Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Eusebius, EH.8.11-12: Universal and Brutal Suffering in the Diocletian Persecution

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapter 11-12.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters continue to report on the godly martyrs who laid down their lives during the Diocletian persecution.

Chapter 11 begins by describing an unnamed small town in Phyrgia, where, Eusebius, says all the inhabitants were Christians, including the city officials. The Roman soldiers set fire to the town and burned the inhabitants alive, including young children and women.

It next notes the martyrdom of a certain Audactus, “a man of illustrious Italian birth,” who at the time he was put to death was serving as a magistrate and minister of finance in some unnamed locality.

Chapter 12 traces the gruesome sufferings of other Christians throughout the Roman world.

In Arabia they were slain with the axe.

In Cappadocia, their legs were broken.

In Mesopotamia, they were hung over smoking fires.

In Alexandria, they were mutilated.

In Antioch, they were roasted on the gridiron.

Eusebius notes that some in Antioch took their own lives by jumping off lofty houses before they could be seized.

As another example of this he describes a noble woman of Antioch and her two unmarried daughters who were captured in a foreign country and were being transported back to Antioch. At risk of being violated by the soldiers, in the midst of their journey, they threw themselves into a river and drowned thus becoming “their own executioners.”

He also notes another pair of maidens at Antioch who were also thrown into the sea.

In Pontus, Christians suffered various cruel tortures, like having reeds driven under their finger nails, having melted lead poured on their backs, and having their private parts abused. Eusebius says it was as if the tormenters tried to outdo one another in the novelty of their tortures.

Worn out with their bloodlust against the Christians, Eusebius says they rulers determined to promote more supposedly “humane” punishments, liking gouging out the right eye and crippling the left foot of believers before sending them slave labor in the copper mines.

These martyrs, he concludes, were “conspicuous throughout all the world.” To name each one would be impossible.


This chapters note the universality and brutality of the Diocletian persecution. It took place across the Roman world and included a variety of unspeakable tortures. Eusebius even praises those who took their own lives in these situations, without seeming to pass judgement on the suicide as sinful. Many of those not to put to death were maimed and enslaved. He stresses that the sufferings of the Diocletian persecution were not only universal but incalculable.


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