his ground. If, he says, some of the martyrs offered themselves up to the persecutors, they did not do so without reason: they demonstrated by their deaths that their offering up of themselves was from the Spirit.25

(p.162) The mid-fifth-century ecclesiastical historian Theodoret expresses mild disapproval of the destruction of a Persian fire temple in AD 419–20 by, according to the story,26 a bishop named Abdas, who then refused to obey an order from the Persian king Yazdgard I to rebuild the temple, and thus brought about his own martyrdom and a persecution which afflicted the Church in Persia for thirty years (HE 5.39.3). However, Theodoret cannot bring himself to condemn Abdas altogether: he says he much admires him and thinks him worthy of the martyr's crown. The Western Fathers of the fourth to the sixth century rarely mention voluntary martyrdom except, of course, in relation to sectarian fanatics such as the Donatist Circumcellions, to be mentioned later, against whom are aimed the Second Canon of the Council of Carthage of AD 348–9 and some of Augustine's polemical writings.27 Augustine certainly implicitly condemned the practice of offering oneself up for martyrdom when, as we have already noticed, he applauds the statement of Cyprian that church discipline did not allow the Carthaginian presbyters to give themselves up of their own accord. Ambrose is much more explicit: although martyrdom must be eagerly accepted if it offers itself, it must not be rashly sought out, for there is a danger that the volunteer may be betrayed by his own weakness or bring down a persecution upon the Christian community.28 Jerome twice emphasizes that (p.163) martyrdom is worthless if it is undertaken for the sake of the honour and glory (Comm. in Ep. ad Galat. 5.14, 26; PG 26.410, 424).

It is convenient at this point to draw attention to some interesting remarks by Augustine (CD 1.16–28) and Ambrose (De Virginibus 3.7.32–6) on one particular variety of what I have called ‘religious suicide’.29 Faced with the problem of whether virtuous Christian women in danger of being raped by barbarian Vandals might lawfully escape violation by committing suicide, or after being raped might follow the example of Lucretia, Augustine denounces all such practices; and he enlarges the scope of his discussion to include even cases in which a Christian commits suicide to avoid ‘rushing into sin through the allurement of pleasure or the intensity of pain’. However, it is significant of the division of opinion on such questions within the Christian community that he feels obliged to make an honourable exception of certain holy women who, in time of persecution, had drowned themselves in their determination to preserve their pudicitia,30 and were honoured as martyrs by the Catholic Church. As Augustine uncomfortably says, ‘concerning these I am reluctant to make any rash comment’; perhaps they acted, like Samson, ‘under God's orders, not in error but obedient’ (CD 1.26). Augustine must be referring here to the three well-born ladies of Antioch, left anonymous in the narrative of Eusebius (HE 8.12.2–4) whose names were traditionally Domnina, Bernice, and Prosdoce. The attitude of (p.164) Ambrose is even more ambiguous than that of Augustine. Dealing with the question of whether Christian virgins had a right to escape violation at the price of suicide, he praises a nameless virgin of Antioch who refused to save herself in that way when condemned to a brothel in time of persecution (De Virginibus 2.4.22–33); but when he goes on to tell the story of the suicide of certain Christian women in similar circumstances he carefully refrains from condemning their action.31 Jerome is more explicit: only when chastity is endangered should the prohibition against suicide be relaxed.32

Others, like Eusebius (HE 8.12.2–4, 8.14.16–17) and John Chrysostom, were warmly sympathetic to those who committed religious suicide.33 Chrysostom devoted two panegyrics to Domnina and her daughters,34 and at least one to Pelagia, a virgin of Antioch who was said to have thrown herself from a roof in order to escape arrest and possible prostitution.35 (It is worth noting that none of the women had been tried, let alone sentenced; and it is difficult to believe that there was any real or immediate threat to their chastity.) Chrysostom insists that many other Christian women had similarly committed suicide to avoid arrest.36

Volunteers and Quasi-Volunteers

I shall now present the evidence for individual acts of voluntary martyrdom. I do not pretend that this collection is complete, even (p.165) within the limits I have set myself: it is quite possible that I have missed a number of examples. Moreover, because of the disfavour with which voluntary martyrdom was regarded by many leading members of the Church, it may well be that in some cases a voluntary act which really occurred was toned down or entirely suppressed when the written record of the martyrdom was compiled. I may say that I have deliberately omitted cases in which I am not satisfied with the evidence for the voluntary nature of the martyrdom—for instance, when it is recorded in a Passion of unhistorical character,37 or an untrustworthy literary source.38 Having regard to what seems to me the excessive veneration of martyrdom in many parts of the North African provinces, I have been particularly chary of accepting stories of voluntary martyrdoms from that area, unless there is particularly good evidence for them. St Salsa, an alleged volunteer at Tipasa, has been shown by Grégoire to be wholly fictitious,39 and I am very suspicious of other supposed North African volunteers such as Marciana at Mauretanian Caesarea.40 Nor have I paid any attention to the considerable quantity of late and fictitious Passions in which the martyrs are made to behave in a provocative manner and abuse their judges.

1. At the end of the trial of Ptolemy before Q. Lollius Urbicus, praefectus urbi about AD 150, a Christian bystander whose name is given as Lucius reproached the prefect for having given an unjust sentence of death against an innocent man, and was immediately executed. Another Christian bystander also came forward to make his confession and was duly sentenced.41

2. I have already described the abortive attempt at voluntary martyrdom by Quintus the Phrygian at Smyrna, just before the (p.166) reign of Marcus Aurelius.42 It is often forgotten that Quintus is said to have prevailed upon others to follow his example, kaiproselthein hekontas [‘and come forward willingly’]. We may perhaps infer that they were duly martyred, but this is left obscure.

3. Paeon, who was present in court during the trial of Justin and others at Rome in AD 165, came forward saying that he was a Christian and was beheaded with the rest.43

4. At the trial of Carpus and Papylus at Pergamum, perhaps during the early part of the reign of Marcus (AD 161–9),44 a Christian bystander named Agathonice45 made a voluntary confession and was burnt to death, fastening herself at the stake according to the Greek Passio, ‘un texte beaucoup trop vanté’ [‘a much overrated text’] according to Delehaye.46

(p.167) 5. During the persecution at Lugdunum (Lyons) in AD 177 two voluntary martyrs came forward to make their confession: Vettius Epagethus, who demanded to be heard in defence of his brethren at their trial and was immediately sentenced (Eusebius, HE 5.1.9–10); and Alexander, a doctor from Phrygia, who stood by the tribunal, encouraging the Christians accused by signs to confess, and was noticed by the crowd, brought before the governor, and sentenced to the beasts (Eusebius, HE 5.1.49–50).

6. When Arrius Antoninus, proconsul of Asia in about AD 184–5, was holding his periodic assize in one of the towns of this province, a large number of Christians—all the Christians of that town, according to Tertullian, but we must allow for his customary exaggeration—presented themselves in a body before him, demanding the privilege of martyrdom. The astonished governor ordered a few off to execution, but contemptuously dismissed the remainder with the words, ‘If you want to die, you wretches, you can use ropes or precipices.’47

7. The future Pope and Saint, Callistus, is said by his bitter enemy and fellow-saint, Hippolytus (Elench. 9.12, esp. 7–9), to have made an attempt at voluntary martyrdom, happily unsuccessful, at a date which would be somewhere about AD 190. Hippolytus says that Callistus, the slave of a well-to-do Christian (who seems to have been an imperial freedman), having embezzled money entrusted to him in connection with a banking business, tried to escape, was recaptured and sent to the treadmill, but was soon liberated, apparently in the hope that he would be able to get some of the money back. Not being able to do so, according to Hippolytus, he planned for himself a hero's death: pretending that he was going after his debtors, he went to the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath and deliberately created a disturbance. The Jews brought him before the praefectus urbi, who did not sentence him to death but had him flogged and sent to the mines in Sardinia, from which he was soon released. This story must be treated with considerable suspicion. It is told by Hippolytus, unhappily our only authority for these events, with concentrated venom, and the Refutation of All Heresies, in which it occurs, was not published until 30 or more years later, after the (p.168) death of Callistus. Döllinger's explanation,48 that Callistus really was trying to collect debts from the Jews and that the disturbance was created by their assaulting him, may well be true. What is important for our present purposes, however, is that Hippolytus evidently thought it a plausible allegation that a Christian who was in a very bad position might deliberately court martyrdom by attacking the enemies of the Christian Church in circumstances which would be likely to bring upon him the supreme penalty.49

8. At Alexandria in AD 202–3 Origen, then a mere boy of 16, was impelled by the arrest of his father Leontes (who was subsequently martyred) to rush forward himself to make his confession (and of course be put to death); but he was prevented, according to Eusebius (HE 6.3.4–5), by his mother's hiding his clothes, and he had to content himself with writing his father a letter in praise of martyrdom, which has not survived.50 Origen remained a steadfast confessor until the very end of his life (Eusebius, HE 6.39.5), and during the persecution at Palestinian Caesarea under Maximinus in AD 235–7 wrote an Exhortation to Martyrdom, addressed to two of his friends who were confessors.51 However, in his more mature years (as we have already seen),52 he ceased to approve of volunteering for martyrdom and indeed gave a reasoned condemnation of it. This change of attitude may not be entirely unconnected with his self-castration, prompted by a literal interpretation (too literal, as he himself later acknowledged: Comm. in (p.169) Matthew 15.3) of the reference in Matthew 19. 2 to those who have ‘made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake’.53

9. Saturus, Perpetua's catechist, gave himself up at Carthage in AD 203 (Passio Perpetuae 4.3).

10. In about AD 205–6, during the governorship of Subatianus Aquila, the virgin Potamiaena, threatened by the prefect with a punishment involving violation of her chastity, evidently made some very abusive reply, for which she was immediately put to death in a very unpleasant manner, being gradually boiled to death with pitch.54 Potamiaena is thus probably a quasi-volunteer of type III. Another quasi-volunteer (of type I) is Basilides (Eusebius, HE 6.5.5–6), the soldier who led Potamiaena to execution. Shortly afterwards he suddenly refused to swear an oath (a thing which other Christian soldiers must often have been prepared to do) and was denounced and beheaded. Yet another quasi-volunteer of the same variety is the African soldier mentioned earlier in whose honour Tertullian wrote his De Corona Militis.55

11. Perhaps the best known of all voluntary martyrs is the eponymous hero of Corneille's play, Polyeucte, who is credited with tearing down the persecuting edict of Decius (AD 250) at Melitene on the upper Euphrates. The Latin Passio which appears in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum (AA SS Feb. II [13 Feb.], 651–2) contains no mention of provocation by Polyeuctes, of which (if it is indeed historical) the compiler may have disapproved; but the provocation does appear in the Greek texts of the Passio,56 which, although it is obviously a late composition with some characteristic hagiographical touches, does, I think, preserve a historical nucleus.

(p.170) 12. Six or seven volunteers are recorded among the victims of the Decian persecution at Alexandria in AD 250.57 Besas, a soldier, tried to protect other martyrs from insult as they were being led away to execution; he was tried and beheaded (Eusebius, HE 6.41.16).

13. During the Valerianic persecution in AD 258–9 three Palestinians, Priscus, Malchus, and Alexander, and apparently a Marcionite woman, deliberately sought martyrdom by making a voluntary confession before the governor (Eusebius, HE. 7.12).

14. As Cyprian was being led to execution on 14 September 258, a number of his flock cried out, ‘Let us be beheaded with him.’58 There was little danger, however, of their pious wish being granted.

15. In the same persecution, when Marianus, Jacobus, and others were being tried at Lambaesis before Aemilianus, who was perhaps acting as provincial governor in place of the deceased proconsul,59 a Christian who was present drew attention to himself, quod iam per gratiam proximae passionis Christus in eius ore et facie relucebat [‘because already Christ shone in his countenance through the grace of his imminent passion’], proclaimed himself a Christian and apparently suffered with the others.60

16. During the years immediately preceding the ‘Great Persecution’, and perhaps during its course, we hear of several martyrs who were executed for offending against military discipline, by refusing to enlist, continue in military service, or obey orders, owing to (p.171) Christian scruples. There are some four or five of these cases, which we may conveniently consider together. I do not think that there was a unanimous consensus of opinion in the Christian Church, before the reign of Constantine, on the question of whether Christians might serve as soldiers. Several prominent early Fathers of the Church believed that service in the army was entirely incompatible with Christianity—Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, and Lactantius.61 However, Christians had undoubtedly served in the army from at least the second half of the second century, and probably earlier, and Christian soldiers must have been numerous by the end of the third century. It is certainly true to say that by that time the great majority of Christians saw nothing intrinsically un-Christian in military service. The actions of the martyrs listed below were, therefore, those of extremists, and they may properly be reckoned among the quasi-volunteers of type I.

(i) On 12 March 295 the Christian pacifist Maximilian was executed at Theveste in what is usually called proconsular Numidia,62 for refusing to enlist.63

(p.172) (ii) On 21 July 298 Marcellus, centurion of the Legio VII Gemina, then serving in Galicia in north-west Spain, threw away his belt and cane and refused to serve in the army any longer, on the ground that he was a Christian. He was tried before the provincial governor and then, on 30 October 298, before Aurelius Agricolanus, vicar of the Spains, at Tingis (Tangier) in Mauretania. He was executed for infringement of military discipline: the fact that he acted as he did because he was a Christian was legally immaterial.64 Tacked on to the Passion of Marcellus is that of Cassian, who is represented as the shorthand writer (excerptor) taking down the record of the case before Agricolanus. Cassian, we are told, when sentence of death was pronounced, threw his pen and book on the ground, declaring the sentence unjust, and was shortly afterwards executed as a Christian. Cassian is referred to as early as 400 or thereabouts by Prudentius (Peristeph. 4.45–8); but, as Delehaye has shown, the Passio Cassiani is entirely worthless,65 and although there may very well have been a martyr named Cassian at Tangier, we must admit that we know nothing of the date or the circumstances of his execution.

(p.173) (iii) It was probably during the last years of the third century that the veteran Typasius and the soldier Fabius were condemned to death by the dux of Mauretania Caesariensis, the former for refusing to rejoin the colours when ordered,66 and the latter for declining to carry a banner in the governor's procession.67 Most Christians would have performed these acts with a clear conscience.

(iv) The very curious Passion of Dasius of Durostorum, who would not play his allotted part in the Saturnalia, must be largely if not wholly fictitious,68 and I do not feel able to make any use of it.

(p.174) We now come to the martyrs of the ‘Great’ Persecution.

17. The earliest is the man who tore down the first edict of persecution on the very day it was posted up at Nicomedia, and was burnt to death. We have had occasion to refer to him already [above, p. 160]. Soon afterwards there were many other martyrdoms at Nicomedia, and Eusebius' source declared that men and women ‘leapt upon the pyre with a divine and indescribable eagerness’ (Eusebius, HE 8.6.6)—a phrase which may, or may not, imply voluntary martyrdom.

18. If Mensurius was speaking the truth in his letter to Secundus, quoted above (p. 160), certain African Christians in AD 303–5 had voluntarily and unnecessarily denounced themselves to the authorities as possessing Scriptures which they would not surrender.

19. Eulalia, a young fanatic of Augusta Emerita (Mérida) in Spain, is celebrated in a poem by Prudentius, written in about 400.69 According to the poet, who of course exaggerates and invents freely, Eulalia, a girl of 12, was taken to the country by her parents during a time of persecution (no doubt in AD 303–4), but escaped, came to town, publicly denounced the provincial governor for idolatry, and when invited to offer incense spat in his face, smashed the pagan image and trampled the incense underfoot. Prudentius, who loves to expatiate on the tortures suffered by the martyrs he celebrates, gives himself full scope in describing what happened to poor little Eulalia before the flames devoured her. The whole story may conceivably be invented, but there may well be a historical nucleus, merely embroidered by the poet.

20. Three other Spaniards are said to have offered themselves up to the provincial governor during the ‘Great’ Persecution: Faustus, Januarius, and Martialis in Cordova. Their Passion, however, is in my opinion an unsatisfactory document, although Delehaye was willing (with some hesitation) to include it in his third class of Passions, namely those having as their main source a written document based on the official Acta or the reports of trustworthy eyewitnesses.70

(p.175) 21. On 29 April 304 at Catana in Sicily there appeared in the governor's court-room, secretarium, a man named Euplus (or it may be Euplius) who shouted out, ‘I wish to die, for I am a Christian.’ He was definitely clasping a copy of the Gospels, retention of which was now, in consequence of the first persecuting edict of Diocletian, a serious crime.71 The interrogation which followed immediately, and was renewed when Euplus was formally tried before the governor on 12 August 304, centred upon Euplus' possession of the Scriptures: his statement to the governor par' emoi eisin, seems to have meant, ‘They are here with me, in my heart’; but the same words could also mean, ‘They are in my possession’, and the governor evidently understood them in that sense. Euplus was then tortured, perhaps to death—at any rate dying a martyr.72

22. According to Basil, Gordius made a voluntary confession in the stadium outside Caesarea in Cappadocia, presumably between AD 304 and 312. The details may be unhistorical, but the main fact may well be true.73

23. It is evident from the Canonical Epistle of Peter of Alexandria, quoted above [pp. 160–1], that there had been a number of voluntary martyrdoms in Egypt by the spring of 306.

(p.176) 24. At the trial of Phileas, bishop of Thmuis, probably in 305 or 306, a soldier named Philoromus made a voluntary confession and was beheaded by the spring of 306.74

25. Eusebius, while in the Thebaid between the years 306 and 312, saw ‘many’ voluntary martyrs condemned to death ‘in a single day’ (HE 8.9.5). The fact that they were volunteers is guaranteed by Eusebius' statement that they ‘leapt up before the judgement seat from this side and that (epepedon allothen alloi), made their confession and received sentence with hymns of thanksgiving’. As I have already pointed out,75 it is quite wrong to cite this passage, as so many modern writers have done, as evidence of the intensity of that persecution. If the men in question had not been volunteers, but had been under arrest already, they would have been brought in under guard, probably in chains.

26. As I have already shown,76 a remarkably high proportion of the ‘Palestinian’ victims of the ‘Great’ Persecution, of whom Eusebius gives us a complete list in his Martyrs of Palestine,77 were volunteers or quasi-volunteers. Of the 91 martyrs mentioned by Eusebius, we know nothing at all about 44 (mostly Egyptians) who were executed at the copper mines of Phaeno. That leaves us with 47. Of these at least 14 were volunteers proper, and at least another 17 were quasi-volunteers of types II and III. The following is a brief summary of the deeds of the outright volunteers.

(p.177) (i) Alpheus publicly rebuked a large number of fellow-Christians who were sacrificing at Caesarea,78 and Romanus did the same at Antioch.79

(ii) Apphianus seized the governor of Palestine by the arm while he was pouring a libation (MP 4.2–15). Aedesius, his brother, violently assaulted Hierocles, the prefect of Egypt, who, according to Eusebius, had just sentenced some Christian virgins to a fate they would consider worse than death: he knocked Hierocles down and went on hitting him and admonishing him as he lay prostrate (MP 5.2–3). Antoninus, Zebinas, and Germanus interrupted the governor of Palestine while he was sacrificing and exhorted him to cease from error (MP 9.4–5).

(iii) The most extraordinary incident of all took place at Caesarea, early in 305. While a festival was being celebrated, a false rumour began to spread that certain Christians would be thrown to the beasts as part of the joyful celebrations. While the governor was on his way to the amphitheatre, six young men (Timolaus, Dionysius, Romulus, Paëis, and two named Alexander) suddenly presented themselves before him with their hands bound behind them, crying out that they were Christians and demanding to be thrown to the beasts with their brethren (MP 3.2–4). We can well believe Eusebius when he adds that the governor and his entire suite were reduced to a condition of no ordinary amazement. The young men were arrested and imprisoned, but they were to be disappointed in the manner of their death, for instead of giving them to the beasts, as they had demanded, the merciless pagan condemned them to a speedy death by decapitation. Eusebius gives not only the names of the young men (p.178) but also their places of origin: two were Palestinians, two were Egyptians, one was a Phoenician, and one came from Pontus. It is interesting to find Eusebius showing no disapproval of their action, any more than of the exploits of the other volunteers he records: indeed, he speaks of the young men, especially in the Long Recension of his work, with real enthusiasm.

(iv) A fourteenth confessor who is perhaps to be counted among the volunteers proper is Valentina (MP 8.6–8), who was so infuriated by the spectacle of a Christian woman of Gaza being tortured at Caesarea in about AD 309 that she shouted out to the governor, ‘How long will you torture my sister so cruelly?’; and on being arrested struggled violently and kicked over a pagan altar. The two women were bound together and burnt alive.

At least 17 of the remaining martyrs are quasi-volunteers of type II, who drew attention to themselves by openly visiting or assisting arrested confessors or concerning themselves with the dead bodies of martyrs. Agapius, brother of Alexander of Gaza (one of the six young men mentioned above), frequently visited his brother in prison, and was executed at the same time, as was another man called Dionysius who had also been ministering to the imprisoned confessors (MP 3.4). Theodosia of Tyre approached confessors who were on trial and asked them to pray for her; she was condemned and drowned (MP 7.1–2). In 309 certain Egyptian confessors who had been dispatched to Palestine for penal labour in the mines were sent on to Cilicia. Some of their fellow-Christians set out from Egypt to take food to them there, but were arrested at Ascalon; some were sent to the mines, but two (Promus and Elijah) were beheaded, and one (Ares), who may have been guilty of special provocation, was burned (MP 10.1). Five unnamed Egyptian Christians had succeeded in escorting the arrested confessors to Cilicia, but on their return journey they were arrested at Caesarea. They pretended that they came from Jerusalem and gave themselves Hebrew names; this is said to have alarmed the governor of Palestine, who thought the Christians must somewhere have established a city hostile to Rome. The five were all beheaded (MP 11.5–14). Among others who were beheaded at Caesarea that same day were four Christians who had drawn attention to themselves in much the same manner as those we (p.179) have just noticed. Porphyry, a slave, on hearing sentence of death pronounced against his master Pamphilus, shouted out a request that he might be given the body for burial; he was burned alive (MP 11.15–19). An ex-officer from Cappadocia named Seleucus brought news of Porphyry's death to Pamphilus, and greeted one of the confessors with a kiss; he was beheaded (MP 11.20–3). Theodulus, a slave of the governor's household, also kissed a confessor and was crucified (MP 11.24). Another Cappadocian, Julian, embraced the dead bodies of the martyrs and was burnt (MP 11.25–8). Soon afterwards Hadrian and Eubulus, who had come from Batanaea to visit the confessors, were given to the beasts and finally decapitated (MP 11.29–30).

At least two more of Eusebius' ‘Palestinian’ martyrs were quasi-volunteers of type III, who after being arrested behaved in an unnecessarily provocative manner. Procopius, the first in Eusebius' catalogue, was arrested and ordered to sacrifice to the gods. When he refused to pour a libation to the four emperors,80 he quoted with approval the famous words of Odysseus in the Iliad against a multiplicity of rulers [‘lordship for many is no good thing; let there be one ruler, one king’].81 For this treasonable reflection upon the Tetrarchy he was immediately executed. The woman of Gaza,82 at whose trial Valentina made her protest, had abused the emperor while being interrogated.

Among the remaining 16 ‘Palestinian’ martyrs it seems quite likely that there may have been other volunteers or quasi-volunteers. The extraordinary punishment (that proper to parricides) inflicted upon Ulpian at Tyre (MP 5.1 Short Recension) suggests that he had been guilty of something more than a plain confession of Christianity; and of Domninus, who was burnt, a punishment not often inflicted upon ordinary Christian confessors other than slaves, we are expressly told that he was famous for his confessions and his great boldness (MP 7.4).

A few religious suicides are recorded from this period, notably of those at Antioch who are said by Eusebius to have thrown themselves down from the roofs of houses in order to escape arrest and torture (p.180) (HE 8.12.2); the three women of Antioch already mentioned [above, pp. 163–4], who drowned themselves in alleged fear of violation; and a Roman woman of the upper classes who stabbed herself to death to avoid being prostituted to Maxentius (Eusebius, HE 8.14.16–17).

With the birth of the Christian Empire the period in which I am primarily interested comes to an end—except for the short interval of less than two years, in AD 361–3, when Julian became emperor and paganism was officially restored; I shall presently refer to some voluntary martyrdoms which took place at that time. My main concern is with the relationship of the early Church in the Roman Empire to its pagan environment. I therefore propose to say virtually nothing about the persecutions of Christians by Christians, whether Catholics, heretics, or schismatics, which took place with distressing frequency from the early fourth century onwards, although this strife of sects also produced its voluntary martyrs.83 Nor do I intend to make more than a very brief reference to the Donatist Circumcellions of the fourth and fifth centuries, who carried the practice of voluntary martyrdom to the most extreme lengths.

In Julian's reign martyrdom at the hands of pagans was voluntarily undertaken by Christians once more. As Baynes has put it, ‘Julian was never a persecutor in the accepted meaning of that word: it was the most constant complaint of the Christians that the emperor denied them the glory of martyrdom.’84 Some of them retaliated with acts of deliberate provocation, which provincial governors less tolerant than the emperor himself sometimes punished savagely as acts of civil rebellion.

(p.181) 27. We hear of martyrdoms which may properly be called voluntary,85 resulting from the destruction of pagan temples or images at Durostorum in Moesia,86 and at two places in Asia Minor: Caesarea in Cappadocia,87 and Merum in Phrygia.88 Two young Christians insulted the Mother of the Gods at Pessinus in Phrygia while Julian himself was there; but what happened to them is not clear—one at any rate was flogged, but apparently not executed, and we hear of no punishment of the other, although he appeared in court.89 The fifth-century ecclesiastical historians, Socrates and Sozomen, give a highly coloured description of the fate of the three martyrs of Merum (Macedonius, Theodulus, and Tatian); while after various tortures they were being roasted on gridirons they begged the governor to turn them over, in order, they said, that they might not be cooked on one side only. Another volunteer who was cruelly tortured but appears to have survived was Mark, bishop of Arethusa in Syria, who had destroyed a pagan temple in the reign of Constantius.90 Ordered by Julian to restore the temple himself or to pay for its reconstruction, he at first fled, but returned when he heard that vengeance was being taken on his flock. He was tortured, but he refused, successfully, to pay for the rebuilding, even when the pagans offered to accept a very small contribution. Other Christians were punished for offering public insult to paganism: thus Basil of Ancyra was martyred, and Busiris of the same town was tortured and imprisoned but survived the apostate emperor.91

(p.182) 28. Gregory of Nazianzus, in one of his scurrilous orations against Julian, tells us of some Christian soldiers whom Julian induced to burn a few grains of incense before receiving one of their customary donatives, but who later repented, tore their hair and rushed out into the street, crying out that they were Christians and wanted to atone for their sin. When they reached the palace they uttered execrations against Julian and demanded to be burnt alive, so that they might be cleansed by the very fire with which they had defiled themselves in the act of offering incense. Julian condemned them to banishment. The fifth-century ecclesiastical historian Theodoret gives a more dramatic account in which the emperor first passes sentence of death and only changes it at the very last moment: ‘In this’, adds Theodoret, ‘the emperor was actuated by the most malign jealousy, for he envied them the glory of martyrdom.’92

29. Julian did execute two Christian soldiers of his guard, Juventius and Maximus, who abused him at a banquet as ‘more wicked than all the nations of the earth’ and, when brought before him, persisted in their attitude; but he was careful to proclaim that the executions were for insulting the emperor and not for religion.93 There would undoubtedly have been many more voluntary martyrdoms had Julian not exercised surprising self-restraint in the face of deliberate provocations of various kinds, as for example when his attempt to make peace between a Christian father and his apostate son was insolently rebuffed (Theodoret, HE 3.15), or when Maris, bishop of Chalcedon, interrupted him while he was sacrificing and publicly rebuked him as an impious man, an apostate and an atheist (Soc. 3.13; Soz. 5.4). Maris suffered severely from cataract, and when the exasperated Julian uncharitably taunted him with his blindness, which his God could not cure, Maris replied that he thanked God for it because it prevented him from looking upon the face of an apostate. Yet Julian took no action against Maris. Theodoret tells with great pleasure the story of some Christian nuns of Antioch who, when Julian passed, sang hymns especially loudly to show their contempt for him (HE 3.19). When the Christians of Antioch were (p.183) ordered by Julian to remove the body of their third-century martyr, Babylas, from Daphne to Antioch, they did so with a great demonstration, as a result of which several were arrested and a young man, Theodorus, tortured but eventually released.94

I have said that I propose to deal very briefly with the Circumcellions, ‘the shock troops of Donatism’ as they have been called.95 It is my object in this paper to show that voluntary martyrdom, far from being peculiar to heretics and schismatics, occurred constantly in the very bosom of the Catholic Church, even though the dominant section of opinion in the Church disapproved of it. The Circumcellions, however, are a class apart. Although substantially orthodox in doctrine, they were extreme schismatics to a man.96 They were a characteristically African phenomenon, for it was in North Africa, and especially in Numidia (modern Algeria), that the cult of the martyrs reached its greatest intensity. More than one ancient author describes the Circumcellions as having their minds fixed on martyrdom.97 In them the tendencies which we have seen at work in other sections of the (p.184) Christian Church appeared in an acute and intense form. If no other death offered itself conveniently, the Circumcellions might on occasion resort to ritual suicide, sometimes in masses, throwing themselves over precipices or into rivers, or even, we are told, burning themselves alive. Others would perish in attacks on villas or Catholic churches. These men were greatly honoured by their fellow Donatists as martyrs.98 Even those who did not feel that their time had yet come to seek martyrdom were very dangerous to their enemies, the Catholic clergy and the Catholic villa-owning aristocracy of North Africa, because of the contempt of death, even desire for death, which their outlook engendered in them. The Circumcellions, however, are in reality outside the field with which I am concerned, and I need say no more about them.

It is beyond my ability to deal in general with martyrdoms occurring outside the Roman Empire; but I have already referred (above, p. 162) to the destruction of a Persian fire-temple in 420, and I may add that Theodoret may have known of voluntary martyrdoms during the persecution which followed under Yazdgard I and Vahram V, for he says that ‘of their own accord they rushed…in their desire to gain the death which brings about indestructible life’ (HE 5.39). Sabas, the Gothic saint martyred in 372, made two confessions in which he showed excess of zeal, and rejected attempts by his fellow villagers to conceal him, before he was finally arrested; and even after that he twice failed to make use of opportunities to escape.99 And there is one other interesting episode which I must not fail to mention. In Muslim Spain in the mid-ninth century, under the Emirs ‘Abd al-Rahman (822–52) and Mohammed I (852–86), Christianity was tolerated and even given a certain official status (as usual in Muslim countries, at least before the Crusades), there being few restrictions on churches except that they were not allowed to ring bells for services or organize public processions.100 However, a party centred (p.185) at first at Cordova and led by Eulogius and Alvar was avid for martyrdom, although this could hardly be obtained except for offering public insult to the Prophet, a crime for which many Christian fanatics were executed during the last years of ‘Abd al-Rahman II. Such voluntary martyrdom was officially proclaimed sinful and tantamount to suicide by a Council convened at Cordova in 852; but the movement spread and, shortly after the Council, the Christian community at Toledo, evidently dominated by more fanatical elements, even elected Eulogius metropolitan, a choice which Mohammed I refused to ratify. In 859 Eulogius, arrested on a charge of illegal proselytization, publicly insulted the Prophet and was duly decapitated. The movement continued for a time, but eventually petered out in the tenth century.101

Other Relevant Source Material

In this section, as before, I have deliberately ignored evidence which I believe to be valueless, such as the clearly unhistorical story in John Malalas and John of Antioch of a letter sent to Trajan by Tiberianus, governor of Palestina Prima, complaining of his weariness in persecuting Christians who ‘will not stop incriminating themselves in order to be put to death’.102

1. It is very well known that from the earliest times Christianity venerated its martyrs and conceived of them as occupying a special place in the future life.103 There is a great deal of evidence, which I (p.186) need not review in detail now,104 showing that confessors awaiting martyrdom, benedicti martyres designati as Tertullian calls them (Ad Martyras 1.1), using the technical term for Roman magistrates who had been elected but had not yet entered upon their office, were persons of extraordinary consequence among the faithful, who visited them in relays (sometimes exposing themselves in doing so) and brought them food and comforts.105 Confessors, at any rate those awaiting execution, might sometimes even claim the prerogative of forgiving the sin of apostasy on the part of weaker brethren who had lapsed under pressure:106 during the Decian persecutions of 250 this practice was carried to such lengths in Africa that certificates of forgiveness, libelli pacis, were given wholesale by imprisoned confessors—thousands a day, according to Cyprian (Ep. 20.2), who was exasperated at the affront to his own authority, and whose letters are full of indignant complaints about these libelli pacis. The veneration paid to confessors sometimes went to their heads: we hear of complaints from Tertullian and Cyprian about iactatio martyris.107

2. We have just one work by a pagan author which corroborates, if from a hostile point of view, some of the things we learn from Christian sources about the reverential attitude of the ordinary Christians towards imprisoned confessors. This is The Death of Peregrinus, written probably during the late 160s by the satirist Lucian. And as it happens the same work also provides us with an excellent pagan parallel to the voluntary Christian martyrs. Peregrinus, or Proteus as he preferred to call himself, was a real historical character, a citizen of Parium on the Hellespont and a very curious person indeed. It was in Palestine, according to Lucian, that Peregrinus fell in with the Christians ‘and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon made them look like children: prophet, chairman, organizer—he was everything at once; expounded their (p.187) books, commented on them, wrote a lot of books himself. They took him for a sort of god, accepted him as a lawgiver, and declared him their president…the end of it was that Proteus was arrested and thrown into prison. This was the very thing to lend an air, in his future career, to the storytelling and notoriety he was addicted to. Well, the Christians took it all very seriously: he was no sooner in prison than they began trying every means to get him out again, but without success. Everything else that could be done for him they most devoutly did. Aged widows and orphan children might be seen hanging about the prison from break of day. Their officials even bribed the gaolers to let them sleep inside with him. Then elaborate dinners were conveyed in; their sacred writings were read; and our old friend Peregrinus, as he was still called in those days, became for them ‘the modern Socrates'. From some of the Asiatic cities, too, the Christian communities put themselves to the expense of sending deputations, with offers of sympathy, assistance, and legal advice. The alacrity of these people in dealing with any matter that affects their community is something extraordinary: in no time they spend their every penny. Peregrinus, all this time, was making quite an income on the strength of his bondage: money came pouring in. You see, these misguided creatures have convinced themselves that they are going to be altogether immortal and live for ever, which explains the contempt for death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them (par ho kai kataphronousin tou thanatou kai hekontes autous epididoasin hoi polloi)…Now an adroit, unscrupulous charlatan, who has seen this world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made: he plays with them.’108

Eventually Peregrinus was released from prison by the legate of Syria and returned to Parium, but his wandering soon began again. ‘The Christians’, says Lucian (De Mort. Peregr. 16), ‘were meat and drink to him; under their protection he lacked nothing, and this luxurious state of things went on for some time.’ At last the Christians found him out and excommunicated him. He then became a (p.188) Cynic philosopher, and at the Olympic Games of 161 announced that at the next Games, in 165, he would immolate himself on a pyre, a promise which he actually fulfilled (Lucian, De Mort. Peregr. 1–6, 20–42; Fugitivi 1–2, 7). Lucian presents him as a man dominated by a passion for notoriety and theatricality; but this, of course, is not the whole story,109 and evidently the suicide of Peregrinus made a deep impression at the time, as Lucian indirectly admits.110 There were those who searched the burning remains for some precious relic they could carry away;111 and a venerable disciple of Peregrinus insisted that immediately after his cremation Peregrinus had appeared to him in white raiment (De Mort. Peregr. 40). It seems merely fortuitous that Peregrinus did not conceive his plan of self-immolation when he was still a member of the Christian community. If he had done so, and had chosen a suitable method of inducing the authorities to put him to death, he might even have achieved a place among the saints and martyrs of the Church.

3. The distinguishing characteristic of the voluntary martyrs is a positive craving for martyrdom for its own sake. This characteristic sometimes appears in martyrs who are not known to have taken (p.189) active steps to realize their desire, although in some cases there may be reason to suspect that in fact they did so. Prominent among these is an important figure in the history of the early Church, who, though he cannot be proved to have been a voluntary martyr, is perhaps the precursor to the whole series: Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was martyred at Rome, probably between the years 110 and 125, but possibly even as late as the 160s.

In his letter to the Church of Rome, written while he was being taken from Antioch to the capital for execution, Ignatius displays what I can only call a pathological yearning for martyrdom.112 The prospect of being given to the beasts at Rome fills him with intense pleasure. He describes himself as ‘desiring to die’ (Ep. ad Rom. 7.2), and admonishes the Roman Christians not to try to save him. ‘I am willingly dying for God,’ he says (Ep. ad Rom. 4–5), ‘unless you hinder me. I urge you, do not become an untimely kindness to me. Allow me to be bread for the wild beasts; through them I am able to attain to God. I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of Christ. Rather, coax the wild beasts, that they may become a tomb for me and leave no part of my body behind…May I have the full pleasure of the wild beasts prepared for me; I pray they will be found ready for me. Indeed, I will coax them to devour me quickly…Fire and cross and packs of wild beasts, cuttings and being torn apart, the scattering of bones, the mangling of limbs, the grinding of the whole body, the evil torments of the devil—let them come upon me, only that I may attain to Jesus Christ.’113 We do not know the circumstances in which Ignatius was arrested and sentenced. John Malalas (Chron. 11, p. 276) and the Antiochene Acts of Ignatius depict him as a volunteer giving deliberate provocation;114 but these sources are late (the Antiochene Acts are probably later than Malalas, whose first edition was (p.190) completed c.530), and quite untrustworthy,115 and we cannot pay any serious attention to them. Any suggestion that Ignatius was a volunteer, plausible as it may seem, must remain unsupported by credible evidence. However, although we cannot actually count Ignatius as a volunteer, his letter to the Romans is evidence of the existence in the early Church of a trend which was only too likely to lead to voluntary martyrdom, even at times when the authorities were not much inclined to persecute. I can find no trace of any disapproval among Christians of Ignatius' attitude. Indeed the curious and rather repellent metaphor about being the wheat of God, to be ground into pure bread by the teeth of the wild beasts, is quoted approvingly by Irenaeus in the 180s (Adv. Haeres. 5.28.4: though without attribution to Ignatius by name), and no doubt the letters of Ignatius did circulate in the early Church,116 although, as it happens, they are rarely quoted in the surviving literature. There seems little reason to think that the state of mind visible in Ignatius' letter to the Church of Rome was an isolated phenomenon.

4. I now wish to refer briefly to one of the most remarkable of all early Christian documents, the Passion of Perpetua and her companions, described by Delehaye as ‘the masterpiece of hagiographic literature’.117 It is indeed an extraordinary composition. There is no attempt to use the official Acta of the trial. Nearly half of the original (p.191) Latin Passion, in its complete form, consists of Perpetua's own vivid record of her arrest, her trial, and her experiences in prison, outstanding among which are her visions. A few more paragraphs contain the record of further visions, those of Saturus, Perpetua's catechist and fellow-martyr and a volunteer, the only one in this group of martyrs (see above, p. 169). The rest of the Passion is the work of an editor who was either an eyewitness to the martyrdom or obtained his material from an eyewitness; and it must have been composed soon after the events it relates, which took place at Carthage in 203. It is believed by many scholars that the editor, who shows Montanist characteristics, was no less a person than Tertullian himself, who became a Montanist a few years after Perpetua's martyrdom.118 Recent Roman Catholic writers, however, while admitting distinct Montanist elements in the outlook of the editor of the Passion, consider the contributions of Perpetua and Saturus themselves sufficiently orthodox, even if they show traces of Montanist influence.119 There is certainly no sign that Perpetua and the others were in any way separated from the Catholic community in Africa. However, even if the martyrs considered themselves, and were considered by the rest of their community, to be orthodox Catholic Christians, I do not myself see how one can possibly avoid the conclusion, which has imposed itself on most scholars, that a distinct Montanist flavour pervades even the passages written by Perpetua and Saturus. I therefore do not think it right to treat the Passion as truly representative of the outlook of Catholic Christianity. Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly characteristic of what we might call the left wing of the Catholic Church in Africa, which a century later was (p.192) to break away in the Donatist schism. Moreover, its great popularity shows that it made a very strong appeal to Christians generally, and it seems to me representative of a significant section of opinion within the Catholic Church. The most striking feature of the Passion of Perpetua is its atmosphere of elation, or exaltation, in the face of approaching martyrdom. The martyrs are greedy for death: they receive with joy the sentence of execution by exposure to the beasts, hilares descendimus ad carcerem (‘we went down to the cell joyfully’); and they spend the interval before execution in a state of intense excitement and pleasurable anticipation, enhanced by comforting visions in which they see themselves play a most distinguished part. The brethren who visit them treat them with the very greatest respect, and their prayers, for the living and for the dead, are believed to have special efficacy. The act of martyrdom is everything. One of the company, Saturninus, is said to have declared while in prison, in words which remind us irresistibly of Ignatius, that ‘he wished he could be thrown to all the beasts, that he might wear a more glorious crown’.

5. When Epictetus (Diss. 4.7.6), after speaking of various classes of men who have no fear of tyrants (because they wish for death, are nobly indifferent to it, or are deranged by madness or despair), goes on to ask ‘if madness can produce this attitude of mind toward the things which have just been mentioned, and also habit, as with the Galileans, cannot reason and demonstration teach a man that God has made all things in the universe, and the whole universe itself, to be free from hindrance, and to contain its ends in itself, and the parts of it to serve the needs of the whole?’ He may not be referring to the Christians at all, but rather to the Jewish Zealots;120 and even if he has the Christians in mind, he may be alluding to the steadfastness of their martyrs in general. However, in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius there is a passage which suggests that the philosophic (p.193) emperor thought the Christian martyrs guilty of theatricality.121 The accusation was no doubt thoroughly unjust as regards the ordinary martyrs, but some of the volunteers may well have acted in such a way as to lend colour to Marcus' criticism.

6. A passage in Origen's Contra Celsum suggests that Christians would sometimes revile and strike a pagan image in their eagerness to prove it powerless to avenge such an insult (8.38). Origen, however, reproves such conduct as unseemly and not characteristic of educated Christians (see also 8.41). Another passage shows that Celsus, writing in the Antonine period,122 had accused the Christians of being ‘mad’ and of ‘deliberately rushing forward to arouse the wrath of an emperor or governor and bringing upon themselves blows and tortures and even death’ (Contra Celsum 8.65). Origen flatly denies this, but he seems to be thinking of acts of outright civil disobedience.

Jewish Antecedents of Christian Martyrdom

The literature of the Jewish resistance movement against Antiochus IV Epiphanes had immediately produced its mythical confessors (Daniel in the lions' den, and the three young men in the burning fiery furnace: Dan. 6 and 7, of 167–165 BC) and soon it was commemorating its martyrs, actual or mythical. At first, perhaps, they were a nameless band: thus the author of 1 Maccabees, certainly writing before (probably long before) the Roman conquest of Judaea in 63 BC, refers with restraint to anonymous people who chose to die rather than eat prohibited meats (1 Macc. 1: 62–4).123 Tradition (p.194) ultimately retained the memory of a small company of ten ‘Maccabean martyrs’, the heroes of 2 and 4 Maccabees, of which the former was probably written in the early first century BC and the latter in the first half of the first century AD (2 Macc. 6–7; 14: 37–46; 4 Macc. 5–18).124 A gradual development was also taking place in Jewish thought: most of the prophets were now credited with having been martyrs, or at least confessors who had suffered persecution for their religion, if only at the hands of their own people.125 The best known and one of the earliest attested of these legendary accretions is the tradition that Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in half,126 a tradition certainly known to Justin in the 150s (Dial c. Tryph. 120), and possibly to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (11: 37).

The notion of special rewards for those Jews who perished for their faith probably emerged during the first century BC. 1 Maccabees knows nothing of a future life;127 but 2 and 4 Maccabees assert a resurrection of at any rate those Israelites who die as martyrs for their faith.128 Eternal life with the Patriarchs,129 ‘in the bosom of Abraham’ (p.195) to use the New Testament phrase,130 is the particular privilege of the martyrs. ‘Men dying for God’, says the author of 4 Maccabees, ‘live unto God as live Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the Patriarchs’ (16: 25; cf. 7: 19);131 the martyrs ‘stand beside the throne of God’ (4 Macc. 17: 18). So in the Christian Apocalypse the souls of the martyrs are ‘under the altar’ (Rev. 6: 9), which is ‘before God’ (Rev. 9: 13); they are ‘before the throne of God’ (Rev. 7: 15) and they alone have part in the First Resurrection, living and reigning with Christ for a thousand years (Rev. 20: 4–6). The early Church saw the martyrs as assessors in the divine judgement,132 and believed that their ‘baptism of blood’ had wiped away all their sins,133—even the sins of those who, as mere catechumens, had not yet received baptism in the ordinary way (Hippol. Apost. Trad. 19.2).

The Church saw itself from the first as a new ‘Israel of God’,134 a conception which the disastrous failure of the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 could only strengthen.135 Part of its inheritance from the ‘Israel of the flesh’ was the attitude towards martyrdom, and even some actual martyrs with their stories. The Maccabean martyrs, strangely neglected by the Pharisaic movement,136 were enthusiastically adopted, so that by the fourth century (p.196) their cult had spread in a remarkable manner;137 numerous panegyrics in honour of these martyrs—inspired, apparently, by 4 rather than 2 Maccabees—were pronounced by the Fathers of the Church.138 John Chrysostom could call Eleazar ‘the first martyr of the old dispensation, the image of Peter the chief of the apostles’.

Many individual elements in the Christian conception and stories of martyrs were taken over directly from Judaism, with 2 and 4 Maccabees as the main source; these works were known in the early Church,139 including the churches of Smyrna and of Vienne and Lyons, from which emanated the best known of our earliest surviving Passions, those of Polycarp and of the Gallic martyrs of AD 177.140 Prominent among these influences is the habitual use of the terminology of Greek athletic games, and in particular of the word athletes as a characteristic designation of the martyr or confessor: this we find in 4 Maccabees (6: 10; 17: 15–16, cf. 12–13).141 To compare the struggle for virtue with the games, employing metaphors and similes drawn from the stadium and gymnasium, is of course a Stoic practice, adopted also by Philo;142 but it seems likely that it took root (p.197) among Christian writers primarily because of the extended use made of it by the author of 4 Maccabees. Among other elements which Christian Passions seem to have borrowed from Judaism are the attribution of prophetic and other visions to the martyr before execution;143 the miraculous invulnerability or temporary preservation of the martyr;144 the admiration excited by the martyr in his guards and executioners, who are sometimes converted, even to the extent of deciding to die with him;145 the angelic radiance of the face of the martyr when death approaches;146 the prodigies which often accompanied a martyrdom, including on occasion the sudden death of the persecutor concerned.147

The impact of Judaism on Christian attitudes included examples of volunteers for martyrdom. The incident about which we are best informed occurred early in 4 BC, shortly before the death of Herod, and is sympathetically narrated by Josephus (BJ 1.33.2–4, §§ 648–55; AJ 17.6.2–4, §§ 149–64). Two rabbis named Judas and Matthias successfully urged their disciples to cut down the golden eagle which Herod had set up over the great gate of the Temple at Jerusalem. Some forty of these fanatics were arrested immediately, and they were all put to death on Herod's orders, the two rabbis and the man who had actually pulled down the eagle being burnt alive. Eventually it became necessary for the leaders of Judaism to check voluntary martyrdom, because of the dangers to Jewish communities by inflaming opinion: giving oneself up to persecutors was authoritatively condemned.148 A council of rabbis held at Lydda during the second great Jewish revolt against the Romans in AD 132–5 declared that a Jew might yield to any compulsion except to commit idolatry, incest, or murder to save his life.149 Islam also condemned voluntary martyrdom, which was nevertheless practised from time to time by (p.198) fanatics and sectarians,150 a reflection of the shared heritage and similar pressures on these three religions.


I believe that I have produced sufficient evidence to prove that from at least the Antonine period onwards voluntary martyrdom was very much more prevalent in the early Church than has hitherto been realized. It was not a peculiarity of heretics and schismatics, even if some members of schismatic or heretical sects—Donatists and perhaps Montanists, for example—indulged in it more than the orthodox. The main reason for the official condemnation of the practice, stated with peculiar clarity by Ambrose, was that it might well bring down a persecution upon the Christian community. As I said at the beginning of this paper, the prevalence of voluntary martyrdom must have contributed towards the outbreak of persecution and tended to intensify it when it already existed.

But I should like to go further than that. The evidence for Christian voluntary martyrdom begins in the Antonine period. I wish to suggest, with all the reserve necessitated by the lack of evidence, that in fact the practice probably began very much earlier, and that the reason why we do not hear of it before about 150 is that we have too little evidence for any sort of persecution or martyrdom or indeed about the life of the Church in general—before the end of the second century. Here the Jewish background and literature of martyrdom is material. The new ‘Israel of God’ could not have been unaware of the Jewish attitude to martyrdom, and it very quickly made up its mind (as we can see from the New Testament) that it too would have to be prepared to suffer persecution. Many Christians must have read and taken to heart the stories of the Maccabean martyrs, so much more detailed, concrete, and vivid than the vague ‘noble army of martyrs’, ‘nameless martyrs’, in Revelations. It is hardly possible to doubt that Ignatius had read 4 Maccabees, and there is good reason to think that the book became widely known in the Church in the second (p.199) century.151 Would not many an emotional convert be likely to be powerfully affected and react in the same way as Ignatius? That famous martyr, if not actually a volunteer, was of the very stuff of which voluntary martyrs were made. As we have seen, his letter to the Roman Church shows him as devoured by a passionate desire for martyrdom, erōn tou apothanein. Would not rewarding his letter tend to inspire in others of the faithful something of his own longing for martyrdom? And a Christian who desired martyrdom intensely enough could easily find it: even before the mere nomen Christianum became a sufficient ground for condemnation, he had only to offer public insult to a pagan image or an official cult (the imperial cult in particular) to be instantly apprehended and—unless the magistrate concerned happened to take an unusually lenient view of the case—sentenced to death. I would claim that since voluntary martyrdom was evidently practised quite extensively from at least the reign of Marcus Aurelius onwards, and since the conditions for its existence (particularly the characteristic mentality, found in Ignatius, and a literature glorifying martyrdom and describing individual examples (p.200) of it in an emotionally disturbing manner) were equally prevalent in the earlier period, from which we could hardly expect any evidence anyway, we can conclude that there may have been quite a number of volunteers in the late first and early second centuries.

If that were so, it would be much easier to understand why persecution originally became rooted and why the mere nomen Christianum became punishable. I have dealt in a separate paper with the causes and legal basis of the persecution of Christianity,152 and all I need do here is to say that in my opinion the principal cause of persecution was religious: a fear that the Christians, by their ‘atheism’ or refusal to recognize the Roman gods, would destroy the pax deorum and bring down the anger of the gods on the whole community, local or imperial. How much more easily would their pagan contemporaries jump to this conclusion if a number of Christians went out of their way to insult the gods deliberately, thereby showing that their ‘atheism’ was more than a mere withdrawal from the worship to which the gods were traditionally entitled.


[This collection of evidence was put together in the late 1950s, and served to underpin the brief discussion in Past and Present (1963), 21–4 (Ch. 3, pp. 129–33).]

(1)  For such heretical views, see below, pp. 191–2.

(2)  See Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. 8. [Cyprian also argued that the lapsed could gain pardon by making a public confession, the consequences of which could range from exile to execution; see Ep. 19.2.3; Eps. 24 (Caldonius to Cyprian) and 25; Ep. 55.4.1–2, 7.1, 16.3; De Lapsis 36. See further G. W. Clarke, ‘Double-Trials in the Persecution of Decius’, Historia, 22 (1973), 650–63, at 656–7, and his commentary and translation of Cyprian's letters, The Letters of St. Cyprian, 4 vols. (Ancient Christian Writers 43–7; New York, 1984–9). Note, however, that such acts only win pardon for Catholics. Schismatics cannot be martyrs (De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate 14).]

(3)  The only authority I can quote for this exception is Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. 11 (if I have interpreted it correctly). A good example would be Eusebius, HE 6.41.22–3 [and perhaps MP, Long Recension, 1.5 e–h; see n. 78 below].

(4)  Thus H. Chadwick in his excellent translation of Origen, Contra Celsum (Cambridge, 1953), 501 n. 3. To the same effect see E. Le Blant, ‘Polyeucte et le zèle téméraire’, in Mémoires de l'Institut Nationale de France, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 28 (1876), 335–52, at 335: ‘Selon les rigoureuses lois de la discipline des anciens âges, Polyeucte ne serait pas un martyr; l'acte même de violence qui a illustré sa mémoire l'exclurait de tout droit à ce titre’ [‘According to the strict rules and requirements in ancient times, Polyeucte would not be a martyr; the very act of violence which made his memory famous would exclude him from all right to this title’; on Polyeuctes, see below, p. 169 and n. 21].

(5)  E. Le Blant, ‘Polyeucte et le zèle téméraire’, 337.

(6)  H. Delehaye, Sanctus: Essai sur le culte des saints dans l'Antiquité (Subsidia Hagiographica 17; Brussels, 1927), 167, 169.

(7)  [This is a slightly unconvincing explanation, not least because it fails to explain why Christian writers should have included accounts of voluntary martyrs if there was such consensus amongst the elite concerning their proper status. It seems to me more convincing simply to accept it as a contradiction between theory and practice, one that cannot be divided into elite and popular elements. On the shortcomings of such a ‘two-tiered’ model see P. Brown, The Cult of the Saints (Chicago, 1981), esp. 17–22; Arnaldo Momigliano's ‘Popular Beliefs and the Late Roman Historian’, in Studies in Church History, 8 (1971), 1–18 is often cited in this context, although it should be noted that he does not dismiss the model as such, but disagrees with its application to late antiquity.]

(8)  [The date is much disputed. Eusebius places it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, which is supported by H. Grégoire and P. Orgels, ‘La Véritable Date du martyre de S. Polycarpe (23 février 177) et le “Corpus Polycarpianum” ’ , AB 69 (1951), 1–38 and more recently by P. Brind' Amour, ‘La Date du martyre de Saint Polycarpe (le 23 février 167)’, AB 98 (1980), 456–62. However, his dating is not always reliable (see, for instance, the Passio Pionii, at n. 55 below) and it is more convincingly placed in the mid- to late- 150s. See T. D. Barnes, ‘Pre-Decian Acta Martyrum’, JTS 19 (1968), 509–31, at 512–13; and J. Lieu, Image and Reality: The Jews in the World of the Christians in the Second Century (Edinburgh, 1996), 72–3.]

(9)  Cf. also Matt. 26: 41; 6: 13; 26: 47. Cited by Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. 9, and Quirinus, bishop of Siscia, on being arrested while in flight from his see, probably in 308 (Passio Quirini 2, T. Ruinart, Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta (1689; ed. Ratisbon, 1859), 522–3). Origen, Contra Celsum 8.44, evidently has this text in mind when he says that a Christian who flees from persecution is observing the commandment of his Master.

(10)  As asserted by M. M. Hassett, ‘Martyr’ , in The Catholic Encyclopedia, IX (New York, 1910), 736–40, at 737.

(11)  [T. D. Barnes originally dated this work to 208, but later conceded that this was too early; note, however, that Ste. Croix's caution in suggesting 211 is well justified. See Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1985), 37 and 328.]

(12)  E. Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (ed. J. B. Bury, London, 1909–14), i. 482 n. 102. See also H. Grégoire, Les Persécutions dans l'Empire romain, 2nd edn. (Mémoires de l'Académie royale de Belgique, Classe des Lettres 56.5; Brussels, 1964), 31–3.

(13)  See below, pp. 168–9.

(14)  [Trans. G. W. Clarke, The Letters of St. Cyprian, iv. 105–6, slightly modified.]

(15)  Cf. Instr. 2.7 (‘Fideles cavete malum’), lines 14–18, where Commodian expresses his view that ‘multa sunt martyria, quae sunt sine sanguine fuso’ [‘there are many martyrdoms which occur without blood being shed’].

(16)  [On the date of the Council of Elvira, see further, Ch. 2.]

(17)  Possibly Eutherius, whose martyrdom at Nicomedia on 24 Feb. is recorded in the Syriac martyrologies: see H. Delehaye, Les Origines du culte des martyrs, 2nd edn. (Subsidia Hagiographica 20; Brussels, 1933), 148.

(18)  Failure to hand over sacred books was almost certainly the only capital offence of which Christians could be guilty in Africa, where it is very unlikely that any but the first of the persecuting edicta of Diocletian and his colleagues had been published: see ‘Aspects’ [above, Ch. 1, pp. 46–53].

(19)  The early Christian Church saw the martyrs as assessors in the divine judgement, and believed that their ‘baptism of blood’ had wiped away all their sins, even the sins of those who, as mere catechumens, had not yet received baptism in the ordinary way; see Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 19.2.

(20)  Trans. by A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, rev. edn. (Harmondsworth, 1972), 108.

(21)  And see Canon 10, which is particularly difficult to interpret but must refer to clerics who offered themselves up (see the commentaries of Balsamon and Zonaras, printed alongside the English translation in the Ante-Nicene Christian Library 14 (Edinburgh, 1869), 292–322). [On the general context of Peter's letter, see T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), 201–2, and D. Potter, The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180–395 (London, 2004), 411–13. For editions see Ch. 1 n. 44.]

(22)  See above, p. 155.

(23)  He cites Acts 12: 4, 18–19; 19: 26–30; Gen. 19: 17; Matt. 2: 13–16. [See also his letter (although it is possibly apocryphal) to Apollonius the bishop of Sioout, who had apparently lapsed into idolatry; Peter admonishes him, and confesses to being ‘at a loss about you, where your wits have gone, that you have not had the wit to turn back and escape, and have not had the wit to exercise yourself and escape by means of [others] who have their wits about them, before you were ruined’ . See J. Barns and H. Chadwick, ‘A Letter ascribed to Peter of Alexandria’, JTS 24 (1973), 443–55, at 454. Note too that his Canonical Epistle should be read against his own flight following the publication of Diocletian's first persecuting edict in 303.]

(24)  [On the relationship of this text to the rest of Athanasius' thought, see A. Petterson, ‘To flee or not to flee: An assessment of Athanasius' de Fuga Sua’, Studies in Church History, 21 (1984), 29–42; for the general background, see T. D. Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), 124–6.]

(25)  [To these might be added the earlier example of Lactantius, Div. Inst. 4.18.1–2, who states that Christ fled from persecution as a lesson to future Christians. On this passage, see O. Nicholson, ‘Flight from Persecution as Imitation of Christ: Lactantius' Divine Institutes IV.18.1–2’ , JTS 40.1 (1989), 48–65.]

(26)  But see J. Labourt, Le Christianisme dans l'empire Perse sous la dynastie Sassanide, 224–632 (Paris, 1904), 105–7, and P. Peeters, ‘Une passion arménienne des SS. Abdas, Hormisdas, Sâhîn (Sueres) at Benjamin’, AB 28 (1909), 399–415, who makes use of other sources, notably the Syriac Passion of Abdas, according to which the destruction of the fire temple was the work of a presbyter, Hasu. [See also L. Van Rompay, ‘Impetuous Martyrs? The Situation of the Persian Christians in the Last Years of Yazdgard I (419–420)’, in M. Lamberigts and P. Van Deun (eds.), Martyrium in Multidisciplinary Perspective: Memorial Louis Reekmans (Louvain, 1995), 363–75, at 365–7.]

(27)  Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, III (Florence, 1759), 143 ff., 151 ff.; summarized in Hefele–Leclercq, Histoire des conciles, I (Paris, 1907), 837–41; Augustine, Contra Epistolam Parmeniani 1.10.16; Contra Gaudentium 1.22.25, 1.27.30, and 1.28.32; Eps. 88.8, 185.3.12. [See further the bibliography in E. Lepelley, ‘Circumcelliones’, in C. Mayer (ed.), Augustinus-Lexicon, i (Basel, 1986–94), 930–6.]

(28)  Ambrose, De Officiis Ministrorum 2.30.153, laudabilis mortis cum occasio datur, rapienda est illico [‘should the opportunity arise to die a death that will bring you great praise, seize it there and then’; trans. I. J. Davidson]; see also 1.37.187, 1.42.208.

(29)  See above, p. 154. On attitudes towards suicide in antiquity, see M. Rostovtzeff, The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World, III (Oxford, 1941), 1329 n. 31; H. A. Musurillo, The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs (Oxford, 1954), 236–7. Particularly interesting is Tacitus, Agricola 42.4–5. [The subsequent bibliography on this subject is large. See most recently T. D. Hill, Ambitiosa Mors: Suicide and the Self in Roman Thought and Literature (London, 2004); P. Plass, The Game of Death in Ancient Rome: Arena Sport and Political Suicide (Madison, 1995); A. Van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Self-Killing in Classical Antiquity (London, 1990); and M. Griffin, ‘Philosophy, Cato, and Roman Suicide’ I and II, Greece and Rome, 33 (1986), 64–77 and 192–202. On the parallels between Christian martyrdom and suicide, see G. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge, 1995), 59–74.]

(30)  On condemnation to a brothel as a punishment for Christian women, see Eusebius, MP 5.3 following the numbering of H. J. Lawlor and J. E. L. Oulton, Eusebius (London, 1928), i. 327–400; add Ambrose, De Virginibus 2.22–33; John Chrysostom as cited below n. 35. The actual infliction of the penalty was probably very rare indeed.

(31)   De Virginibus 3.7.33–6; cf. Ep. 37.38 (ad Simplicianum). Ambrose speaks of Pelagia and her mother and sisters: he seems to be combining the stories of Pelagia (see n. 35 below) and of Domnina, Bernice, and Prosdoce.

(32)  Jerome, Comm. in Jonam 1.402 (PL 25.1129A).

(33)  [It is important to note, however, that Chrysostom does not always consider ‘religious suicide’ a valid option: ‘the death of martyrs who kill [themselves] is an obvious defeat, yet of those who are murdered, a splendid victory’; Hom. in S. Jul. 3, trans. W. Mayer.]

(34)   Hom. in SS. Bernic. etc. (PG 50.629–40); Hom. in Quatrid. Lazarum et SS. Domnina etc. (PG 50.641–4).

(35)   Hom. in S. Pelag. I and II (PG 50.577–84). The ‘Hom. in S. Pelag. II’, ed. P. Franchi de' Cavalieri in Studi e testi, 65 (1935), 301–3 is declared spurious (ibid. 281–300). On Pelagia, see H. Delehaye, Les Légendes hagiographiques, 4th edn. (Brussels, 1955), 186–95, against H. Usener, Legenden der heiligen Pelagia (Bonn, 1879).

(36)   Hom. in S. Pelag. 1.2 (PG 50.580), and see Eusebius, HE 8.12.2.

(37)  e.g. Rusticus and Proculus in Passio Firmi et Rustici (Ruinart, Acta, 636–42); the 37 Egyptian martyrs (Ruinart, Acta, 576–8).

(38)  e.g. Philemon in Rufinus, Historia Monachorum 19.4–11 [see the critical text of E. Schulz-Flügel, Tyrannius Rufinus Historia Monachorum sive de Vita Sanctorum Patrum (Patristische Texte und Studien 34; Berlin, 1990)].

(39)  H. Grégoire, ‘Sainte Salsa, roman epigraphique’, Byzantion 12 (1937), 213–24.

(40)  Her Passio (Acta Sanctorum 9 January (vol. I, p. 569) ) seems to preserve more historical reminiscences (see P. Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne depuis les origines jusqu'à l'invasion arabe, iii. 3 (Paris, 1905), 156–8) but cannot be trusted at any point.

(41)  Justin, Apol. 2.2, repeated in Eusebius, HE 4.17.8–13.

(42)   Passio Polycarpi 4.1; Eusebius, HE 4.15.7–8.

(43)   Passio Justini 4.6. The word hestōs (he stood up) is decisive.

(44)  This is the date usually accepted, but it is far from certain. The Latin Passio puts the martyrdom tempore Decii imperatoris [‘in the time of the emperor Decius’]. [On the difficulties in dating this text, see T. D. Barnes, ‘Pre-Decian Acta Martyrum’, 514–15, who argues that the question Principalis es? in the Latin recension suggests a 3rd-cent. date, since there is a reference to this office in the Severan period in the Digest jurist Callistratus (Dig.–28), but this may well be the result of Justinianic editing. The first documentary record is CJ 10.48.2 perhaps from 287, on which see S. Corcoran, The Empire of the Tetrarchs: Imperial Pronouncements and Government AD 284–324, rev. edn. (Oxford, 2000), 254–5. It is common in the Theodosian Code and is attested epigraphically in the 4th cent. (e.g. ILS 6623, IRT 559, 564, 567, and 595); see A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey (Oxford, 1964), 731 and V. Weber, ‘Die Munizipalaristokratie’, in K.-P. Johne (ed.), Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft des römischen Reiches im 3. Jahrhundert (Berlin, 1993), 245–317, esp. 303–4. Accordingly the use of principalis probably suggests a date from Diocletian onwards for the Latin recension. I would like to thank Benet Salway for his help with this problem. Of course the date of the Latin recension does not necessarily coincide with the actual martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, et al. On this, see J. Den Boeft and J. Bremmer, who note that Papylus, a citizen of Thyatira, was tried in Pergamum (one of the assize centres of the Roman province of Asia), which they argue suggests a date before AD 215, when Caracalla granted the right to hold assizes to Thyatira; see their ‘Notiunculae martyrologicae II’, Vig. Chr. 36 (1982), 383–402, at 384–5.]

(45)  The expression used is Agathonikē de tīs hestōsa [‘There was a woman named Agathonicē standing there’]: Passio Carpi 42.

(46)  The Greek Passio Carpi 42–7; Delehaye, Sanctus, 168 n. 5. There may well be a lacuna in the Greek text: the cry of the crowd suggests that Agathonice was at any rate duly sentenced (as she is in the Latin text of the Passio) and did not simply rush into the flames. [See also Den Boeft and Bremmer, ‘Notiunculae martyrologicae II’, 385.]

(47)  Tertullian, Ad Scapulam 5.1.

(48)  J. Döllinger, Hippolytus und Kallistus; oder die römische Kirche in der ersten Hälfte des dritten Jahrhunderts (Regensburg, 1853), 117–21 (see also the Eng. trans. by A. Plummer, Hippolytus and Callistus; or, the Church of Rome in the First Half of the Third Century (Edinburgh, 1876), 108–12), which is generally followed by Roman Catholic writers. What Hippolytus says is [‘Callistus, having nothing to pay and being unable to run away again because he was watched, planned a scheme for his death on the Sabbath indeed (kai sabbatoi); pretending to go out as if to his creditors, he hurried to the synagogue of the Jews, who were gathered together, and created a disturbance among them’]. The position of sabbatoi suggests to me that Hippolytus is ridiculing Callistus' pretext—‘on the Sabbath, if you please’.

(49)  Cf. the allegations of Mensurius in the letter quoted by Augustine, Brev. Coll. 3.13.25 (see above, p. 160); also Passio Theodoriti 3 (Ruinart, Acta, 606–7).

(50)  It was still available when Eusebius was writing: see HE 6.2.6.

(51)  [See the translation of Henry Chadwick, in J. E. L. Oulton and H. Chadwick, Alexandrian Christianity (London, 1954), 393–429.]

(52)  See above, p. 159.

(53)  See Eusebius, HE 6.8.1–2. [The veracity of Eusebius' anecdote is not universally accepted. Sceptics include H. Chadwick, Sentences of Sextus (Cambridge, 1959), 110, and P. Cox, Biography in Late Antiquity: A Quest for the Holy Man (Berkeley, 1983), 89–90. See also M. J. Edwards, Origen Against Plato (Aldershot, 2002), 12 and 38 n. 4, and, for a more positive evaluation of the story, P. Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York, 1988), 168 with n. 44.]

(54)  Eusebius, HE 6.5.1–4. Palladius, Lausiac History 3, gives a slightly different story. Eusebius calls Potamiaena ‘the famous maiden’.

(55)  See above, pp. 158–9.

(56)  The best is that published by E. Aubé, Polyeucte dans l'histoire: Étude sur le martyre de Polyeucte, d'après des documents inédits (Paris, 1882). For an English translation of an Armenian translation of the Greek Passio, see F. C. Conybeare, The Armenian Apology and Acts of Apollonius and other Monuments of Early Christianity (London, 1896), 123–46. See also AA SS Feb. II. 652–4.

(57)  If, with most scholars, we date the martyrdom of Pionius to the Decian persecution, following the Passio Pionii, we cannot reckon Pionius a volunteer, even though after being arrested he put chains around his own neck and those of his two companions (Pass. Pion. 2.3–4), since Pionius and the others would have been required to sacrifice in any event; but if Eusebius (HE 4.15.47) is right in putting the martyrdom under Marcus Aurelius (as believed, e.g., by Grégoire, Persécutions, 108–14, 157 f.), then we should have to count Pionius and his two companions as volunteers. [See H. Grégoire, P. Orgels, and J. Moreau, ‘Les Martyres de Pionios et de Polycarpe’, Bulletin de l'Académie royale de Belgique, Classe des lettres et des sciences morales et politiques, 47 (1961), 72–83 for an argument in favour of dating the Passion to the reign of Marcus Aurelius. It is still normally dated to the reign of Decius; see, for example, T. D. Barnes, ‘Pre-Decian Acta Martyrum’, 509–31, at 529–31; R. Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Harmondsworth, 1986), 460–8; and L. Robert, Le Martyre de Pionios, prêtre de Smyrne (Washington, 1994), esp. 1–9.]

(58)   Passio Cypriani 5.1.

(59)   Passio Mariani et Iacobi 9.2, with Passio Montani et Lucii 6.1.

(60)   Passio Mariani et Iacobi 9.2–4.

(61)  See C. J. Cadoux, The Early Church and the World (Edinburgh, 1925), 272–80, 417–40, 573–92. [See generally J. F. Ubiña, Cristianos y militares: la iglesia antigua ante el ejército y la guerra (Granada, 2000); also the survey of J. Helgeland, ‘Christians and the Roman Army from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine’, ANRW II. 23.1 (Berlin and New York, 1979), 724–834.]

(62)  That part of Numidia at this time was joined to the province of Africa and under the jurisdiction of its proconsul [on which see T. D. Barnes, The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), 212].

(63)  The Passio Maximiliani, in my opinion, is virtually an exact copy of the official Acta, down to and including the sentence of Maximilian. It is a fascinating document, our one authentic description of the enrolment of a Roman recruit and a very valuable historical source from more than one point of view. Yet, as far as I know, no English translation has ever been published, and the Latin text has not been re-edited since it was included in Ruinart's collection in the 17th cent. [Ruinart's edition was reprinted and translated into English by H. Musurillo, Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford, 1972), 244–9; see the more recent critical editions of P. Siniscalco, Massimiliano, un obiettere di conscienza del tardo impero: studi sella Passio S. Maximiliani (Turin, 1974), with text at 159–61; and E. di Lorenzo, Gli Acta S. Maximiliani Martyris: Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento (Naples, 1975), 20–7, who also translates it into Italian. The reasons behind Maximilian's refusal to enlist have received considerable attention. See among others, J. Helgeland, ‘Christians and the Roman Army’; P. Brock, ‘Why did St. Maximilian Refuse to Serve in the Roman Army?’, JEH 45.2 (1994), 195–209; and J. Ubiña, Cristianos y militares, 386–98. Delehaye, in an article first published in 1932, also viewed Maximilian as an extremist; ‘Réfractaire et Martyr’, in Delehaye, Mélanges d'hagiographie grecque et latine (Subsidia Hagiographica 42; Brussels, 1966), 375–8. The scholarly consensus about the value of this Passion has been challenged by David Woods, ‘St. Maximilian of Tebessa and the Jizya’, in P. Defosse (ed.), Hommages à Carl Deroux (Collection Latomus 279; Brussels, 2003), 266–76. Woods argues that the text was produced during the period 724–838 on the grounds that the lead seal that marked his status as a recruit reflects knowledge of the operation of the Muslim poll-tax or jizya. Even if this claim is not accepted, Woods advances other arguments against accepting the text as a contemporary and accurate account of a real martyrdom.]

(64)  [See the edition of G. Lanata, ‘Gli atti del processo contro il centurione Marcello’, Byzantion, 41 (1972), 509–22, although note the comments in F. Dolbeau's review, Revue des Études Latines, 52 (1974), 570–3 and Barnes, New Empire, 178; see also Ubiña, Cristianos y militares, 398–411, and the English translation in J. Helgeland, R. Daly, and J. Patout Burns, Christians and the Military: The Early Experience (Philadelphia, 1985), 60–1.]

(65)  See Ruinart, Acta, 345. The official Acta were certainly not used as a source in this case. The words iisdem fere responsionibus, iisdemque sententiis, quibus sanctus Marcellus [‘with almost the same replies and the same opinions as those of Saint Marcellus’] place this beyond any doubt. And there are various touches characteristic of later hagiography: multum iudicem iudicantis crederent omnes esse Marcellum [‘everyone believed that Marcellus was more truly a judge than the one judging’]; tremefactus Aurelius Agricolanus exsiliens de sella [‘trembling, Aurelius Agricolanus sprang up from the bench’]; venerabilis Cassianus [‘blessed Cassian’]. The whole document is of a totally different character from the Passio Marcelli, which reproduces the Acta closely. See H. Delehaye, ‘Les Actes de S. Marcel le centurion’, AB 41 (1923), 257–87, at 278, who rightly concludes, ‘Tout le récit est un plagiat; il ne nous apprend rien ni sur S. Cassien ni sur l'audience où fut condamné S. Marcel, et il faut s'abstenir de le citer à côté des Actes de ce martyr comme un text indépendant’ [‘The entire account is plagiarized; it tells us nothing about either Saint Cassian or the audience which condemned Saint Marcel, and one must refrain from citing it alongside the acts of this martyr as though it is an independent text’]. See also N. H. Baynes, ‘The Great Persecution’, in CAH XII, 1st edn. (Cambridge, 1939), 646–77, at 663 and n. 3.

(66)  See Ste. Croix, ‘Aspects’, 111 [above, p. 75]; Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, iii. 27, 126–32. [The value of the Passio Typasii as a historical source has received some attention, particularly with respect to its literary characteristics. J. Fontaine and C. Stancliffe have noted parallels with Sulpicius Severus' life of Martin of Tours; see Fontaine, ‘Sulpice Sévère a-t-il travesti Saint Martin de Tours en martyr militaire?’, AB 81 (1963), 31–58, at 43–8, and Stancliffe, St. Martin and his Hagiographer: History and Miracle in Sulpicius Severus (Oxford, 1983), 144–8. D. Woods has noted the parallels with Eutropius' Breviarium; see Woods, ‘A Historical Source of the Passio Typasii’, Vig. Chr. 47 (1993), 78–84. Finally, Alan Dearn has recently examined it in relation to the sectarian problems of 4th- and 5th-cent. North Africa, arguing that ‘the way in which Typasius is remembered, or more likely, invented, aims to give legitimacy to the spread of monasticism in late fourth- or early fifth-century North Africa by depicting Typasius as a proto-Monk’; Dearn, ‘The Passio S. Typasii Veterani as a Catholic Construction of the Past’, Vig. Chr. 55 (2001), 86–98, at 87.]

(67)  See Ste. Croix, ‘Aspects’, 111 [above, pp. 75–6]; Monceaux, Histoire littéraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, iii. 27, 122–6; Franchi de' Cavalieri in Studi e testi, 65 (1935), 101–13; H. Delehaye, ‘Contributions récentes à l'hagiographie de Rome et d'Afrique’, AB 54 (1936), 265–315, at 300–2. [For the possible dates of Fabius' martyrdom, see Helgeland, ‘Christians and the Roman Army’, 823.]

(68)  I agree with the judgement of H. Delehaye, Les Passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires, 2nd edn. (Subsidia hagiographica 13B; Brussels, 1966), 230–5; see also his ‘Saints de Thrace et de Mésie’, AB 31 (1912), 161–300, at 265–8. [See the more recent edition of R. Pillinger, Das Martyrium des heiligen Dasius: Text, Übersetzung und Kommentar (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 517; Vienna, 1988) with the comments of J. Den Boeft and J. Bremmer, ‘Notiunculae martyrologicae V’, Vig. Chr. 49 (1995), 146–64, at 159–61.]

(69)   Peristephanon 3 [On Prudentius' account of the martyrdom of Eulalia, see J. Petruccione, ‘The Portrait of St. Eulalia of Mérida in Prudentius' Peristephanon 3’, AB 108 (1990), 81–104]. The Passion (BHL i. 405, with Suppl. 3rd edn. 308) is worthless.

(70)  Ruinart, Acta, 556–7; H. Delehaye, Les Légendes hagiographiques, 4th edn. (Brussels, 1955), 115, cf. 106–8.

(71)  [See ‘Aspects’ (above, Chapter 1), p. 36 with n. 3.]

(72)   Passio Eupli 2.2. After the words ‘let Euplus be racked and beaten until he promises to sacrifice to the gods’ the superior Greek version of this Passion evidently ceases to be a transcript of the official Acta and neither it nor the inferior Latin version can be relied on. They both profess to record the usual sentence of beheading, but it may be that Euplus died under torture.

(73)  Basil, Homily XVIII, in Gordium mart. (PG 31.489–508, esp. § 3, col. 497). [Following the Byzantine synaxaries, Gordius' death is generally dated to 321, and the tyrant identified as Licinius, although there is little compelling evidence for this; see B. Gain, L'Église de Cappadoce au IVe siècle d'après la correspondance de Basile de Césarée (330–379) (Rome, 1985), 219 n. 280.] Basil's comment is interesting: ‘there is some vague story which has been transmitted to us preserving the manly feats of the man in his struggles’. For Basil's probable lack of real knowledge about Gordius's martyrdom, see Delehaye, Les Passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires, 139–40. [Also F. Halkin, ‘Un second saint Gordius?’, AB 79 (1961), 5–15, at 5–6. Raymond Van Dam has recently reiterated this point, noting that Basil ‘hardly knew what to say’ about him, and suggests that the commonness of his name in Cappadocia might indicate that Basil was ‘trying to embellish some local traditions into full Christian cults’; see his Becoming Christian: The Conversion of Roman Cappadocia (Philadelphia, 2003), 90, and Kingdom of the Snow: Roman Rule and Greek Culture in Cappadocia (Philadelphia, 2002), 54–5. Pauline Allen reckons that ‘the general veracity of his account…is guaranteed by the fact that in the audience there are some who remember the event’, but this is surely rather naïve; see J. Leemans, W. Mayer, P. Allen, and B. Dehandschutter, ‘Let us die that we may live’: Greek Homilies on Christian Martyrs from Asia Minor, Palestine and Syria c. AD 350–AD 450 (London, 2003), 57 (whose translation is used above). On the context and aims of Basil's homilies to martyrs, see P. Rousseau, Basil of Caesarea (Berkeley, 1994), 184–9.]

(74)   Passio Phileae et Philoromi 3.1–3; Eusebius, HE 8.9.7.

(75)  ‘Aspects’ [above, pp. 66–7].

(76)  ‘Aspects’ [above, pp. 64–7]. [See also Barnes, Constantine, 148–63 on the historical background.]

(77)  In this work Eusebius concerns himself with Palestinians, wherever they were martyred, and Christians from other provinces martyred in Palestine.

(78)  Eusebius, MP 1.5e–k Long. In citing the Long Recension (L) of this work I have followed the numbering of Lawlor and Oulton, Eusebius, i. 327–400, who give an English translation of L, from the Greek, Latin, and Syriac, side by side with the Short Recension. [Alpheus' actions seem to be of the type countenanced by Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. 11 (above, n. 3): ‘And because he saw that at that time laxity and great fear had fallen upon all men, and many were swept along, as it were, before the torrent of many waters and were led to the foul worship of idols, he considered how he might oppose the torrent of evil by his fortitude’; MP 1.5 f, trans. Lawlor and Oulton.]

(79)   MP 2; De Resurr. 2 (PG 24.1097–1100); John Chrys. Laud. in S. Roman. I and II (PG 50.605–18). [Romanus' actions appear to have been motivated by the same reason as those of Alpheus (see above): according to MP 2, he was ‘wont to deter by rebukes those whom terror was dragging down to the error of idolatry’, trans. Lawlor and Oulton.]

(80)   MP 1.1–2. See H. Delehaye, Les Légendes hagiographiques, 119–39 for developments of the Procopius' story; also BHG (3rd edn.), 218–20.

(81)   Iliad 2.204–5, trans. Lattimore.

(82)  Ennatha according to MP 8.8. L; but cf. 9.6–8.

(83)  To give only one example: in AD 414–15 Amonius, a fanatical Nitrian monk, threw a stone at Orestes the prefect (hated by the Patriarch Cyril and his partisans) and was tortured to death. Cyril wished to have him reverenced as a martyr: Socrates, HE 7.14.

(84)  N. H. Baynes, ‘Constantine's Successors to Jovian: and the Struggle with Persia’, in CMH I, ed. H. M. Gwatkin and J. P. Whitney (Cambridge, 1911), 55–86, at 80. For an account of Julian's religious policy by a modern Roman Catholic writer, see P. de Labriolle, ‘Christianisme et paganisme au milieu du IVe siècle’, in A. Fliche and V. Martin, Histoire de l'Église, iii (Paris, 1936), 177–204, esp. 189–91. [The bibliography on this subject is substantial. See the contrasting interpretations of G. W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (London, 1978), 79–93; P. Athanassiadi, Julian: An Intellectual Biography (London, 1992), orig. publ. as Julian and Hellenism (Oxford, 1981), 24–7, 161–91; and R. Smith, Julian's Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate (London, 1995), esp. 179–218.] Complaints in, for example, Greg. Naz. Or. 4 (contra Julianum I) 58, 61, 84; Theodoret, HE 3.17, cf. 11; Sozomen, HE 5.17 fin.

(85)  I have not included here those martyred under Julian for destroying pagan images under the earlier Christian emperors, e.g. Cyril of Heliopolis (Theodoret, HE 3.7) and Artemius (3.18).

(86)  Jerome, Chronicle 2379; Theodoret, HE 3.7; see J. Zeiller, Les Origines chrétiennes dans les provinces danubiennes de l'Empire romain (Paris, 1918), 126–7.

(87)  Greg. Naz. Or. 4.92; Ep. 58; Basil, Ep. 100.

(88)  Socrates, HE 3.15; Sozomen, HE 5.11.

(89)  Greg. Naz. Or. 5.40. It is possible, but not I think likely, that both were executed.

(90)  Greg. Naz. Or. 4.88–91; Theodoret, HE 3.7; Sozomen, HE 5.10. According to Sozomen, Mark was tortured to death, but from Theodoret, and the silence of Gregory, it is clear that he was ultimately released.

(91)  Sozomen, HE 5.11. The Passion of Basil (for a Latin translation see Ruinart, Acta, 599–603) is historically worthless. [This verdict has been contested by D. Woods, who argues that it is ‘on the whole…a reliable historical source’; see his ‘The Martyrdom of the Priest Basil of Ancyra’, Vig. Chr. 46 (1992), 31–9, at 36, against which H. C. Teitler, ‘History and Hagiography: The Passio of Basil of Ancyra as a Historical Source’, Vig. Chr. 50 (1996), 73–80.]

(92)  Greg. Naz. Or. 4.82–4, and see also Sozomen, HE 5.17; Theodoret, HE 3.16–17. [As Theresa Urbainczyk has noted, such forceful condemnation of Julian is characteristic of Theodoret's history; see her Theodoret of Cyrrhus: The Bishop and the Holy Man (Ann Arbor, 2002), 30–1.]

(93)  Theodoret, HE 3.15.

(94)  Soc. 3.18–19; Soz. 5.19–20; Theod. HE 3.10–11; Rufinus, HE 1.37.

(95)  See W. H. C. Frend, ‘The Cellae of the African Circumcellions’, JTS 3 (1952), 87–9; also The Donatist Church: A Movement of Protest in Roman North Africa (Oxford, 1952). [The subsequent bibliography on the Circumcellions is substantial. Frend continued to work on them and his analogy between the Circumcellions and various peasant revolts has proved influential; see particularly his ‘Circumcellions and Monks’, JTS 20 (1969), 542–9, repr. in his Town and Country in the Early Christian Centuries (London, 1980), and ‘Heresy and Schism as Social and National Movements’, in Studies in Church History, 9 (1972), 37–56, repr. in his Religion Popular and Unpopular in the Early Christian Centuries (London, 1976). It should be noted, however, that a number of scholars had developed similar approaches independently of Frend; see the bibliography listed in B. D. Shaw, ‘Who were the Circumcellions?’, in A. H. Merrills (ed.), Vandals, Romans and Berbers: New Perspectives on Late Antique North Africa (Aldershot, 2004), 227–58, at 227–31 nn. 1–13. See also M. Gaddis, There is no Crime for those who have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire (Berkeley, 2005), 111–24.]

(96)  [Although they would not have considered themselves schismatics; on some of the classificatory problems associated with the ‘Donatists’, see B. D. Shaw, ‘African Christianity: Disputes, Definitions, and “Donatists” ’, in M. R. Greenshields and T. A. Robinson (eds.), Orthodoxy and Heresy in Religious Movements: Discipline and Dissent (Lampeter, 1992), 5–34, repr. in Shaw, Rulers, Nomads, and Christians in Roman North Africa (Aldershot, 1995).]

(97)  See Frend, Donatist, 174 ff. [Note, however, that considerable source difficulties attend any study of the Circumcellions. Brent Shaw has shown recently that ‘external accounts’ of the Circumcellions, found in handbooks of heresies (among which he includes Augustine's Liber de haeresibus), are ‘largely useless for any viable investigation of the social phenomenon in Africa’; see Shaw, ‘Who were the Circumcellions?’ at 257.]

(98)  The first Council of Carthage in AD 348–9 forbade that those who destroyed themselves be honoured as martyrs (Conc. Carthag. I, Canon 2); see above, n. 27.

(99)  [See the translation of P. Heather and J. Matthews, The Goths in the Fourth Century (TTH 11; Liverpool, 1991), 111–17.]

(100)  See É. Lévi-Provençal, Histoire de l'Espagne musulmane (Paris, 1950), i. 225–39.

(101)  [See K. B. Wolf, Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain (Cambridge, 1988); J. A. Coope, The Martyrs of Córdoba: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion (Lincoln Nebraska, 1995).]

(102)  Malalas, Chronicle 11.5 (273) [trans. E. Jeffreys, M. Jeffreys, and R. Scott; see the recent edition of H. Thurn, Ioannis Malalae Chronographia (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae 35; Berlin, 2000)]; John of Antioch fr. 111 in Fragmenta Historicum Graecorum, IV (Paris, 1851), 580–1.

(103)  On the original significance and the developments of the word martus and the concept of martyrdom, see H. Delehaye, Sanctus, 74–121; F. Günther, Martus: Die Geschichte eines Wortes (Berlin, 1941). [See also H. Von Campenhausen, Die Idee des Martyriums in der alten Kirche (Göttingen, 1936); N. Brox, Zeuge und Märtyrer: Untersuchungen zur frühchristlichen Zeugnis-Terminologie (Munich, 1961); Grégoire, Persécutions, 238–49; H. Strathmann, ‘Martus’, in G. Kittel and F. Friedrich (eds.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (London, 1964), 474–508; T. Baumeister, Die Anfänge der Theologie des Martyriums (Münster, 1979); and G. W. Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge, 1995), 1–21.]

(104)  See the opening chapter of H. Delehaye, Les Origines du culte des martyrs, 2nd edn. (Subsidia hagiographica 20; Brussels, 1933), esp. 15 ff.

(105)  See Delehaye, Sanctus, 11–14.

(106)  See Tertullian, Ad Martyras 1.6; De Pudicitia 22.1–2; Cyprian, Ep. 15; 16; 17.2; 20.2–3; 21.3; 22.2; 23; 27; 35; 36; Dionys. Alex. ap. Eusebius, HE 6.42.5–6; Peter of Alexandria, Ep. Can. 5; probably Eusebius, HE 5.2.5. I know of no reference to this practice after the Decian persecution.

(107)  Tertullian, Adv. Prax. 1.4; Cyprian, Ep. 11.1; cf. 13.4, 5; 14.2, 3.

(108)   De Morte Peregrini 11–13; I have used the delightful free translation of F. G. Fowler, in H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, The Works of Lucian of Samosata: Complete with Exceptions Specified in the Preface, iv (Oxford, 1905), 79–95, adapting it slightly.

(109)  See M. Caster, Lucien et la pensée religieuse de son temps (Paris, 1937), 237–55, with bibliography at 396–7. I agree with Caster's comment on p. 245 that Lucian is totally lacking in any religious feeling. [It is doubtful whether Lucian's religious feelings can be inferred so easily from his work. As J. L. Lightfoot has recently argued, ‘for all the caustic tone of the religious satire in Lucian's…works, the crucial observation is that they are not, for the most part, up-to-the-minute responses to the changing contemporary scene, but rather heirs to a long tradition of comic and philosophic satire directed against religious flummery (not necessarily against the idea of gods per se)’; see Lightfoot, Lucian: On the Syrian Goddess (Oxford, 2003), 200. See also J. Hall, Lucian's Satire (New York, 1981), 194–220, and C. P. Jones, Culture and Society in Lucian (Cambridge, Mass., 1986), 33–45.]

(110)  The suicide was copied from Indian models: see Lucian, De Morte Peregrini 25, 39; Fugitivi 6–7 (Brachmanes, gymnosophistai). Two such Indian suicides were well known in the West, that of Calanus at Susa in 324 BC in the presence of Alexander (the main sources are Arrian, Anab. 7.2–3; Strabo 15.1.68; Diodorus 17.107.1–5; Plutarch, Alex. 69), and that of Zarmanus or Zarmarus at Athens in 25 BC in the presence of Augustus (Cassius Dio 54.9.9–10; Strabo 15.1.4; 1.73; Plutarch, Alex. 69.8). [Note that Peregrinus claims the Cynic hero Heracles as his model; see De Morte Peregrini 33 and 36. On the importance of Heracles in Cynic thought see R. Höistad, Cynic Hero and Cynic King: Studies in the Cynic Conception of Man (Uppsala, 1948), 22–73.]

(111)  Lucian, De Morte Peregrini 39. Compare the Christian attention to martyrs' relics, the earliest evidence of which appears to be Passio Polycarpi 18.2–3.

(112)  [Note, however, that he never uses the word ‘martyr’; see Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 6.]

(113)  [Trans. B. D. Ehrmann, The Apostolic Fathers, i (Cambridge, Mass., 2003), 274–7; see also the commentary of W. R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch (Philadelphia, 1985), 175–80.]

(114)  Ed. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd edn. (London, 1889), II.ii. 477–95, 589–95.

(115)  See the thorough analysis of Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, 383–91 (Acts), 436–7 (Malalas).

(116)  See esp. Eusebius, HE 3.36.2–15. The evidence is set out and discussed at length in Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, i. 135–232; P. N. Harrison, Polycarp's Two Epistles to the Philippians (Cambridge, 1936), 209 ff. [C. Munier, ‘Où en est la question d'Ignace d'Antioche? Bilan d'un siècle de recherches 1870–1988’, ANRW II.27.1 (Berlin and New York, 1993), 359–484.]

(117)  Ed. Knopf, no. 8; Delehaye, Les Passions, 63. [See J. Amat's edition of the Passio Perpetuae; Passion de Perpétue et de Félicité, suivi des Actes (Sources chrétiennes 417; Paris, 1996), with the text and French trans. at 98–183. Perpetua's Passion has received much attention in recent years. See particularly Louis Robert's classic study of her last vision, ‘Une vision de Perpétue martyre à Carthage en 203’, CRAI (1982), 228–76, repr. in Robert, Opera Minora Selecta: Épigraphie et Antiquités Grecques, v (Amsterdam, 1989), 791–839. See also B. D. Shaw, ‘The Passion of Perpetua’, Past and Present, 139 (1993), 3–45, repr. in R. Osborne (ed.), Studies in Ancient Greek and Roman Society (Cambridge, 2004), 286–325; and J. Bremmer, ‘Perpetua and her Diary: Authenticity, Family and Visions’, in W. Ameling (ed.), Märtyrer und Märtyrerakten (Stuttgart, 2002), 77–120.]

(118)  [Tertullian was Louis Robert's preferred choice as author, although he conceded that this could not be established with any certainty; see Robert, ‘Une vision de Perpétue’, 235 n. 35; against this see T. D. Barnes, Tertullian: A Historical and Literary Study, rev. edn. (Oxford, 1985), 79–80 and 329; and R. Braun, ‘Nouvelles observations linguistiques sur le rédacteur de la “Passio Perpetuae” ’, Vig. Chr. 33 (1979), 105–17. Brent Shaw reckons Robert's caution to be ‘perhaps the point… where the whole matter ought to be left’; see his ‘The Passion of Perpetua’ at 309 n. 70.]

(119)  Delehaye, Les Origines, 63 ff., esp. 66–7; P. de Labriolle, La Crise montaniste (Paris, 1913), 339–53. [Barnes originally reckoned the Passion of Perpetua to be ‘Montanist through and through’, but later conceded that the visions of Perpetua and Saturus need to be separated from the general tone of the text; see his Tertullian at 77–9 and 329, with the review of J. Matthews, JTS 24 (1973), 245–9, at 248–9.]

(120)  Thus A. Schlatter, ‘Der Märtyrer in den Anfängen der Kirche’, in Beitrage zur Förderung christlicher Theologie, 19.3 (1915), 226–310, at 241 and 290–1 n. 35. [See also M. Hengel, Die Zeloten: Untersuchungen zur jüdischen Freiheitsbewegung in der Zeit von Herodes I. bis 70 n. Chr (Leiden, 1976), 60–1, trans. by D. Smith as The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D. (Edinburgh, 1989), 58–9.]

(121)  [11.3, trans. Farquharson: ‘How admirable is the soul which is ready and resolved, if it must this moment be released from the body, to be either extinguished or scattered or to persist. This resolve, too, must arise from a specific decision, not out of sheer opposition like the Christians, but after reflection and with dignity, and so as to convince other, without histrionic display.’ Although see P. Brunt, ‘Marcus Aurelius and the Christians’, in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, i (Brussels, 1979), 483–520, at 498, who argues that the reference to the Christians is ‘almost certainly a gloss’.]

(122)  I do not think it possible to be more precise than this. For the relevant evidence, see Chadwick, Contra Celsum, pp. xxvi–xxviii.

(123)  Cf. Revelation, where the martyrs are exalted, but only one individual (Antipas) is casually named.

(124)  The standard texts are those in the editions of the Septuagint by A. Rahlfs (1935) and by H. B. Swete. For 2 Macc. see Les Livres des Maccabées (2nd edn., 1949), a text of 1 and 2 Maccabees with French trans. and comm.; for 4 Macc. see M. Hadas, The Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (1953), a text with Eng. trans. and comm., and a good select bibliography on pp. 139–41; A. Dupon-Sommer, Le Quatrième Livre des Maccabées (Bibl. de l'École des Hautes-Études, 274; 1939), a French trans. and comm.; O. Perler, ‘Das vierte Makkabäerbuch, Ignat. v. Antiochen und die ältesten Martyrerberichte’, Riv. di archeol. crist. 25 (1949), 47–72. See also H. W. Surkau, Martyrium im jüdischer und frühchristlicher Zeit (1938).

(125)  See H. A. Fischel, ‘Martyr and Prophet (a Study of Jewish Literature)’, Jewish Quarterly Review, NS 37.3 (1947), 265–80, and 37.4 (1947), 363–86, 279–80.

(126)  See R. H. Charles, Apoc. and Pseudep. of the OT (1913), ii. 155–8, with an Eng. trans. of (and notes upon) the Martyrdom of Isaiah, pp. 159–62; The Ascension of Isaiah (1919).

(127)  ‘All the rewards of faithfulness enumerated by the dying Mattathias (ii 52–61) are limited to this life’: see R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity (2nd edn., 1913), 266.

(128)  2 Macc. 7: 9, 14, 23, 29, 36; 12: 44; 14: 46; 4 Macc. 5: 37; 7: 18–19; 13: 17; 15: 3; 16: 25; 17: 5, 12, 18; 18: 23. I cannot agree with Charles, Critical History, 275 etc., that 2 Maccabees actually presents all the righteous as sharing in the resurrection; but three passages in 4 Macc. (5: 37; 13: 17; 18: 23) do concede immortality to the forefathers of the martyrs (in this work there is no reference to a resurrection of the body, as in e.g. 2 Macc. 7: 11; 14: 46).

(129)  4 Macc. 13: 17; cf. 7: 19; 16: 25.

(130)  Luke 16: 22–3. Is it fanciful to find an echo of the Eleazer of 2 and 4 Maccabees in the name Lazarus, a colloquial form of Eleazar, given to the only character in any parable of Jesus who receives a name, and who goes to a blessed future life ‘in the bosom of Abraham’?

(131)  So in Tacitus, Hist. 5.5 animos proelio aut suppliciis peremptorum aeternos putant [Judaei].

(132)  Hippolytus, Comm. in Dan. 2.37; Dionys. Alex. ap. Eusebius, HE 6.42.5; and other passages cited by H. Delehaye, Les Origines, 4 n. 6.

(133)  For the earliest evidence on this subject, see H. Windisch, Taufe und Sünde im ältesten Christentum bis auf Origenes (1908), 414–15, 423, 435, 481–3.

(134)  In the NT, see esp. Gal. 6: 16; 3: 7, 9, 29; Rom. 9: 6–8; cf. Eph. 2: 11–13; Phil. 3: 3. See also 1 Clem. 29; Justin, C. Tryph. 123, 135, 119–20; Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres. 4.8.1; 5.32.3, 34.1; Clement of Alexandria, Strom.; 29.1. I have not been able to gain access to A. Oepke, Das neue Gottesvolk, im Schrifttum, Schauspiel, bildender Kunst und Weltgestaltung.

(135)  See H. J. Schoeps, Aus frühchristlicher Zeit (1950), 153–67.

(136)  It is true that the Pharisaic movement became thoroughly alienated from the Hasmonaean ruling house from the time of John Hyrcanus, towards the end of the 2nd cent. BC (see Jos. AJ 13.10.5–6, §§ 288–98); but that is no reason why the Maccabean martyrs glorified in 2 and 4 Maccabees should have fallen out of favour, especially as the author of 2 Maccabees seems himself to have been a Pharisee, and the author of 4 Maccabees is not in the least interested in the political resistance movement led by the Hasmonaeans (which he never mentions) but in the purely religious victims only. The explanation, I think, must be that in the absence of actual cults of the martyrs, discouraged by official Judaism, interest in particular martyrs would not be likely to remain alive unless their teaching, as prophets or Rabbis, had been preserved.

(137)  See Delehaye, Les Origines, 201–2; M. Maas, ‘Die Maccabäer als christliche Heilige’, Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wiss. D. Judentums, 44 (1900), 145–56; J. Jeremias, ‘Die Makkabäer-Kirche in Antiochia’, Zeitschrift d. neutest. Wiss. 40 (1942), 254 ff.

(138)  The principal texts are Greg. Naz. Or. 15, in Machab. Laud.; John Chrysostom, Hom. in SS. Maccab. I and II (PG 50.617–28); Hom. 11, de Eleaz. (PG 53.523–30); Ambrose, De Jacob et vit. Beat. 2.10.43–12.58; Augustine, Serm. 300, 301 (PL 38.1376–93). Razis very rarely appears, but see Augustine, C. Gaudent. 1.31, 38, and Ep. 204.6–8, where he does not escape reproof for his suicide (his death is described as mirabilior quam prudentior, ‘more marvellous than sensible’).

(139)  For Clement, Hippolytus, Origen, and Cyprian, see E. Schürer, Geschichte des juud. Volkes, iii (4th edn., 1909); O Machabaeicam matrem in Pass. Montan. Et Luc 16.4 (= Musurillo, ACM, p. 230) presupposes an audience familiar with 2 or 4 Maccabees.

(140)  Perler, ‘Das vierter Makkabäerbuch’.

(141)  There are an astonishing number of other metaphors drawn from the games: see 4 Macc. 9: 23, 11: 20, 13: 14, 16: 16, 17: 11–16.

(142)  Philo, Quod Omn. Pro. Lib. 88; De Migrat. Abr. 27; De Sobrietat. 65; De Somniis 1.59.

(143)  In one or two of these cases it is just possible that the borrowing was by Judaism from Christianity. See Fischel, ‘Martyr and Prophet’, 364–71.

(144)  Ibid. 376–7.

(145)  Ibid. 267, 279.

(146)  Ibid. 381–4.

(147)  Ibid. 377–9.

(148)  See J. H. Greenstone, ‘Martyrdom, Restriction of’, in Jewish Encyclopaedia, viii (1904); G. F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (1927), ii. 106 n. 4, 107–8; Fischel, ‘Martyr and Prophet’, 268.

(149)  See Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries, 30, 106–7.

(150)  See I. Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, ii (Halle, 1890), 388–91 [trans. C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern, Muslim Studies II, ed. S. M. Stern (London, 1971), 351–4]; F. Dornseiff, Archiv für Religionswiss. 22 (1923–4), 151–3.

(151)  [The date of 4 Maccabees has been much discussed, and is now most commonly assigned to around AD 100, although certainty is impossible (the books of the Maccabees are first mentioned in the late 2nd cent., in Clement of Alexandria's Stromata, 5.14.97). Ste. Croix may well have been following Elias Bickerman's dating of AD 19–54; ‘The Date of Fourth Maccabees’, in Louis Ginsberg Jubilee Volume (New York, 1945), 105–12, repr. in Bickerman, Studies in Jewish and Christian History, i (Leiden, 1976), 275–81. The date of Ignatius' letters is equally uncertain; Eusebius dates Ignatius' death to AD 107, and his letters are generally assigned to the early 2nd cent.; see the recent discussions of R. M. Hübner, ‘Thesen zur Echtheit und Datierung der sieben Briefe des Ignatius von Antiochen’, ZAC 1 (1997), 44–72 with the responses of G. Schöllgen, ‘Die Ignatien als pseudepigraphisches Briefcorpus: Anmerkung zu den Thesen von Reinhard M. Hübner’, ZAC 2 (1998), 16–25 and H. J. Vogt, ‘Bemerkungen zur Echtheit der Ignatiusbriefe’, ZAC 3 (1999), 50–63 (with a further response by Hübner to come). Similarities between Ignatius and 4 Maccabees should, perhaps, be explained in terms of shared concerns rather than direct authorial influence; see further J. W. Van Henten, ‘The Martyrs as Heroes of the Christian People: Some Remarks on the Continuity between Jewish and Christian Martyrology, with Pagan Analogies’, in M. Lamberigts and P. Van Deun (eds.), Martyrium in Multidisciplinary Perspective: Memorial Louis Reekmans (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 117; Leuven, 1995), 303–22; D. Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, 1999), 115–17. See also Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome, 77–81, at 79, who argues that ‘the language of Ignatius and IV Macc. seems clearly to reflect…a common origin for both in the imperial Greek of Asia Minor.’]

(152)  See Ch. 3.