Monday, July 06, 2020

Eusebius, EH.8.7-9: The Egyptian Martyrs

This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical History: Book 8, chapters 7-9.

Notes and Commentary:

These chapters describe the sufferings of Egyptian Christians under the Diocletian persecution.

Chapter 7 describes Egyptian believers martyred at Tyre in Phoenicia. Eusebius claims to have been an eyewitness of these things, having seen the martyrs being given over to wild beasts. He reports, however, that as they stood defenseless, naked, and in prayer, they were miraculously protected by divine providence from attack by the beasts. Thus, they were then “butchered with the sword”, and their bodies cast into the waves of the sea.

Chapter 8 describes those who suffered martyrdom in Egypt itself. These included men, women, and children who suffered horrific abuse with some being crucified head-down and kept alive till they died from hunger.

Chapter 9 describe the martyrs of Thebais, an Egyptian province, which included the capital city of Thebes. Their sufferings, Eusebius says, surpassed all others. These included those whose limbs were tied to the branches of bent trees and, when the branches were let lose, they were torn asunder. As many as one hundred men were put to death on the same day, and the persecution lasted for years. Women and young children were not spared.

Eusebius claims to have witnessed so many martyrs suffering decapitation in one day that the axe became dull with use and the executioners exhausted. Most amazing, however, was the zeal of the believers who would confess their faith before the tribunal and go to their deaths with joy and singing. Many of these martyrs were known for their wealth, birth, reputation, and learning.

Among the noteworthy martyrs were Philoromus, an imperial administrator in Alexandria and Phileas, bishop of Thmuites. Though urged even by their judge to spare themselves and their families by recanting, they stood firm and were beheaded.


These chapters continue the narrative of the Diocletian martyrs, focusing on those from Egypt who stood firm in the face of death. The manner of their sufferings is described with gruesome detail. The scale of the persecution was vast. It is also noteworthy that Eusebius can claim to have been a personal eyewitness to many of these things. Despite the degree of suffering, Eusebius’s main focus is on the ability of the believers to remain faithful, even during this worst time of persecution.


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