Thursday, December 13, 2012

T.D. Barnes: Legislation against Christians

Barnes, T.D. “Legislation Against the Christians.” The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 58. (1968): 35.
on line PDF 

Excerpts from
By  T.  D.  BARNES
Queen's College, Oxford
The modern bibliography on the subject of the juridical basis of the persecutions of the Christians in the Roman Empire before 250 is vast, contentious-and in large part worthless. For no-one has yet attempted to gather together in a small compass and to scrutinize without preconceptions all the primary evidence for specific actions or legal enactments of the Senate or of emperors before Decius which directly concerned the Christians, or which were directly rendered necessary by them. Ulpian collected the imperial rescripts relating to the punishment of Christians in the seventh book of his De Officio Proconsulis. This chapter has left no discernible trace in the Digest commissioned by the Christian emperor Justinian. The evidence which remains, therefore, is scattered and often difficult to evaluate. What follows is an attempt to present clearly the primary evidence for the legal basis of the condemnation of Christians before 250 without the accretions of later hagiography or of modern interpretations.

Marble bust of Trajan Emperor Glyptothek Munich
28 January 98 – 9 August 117
(6) Trajan: rescript to Pliny, with Pliny's original letter,
Pliny, Epp. x, 96/7 ; 45 cf. Tertullian, Apol. 2, 6 f., on which alone Eusebius (Chronicon, GCS xx, 218 f.; XLVII, I95 ; HE III, 33) depends. 

Christians were accused before Pliny, who states in his letter that he did not know how they were normally punished because he had never taken part in any trial concerning them. Nevertheless, he executed those who admitted to being Christians-except for those who were Roman citizens, whom he sent to Rome.46 After the first trial (or trials), more were accused in an anonymous libellus and by an informer. Pliny released those who said that they were not Christians and never had been, but first he made them invoke the Gods, sacrifice before statues of the Gods and of the emperor and curse the Christ. He also made those who said that they had been Christians but were no longer do the same. But, before releasing them, he wrote to Trajan. Trajan, in reply, professed to be laying down no universal rule,47 but declared that Christians, though they were not to be hunted out, were to be punished if openly accused and convicted. However, if a man said he was not a Christian and proved it by sacrificing to the Gods, his change of heart should earn him pardon, even if his past was not free from suspicion. 

Pliny, when trying the Christians before him, had no need to rely on any law which made Christianity a capital crime: indeed he appears not even to have known whether there was one. There were three categories of accused: those who confessed to being Christians; those who denied ever being Christians; and those who admitted having been Christians in the past, but said that they were no longer. Pliny was certain how he ought to treat the first two classes. The second he released, while the first he either executed on the spot (the non-citizens) or sent to Rome for punishment (the citizens). The third class, however, a very large one, presented a problem and caused Pliny to write to the emperor. When he executed or despatched to Rome those who confessed, he had no doubts that punishment was merited. But his investigation of the third class revealed that the Christians had committed no illegal acts like robbery or adultery: their only crime was a depraved superstition. He accordingly urged on Trajan at some length the advantages of allowing  'paenitentiae locus '. 

It is not clear whether Trajan, in his reply, made a change in the legal position of Christians or not. Since Pliny implies that trials of Christians were far from rare, it is hard to believe that no-one before had been accused of Christianity after ceasing to be a Christian.

Governors before Pliny may have set free those who answered 'non sum' to the putting of the charge 'Christianus es?', without enquiring whether they had been Christians in the past. However, whether Trajan's ruling is an innovation or the reaffirmation of a principle already established, Christianity is placed in a totally different category from all other crimes. What is illegal is being a Christian: the crime is erased by a change of heart. The function of the sacrifice is to demonstrate that, even if a man has been a Christian, his change of heart is genuine and not just a matter of words.

During the second and early third centuries those accused of being Christians continued to be set free if they performed a symbolic act of sacrifice, and punished if they did not.

In the language of Pliny and the apologists, condemnation was for the nomen; and, as Tertullian remarked, there was nothing to prevent a man from denying and regaining his liberty ' iterum Christianus'. There is but one example of suspected Christians being punished even after apostasy: in the violent persecution at Lugdunum. 

In this case, however, there was apparent evidence of those flagitia which Trajan had considered irrelevant: some pagan slaves belonging to Christians were threatened with torture and denounced the Christian community for Thyestean feasts and Oedipodean incests.

(I5) Septimius Severus:
HA, Severus 17, I. According to the Historia Augusta, Septimius Severus: Iudaeos fieri vetuit. idem sanxit de Christianis.
The putting of Christians and Jews on the same level is an idea which recurs later in the Historia Augusta in indubitable fiction and that alone, without supporting arguments, would be enough to bring the statement about Severus and the Christians under the gravest suspicion, even though the prohibition of Jewish proselytism may well be historical.

Modern scholars have often claimed that the alleged edict is genuine because it was immediately followed by a persecution directed precisely against catechumens, i.e., against recent converts. But in the only contemporary account of a martyrdom of the time which is extant, the Passio Perpetuae, the charge is still being a Christian, not having become one. There is, moreover, no close temporal connection between the alleged edict and the attested outbreaks of persecution. Although the relevant section of the Vita Severi is highly condensed and slightly confused, it explicitly places the prohibition of conversion to Judaism and to Christianity after Severus' departure from Antioch, before his arrival in Alexandria and during his journey south through Palestine in 199. It is improbable in the extreme that the Historia Augusta has transferred to the journey south through Palestine actions which its source assigned to a return journey in 201 for the imperial house almost certainly travelled back from Alexandria to Antioch by sea. Perpetua and her companions were martyred in March, 203,107 and Eusebius dates the beginning of persecution in Alexandria to Severus' tenth year (either August, 201 to August, 202 or April, 202 to April, 203). This persecution seems to have continued sporadically for some years, since some martyrs were put to death by Subatianus Aquila, who is not attested as prefect of Egypt until 206. To argue that there is a connection between Severus' edict and a widespread outbreak of persecution in 202/3 is, therefore, mistaken in one minor and one major respect. Persecution did not flare up and then cease at once, but dragged on for some time. It also began (so far as the evidence goes) not less than two years after the date given for the edict by the only author who asserts its existence. 

There is, however, a still more serious difficulty in accepting the edict as historical. If Christians are in the same position as Jews and conversion alone is illegal, then simply being a Christian from birth is not illegal and Christianity itself is no crime. But there is no hint in any Christian writer that the legal position of the Christians had been thus alleviated - not even in the contemporary Tertullian, who cites examples of Severus' favours to the Christians. Eusebius, on the contrary, thought that Severus stirred up persecution rather than abated its severity. And, as the Passio Perpetuae shows, men continued, after 199 as before, to be condemned to death solely because they were Christians. 

Conclusions (excerpts)
What, therefore, does the primary evidence reveal about the juridical basis of the persecutions? The central fact is Trajan's rescript to Pliny. The legal position of Christians continues exactly as Trajan defined it until Decius. After Trajan's rescript, if not already before, Christianity was a crime in a special category: whereas all other criminals, once convicted, were punished for what they had done in the past,'the Christian was punished for what he was in the present, and up to the last moment could gain pardon by apostasy. There is no evidence to prove earlier legislation by the Senate or the emperor. Indeed, the exchange of letters between Pliny and Trajan implies that there was none. Given the normally passive nature of Roman administration,189 the earliest trial and condemnation of Christians for their religion should be supposed to have occurred because the matter came to the notice of a provincial governor in the same way as it was later brought to the attention of Pliny. (There is no justification for assuming either that this must have happened first in Rome or that it had any connection with the fire of Rome in 64 or that the emperor was consulted.) When Pliny was making his tour of Pontus, Christians were denounced before him by accusers. The earliest magistrate to condemn Christians presumably had as little hesitation as Pliny in sentencing them to death - and as little knowledge of the nature of their crime. 

Modern scholarship, besides unearthing purer recensions of acta martyrum previously known only in a late and unreliable form, has succeeded in proving that many of the transmitted acta or passiones of pre-Decian martyrs are neither contemporary nor authentic records of what actually happened. Although there may be many other acta martyrum which contain nuggets of fact or which are fictitious compositions based on something authentic, there is a mere handful whose genuineness as a whole has not been (and perhaps never will be) successfully impugned. These must, therefore, rank as primary evidence for the trials of Christians. In this select class, the majority of accounts mention no law or imperial decree or legal enactment of any kind. The emperor, if mentioned, is for the most part mentioned almost incidentally: the Christian is urged to swear by his tyche or genius, to sacrifice for his safety, or is reprimanded for disloyalty to him, or has explained to him the possibility of his pardon. In the descriptions of three trials, however, there occur more substantial references to the emperor, and in one to a law or senatus consultum, which require examination. 

The relevance of these facts to the problem of the legal basis of the condemnation of Christians ought to be clear. A provincial governor was predisposed to punish those who attacked the established religions, and would do so without waiting for a legal enactment by the Senate or the emperor. Mos maiorum was the most important source of Roman law, and it was precisely mos maiorum in all its aspects that Christians urged men to repudiate. The theory of' national apostasy ' 216 fails as an explanation of the legal basis of the condemna- tion of Christians ; but it comes close to the truth if it is applied, not to the law, but to the attitudes of men. It is in the minds of men, not in the demands of Roman law, that the roots of the persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire are to be sought. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Polyxena's sacrifice in Euripides' Hecuba

Neoptolemus sacrificing Polyxena after the capture of Troy.
Attic black-figure Tyrrhenian amphora, ca. 570-550 BC.
In Euripides' Hecuba Talthybius describes Polyxena's sacrifice differently from the scene depicted in the amphora (image wikimedia). She is not held forcibly like that for the killing. She asked to be freed and demonstrated noble bravery worthy of a princess by bearing her bosom and neck to the sword.

It seems quite possible as has been suggested that the story of St Perpetua's execution is influenced by the celebrated play. However, it is more likely that truthful Tertullian described what actually happened and that Perpetua actually demonstrated similar courage and dignity in front of the sword as the celebrated pagan princess Polyxena in Euripide's play.

Euripides Hecuba
Text from The Internet Classics Archive

Ah! what wilt thou say? Art thou not come, as I had thought, to fetch me to my doom, but to announce ill news? Lost, lost, my child! snatched from thy mother's arms! and I am childless now, at least as touches thee; ah, woe is me!

How did ye end her life? was any mercy shown? or did ye deal ruthlessly with her as though your victim were a foe, old man? Speak, though thy words must be pain to me.
Lady, thou art bent on making mine a double meed of tears in pity for thy child; for now too as I tell the sad tale a tear will wet my eye, as it did at the tomb when she was dying.

All Achaea's host was gathered there in full array before the tomb to see thy daughter offered; and the son of Achilles took Polyxena by the hand and set her on the top of the mound, while I stood near; and a chosen band of young Achaeans followed to hold thy child and prevent her struggling. Then did Achilles' son take in his hands a brimming cup of gold and poured an offering to his dead sire, making a sign to me to proclaim silence throughout the Achaean host. So I stood at his side and in their midst proclaimed, "Silence, ye Achaeans! hushed be the people all! peace! be still! "Therewith I hushed the host. Then spake he, "Son of Peleus, father mine, accept the offering I pour thee to appease thy spirit, strong to raise the dead; and come to drink the black blood of a virgin pure, which I and the host are offering thee; oh! be propitious to us; grant that we may loose our prows and the cables of our ships, and, meeting with prosperous voyage from Ilium, all to our country come." So he; and all the army echoed his prayer. Then seizing his golden sword by the hilt he drew it from its scabbard, signing the while to the picked young Argive warriors to hold the maid. But she, when she was ware thereof, uttered her voice and said: "O Argives, who have sacked my city! of my free will I die; let none lay hand on me; for bravely will I yield my neck. Leave me free, I do beseech; so slay me, that death may find me free; for to be called a slave amongst the dead fills my royal heart with shame." Thereat the people shouted their applause, and king Agamemnon bade the young men loose the maid. So they set her free, as soon as they heard this last command from him whose might was over all. And she, hearing her captors' words took her robe and tore it open from the shoulder to the waist, displaying a breast and bosom fair as a statue's; then sinking on her knee, one word she spake more piteous than all the rest, "Young prince, if 'tis my breast thou'dst strike, lo! here it is, strike home! or if at my neck thy sword thou'lt aim, behold! that neck is bared."

Then he, half glad, half sorry in his pity for the maid, cleft with the steel the channels of her breath, and streams of blood gushed forth; but she, e'en in death's agony, took good heed to fall with maiden grace, hiding from gaze of man what modest maiden must. Soon as she had breathed her last through the fatal gash, each Argive set his hand to different tasks, some strewing leaves o'er the corpse in handfuls, others bringing pine-logs and heaping up a pyre; and he, who brought nothing, would hear from him who did such taunts as these, "Stand'st thou still, ignoble wretch, with never a robe or ornament to bring for the maiden? Wilt thou give naught to her that showed such peerless bravery and spirit?"

Such is the tale I tell about thy daughter's death, and I regard thee as blest beyond all mothers in thy noble child, yet crossed in fortune more than all.

St Perpetua and Polyxena

Peter Habermehl myBlog wrote that the emphasis on the modesty of St Perpetua in the frame story was influenced by  the description of the death of Polyxena in Euripides' famous play Hecuba written 424 BC.  This seems quite possible especially when we consider the other examples of heroic deaths in Graeco-Roman world mentioned in the frame text. Polyxena's noble death was probably quite well known and admired by the people of Carthage, the city of Queen Dido.

Such possible influence must, of course, be taken into account when one considers the historicity of the frame story describing the death of the martyrs in the arena.
Some claimed Polyxena committed suicide after Achilles' death out of guilt. According to Euripides, however, in his plays The Trojan Women and Hecuba, Polyxena's famous death was caused at the end of the Trojan War. Achilles' ghost had come back to the Greeks, demanding that the wind needed to set sail back to Hellas was to be appeased by the human sacrifice of Polyxena. She was to be killed at the foot of Achilles' grave. Hecuba, Polyxena's mother, expressed despair at the death of another of her daughters. (Polyxena was killed after almost all of her brothers and sisters.)
However, Polyxena was eager to die as a sacrifice to Achilles rather than die as a slave. She reassured her mother, and refused to beg before Odysseus or be treated in any way other than a princess. She asked that Odysseus reassure her mother as she is led away. Polyxena's virginity was critical to the honor of her character, and she was described as dying bravely as the son of Achilles, Neoptolemus, slit her throat: she arranged her clothing around her carefully so that she was fully covered when she died.

Bryn Mawr versus Peter Habermehl

Excerpts from Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.01.34
(emphasis and italics mine)

P. Habermehl, Perpetua und der Ägypter oder Bilder des Bösen im frühen afrikanischen Christentum. 2nd edition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004.

It does not discuss in detail the much debated problem of the original language (Latin or Greek) of the Passio, but accepts the Latin priority. However, it seems that the Greek translation was sometimes based on a better text than the existing Latin version. That is why both versions always have to be taken into account.

Before he starts his discussion, H gives a 'Lesetext' (pp. 8-35) without apparatus criticus, which is basically the text of Van Beek (1936). In itself such a choice is justified, but H seems to have overlooked the recent insight that the Greek version sometimes offers better readings than our most important manuscript A. For example, it is now clear that the name of the predecessor of Perpetua's interrogatorHilarianus must have been Minicius Opimiamus(c. 6.3), as the garbled form of the Greek translation still suggests, and not, as H prints,Minucius Timinianus;similarly, the name of one of the men met by Saturus in heaven was Iucundus not Iocundus

After a discussion of early Christianity in North Africa and the plausible observation that we probably had to do with a local persecution in Perpetua's case (37-43), H gives a short survey of the development of the Christian idea of martyrdom (44-51), which ends with Ignatius.

Having set the scene, H now turns to Perpetua's diary (52-73). He briefly sketches her arrest, baptism, interrogation, and makes a persuasive case for the recent conversion of Perpetua because of the absence of her husband in her report: presumably, the latter had not followed his wife in her new faith. Christianity had caused a rift in many a family, and this is also demonstrated by Perpetua's relationship with her father, from whom she becomes increasingly estranged, as H well shows.We see here a development that we can also witness in modern suicide cells, where members also shut themselves off from their immediate relations.

The analysis by H of Perpetua's visions (74-115) is not always satisfactory. This is partly due to the order in which he discusses them. As I have argued elsewhere,we have to read the visions in the order that Perpetua gives them, as they show her growing self-confidence and willingness to die. Moreover, we have to look at Perpetua's environment for the explanation of the, often, obscure motifs of her visions. H has a certain tendency to look to modern psychology for help, but Freud and Jung do not replace knowledge of Perpetua's own world.

These objections do not prevent H from regularly making good observations. Thus he persuasively associates the staircase to heaven that Perpetua ascends with the oriental Jenseitsbrüecke. However, there is no proof whatsoever that the weapons on the staircase symbolize her 'Angst vor den Schmerzen der Passion' (87). Curiously, H nowhere reflects upon his methodology and seems to think that such psychological explanations are self-evident -- which is not the case.

H pays much attention to the change of Perpetua into a man (122-144), a motif that has understandably attracted the attention of many a modern commentator. H reasonably argues that with this metamorphosis Perpetua creates a new 'männliches Ich'. Yet there are no indications for this interpretation in the text and parallels from the contemporary Christian world are lacking. Less convincing is the additional attempt to recognize themes of initiation in the metamorphosis. Admittedly, travesty and sexual metamorphosis are attested for Greek myths and rituals of initiation, but the motif had long ceased to be productive and nothing in the context suggests influence from myths of initiation.

Next, H analyses the figure of the Egyptian, the opponent of Perpetua in her last vision (145-188). Louis Robert has well explained the presence of the Egyptian from the prominence of Egyptian athletes during the Empire. H calls this a 'pragmatische Erklärung', but concedes only that it may have been present somewhere in the background. The 'real' explanation he looks for in Tertullian's usage of Egypt as a symbol for superstition and evil, for which he adduces a number of interesting texts, as he does for the black colour of the Egyptian. Methodologically, however, H seems to me to go here into the wrong direction: he concentrates on the Egyptian only and neglects the other protagonist of the scene, the lanista. Admittedly, he persuasively argues that Perpetua was not familiar with the technical vocabulary of the fights in the amphitheatre; the Greek translator was clearly much better at home in that area. Yet the stress on superstition is not supported by the context. Neither does the text contain any indication that the Egyptian is also Perpetua's father (184),which is one more example of H's misguided trust in modern psychoanalysis. With Robert, it seems more convincing to see the whole scene as a memory of a real pankration, which Perpetua must have attended or have heard about. The colour of the Egyptian well fitted Christian ideas about the Devil, who is also elsewhere depicted by Perpetua as her most dangerous opponent (3.3, 10.14, 20.1).

It is more problematic to what extent we can trust the description of the deaths of Perpetua and her fellow martyrs. The vividness of the editor's description suggests an eyewitness, but his literary skill should not deceive us, as there are several improbabilities in his report. Most of these are mentioned by H, but he does not firmly stress the fact that the description of the deaths is, in all likelihood, fiction: his doubts are mostly expressed in the notes.

The first improbability is the employment of a cow to kill off Perpetua and Felicitas. We have a number of African mosaics with scenes of such fights, but a cow is never amongst the animals displayed on them.

Second, H rightly doubts whether the spectators would have really protested againstthe fact that Perpetua and Felicitas were led into the amphitheatre dressed only in nets, and he also rightly doubts whether the spectators could have seen milk dripping from Perpetua's breasts.

Third, and most importantly, H draws attention to the fact that Perpetua's covering of her womanhood is modeled on Euripides' description of Polyxena's death in his Hecuba (568-70), which was highly popular in Roman times. myBlog

But he should have also pointed out that Perpetua even outdoes Polyxena by also asking for a combto readjust her hair (!).

In short, the conclusion seems inescapable that the editor did not give a trustworthy account of the deaths of Perpetua and her fellow martyrs but wanted to please his readers with a description that catered to the taste of the times for violence and pornography. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the Acta (I.9.3-4 Amat) gives a much more matter of fact report of these deaths.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


(The helpful desciprtions [...] are copied from Other Women's Voices which has several more references to essays etc.)

Bremmer, Jan N. Formisano, Marco (ed) Perpetua's passions: multidisciplinary approaches to the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. (viii, 383 p.)

[Of the 19 essays in this collection, two are perhaps most useful for the general reader focused on Perpetua's section: Hanne Sigismund-Nielsen's "Vibia Perpetua---An Indecent Woman," which compares Perpetua's account of herself with that of the narrator and of Augustine of Hippo; and Mieke Bal's "Perpetual Contest," which discusses the conflict within the whole Passio between narration and description and that between Perpetua's view of herself as both female and male (or beyond gender). The book opens with an English translation and a Latin edition of the Passio, from Joseph Farrell & Craig Williams. Tbe bibliography covers material through 2008. (See the book's table of contents online.):]

Butler, Rex D. The new prophecy & "new visions": evidence of Montanism in The passion of Perpetua and Felicitas (Patristic monograph series; v. 18). Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2006. (xvii, 211 p.)

[Rex D. Butler's study focuses on what the Passio reveals of the influence of Montanism, a Christian movement that began in the 100sCE, which accepted women in leadership roles and which would be seen as a heresy in the 300s. Because of its focus, the book will probably be of most interest to historians, but two of its chapters can be of value to the general reader: Chapter 3 includes a discussion of the probable sources and analogues of Perpetua's narrative; Chapter 4 describes editions and translations of the work and commentaries on it:]

Delattre, Alfred-Louis: Inscriptions chrétiennes. Cosmos 542 (Jume 1895): 337-339.

Dictionnaire d'Archéologie Chrétienne 1925

Ennabli, Liliane: La Basilique de Mcidfa. École française de Rome, 1982 386 pages
Ennabli, Liliane: Carthage : une métropole chrétienne du IVe à la fin du VIIe siècle. Paris CNRS Editions 1997

Farina, William. Perpetua of Carthage: portrait of a third-century martyr. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009. (viii, 267 p.: ill., maps)

[William Farina's study is wide-ranging. The first chapter of each of the book's four parts deals with the varieties of translations of the Latin text; these are followed by looking at what can be known of Perpetua and the world she lived in, and of how her story has been viewed over the centuries. Appendices includes maps and a timeline of Tunisian history; the bibliography lists all English translations and a number of earlier studies. (See the book's table of contents online.):]

Habermehl, P. Perpetua und der Ägypter oder Bilder des Bösen im frühen afrikanischen Christentum. Second edition. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004.

Heffernan, Thomas J. The passion of Perpetua and Felicity. New York: Oxford University Press, c2012. (xxv, 557 p.: map)

[Thomas J. Heffernan's edition / translation of the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitas provides a new critical edition of the Latin original, an English translation, and the Greek of a later manuscript. Most valuably, Heffernan gives a detailed commentary that explains the historical and theological background of each section of the work. Introductory chapters include an account of the characters and of the manuscript history. (See the book's table of contents online.):]

Kleinberg, Aviad M. Flesh made word: saints' stories and the Western imagination; translated by Jane Marie Todd. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. (xii, 340 p)[Perpetua's is the first story to be analyzed in Jane Marie Todd's translation of Aviad Kleinberg's French-language study (itself a translation of the original Hebrew) of the roles played by such stories in the development of Christianity and of its tensions. Kleinberg compares Perpetua's own account of her preparation for death (especially through the description of her visions) with later editors' interpretations of her story. (See the book's table of contents online.):]
Lander Ross, and Shira:  “Perpetua and Felicitas” in vol. 2 of The Early Christian World, ed. Philip Esler, New York: Routledge, 2000

Leone, Anna: Changing Townscapes in North Africa from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest. Edipuglia srl, 2007, 356 pages

Maitland, Sara. The martyrdom of Perpetua. with an introduction and commentary by Sara Maitland (Visionary women). Evesham: Arthur James, 1996 ( 64 p.)

[Sara Maitland's book includes a print version of the W. H. Shewring translation of the whole Passio that is available online. Maitland's commentary is a thoughtful description of her own interaction with Perpetua; she also gives Shewring's translations of four of Augustine of Hippo's sermons on Perpetua and Felicity, which show Augustine trying hard to understand how women could be heroic:]

Nolan, Edward Peter. Cry out and write: a feminine poetics of revelation. New York: Continuum, 1994. (215 p.)

[In his study, Edward Peter Nolan includes a useful analysis of the style of Perpetua's narrative:]
Raven, Susan: Rome in Africa. 3rd edition Routledge: 1993
This is a compact overview of North African history from Punic period to the conquest by Muslims. It gives excellent background information about the region under Roman administration.

Rives, J.B.: Religion and Authority in Roman Carthage From Augustine to Constantine. Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1995

Robeck, Cecil: Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian and Cyprian: Cleveland: Pilgrim Press: 1992

Ronsse, Erin Ann: Rhetoric of martyrs: Transmission and reception history of the "Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas". Ph.D. diss., University of Victoria (Canada), 2008, 438 pages

Philip Rousseau (ed.): A Companion to Late Antiquity. John Wiley & Sons, 2012, 736 pages

Salisbury, Joyce: Perpetua's Passion: The Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman. New York: Routledge: 1997.

[Joyce Salisbury's book is valuable for historical and local background, as well as for analysis of the text. (See the book's table of contents online.):]

Shaw Brent: “The Passion of Perpetua,” Past and Present 139, (May 1993), JSTOR 30

Tertullian, Apology, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 3, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., (Albany, Ore.: AGES Software, 1997).

von Franz, Marie-Louise: The Passion of Perpetua: A Psychological Interpretation of Her Visions: Toronto: Inner City Books: 2004

From the Catholic Encyclopedia
HOLSTENIUS, Passio SS. MM. Perpetuae et Felicitatis, ed. POSSINUS (Rome, 1663)

ORSI, Dissertatio apologetica pro SS. Perpetuae, Felicitatis et sociorum martyrum orthodoxiâ (Florence, 1728)

RUINART, Acta sincera martyrum (Ratisbon, 1859), 137 sqq.; Acta SS., March, I, 633-38

AUBÉ, Les actes des SS. Felicite, Perpétue et de luers compagnons in Les chretiens dans l'Empire Romain (Paris, 1881), 509-25

HARRIS and GIFFORD, The Acts of Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas (London, 1890)

PILLET, Les martyrs d'Afrique, Histoire de Ste Perpetua et de ses compagnons (Paris, 1885)

ALLARD, Histoire des persecutions, II (Paris, 1886), 96 sqq.

NEUMANN, Der ramische Staat und die allgemeine Kirche, I (Leipzig, 1890), 170-76, 299-300

ROBINSON, The Passion of S. perpetua in Texts and Studies, I (Cambridge, 1891)

FRANCHI DE'CAVALIERI, La Passio SS. Perpetuæ et Felicitatis in Röm. Quartalschr., supplement V (Rome, 1896)

Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina, ed. BOLLANDISTS, II, 964; Analecta Bollandiana (1892), 100-02; 369-72

MONCEAUX, Histoire litteraire de l'Afrique chrétienne, I (Paris, 1901), 7 0-96

DELATTRE, La Basilica Maiorum, tombeau des SS. Perpetue et Félicité in Comples-rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1907), 516-31.

Catholic Encyclopedia

WEB pages
Other women's voices Perpetua

letter from the Christian writer Tertullian to those in prison awaiting martyrdom, translated by Sydney Thelwall. The undated letter is usually assigned to 197, but some scholars think it may be a message to Perpetua and her fellow martyrs in 203.

For historical background, an essay by Michel Dujarier, "A History of the Catechumenate: In North Africa ca. 200-210," which shows Perpetua's position within the community (and explains the use of military imagery in the Passio).

Persecution of Christians by Septimius Severus

Arch of Septimius Severus Libdia, Libya 203 AD
Septimius Severus was the first one of the Soldier Emperors and first native African Emperor.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
In the early third century, during the reign of Septimius Severus, Egypt and Africa became a hotbed of persecution and martyrdom.

In the view of Eusebius, “when Severus was stirring up persecution against the churches, in every place splendid martyrdoms of the athletes of piety were accomplished”. (Hist. Eccl. V1.2.3)

It is unclear, however, whether these persecutions can be tied to Severus himself.

Among those Alexandrians named as martyrs by Eusebius are followers of Origen (martyred ca. 206-211), as well as Origen’s father Leonides (ca. 202).

The famous martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas took place elsewhere in Africa, in Carthage (ca 202-204). The procurator Hilarianus tried to make Perpetua perform a symbolic sacrifice for the sake of her father. Official thinking was that Perpetua could carry out the rituals required to affirm a citizen's loyalty to the emperor and Rome, and remain free to continue any private religious practices of her choice.

Other instances of persecution occurred before the reign of Decius, but there are fewer accounts of them from 215 onward. This may reflect a decrease in hostility toward Christianity, or gaps in the available sources.
Rick Wade writes
Septimius Severus Another emperor under whom Christians suffered terribly was Septimius Severus who ruled from 193-211. Writing during his reign, Clement of Alexandria said, "Many martyrs are daily burned, confined, or beheaded, before our eyes." {Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, Apostolic Christianity: A.D. 1-100 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1910), p. 57.}

In 202 Septimius enacted a law prohibiting the spread of Christianity and Judaism. This was the first universal decree forbidding conversion to Christianity.{38} Violent persecutions broke out in Egypt and North Africa.{39} Leonides, the father of Origen, a Christian apologist, was beheaded. Origen himself was spared because his mother hid his clothes.{40}A young girl was cruelly tortured, then burned in a kettle of burning pitch with her mother.{41} A poignant story of the breaking down of class distinctions in the suffering church comes out of the persecution in Carthage. It is reported that Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and Felicitas, a slave girl, held hands and exchanged a kiss before being thrown to wild animals at a public festival.{42} Persecutions abated somewhat soon after Septimius died, but resumed with a vengeance under Decius Trajan.
 Rick Wade

Septimius Severus
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Spectacular alabaster bust of Septimius Severus
Musei Capitolini, Rome
The alabaster bust in Musei Capitolini may be somewhat idealized as is fit for a ruler considered divine. Cassius Dio met him in person and tells
"He was a small man, but physically strong (although he did become very weak from the gout.) His mind was extremely keen and vigorous. He did not get as much of an education as he wanted, and because of this he was a man of few words, although he had plenty of ideas. He did not forget his friends. His enemies he treated with a very heavy hand. He took a great deal of thought over all his plans; but he never gave a thought to what was said about him. For this reason he raised money from every source - except that he never killed anyone to get their money - and he met all neseccary expenditures unstintingly."
S. Raven 1993: 139-140
The marble bust in the Museum of Djemila, Algeria, looks almost photographic and emphasizes the African features of his head. (photo in Bridgeman Art and culture history)

First wife died without children, second wife Julia Domna from Syria, Balbek, mother of Caracalla and Geta.

According to wikipedia
Septimius Severus (Latin: Lucius Septimius Severus Augustus; 11 April 145 – 4 February 211), also known as Severus, was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211.

Severus was born in Leptis Magna in the province of Africa [Lebida in modern Libya]. As a young man he advanced through the customary succession of offices under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. Severus seized power after the death of Emperor Pertinax in 193 during the Year of the Five Emperors.

After deposing and killing the incumbent emperor Didius Julianus, Severus fought his rival claimants, the generals Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus. Niger was defeated in 194 at the Battle of Issus in Cilicia. Later that year Severus waged a short punitive campaign beyond the eastern frontier, annexing the Kingdom of Osroene as a new province. Severus defeated Albinus three years later at the Battle of Lugdunum in Gaul.

After solidifying his rule over the western provinces, Severus waged another brief, more successful war in the east against the Parthian Empire, sacking their capital Ctesiphon in 197 and expanding the eastern frontier to the Tigris. Furthermore, he enlarged and fortified the Limes Arabicus in Arabia Petraea.

In 202, he campaigned in Africa and Mauretania against the Garamantes; capturing their capital Garama and expanding the Limes Tripolitanus along the southern frontier of the empire.

Late in his reign he traveled to Britain, strengthening Hadrian's Wall and reoccupying the Antonine Wall. In 208 he invaded Caledonia (modern Scotland), but his ambitions were cut short when he fell fatally ill in late 210.

Severus died in early 211 at Eboracum [York, England], succeeded by his sons Caracalla and Geta.

With the succession of his sons, Severus founded the Severan dynasty, the last dynasty of the empire before the Crisis of the Third Century.
Read the entire article from wikipedia

Persecution of Christians and Jews
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia
Christians were persecuted during the reign of Septimius Severus. Severus allowed the enforcement of policies already long-established, which meant that

Roman authorities did not intentionally seek out Christians, but when people were accused of being Christians they would be forced to either curse Jesus and make an offering to Roman gods, or be executed. 

Furthermore, wishing to strengthen the peace by encouraging religious harmony through syncretism, Severus tried to limit the spread of the two groups who refused to yield to syncretism by outlawing conversions to Christianity or Judaism.

Individual officials availed themselves of the laws to proceed with rigour against the Christians. Naturally the emperor, with his strict conception of law, did not hinder such partial persecution, which took place in Egypt and the Thebaid, as well as in Africa proconsularis and the East. Christian martyrs were numerous in Alexandria.

No less severe were the persecutions in Africa, which seem to have begun in 197 or 198, and included the Christians known in the Roman martyrology as the martyrs of Madaura.

Probably in 202 or 203 Felicitas and Perpetua suffered for their faith.

Persecution again raged for a short time under the proconsul Scapula in 211, especially in Numidia and Mauritania.

[Later accounts also speak of a Gallic persecution, especially at Lyons, under Severus, but historians, based on archaeological and literary evidence, generally consider these events actually to have taken place under Emperor Marcus Aurelius.]
See also the post on T.D. Barnes' research on the actual evidence for Roman legislation against Christians before Decius.

Was the devotion of Septimius Severus to Serapis the cause of the persecution of 202-3?
Journal of Theological Studies (1954) V(1): 73-76 (link)

Timeline of early persecutions

Montanism in Carthage

Montanism was an early Christian movement of the late 2nd century, later referred to by the name of its founder, Montanus, but originally known by its adherents as the New Prophecy. It originated in Phrygia, a province of Asia Minor, and flourished throughout the region, leading to the movement being referred to elsewhere as Cataphrygian (meaning it was "from Phrygia") or simply as "Phrygians". It spread rapidly to other regions in the Roman Empire at a time before Christianity was generally tolerated or legal. It persisted in some isolated places into the 6th century.

Although it came to be labelled a heresy, the movement held similar views about the basic tenets of Christian doctrine to those of the wider Christian Church. It was a prophetic movement that called for a reliance on the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit and a more conservative personal ethic. Parallels have been drawn between Montanism and modern day movements such as Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement, and the New Apostolic Reformation.

The Three: Montanus, Priscilla and Maximilla
Scholars are divided as to when Montanus first began his prophetic activity, having chosen dates varying from c. AD 135 to as late as AD 177.

Montanus was a recent convert when he first began prophesying, supposedly during the proconsulate of Gratus in a village in Mysia named Ardabau; no proconsul or village so named have been identified, however.

Some accounts claim that before his conversion to Christianity, Montanus was a priest of Apollo or Cybele.

He believed he was a prophet of God and that the Paraclete spoke through him.

Montanus proclaimed the towns of Pepuza and Tymion in west-central Phrygia as the site of the New Jerusalem, making the larger Pepuza his headquarters.

He had two female colleagues, Prisca (sometimes called Priscilla, the diminutive form of her name) and Maximilla, who likewise claimed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their popularity even exceeded Montanus' own.

"The Three" spoke in ecstatic visions and urged their followers to fast and pray, so that they might share these revelations. Their followers claimed they received the prophetic gift from the prophets Quadratus and Ammia of Philadelphia, figures believed to have been part of a line of prophetic succession stretching all the way back to Agabus and the daughters of Philip the Evangelist.

In time, the New Prophecy spread from Montanus' native Phrygia across the Christian world, to Africa and Gaul.

There was never a uniform excommunication of New Prophecy adherents, and in many places they maintained their standing within the orthodox community.

This was the case at Carthage. While not without tension, the church there avoided schism over the issue. There were women prophesying at Carthage, and prophecy was considered a genuine charism. It was the responsibility of the council of elders to test all prophecy and to determine genuine revelation.

The best-known defender of the New Prophecy was undoubtedly Tertullian, who believed that the claims of Montanus were genuine beginning c. 207. He believed in the validity of the New Prophecy and admired the movement's discipline and ascetic standards. A common misconception is that Tertullian decisively left the orthodox church and joined a separate Montanist sect; in fact, he remained a catholic Christian.

Read the entire article from wikipedia.
The article refers frequently to a recent study by
Tabbernee, William (2009), Prophets and Gravestones: An Imaginative History of Montanists and Other Early Christians, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
Tabbernee, William (1997), Montanist Inscriptions and Testimonia: Epigraphic Sources Illustrating the History of Montanism, Patristic Monograph Series, Georgia: Mercer University Press.

There is an interesting and educational article from W.Möller 1894

Prophecy was, indeed, the most prominent feature of the new movement. Ecstatic visions, announcing the approach of the second advent of Christ, and the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem at Pepuza in Phrygia, and inculcating the severest asceticism and the most rigorous penitential discipline, were set forth as divine revelations, of which the prophet was only the bearer, and proclaimed as the direct continuation and final consummation of the prophetical gift of the apostolic age.
W. Möller 1894 in Montanus and Montanism

Condemned in Rome and in its native country, Montanism found a new home in North Africa, and its most prominent representative in Tertullian.

He adopted all its views, and further developed them. The speedy advent of Christ, and the establishment of the millennium, are the fundamental ideas of his theology.

A Christian church, which governs the world by slowly penetrating it, he does not understand.

The living gift of prophecy, according to the divine plan of salvation, constitutes the true mediator between the times that are and the coming millennium; and the true preparation from the side of the Church is the establishment of a moral discipline which forces her members away from the whole merely natural side of human life. Science and art, all worldly education, every ornamental or gay form of life, should be avoided, because they are tainted by Paganism.

The crown of human life is martyrdom.

Fasts were multiplied, and rendered more severe.

The second marriage was rejected, and the first was not encouraged.

Against a mortal sin the Church should defend itself by rigidly excluding him who committed it, for the holiness of the Church was simply the holiness of its members.

With such principles, Tertullian could not help coming into conflict with the Catholic Church. To him the very substance of the Church was the Holy Spirit, and by no means the episcopacy, whose right to wield the power of the keys he even rejected.

Soon the conflict assumed such a form, that the Montanists were compelled to separate from the Catholic Church, and form an independent or schismatic church.

But Montanism was, nevertheless, not a new form of Christianity; nor were the Montanists a new sect.

On the contrary, Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church against the obvious tendency of the Church of the day, - to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.
W. Möller 1894 in Montanus and Montanism

St Perpetua and St. Felicity
Also this claim calls for further inquiry!
In North Africa the Montanists met with extensive sympathy, as the Punic national character leaned naturally towards gloomy and rigorous acerbity. Two of the most distinguished female martyrs, Perpetua and Felicitas, were addicted to them, and died a heroic death at Carthage in the persecution of Septimius Severus .
Early Church com

Emperor Geta

et orabam pro eo omnibus diebus quousque transiuimus in carcerem castrensem. munere enim castrensi eramus pugnaturi; natale tunc Getae Caesaris. et feci pro illo orationem die et nocte gemens et lacrimans ut mihi donaretur.
Passio VII:9-10

St. Perpetua gives important historical information while telling about her little brother. She mentions Caesar Geta's birthday as the time they were to fight wild animals.

The Narrator also refers to the celebrations telling how St. Perpetua told the prison master

in faciem ei Perpetua respondit: Quid utique non permittis nobis refrigerare noxiis nobilissimis, Caesaris scilicet, et natali eiusdem pugnaturis? aut non tua gloria est, si pinguiores illo producamur?
Passio XVI:3

Wikipedia encyclopedia tells about the rather minor Caesar in the shadow of his father Septimus Severus and his older brother Lucius better known as Caracalla (link)

PVBLIVS SEPTIMIVS GETA AVGVSTVSGeta (Latin: Publius Septimius Geta Augustus  7 March 189 – 19 December 211), was a Roman Emperor co-ruling with his father Septimius Severus and his older brother Caracalla from 209 to his death.

Geta was the younger son of Septimius Severus by his second wife Julia Domna. Geta was born in Rome, at a time when his father was only a provincial governor at the service of Emperor Commodus.

Geta was always in a place close to his older brother Lucius, the heir known as Caracalla. Perhaps due to this, the relations between the two were difficult from their early years. Conflicts were constant and often required the mediation of their mother. To appease his younger son, Septimius Severus gave Geta the title of Augustus in 209.

During the campaign against the Britons of the early 3rd century, the imperial propaganda presented the image of a happy family that shared the responsibilities of rule. Septimus Severus entrusted his wife Julia Domna as his counsellor, his older son Caracalla as his second in command, and gave administrative and bureaucratic duties to his younger son Geta. In reality, however, the rivalry and antipathy between the brothers was far from resolved.

When Septimius Severus died in Eboracum in the beginning of 211, Caracalla and Geta were proclaimed joint emperors and returned to Rome.

Regardless, the shared throne was not a success: the brothers argued about every decision, from law to political appointments. Later sources speculate about the desire of the two of splitting the empire in two halves. By the end of the year, the situation was unbearable. Caracalla tried to murder Geta during the festival of Saturnalia without success. Later in December he arranged a meeting with his brother in his mother's apartments, and had him murdered in her arms by centurions.

Following Geta's assassination, Caracalla damned his memory and ordered his name to be removed from all inscriptions. The now sole emperor also took the opportunity to get rid of his political enemies, on the grounds of conspiracy with the deceased. Cassius Dio stated that around 20,000 persons of both sexes were killed or proscribed during this time.

Tertullian Apology, ad martyrem, de anima

They think the Christians the cause of every public disaster, of every affliction with which the people are visited. If the Tiber rises as high as the city walls, if the Nile does not send its waters up over the fields, if the heavens give no rain, if there is an earthquake, if there is famine or pestilence, straightway the cry is, "Away with the Christians to the lion!"'
Tertullian, Apology 40
Tertullian (160 - 225 AD), the controversial Father of Latin Christianity, was a Christian author who lived in the city of Carthage and was crucial in the formulation of the doctrine of Trinity. He later became a Montanist.
Carthage also became a center of early Christianity. Tertullian rhetorically addressed the Roman governor with the fact that the Christians of Carthage that just yesterday were few in number, now "have filled every place among you —cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palaces, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods." (Apologeticus written at Carthage, c. 197). It is worth noting that Tertullian omits any mention of the surrounding countryside or its network of villas not unlike colonial hacienda society.
At Tertullian's time Christianity was forbidden religion in the Roman Empire with waves of persecution rising and falling from emperor to emperor. Septimus Severus (145 - 211 AD) gave an edict in 202 AD that allowed Jews and Christians to worship their God but conversion to those religions was punishable by death.
Apologeticus (or Apologeticum) is Tertullian's most famous work, consisting of apologetic and polemic; In this work Tertullian defends Christianity, demanding legal toleration and that Christians be treated as all other sects of the Roman Empire. It is in this treatise that one finds the phrase: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (Apologeticus, Chapter 50).

This work is ostensibly addressed to the provincial governors of the Roman Empire, more specifically the magistrates of Carthage- "that the truth, being forbidden to defend itself publicly, may reach the ears of the rulers by the hidden path of letters"— and thus bears resemblance to the Greek apologues.

It is structured as an appeal on behalf of the Christians and pleads “for toleration of Christianity, attacking pagan superstition, rebutting charges against Christian morality, and claiming that Christians are no danger to the State but useful citizens”.

Its readership is likely to have been composed of Christians, whose faith was reinforced through Tertullian's defense against rationalizations and rumours and who “would have been hugely enheartened by Tertullian’s matchless confidence in the superiority of the Christian religion”.
Read the entire article from wikipedia
Apologeticus is of crucial importance for our understanding of the background to the passion of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity and their friends. It provides authentic contemporary documentation about the situation of Christians in the city of Carthage at his times and about the attitudes and perceptions of the Roman authorities towards adherents to this forbidden religion.

ad martyrem
Link to Tertullian's letter ad martyrem

DATE of the letter
A date AD 197 before persecution has been suggested and the last paragraph of the letter taken as a reference to the deaths after the conspiracy of Albinus. Spartian. in vit. c. 12, "After having slain numberless persons on the side of Albinus, among whom were many chiefs in the state, many women of rank, all their goods were confiscated—then many nobles of the Spaniards and Sualli were slain."

British classisist Timothy David Barnes (b.1942) is a recognized expert on Late Antiquity and especially on the chronology of Tertullian times. He has suggested the year AD 197 arguing that the letter is written after Tertullian had heard of Albinus fate that year but before the writing of Apologeticum.  T.D.Barnes, Tertullian: a literary and historical study' Oxford Clarendon Press, 1971. (Revised 1985).
(I am grateful to docent A.-M. Laato for pointing out the view of  T.D. Barnes)

Addressed to the prisoners?
Tertullian may have written the letter to Christian prisoners during the Severian persecution of 203-204. To test this possibility I have marked with bold statements in the letter that could be related to the text on St. Perpetua and St. Felicity.
They are not many
1. stepping on the head of Devil, snake, who is to flee from the martyrs.
2. special mentioning of women martyrs, compared to famous women in classical heritage of Greece and Rome and Carthage.

The men and women given as examples to martyrs
Mutius (Gaius Mucus Scaevola)
Heraclitus (oxen dung)
Peregrinus (Proteus)
Dido (Queen of Carthage)
The wife of Asdrubal (The Battle of the Crimissus)
Regulus (Roman general Marcus Atilius Regulus First Punic War)
Cleopatra (bear?)
the Athenian harlot (cf. Apologeticus c. 50)
the Lacedaemonians (Bomonicae, boys whipped in front of the altar of Diana Orthia in Sparta)

Writer of the frame text in the document?
Suggestion that Tertullian wrote the frame around the authentic documents of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity (if she had the vision assigned to Saturus?) requires diligent comparison of the Latin language and content with Tertullian's writings. My elementary knowledge of Latin is not enough for that.

T.D. Barnes examines the arguments for and against Tertullian as the author of the frame (Barnes 1971, 91) but finds no conclusive evidence.

de anima
Tertullian's treatise On Soul de anima refers to St Perpetua.

Inscription in Basilica Maiorum

Tomb inscription (restored)
S. Raven, Rome in Africa. p. 153
Here are the martyrs
Saturus, Saturinus,
Revocatus, Secundulus,
Felicitas, Perpetua, who suffered on the Nones (7th) of March

In Carthage a magnificent basilica was afterwards erected over the tomb of the martyrs, the Basilica Maiorum, where an ancient inscription bearing the names of Perpetua and Felicitas has been found.

L. Ennabli La Basilique de Mcidfa (1982) pages 5-17 reproduces early excavation drawings, plans and photographs.

Liliane Ennabli Carthage Une Metropole Chretienne 1997. The Basilica Maiorum pp 229 - 230
Appendix F in W. Fannari

- inscription probably from the Catholic restoration of the church under Vandal king Hilderic (523-530 AD) link

- Basilica known from St. Augustine's sermons

- Victor Vitensis Historia Persecutionis Africanae Provincis tells that on October 19 439 Vandals destroyed the amphitheatre and but did not destroy the burials when they requisitioned the basilica to Arian Christianity

(errors in A. Leone Changing Townscapes in North Africa from Late Antiquity to the Arab Conquest. 155 ref "destroyed basilica, mosaic with the names of ...")

Et ut de necessaries loquar, basilicam majorem, ubi corpora sanctarum maryrum Perpetuae atque Felicitatis sepula sunt, Celerinae vel Scillitanorm et alias quas non destruxerunt, suae religione licential tyrannical manipaverunt.

"And to mention the essential, they requisitioned the basilica Maiorum for their religious purposes with the permission of the tyrant. The basilica was the burial place of the martyred saints Perpetua, Felicity, Celerina, the Scillitans, and all others that were not destroyed."

"Since the martyrs of the year 203 were interred on this location, it seems logical to regard the site as a cemeterial basilica that was built to honor the martyrs buried in the areae Maiorum. These area might have initially been a private funerary enclosure that belonged to Perpetua's family, the Vibii. A.L. Delattre found the family's name on several pagan epitaphs on this site." p. 229

Alfred-Louis Delattre, Inscriptions chrétiennes. Cosmos 542 (Jume 1895): 337-339.

W. Farrini link has Delattre's description of the discovery of the inscription on the morning March 29, 1907

About a kilometer from the Bir Ftouha complex, for example, just outside Carthage at the fourth-century Basilica Maiorum (Mcidfa), an early sixth-century marble plaque (85 x 113 cm), apparently erected as part of a restoration of the church by the Arian Vandal kings and almost surely replacing earlier texts, celebrated the early third-century martyrs Perpetua, Felicitas and their comrades (Duval 1982: 682-3, no. 6; Ennabli 1982: 7-8, no. 1; 1992:132-5)

It is tempting to look for history in such assemblies. At the Basilica Maiorum, for example, the recommemoration of Perpetua and Felicitas by the early sixth-century inscription just mentioned has been tied to the end of official persecution by the Vandals in AD 523 and the reopening of the church. Likewise, the later texts may be associated with a new phase of Byzantine rebuilding (Ennabli 1982:23-25; 1997: 134-5)
A Companion to Late Antiquity. Philip Rousseau (ed) ref

Cisterns at Basilica Maiorum Image: CAST

A second interesting area was identified to the extreme NE of Rue Roosevelt and covers the entire eastern part as well as a portion of the northern part: the pottery shards are fewer here but two Christian cult buildings (identifiable with the Basilica Maiorum and the Basilica Bir Ftouha) were found, partially excavated in past decades but not exploited at all.

Location of the Basilica Maiorum
The Basilica is about one and half km North-East from the Amphitheatre where St. Perpetua, St. Felicity and their friends met their death.

Locations of Basilica Maiorum and Amphitheatre
Carthage in 5th Century. Anna Leone

Google Map

Carthage - Amphitheatre and Circus Maximus

5th century (Vandal) Carthage
Map Anna Leone

Locations of Circus Maximus, Amphitheatre and Basilica Maiorum later built over the burial site of the Martyrs.


Carthage amphitheatre 1950
"Built in the lst century AD, outside the city, the Carthage amphitheatre was considered one of the largest of the Roman Empire. In their descriptions, medieval chroniclers refer to imposing structures with high arches.

Today it lies a short distance from the roadside and all that remains is an oval shaped arena, 65m long by 37 wide, with at each end, the openings to let in the wild animals. The most famous martyrs to have died there, Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity, were martyred for their faith in 203."
Patrimonie en Tunis
Here is a French article on the amphitheatre in wikipedia with bibliography.

Here is a Virtual globetrotting Google map showing the location of the amphitheatre

Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus at Carthage.
Mosaic in Bardo Museum, Tunis
Image: University of Chicago

This is a rare historical image, a "mosaic photo" exactly from the time when St Perpetua and St Felicity and their Christian friends were put to death in the amphitheatre. The Book of Revelation Chapter 7 tells about those who have received the palm of victory and are now with the Lamb.
Here, in this early third century AD mosaic of the circus at Carthage, the chariots represent the four circus factions. There also is a hortator on horseback and a sparsor holding an amphora and a whip.

But in other ways, the iconography is unique. For example,

  • it is the only mosaic to show both the interior of the arena and the exterior façade, which has two arcades separated by a cornice.
  • There also is an awning over the seats, which continue over thecarceres, conveying more the appearance of an amphitheater than a circus.
  • The two temple-like structures above the seating are novel, as well, and may be situated at the break and finish lines.

In place of an obelisk, there is an image of Cybele seated on a lion. Associated with Caelestis, the tutelary goddess of Carthage and a Punic mother goddess, Cybele was said by Tertullian to preside over the euripus of the Circus Maximus. Her sacred tree was the palm, four of which, relates Dio (XLVIII.43.6), sprang up around her temple. From it, comes the symbolic palm of victory with which she was associated.
Roman horse - University of Chicago


Apprehensi sunt adolescentes catechumeni, Reuocatus et Felicitas, conserua eius, Saturninus et Secundulus. Inter hos et Vibia Perpetua, honeste nata, liberaliter instituta, matronaliter nupta, habens patrem et matrem et fratres duos, alterum aeque catechumenum, et filium infantem ad ubera. erat autem ipsa circiter annorum uiginti duo. haec ordinem totum martyrii sui iam hinc ipsa narrauit sicut conscriptum manu sua et suo sensu reliquit.

The young catechumens, Revocatus and his fellow-servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, were apprehended. And among them also was Vivia Perpetua, respectably born, liberally educated, a married matron, having a father and mother and two brothers, one of whom, like herself, was a catechumen, and a son an infant at the breast. She herself was about twenty-two years of age. From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.

Perpetua [Vibius family]
22 years

--- Slaves Revocatus and Felicity but not clear whose slave?
English translations

The ancient city of Carthage flourished until the Moslem conquest starting in 647. Hassan Ibn al Numan led in 698 AD a force of 40.000 soldiers and utterly destroyed it. After this catastrophe Carthage was abandoned as Tunis was established as the new capital. The ruins of Carthage are protected in a suburb of Tunis. Archaeological excavations continue there today with local and international scholars working on this important historical site with support from UNESCO

UNESCO tells that
The property comprises the vestiges of Punic, Roman, Vandal, Paleochristian and Arab presence. The major known components of the site of Carthage are the acropolis of Byrsa, the Punic ports, the Punic tophet, the necropolises, theatre, amphitheatrecircus, residential area, basilicas, the Antonin baths, Malaga cisterns and the archaeological reserve.
Archaeological Site of Carthage

Punic and Roman Carthage
The name Carthage (latin Carthago) comes from the Punic word Qart-ḥadašt meaning New City. In its heydays it was settled by Phoenicians building a "New Tyro" and was a leading cultural centre in Mediterranean. The name of Hannibal is still vividly remembered. Romans destroyed their competitor in the Third Punic War 146 BC.

The Romans later rebuilt Carthago and at the times of Jesus Christ it already was the second largest city in the Western side of the Empire. Carthage was a major harbour for African wheat to reach Rome. At its peak the Late Antiquity period city had half million inhabitants.

Donatians and Arians
Later in the Byzantine the good Christian citizens of Carthage had particular difficulties in following the lead of the Bishop of Rome. St. Augustine of Hippo waged serious theological battle with the followers of Bishop Donatius at the turn of fifth century AD. The Vandals invading the region in the 6th century AD had no difficulty in establishing their capital in Carthage which became the kingdom officially confessing Arian Christianity and persecuting trinitarians.

Did the history of ancient Carthagians and the long history of Roman occupation played any role in these theological choices?

Date of martyrdom
Accordingly, the birthday celebrations and day of martyrdom was March 7. This is the official day for St. Perpetua and St. Felicity in the Latin Church.

But which year?

The edict of Septimus Severus was given in 202 A.D. followed by a period of serious persecutions 202 - 215 AD. The death of St Perpetua and her fellow Christians is dated by some historians to May 7 203 A.D.

But Geta was made Augustus only in 209 A.D.

Their date of their martyrdom is traditionally given as 203 CE. The Severan Persecution of 202-203, was the first calculated attempt through edict to suppress Christianity across the empire. Thus, the martyrdom may have occurred in the aftermath of Septimus Severus’s decrees of 202 that forbade conversion to Judaism and Christianity. The association of the martyrdom with a birthday festival of the Emperor Geta, however, might seem to place it after 209, when Geta was made "Augustus" (having held the junior title Caesar since 198 when his elder brother had been made "Augustus"), though before 211, when he was assassinated. The Acta notes that the martyrdom occurred in the year when Minucius Timinianus was proconsul in the Roman province of Africa, but as Timinianus is not otherwise attested in history, this information does not clarify the date

Note, however, that St. Perpetua herself uses the term Caesar and not Augustus.

First Marcomanic War
Miracle of the Water
legio XII Fulminate

In 173, the Romans campaigned against the Quadi, who had broken their treaty and assisted their kin, and defeated and subdued them. During this campaign, a famous incident, the so-called "miracle of the rain", occurred, which was later depicted on the column of Marcus Aurelius and on coins. According to Cassius Dio, the legio XII Fulminata was hemmed in by a superior Quadi force and almost forced to surrender because of the heat and thirst. They were saved, however, by a sudden shower, which refreshed the Romans, while lightning struck the Quadi. Contemporaries and historians attributed it to divine intervention: Dio stated that it was called by an Egyptian magician praying to Mercury, while Tertullian attributed it to a prayer by Christians.

In the same year, Didius Iulianus, the commander of the Rhine frontier, repelled another invasion of the Hermunduri, while in the Gallia Belgica wikipedia

Susan Raven
 Some authorities have seen in the cruelty of the amphitheatre, in which criminals as well as Christians were torn to death by wild animals, not only a pandering to the bloodthirsty tastes of the onlookers and the reassurance (however illusory) of seeing justice publicly meted out in an ill-policed age, but a revival of the long tradition of human sacrifice. Wild beasts were sacred to the gods, and wore religious ornaments in the arena; their victims were sent to meet them either naked or in the costume of priests, so that their ordinary clothes should not profane the gods. A more ancient superstition hovered in the background: the games took place at set times of the year, ostensibly to celebrate the Emperor's anniversary or victories, but perhaps also to renew the fertility of the earth, and to placate the unknown forces of nature.

The Christian martyrs were, in a sense, the accomplices of their persecutors. Just as the Punic religion had taught that sacrificial victims became divine, so for them death in the arena was a certain passport to paradise. Martyrdom was already and was to remain, an important part of African Christianity.

in her single-minded courage Perpetua is of the company of Dido and Sophoishba and the wife of the defending commander of beleaguered Carthage.

Passion of St Perpetua and her companions, written... is one of the most moving documents in the history of African Christianity

Cyprian (Latin: Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus) (died September 14, 258) was bishop of Carthage and an important Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. After converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249 and eventually died a martyr at Carthage.

Was born near the time St Perpetua died and became Christian partly by reading Tertullian.

St Augustine on Dinocrates Ch 27

De anima et eius origine (Post-Nicene Fathers)

Chapter 27.—Is the Soul Wounded When the Body is Wounded?

What, then, if some such thing is exhibited among the departed; and souls recognise themselves among them, not, indeed, by bodies, but by the semblances of bodies? Now, when we suffer pain, if only in our dreams, although it is only the similitude of bodily limbs which is in action, and not the bodily limbs themselves, still the pain is not merely in semblance, but in reality; as is also the case in the instance of joyous sensations. Inasmuch, however, as St. Perpetua was not yet dead, you probably are 366unwilling to lay down a precise rule for yourself from that circumstance (although it bears strongly on the question), as to what nature you will suppose those semblances of bodies to partake of, which we have in our dreams. If you allow them to be like bodies, but not bodies actually, then the entire question would be settled. But her brother Dinocrates was dead; she saw him with the wound which he received while alive, and which caused his death. Where is the ground for the earnest contention to which you devoted your efforts, when you laboured to show, that when a limb is cut off, the soul must not be supposed as suffering a like amount of loss by amputation? Observe, the wound was inflicted on the soul of Dinocrates, expelling it by its force from his body, when it was inhabiting that body. How, then, can your opinion be correct, that “when the limbs of the body are cut off, the soul withdraws itself from the stroke, and after condensation retires to other parts, so that no portion of it is amputated with the wound inflicted on the body,” even if the person be asleep and unconscious when the loss of limb is suffered? So great is the vigilance which you have ascribed to the soul, that even should the stroke fall on any part of the flesh without its knowledge, when it is absorbed in the visions of dreams, it would instantly, and by a providential instinct, withdraw itself, and so render it impossible for any blow, or injury, or mutilation to be inflicted upon it. However, you may, as much as you will, ransack your ingenuity for an answer to the natural question, how the soul withdraws the portions of its own existence, and retreats within itself, so that, whenever a limb of the body is cut off or broken, it does not suffer any amputation or fracture in itself; but I cannot help asking you to look at the case of Dinocrates, and to explain to me why his soul did not withdraw from that part of his body which received the mortal wound, and so escape from suffering in itself what was plainly enough seen in his face, even after his body was dead? Is it, perchance, your good pleasure that we should suppose the phenomena in question to be rather the semblances of bodies than the reality; so that as that which is really no wound seems to be a wound, so that which is no body at all wears the appearance of corporeity? If, indeed, the soul can be wounded by those who wound the body, should we not have good reason to fear that it can be killed also by those who kill the body? This, however, is a fate which the Lord Himself most plainly declares it to be impossible to happen.2495 And the soul of Dinocrates could not at any rate have died of the blow which killed his body: its wound, too, was only an apparent one; for not being corporeal, it was not really wounded, as the body had been; possessing the likeness of the body, it shared also the resemblance of its wound. Still it may be further said, that in its unreal body the soul felt a real misery, which was signified by the shadow of the body’s wound. It was from this real misery that he earned deliverance by the prayers of his holy sister.