The Tenth Persecution Under Diocletian A D 303
Under the Roman Emperors, commonly called the Era of the Martyrs, was
occasioned partly by the increasing numbers and luxury of the
christians, and the hatred of Galerius, the adopted son of Diocletian,
who, being stimulated by his mother, a bigoted pagan, never ceased
persuading the emperor to enter upon the persecution, till he had
accomplished his purpose.
The fatal day fixed upon to commence the blood
work, was the 23d of
February, A. D. 303, that being the day in which the Terminalia were
celebrated, and on which, as the cruel pagans boasted, they hoped to put
a termination to christianity. On the appointed day, the persecution
began in Nicomedia, on the morning of which the prefect of that city
repaired, with a great number of officers and assistants, to the church
of the christians, where, having forced open the doors, they seized upon
all the sacred books, and committed them to the flames.
The whole of this transaction was in the presence of Diocletian and
Galerius, who, not contented with burning the books, had the church
levelled with the ground. This was followed by a severe edict,
commanding the destruction of all other christian churches and books;
and an order soon succeeded, to render christians of all denominations
The publication of this edict occasioned an immediate martyrdom for a
bold christian not only tore it down from the place to which it was
affixed, but execrated the name of the emperor for his injustice.
A provocation like this was sufficient to call down pagan vengeance upon
his head; he was accordingly seized, severely tortured, and then burned
All the christians were apprehended and imprisoned; and Galerius
privately ordered the imperial palace to be set on fire, that the
christians might be charged as the incendiaries, and a plausible
pretence given for carrying on the persecution with the greatest
severities. A general sacrifice was commenced, which occasioned various
martyrdoms. No distinction was made of age or sex; the name of Christian
was so obnoxious to the pagans, that all indiscriminately fell
sacrifices to their opinions. Many houses were set on fire, and whole
christian families perished in the flames; and others had stones
fastened about their necks, and being tied together were driven into the
sea. The persecution became general in all the Roman provinces, but more
particularly in the east; and as it lasted ten years, it is impossible
to ascertain the numbers martyred, or to enumerate the various modes of
Racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison, and famine, were made
use of in various parts to despatch the christians; and invention was
exhausted to devise tortures against such as had no crime, but thinking
differently from the votaries of superstition.
A city of Phrygia, consisting entirely of christians, was burnt, and all
the inhabitants perished in the flames.
Tired with slaughter, at length, several governors of provinces
represented to the imperial court, the impropriety of such conduct.
Hence many were respited from execution, but, though they were not put
to death, as much as possible was done to render their lives miserable,
many of them having their ears cut off, their noses slit, their right
eyes put out, their limbs rendered useless by dreadful dislocations, and
their flesh seared in conspicuous places with red-hot irons.
It is necessary now to particularize the most conspicuous persons who
laid down their lives in martyrdom in this bloody persecution.
Sebastian, a celebrated martyr, was born at Narbonne, in Gaul,
instructed in the principles of christianity at Milan, and afterward
became an officer of the emperor's guard at Rome. He remained a true
christian in the midst of idolatry; unallured by the splendours of a
court, untainted by evil examples, and uncontaminated by the hopes of
preferment. Refusing to be a pagan, the emperor ordered him to be taken
to a field near the city, termed the Campus Martius, and there to be
shot to death with arrows; which sentence was executed accordingly. Some
pious christians coming to the place of execution, in order to give his
body burial, perceived signs of life in him, and immediately moving him
to a place of security, they, in a short time effected his recovery, and
prepared him for a second martyrdom; for, as soon as he was able to go
out, he placed himself intentionally in the emperor's way as he was
going to the temple, and reprehended him for his various cruelties and
unreasonable prejudices against christianity. As soon as Diocletian had
overcome his surprise, he ordered Sebastian to be seized, and carried to
a place near the palace, and beaten to death; and, that the christians
should not either use means again to recover or bury his body, he
ordered that it should be thrown into the common sewer. Nevertheless, a
christian lady, named Lucina, found means to remove it from the sewer,
and bury it in the catacombs, or repositories of the dead.
The christians, about this time, upon mature consideration, thought it
unlawful to bear arms under a heathen emperor. Maximilian, the son of
Fabius Victor, was the first beheaded under this regulation.
Vitus, a Sicilian of considerable family, was brought up a christian;
when his virtues increased with his years, his constancy supported him
under all afflictions, and his faith was superior to the most dangerous
perils. His father, Hylas, who was a pagan, finding that he had been
instructed in the principles of christianity by the nurse who brought
him up, used all his endeavours to bring him back to paganism and at
length sacrificed his son to the idols, June 14, A. D. 303.
Victor was a Christian of a good family at Marseilles, in France; he
spent a great part of the night in visiting the afflicted, and
confirming the weak; which pious work he could not, consistently with
his own safety, perform in the daytime; and his fortune he spent in
relieving the distresses of poor christians.
He was at length, however, seized by the emperor's Maximian's decree,
who ordered him to be bound, and dragged through the streets. During the
execution of this order, he was treated with all manner of cruelties and
indignities by the enraged populace. Remaining still inflexible, his
courage was deemed obstinacy.
Being by order stretched upon the rack, he turned his eyes towards
heaven, and prayed to God to endue him with patience, after which he
underwent the tortures with most admirable fortitude. After the
executioners were tired with inflicting torments on him, he was conveyed
to a dungeon. In his confinement, he converted his jailers, named
Alexander, Felician, and Longinus. This affair coming to the ears of the
emperor, he ordered them immediately to be put to death, and the jailers
were accordingly beheaded. Victor was then again put to the rack,
unmercifully beaten with batons, and again sent to prison.
Being a third time examined concerning his religion, he persevered in
his principles; a small altar was then brought, and he was commanded to
offer incense upon it immediately. Fired with indignation at the
request, he boldly stepped forward, and with his foot overthrew both
altar and idol. This so enraged the emperor Maximian, who was present,
that he ordered the foot with which he had kicked the altar to be
immediately cut off; and Victor was thrown into a mill, and crushed to
pieces with the stones, A. D. 303.
Maximus, governor of Cilicia, being at Tarsus, three christians were
brought before him; their names were Tarachus, an aged man; Probus, and
Andronicus. After repeated tortures and exhortations to recant, they, at
length, were ordered for execution.
Being brought to the amphitheatre, several beasts were let loose upon
them; but none of the animals, though hungry, would touch them. The
keeper then brought out a large bear, that had that very day destroyed
three men; but this voracious creature and a fierce lioness both refused
to touch the prisoners. Finding the design of destroying them by the
means of wild beasts ineffectual, Maximus ordered them to be slain by
the sword, on the 11th of October, A. D. 303.
Romanus, a native of Palestine, was deacon of the church of Caesarea, at
the time of the commencement of Diocletian's persecution. Being
condemned for his faith at Antioch, he was scourged, put to the rack,
his body torn with hooks, his flesh cut with knives, his face scarified,
his teeth beaten from their sockets, and his hair plucked up by the
roots. Soon after he was ordered to be strangled, Nov. 17, A. D. 303.
Susanna, the niece of Caius, bishop of Rome, was pressed by the emperor
Diocletian to marry a noble pagan, who was nearly related to him.
Refusing the honour intended her, she was beheaded by the emperor's
Dorotheus, the high chamberlain of the household to Diocletian, was a
christian, and took great pains to make converts. In his religious
labours, he was joined by Gorgonius, another christian, and one
belonging to the palace. They were first tortured and then strangled.
Peter, a eunuch belonging to the emperor, was a christian of singular
modesty and humility. He was laid on a gridiron, and broiled over a slow
fire till he expired.
Cyprian, known by the title of the magician, to distinguish him from
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, was a native of Antioch. He received a
liberal education in his youth, and particularly applied himself to
astrology; after which he travelled for improvement through Greece,
Egypt, India, &c. In the course of time he became acquainted with
Justina, a young lady of Antioch, whose birth, beauty, and
accomplishments, rendered her the admiration of all who knew her.
A pagan gentleman applied to Cyprian, to promote his suit with the
beautiful Justina; this he undertook, but soon himself became converted,
burnt his books of astrology and magic, received baptism, and felt
animated with a powerful spirit of grace. The conversion of Cyprian had
a great effect on the pagan gentleman who paid his addresses to Justina,
and he in a short time embraced christianity. During the persecution of
Diocletian, Cyprian and Justina were seized upon as christians, when the
former was torn with pincers, and the later chastised and, after
suffering other torments, were beheaded.
Eulalia, a Spanish lady of a christian family, was remarkable in her
youth for sweetness of temper, and solidity of understanding seldom
found in the capriciousness of juvenile years. Being apprehended as a
christian, the magistrate attempted by the mildest means, to bring her
over to paganism, but she ridiculed the pagan deities with such
asperity, that the judge, incensed at her behaviour, ordered her to be
tortured. Her sides were accordingly torn by hooks, and her breasts
burnt in the most shocking manner, till she expired by the violence of
the flames, Dec. A. D. 303.
In the year 304, when the persecution reached Spain, Dacian, the
governor of Terragona ordered Valerius the bishop, and Vincent the
deacon, to be seized, loaded with irons, and imprisoned. The prisoners
being firm in their resolution, Valerius was banished, and Vincent was
racked, and his limbs dislocated, his flesh torn with hooks, and was
laid on a gridiron, which had not only a fire placed under it, but
spikes at the top, which ran into his flesh. These torments neither
destroying him, nor changing his resolutions, he was remanded to prison,
and confined in a small, loathsome, dark dungeon, strewed with sharp
flints, and pieces of broken glass, where he died, Jan. 22, 304.--His
body was thrown into the river.
The persecution of Diocletian began particularly to rage in A. D. 304,
when many christians were put to cruel tortures, and the most painful
and ignominious deaths; the most eminent and particular of whom we shall
Saturninus, a priest of Albitina, a town of Africa, after being
tortured, was remanded to prison, and there starved to death. His four
children, after being variously tormented, shared the same fate with
Dativas, a noble Roman senator; Thelico, a pious Christian, Victoria, a
young lady of considerable family and fortune, with some others of less
consideration, all auditors of Saturninus, were tortured in a similar
manner, and perished by the same means.
Agrape, Chioma, and Irene, three sisters, were seized upon at
Thessalonica, when Diocletian's persecution reached Greece. They were
burnt, and received the crown of martyrdom in the flames, March 25, A.
D. 304. The governor, finding that he could make no impression on Irene,
ordered her to be exposed naked in the streets, which shameful order
having been executed, she was burnt, April 1, A. D. 304, at the same
place where her sisters suffered.
Agatho, a man of a pious turn of mind, with Cassice, Phillippa, and
Eutychia, were martyred about the same time; but the particulars have
not been transmitted to us.
Marcellinus, bishop of Rome, who succeeded Caius in that see, having
strongly opposed paying divine honours to Diocletian, suffered
martyrdom, by a variety of tortures, in the year 321, comforting his
soul till he expired with the prospect of those glorious rewards it
would receive by the tortures suffered in the body.
Victorius, Carpophorus, Severus, and Severianus, were brothers, and all
four employed in places of great trust and honour in the city of Rome.
Having exclaimed against the worship of idols, they were apprehended,
and scourged, with the plumbetae, or scourges, to the ends of which were
fastened leaden balls. This punishment was exercised with such excess of
cruelty, that the pious brothers fell martyrs to its severity.
Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united
together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were
separated from each other by the persecution.--Timothy, being
apprehended as a christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of
Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures,
commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, "Had
I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part
with the word of God." The governor being much incensed at this reply,
ordered his eyes to be put out with red-hot irons, saying "The books
shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them."
His patience under the operation was so great, that the governor grew
more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his
fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied
about his neck, and a gag in his mouth. In this state, Maura, his wife,
tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken
out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife's entreaties, he
greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying
for the faith. The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his
courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory. The
governor, after trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to
be tortured which was executed with great severity. After this, Timothy
and Maura were crucified near each other, A. D. 304.
Sabinus, bishop of Assisium, refusing to sacrifice to Jupiter, and
pushing the idol from him, had his hand cut off by the order of the
governor of Tuscany. While in prison, he converted the governor and his
family, all of whom suffered martyrdom for the faith. Soon after their
execution, Sabinus himself was scourged to death. Dec.. A. D. 304.
Tired with the farce of state and public business, the emperor
Diocletian resigned the imperial diadem, and was succeeded by
Constantius and Galerius; the former a prince of the most mild and
humane disposition and the latter equally remarkable for his cruelty and
tyranny. These divided the empire into two equal governments, Galerius
ruling in the east, and Constantius in the west; and the people in the
two governments felt the effects of the dispositions of the two
emperors; for those in the west were governed in the mildest manner, but
such as resided in the east, felt all then miseries of oppression and
Among the many martyred by the order of Galerius, we shall enumerate the
Amphianus was a gentleman of eminence in Lucia, and a scholar of
Eusebius; Julitta, a Lycaonian of royal descent, but more celebrated for
her virtues than noble blood. While on the rack, her child was killed
before her face. Julitta, of Cappadocia, was a lady of distinguished
capacity, great virtue, and uncommon courage.--To complete the
execution, Julitta had boiling pitch poured on her feet, her sides torn
with hooks, and received the conclusion of her martyrdom, by being
beheaded, April 16, A. D. 305.
Hermolaus, a venerable and pious christian, of a great age, and an
intimate acquaintance of Panteleon's, suffered martyrdom for the faith
on the same day, and in the same manner as Panteleon.
Eustratius, secretary to the governor of Armina, was thrown into a fiery
furnace, for exhorting some christians who had been apprehended, to
persevere in their faith.
Nicander and Marcian, two eminent Roman military officers, were
apprehended on account of their faith. As they were both men of great
abilities in their profession, the utmost means were used to induce them
to renounce christianity: but these endeavours being found ineffectual,
they were beheaded.
In the kingdom of Naples, several martyrdoms took place, in particular,
Januaries, bishop of Beneventum; Sosius, deacon of Misene Proculus,
another deacon; Eutyches and Acutius, two laymen: Festus, a deacon; and
Desiderius, a reader; were all, on account of being christians,
condemned by the governor of Campania, to be devoured by the wild
beasts. The savage animals, however, not touching them, they were
Quirinus, bishop of Siscia, being carried before Matenius, the governor,
was ordered to sacrifice to the pagan deities, agreeably to the edicts
of various Roman emperors. The governor, perceiving his constancy, sent
him to jail, and ordered him to be heavily ironed; flattering himself,
that the hardships of a jail, some occasional tortures and the weight
of chains, might overcome his resolution. Being decided in his
principles, he was sent to Amantius, the principal governor of Pannonia,
now Hungary, who loaded him with chains, and carried him through the
principal towns of the Danube, exposing him to ridicule wherever he
went. Arriving at length at Sabaria, and finding that Quirinus would not
renounce his faith, he ordered him to be cast into a river, with a stone
fastened about his neck. This sentence being put into execution,
Quirinus floated about for some time, and, exhorting the people in the
most pious terms, concluded his admonitions with this prayer: "It is no
new thing, O all-powerful Jesus, for thee to stop the course of rivers,
or to cause a man to walk upon the water as thou didst thy servant
Peter; the people have already seen the proof of thy power in me; grant
me now to lay down my life for thy sake, O my God." On pronouncing the
last words he immediately sank, and died, June 4, A. D. 308; his body
was afterwards taken up, and buried by some pious christians.
Pamphilus, a native of Phoenicia, of a considerable family, was a man
of such extensive learning, that he was called a second Origen. He was
received into the body of the clergy at Caesarea, where he established a
public library and spent his time in the practice of every christian
virtue. He copied the greatest part of the works of Origen with his own
hand, and, assisted by Eusebius, gave a correct copy of the Old
Testament, which had suffered greatly by the ignorance or negligence of
firmer transcribers. In the year 307, he was apprehended, and suffered
torture and martyrdom.
Marcellus, bishop of Rome, being banished on account of his faith, fell
a martyr to the miseries he suffered in exile, 16th Jan. A. D. 310.
Peter, the sixteenth bishop of Alexandria, was martyred Nov. 25, A. D.
311, by order of Maximus Caesar, who reigned in the east.
Agnes, a virgin of only thirteen years of age, was beheaded for being a
christian; as was Serene, the empress of Diocletian. Valentine, a
priest, suffered the same fate at Rome; and Erasmus, a bishop, was
martyred in Campania.
Soon after this the persecution abated in the middle parts of the
empire, as well as in the west; and Providence at length began to
manifest vengeance on the persecutors. Maximian endeavoured to corrupt
his daughter Fausta to murder Constantine her husband; which she
discovered, and Constantine forced him to choose his own death, when he
preferred the ignominious death of hanging, after being an emperor near
Galerius was visited by an incurable and intolerable disease, which
began with an ulcer in his secret parts and a fistula in ano, that
spread progressively to his inmost bowels, and baffled all the skill of
physicians and surgeons. Untried medicines of some daring professors
drove the evil through his bones to the very marrow, and worms began to
breed in his entrails; and the stench was so preponderant as to be
perceived in the city; all the passages separating the passages of the
urine, and excrements being corroded and destroyed. The whole mass of
his body was turned unto universal rottenness; and, though living
creatures, and boiled animals, were applied with the design of drawing
out the vermin by the heat, by which a vast hive was opened, a second
imposthume discovered a more prodigious swarm, as if his whole body was
resolved into worms. By a dropsy also his body was grossly disfigured;
for although his upper parts were exhausted, and dried to a skeleton,
covered only with dead skin; the lower parts were swelled up like
bladders, and the shape of his feet could scarcely be perceived.
Torments and pains insupportable, greater than those he had inflicted
upon the christians, accompanied these visitations, and he bellowed out
like a wounded bull, often endeavouring to kill himself and destroying
several physicians for the inefficacy of their medicines. These torments
kept him in a languishing state a full year, and his conscience was
awakened, at length, so that he was compelled to acknowledge the God of
the christians, and to promise, in the intervals of his paroxysms, that
he would rebuild the churches, and repair the mischief done to them. An
edict in his last agonies, was published in his name, and the joint
names of Constantine and Licinius, to permit the christians to have the
free use of religion, and to supplicate their God for his health and the
good of the empire; on which many prisoners in Nicomedia were liberated,
and amongst others Donatus.
At length, Constantine the Great, determined to redress the grievances
of the christians, for which purpose he raised an army of 30,000 foot,
and 8000 horse, which he marched towards Rome against Maxentius, the
emperor; defeated him, and entered the city of Rome in triumph. A law
was now published in favour of the christians, in which Licinius was
joined by Constantine, and a copy of it was sent to Maximus in the east.
Maximus, who was a bigoted pagan, greatly disliked the edict, but being
afraid of Constantine, did not openly avow his disapprobation. Maximus
at length invaded the territories of Licinius, but, being defeated, put
an end to his life by poison. Licinius afterwards persecuting the
christians, Constantine the Great marched against him, and defeated him:
he was afterwards slain by his own soldiers.
We shall conclude our account of the tenth and last general persecution
with the death of St. George, the titular saint and patron of England.
St. George was born in Cappadocia, of christian parents; and giving
proofs of his courage, was promoted in the army of the emperor
Diocletian. During the persecution, St. George threw up his command,
went boldly to the senate house, and avowed his being a christian,
taking occasion at the same time to remonstrate against paganism, and
point out the absurdity of worshipping idols. This freedom so greatly
provoked the senate, that St. George was ordered to be tortured, and by
the emperor's orders was dragged through the streets, and beheaded the