Persecutions of Christians by Romans
Although Roman persecutions for Christians continued for about three centuries and never stopped during that era, the historians used to assign it into ten great persecutions happened by ten Roman Emperors, will be mentioned later. Many scholars connected these ten persecutions with the ten plagues that happened to Egyptians in the Old Testament and the ten horns of the beast mentioned in the Holy Book of Revelation.
- Marcus Aurelius
- Septimius Severus
- Caius Julius Verus Maximinus Thrax
Roman Emperor 249-251. He was borne, date uncertain, near Sirmium in Pannonia of a Roman or a Romanized family. Practically nothing is known about his career, but the greater part of his life seems to have been passed in the army. He was the first of the great soldier- emperors from the Danubian provinces under whom the senatorial regime ended and the government became an absolute monarchy. Problems of administration, internal as well as external, at once claimed his attention. Oblivious of the changes wrought by time and the march of ideas, he pinned his faith to the almost abandoned paganism of old Rome as the solution of the problems of his time. Such sweeping reforms necessarily brought into prominence the growing power of the Christian Church, and made it clear that any attempt to realize or enforce the absolutism of earlier Roman politics must necessarily be futile as long as any considerable body of citizens professing the Christian creed was allowed the free exercise of their religion. Belief in the freedom on conscience and the higher estimate of religion found among the Christians could find no part in such schemes as those of Decius and would necessarily prove an insuperable obstacle to the complete realization of his plans. Various reasons have been assigned for the emperor's hatred of Christianity, some seeing in it an evidence of innate cruelty, others a desire to be avenged on the friends of his predecessor; but there can be little doubt that the main motives for his hostility were political, conceived not in the form of fanaticism but in purposes of political expediency. The scope of the anti-Christian legislation of Decius was broader than that of his predecessors and much more far-reaching in its effects. The text of his edicts has not survived but their general tenor can be judged from the manner in which they were executed. The object of the emperor was not the extermination of the Christians, but the complete extinction of Christianity itself. Bishops and priests were unconditionally punished with death. To all others was given an opportunity to recant and, to ensure the abandonment of Christianity, all were compelled to submit to some test of their loyalty to Paganism, such as the offering of sacrifice, the pouring of libations, or the burning of incense to the idols. The unexpectedness of the attack, coupled with the fact that an appalling amount of laxity and corruption had manifested themselves during the long peace which the Church had just enjoyed, produced the most deplorable effect in the Christian fold. Multitudes presented themselves to the magistrates to express their compliance with the imperial edict and to these apostates tickets were issued attesting the fact that they had offered sacrifice or burned incense, while others, without actually performing these rites, availed themselves of the venality of the magistrates to purchase certificates attesting their renunciation. These defections, though numerous, were more than counterbalanced by the multitudes who suffered death, exile, confiscation, or torture in all parts of the empire. The Decian persecution was the severest trial to which the Church up to that time had been subjected and the loss suffered by the Church in consequence of apostasy was almost as damaging as the losses by martyrdom.
He was a Roman emperor (253-60). Member of a distinguished family, he had held several offices before the army proclaimed him emperor in 253 at Rhaetia. Weak and irresolute, his abilities were unequal to the difficulties of the times; his son and coregent, Gallienus, was lacking also in force. Christian tradition regards him as the originator of the persecution of the Christians under Decius. In 257 Valerian issued a rescript, in kindly language, taking from Christians the right to hold assemblies or to enter the subterranean places of burial, and sending the clergy into exile. In 258, by a new and absolutely merciless edict, bishops, priests, and deacons were executed immediately, men of senatorial and equestrian rank were is punished with degradation and confiscation of goods to be followed by death if they refused to offer heathen sacrifice, women were threatened with confiscation of their property and exile, and Christians in the imperial household were sent in chains to perform forced labor on the imperial domains. In this persecution Christian Rome and Carthage lost their leaders: Bishop Sixtus of Rom was seized on 6 August, 258, in one of the Catacombs and was put to death; Cyprian of Carthage suffered martyrdom on 14 September. Another martyr was the Roman deacon, St. Lawrence. In Spain Bishop Fructuosus of Tarragona and his two deacons were put to death on 21 January, 259. There were also executions in the eastern provinces. Taken altogether, however, the repressions were limited to scattered spots and had no great success. Valerian was finally captured by the Persians and died a prisoner. Macrianus and his two sons were killed in the struggle for the throne. Gal1ienus, who became Valerian's successor, annulled at once his entire father's laws hostile to Christianity.
Roman Emperor, 270-275, born of humble parents, near Sirmium in Pannonia, 9 September, 214; died 275. At the age of twenty he entered the military service, in which, because of exceptional ability and remarkable bodily strength his advancement was rapid. On the death of Claudius he was proclaimed Emperor by the army at Sirmium, and became sole master of the Roman dominions on the suicide of his rival Quintillus, the candidate of the Senate. During the early rears of his reign Aurelian exhibited remarkable justice and tolerance towards the Christians. In 272, when he had gained possession of Antioch, after defeating Zenobia in several battles, he was appealed to by the Christians to decide whether the "Church building" in Antioch belonged to the orthodox bishop Domnus, or to the party represented by the favorite of Zenobia, Paul of Samosata, who had been deposed for heresy by a synod held three or four years before. His decision, based probably on the Edict of Gallienus, was that the property belonged to those who were in union with the bishops of Italy and of the city of Rome. As this act was based on political motives, it cannot be construed into one of friendliness for the Christians. As soon as he was at liberty to carry out his schemes for internal reform Aurelian revived the polity of his predecessor Valerian, threatened to rescind the Edict of Gallienus, and commenced a systematic persecution of the followers of Christ. The exact date of the inauguration of this policy is not known. It is summer of 275 and dispatched to the governors of the provinces, but Aurelian was slain before he could put it into execution.
He was a Roman Emperor and persecutor of the Church, borne of parents who had been slaves, at Dioclea, near Salona, in Dalmatia, A.D. 245; died at Salona, A.D. 313. Our Coptic Orthodox Church began its own calendar of Martyrs by the first year of his reign 284 AD.
He entered the army and by his marked abilities attained the offices of Governor of Mœsia, consul, and commander of the guards of the palace. In the Persian war, under Carus, he especially distinguished himself. When the son and successor of Carus, Numerian, was murdered at Chalcedon, the choice of the army fell upon Diocletian, who immediately slew with his own hand the murderer Aper (17 Sept., 284). His career as emperor belongs to secular history. The reign of Diocletian (284- 305) marked an era both in the military and political history of the empire. The triumph which he celebrated together with his colleague Maximian (20 Nov., 303) was the last triumph which Rome ever beheld. Britain, the Rhine, the Danube, and the Nile furnished trophies; but the proudest boast of the conqueror was that Persia, the persistent enemy of Rome, had at last been subdued. Soon after his accession to power Diocletian realized that the empire was too unwieldy and too much exposed to attack to be safely ruled by a single head. Accordingly, he associated with himself Maximian, a bold but rude soldier, at first as Cæsar and afterwards as Augustus (286). Later on, he further distributed his power by granting the inferior title of Cæsar to two generals, Galerius and Constantius (292). He reserved for his own portion Thrace, Egypt, and Asia; Italy and Africa were Maximian's provinces, while Galerius was stationed on the Danube, and Constantius had charge of Gaul, Spain, and Britain. But the supreme control remained in Diocletian's hands. None of the rulers resided in Rome, and thus the way was prepared for the downfall of the imperial city. Moreover, Diocletian undermined the authority of the Senate, assumed the diadem, and introduced the servile ceremonial of the Persian court. After a prosperous reign of nearly twenty-one years, he abdicated the throne and retired to Salona, where he lived in magnificent seclusion until his death. Diocletian's name is associated with the last and most terrible of all the ten persecutions of the early Church. Nevertheless it is a fact that the Christians enjoyed peace and prosperity during the greater portion of his reign. Eusebius, who lived at this time, describes in glowing terms "the glory and the liberty with which the doctrine of piety was honored", and he extols the clemency of the emperors towards the Christian governors whom they appointed, and towards the Christian members of their households. He tells us that the rulers of the Church "were courted and honored with the greatest subserviency by all the rulers and governors". He speaks of the vast multitudes that flocked to the religion of Christ, and of the spacious and splendid churches erected in the place of the humbler buildings of earlier days. At the same time he bewails the falling from ancient fervor "by reason of excessive liberty". Had Diocletian remained sole emperor, he would probably have allowed this toleration to continue undisturbed. It was his subordinate Galerius who first induced him to turn persecutor. These two rulers of the East, at a council held at Nicomedia in 302, resolved to suppress Christianity throughout the empire. The cathedral of Nicomedia was demolished (24 Feb., 303). An edict was issued "to tear down the churches to the foundations and to destroy the Sacred Scriptures by fire; and commanding also that those who were in honorable stations should be degraded if they persevered in their adherence to Christianity". Three further edicts (303-304) marked successive stages in the severity of the persecution: the first ordering that the bishops, presbyters, and deacons should be imprisoned; the second that they should be tortured and compelled by every means to sacrifice; the third including the laity as well as the clergy. The atrocious cruelty with those edicts was enforced, and the vast numbers of those who suffered for the Faith are attested by Eusebius and the Acts of the Martyrs. We read even of the massacre of the whole population of a town because they declared themselves Christians. The abdication of Diocletian (1 May, 305) and the subsequent partition of the empire brought relief to many provinces. In the East, however, where Galerius and Maximian held sway, the persecution continued to rage. Thus it will be seen that the so-called Diocletian persecution should be attributed to the influence of Galerius; it continued for seven years after Diocletian's abdication.