During the rule of the Roman Empire, thousands of people were persecuted. A major number of those people were Christians who are known as martyrs because they died for believing and practicing their faith. They were persecuted under the empire for many reasons such as the motives of the different emperors, but overall it was because they refused to worship the Roman gods as the government enforced. Through the killings of the many martyrs, followers of the Christianity strengthened in their faith, and the number of converts rose as many people gained admiration for those in the religion.
It may seem to many that martyrs limited the growth of Christianity; but in truth they contributed largely to the growing practice through their actions which led to the sacrifice of their lives. The general persecution of Christians did not break out right away. The first martyr was a deacon named Stephen who died in 35 CE, and the second martyr was James of Zebedee a disciple of Jesus who died soon after that (Flinn, Stephen, Saint). The widespread killing of Christians began in 42 CE under Emperor Herod of Agrippa.
The persecutions were not constant over the span of years but did happen under many emperors such as Nero, Domitian, Decius, and Diocletian. Christians were persecuted for many purposes and reasons. Some emperors wanted to destroy the Church to prevent it from gaining power and to gain the wealth the Church held (Whitters). Other emperors like Nero needed a scapegoat for Rome’s problems at the time and chose Christians to be that scapegoat. But the ultimate reason for the persecution of Christians was that they refused to worship the Roman gods or even pretend to.
It was such an offense because often worshipping the Roman gods would include worshipping the emperor as a god as well. Many Romans who did not believe in the practice accused Christians of being traitors and atheists for refusing to give the rightful respect to the emperor (Gillis). Many Christians spoke out against such allegations made against them, to speak the truth about their religion. They were many unreasonable and unjust reasons why a Christian could be taken for persecution, and it is why there were so many killings.
Christians were persecuted in a variety of very cruel and brutal ways. St. Stephen, the first martyr, was stoned to death, and James of Zebedee was killed by sword (Alles and Ellwood). Many disciples of Jesus suffered death by crucifixion, such as St. Peter, one of the first leaders of the Church, was crucified upside down. Some martyrs also died by being burned by the stake. Emperor Nero burned Christians alive. One of the most sadistic ways of punishing Christians was under Emperor Valerius, and he essentially prolonged their death.
He sent Christians to mines and shaved their heads as though they were slaves (Whitters). With these cruel and inhuman persecutions, all of the followers of Christianity were under the threat of persecution. They did not know when they could be caught and killed. The members of Christianity were so devoted that they refused to give up their beliefs even in the face of these painful and horrible ways of death. One would think that they would rather try to save their own life rather than die. Emperors thought that these killings would destroy Christians’ spirits, but they did not.
Even though their were so many horrible ways of death, Christians were more united in a sense and they were made stronger mentally and spiritually, Though these persecutions were attempts by the emperors to destroy the Church, it only grew stronger. Many people gained admiration for the courage of the martyrs. . They saw these people willing to die for their beliefs, and knew their faith had to be something so valuable that they were willing to suffer death.
Many people converted to Christianity and some became the most significant advocates for the religion such as St. Justin the Martyr. St. Justin grew up as a Greek pagan but converted to Christianity after being inspired by the bravery of martyrs. He wrote three books to defend Christianity against allegations of things such as atheism. Many converts like him made a large impact of the development of Christianity. To be a martyr soon became a new Christian ideal. It was not to say that one should offer their life, but if presented with the situation to do it willingly and that they would be honored if they did so.
Modern Christianity, that ideal of being martyr would be understood as being willing to do anything for the sake of Christ. The word ‘martyr’ actually comes from the Greek word for witness (Murphy, 226-230). Martyrs essentially were witnesses to the Christian faith, which all followers of Christianity are encouraged to be. Martyrs expressed many idealistic virtues such as strong faith and positive mind that a modern Christian would want to express today. Through the persecutions, Christians were able to relate to Jesus in a new way.
Their faith was strengthened. One of the four gospel writers, Mark, an apostle of Peter the Apostle , wrote to Christians facing suffering and martyrdom under the Roman Empire (Ralph, 68) In his writing, Mark related Jesus’ suffering to theirs. In the gospel of Mark 10:29, Jesus says himself how to be a genuine disciple and enter the kingdom of God is to give up all things. Through the writings of Mark’s Gospel, readers perceived the message that to be a true disciple was to be willing to give up your whole life.
There were many notable martyrs who died for trying to speak the truth about Christianity, and through their actions they helped forward the development of Christianity. Another one of those martyrs was St. Perpetua, a convert, who after being offered the chance to save her own life, declined saying that she wanted to die this way(Flinn, Perpetua and Felicity, Saints). She set an example for all other Christians on how to live out the ideal of being a martyr. St.
Justin the Martyr wrote three books to defend Christianity but that didn’t only help expand the knowledge of Non-Christians who were his audience but Christians as well (Ring). Martyrs in general made Christianity become more popular but these martyrs who set these examples and spoke out even with the possibility of death made Christianity grow and spread even faster. In 312 CE, a man named Constantine became emperor. He was able to see what many martyrs died trying to explain.
Constantine was able to see that Christians were not atheist but people who believed in a God who was always by their side. Christianity was already growing in popularity, so Constantine sought the help of the Christian God one time before he went into war. He received a vision that inspired him to put crosses on all the shields and armor and they won the battle (Flinn, Constantine the Great). Constantine stopped Christian persecution by passing the Edict of Milan which allowed tolerance for all religions.
When he made Christianity legal, he gave power to the former Church of martyrs, allowing them to have a greater voice (Wright 66-70). Christian martyrs are remembered today in many different ways. Christians venerate many of them such as St. Perpetua and St. Justin the Martyr as saints, and they have feast days. They are honored at martyria, which are locations where they were buried(Adkins and Adkins). They are honored in so many other ways as well. Martyrs, even today, influence many parts of the Christian religion.
Even with the threat of death for over 200 years, the persecution of martyrs helped Christianity spread and grow stronger. It was able to grow in such a way with the help of advocates who were also willing to speak out even in the face of persecution. Martyrs influence in the development of Christianity. Christianity would not be as it is today without their sacrifice. Martyrs created many ideals of Christians and one of the most important ideals of Christianity today. This ideal is to be willing to do anything for the sake of Christ.