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Edicts Against The Christians

There are two authorities for the ten year period of the most intense persecution against the Christians, that itnitiated under Diocletian. Eusebius and Lactantius, were contemporaries and eye-witnesses, the one in Phoenicia and Egypt, and the other in Nicomedia itself. From the two we get many details of the events leading up to the promulgation of the decrees, as well as of the horrors and cruelty attending their execution.

(Hist. Ecc viii 2.) This was the nineteenth year of the reign of Diocletian in Dystrus (which the Romans call March), when the feast of the Saviour's passion was near at hand, and royal edicts were published everywhere, commanding that the churches Should be razed to the ground, the Scriptures destroyed by fire, those who held positions of honor degraded, and the household servants, if they persisted in the Christian profession, be deprived of their liberty.

And such was the first decree against us. But issuing Other decrees not long after, the Emperor commanded that all the rulers of the churches in every place should be first put in prison and afterwards compelled by every device to offer sacrifice.

(Hist Ecc. viii 6.) Then as the first decrees were followed by others commanding that those in prison should be set free, if they would sacrifice, but that those who refused should be tormented with countless tortures; who could again at that time count the multitude of .martyrs throughout each province, and especially throughout Africa and among the race of the Moors, in Thebais and throughout Egypt, from which having already gone into other cities and, provinces, they became illustrious in their martyrdoms.

(De Mart. Pal. ch. 3.) During the second year the war against us increased greatly. Urbanus was then governor of the province and edicts were first issued to him, in which it was commanded that all the people throughout the city should sacrifice and pour out libations to the idols.

(De Mart. Pal. ch. 4.)...For in the second attack upon us by Maximinus, in the third year of the persecution against us edicts of the tyrant were issued for the first time that all the people should offer sacrifice and that the that the rulers of the city should see to this diligently and zealously. Heralds went through the whole city of Caesaream by the orders of the governor, summoning men, women and children to the temples of the idols, and in addition the chiliarchs were calling upon each one by name from a roll.

(De Mart. Pal. ch. 9). All at once decrees of Maximinus again got abroad against everywhere throughout the province. The governors, and in addition the military prefects, incited by edicts, letters and and public ordinances the magistrates, together with generals and the city clerks in all the cities, to fulfill the imperial edicts which commanded that the altars of the idols should be rebuilt with all zeal and that all the men, together with the women and children, even infants at the breast, should offer sacrifice and pour out libations ; and these urged them anxiously, carefully to make the people taste of the sacrifices ; and that the viands in the market should be polluted by the libations of the sacrifices ; and that watches should be stationed before the baths, so as to defile those who washed in these with the all-abominable sacrifices

from Eusebius: Hist. Ecc., Book VIII, ch. 2, ch. 6 at end, and De Mart. Palest. ch- 3, ch. 4, and ch. 9 (ed. Dindorf, Vol. IV, p. 351, 357, 386, 390, 402). translated in University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]), Vol 4:, 1, pp. 26-28.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Jan 1996

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