Coptic Persecutions


During the first two centuries the Church of Alexandria seems to have been freer from official persecution at the hands of the Roman Government than its sister churches of Rome and Antioch. Two causes may have contributed to this: (1) the privileged political and religious status in Egypt of Jews from whom the Government found it difficult to distinguish the Christians; (2) Roman citizenship having never been extended to the Egyptians, except in a few individual cases, the inhabitants of Egypt were free from the obligations of the Roman state religion and consequently there was no reason for persecution. For it is well known that the only cause of the persecutions in the first and second centuries was the incompatibility of the Christian faith with the state religion, which every Roman citizen, the Jews excepted, was obliged to practice, though free otherwise to follow any other form of religion he chose.


But when Septimius Severus by a special edict (about A. D. 200) forbade under severe punishment "to make Jews and Christians", the law applied to all subjects of the Roman Empire whether citizens or not; the Egyptian Church with its famous catechetical school of Alexandria, and the fresh impulse given by Demetrius to the diffusion of Christianity throughout the country, seem to have attracted the attention of the emperor, who had just visited Egypt. The school broke up just at that time; and its director, Clement of Alexandria, being obliged to leave Egypt, the youthful Origen attempted to reorganize it. He was soon arrested by the newly-appointed prefect Aquila. Shortly before, under Lætus, his father Leonidas had been the first victim of the persecution. Origen had earnestly encouraged him to stand firm in his confession, and was himself now longing for a martyr's death. His desire was frustrated through the efforts of his mother and friends. But he had the consolation of assisting and encouraging a number of his pupils who died for the faith. Plutarch, who had been his first disciple, Serenus (burnt), Heraclides, a catechumen, and Hero, a neophyte (both beheaded), a woman, Herais, a catechumen (burnt), another, Serenus (beheaded), and Basilides, a soldier attached to the office of Aquila. Potamiæna, a young Christian woman, had been condemned to be sunk by degrees in a cauldron of boiling pitch and was being led to death by Basilides, who on the way protected her against the insults of the mob. In return for his kindness the martyr promised him not to forget him with her Lord when she reached her destination. Soon after Potamiæna's death Basilides was asked by his fellow-soldiers to take a certain oath; on answering that he could not do it, as he was a Christian, at first they thought he was jesting, but seeing he was in earnest they denounced him and he was condemned to be beheaded. While waiting in jail for his sentence to be carried out some Christians (Origen being possibly one of them) visited him and asked him how he happened to be converted; he answered that three days after her death, Potamiæna had appeared to him by night and placed a crown on his head as a pledge that the Lord would soon receive him into his glory. Potamiæna appeared to many other persons at that time, calling them to faith and martyrdom (Euseb., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, iii-v). To these conversions, Origen, an eyewitness, testifies in his "Contra Celsum" (I, 46; P. G., XI, 746). Marcella, mother of Potamiæna, who likewise perished by fire, is the only other martyr whose name is recorded in authentic sources, but we are told of legions of Christians that were sent to Alexandria from all points of Egypt and Thebaid as picked athletes directed to the greatest and most famous arena of the world (Euseb., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, i).


Severus died in 211. Authentic sources mention no further official persecution of the Christians of Egypt until the edict of Decius, A. D. 249. This enactment, the exact tenor of which is not known, was intended to test the loyalty of all Roman subjects to the national religion, but it contained also a special clause against the Christians, denouncing the profession of Christianity as incompatible with the demands of the State, proscribing the bishops and other church officials, and probably also forbidding religious meetings. Disobedience to the imperial orders was threatened with severe punishments, the nature of which in each individual case was left to the discretion or zeal of the magistrates (see Gregg, "Decian Persecution", 75 sqq.). During the long period of peace the Egyptian Church had enjoyed since Severus' death it had rapidly increased in numbers and wealth, much, it seems, to the detriment of its power of endurance. And the fierce onslaught of Decius found it quite unprepared for the struggle. Defections were numerous, especially among the rich, in whom, says St. Dionysus, was verified the saying of Our Lord (Matt., xix, 23) that it is difficult for them to be saved (Euseb., "Hist. Eccl.", VI, xli, 8). Dionysius was then the occupant of the chair of St. Mark. The particulars of the persecution, and of the popular outbreak against the Christians in Alexandria (A. D. 249) are known to us almost exclusively from his letters as preserved by Eusebius (see DIONYSIUS OF ALEXANDRIA). Decius' death in A. D. 251 put an end to the persecution.


The persecution of Valerian was even more severe than that of Decius. Dionysius, who is again our chief authority, lays the responsibility for it to the emperor's chief counselor, Macrianus "teacher and ruler of the Magi from Egypt" (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", VII, x, 4). A first edict published in 257 ordered all bishops, priests, and deacons to conform with the state religion under penalty of exile and prohibited the Christians from holding religious assemblies under penalty of death (Healy, "Valerian Persecution", 136). In 258 a second edict was issued sentencing to death bishops, priests, and deacons, and condemning laymen of high rank to degradation, exile, and slavery, or even death in case of obstinacy, according to an established scale of punishments (Healy, ibid., 169 sq.), confiscation of property resulting ipso facto in every case. Dionysius was still in the chair of St. Mark. On receipt of the first edict Æmilianus, then Prefect of Egypt, immediately seized the venerable bishop with several priests and deacons and on his refusal to worship the gods of the empire exiled him to Kephro in Libya. There he was followed by some brethren from Alexandria and others soon joined him from the provinces of Egypt, and Dionysius managed not only to hold the prohibited assemblies but also to convert not a few of the heathens of that region where the word of God had never been preached. Æmilianus was probably ignorant of these facts which even under the provisions of the first edict made the bishop and his companions liable to capital punishment, Desiring however to have all the exiles in one district nearer at hand where he could seize them all without difficulty whenever he wished, he ordered their transfer to Mareotis, a marshy district south-west of Alexandria, "a country", Dionysius says, "destitute of brethren and exposed to the annoyances of the travelers and incursions of robbers", and assigned them to different villages throughout that desolate region. Dionysius and his companions were stationed at Colluthion, near the highway, so they could be seized first. This new arrangement, which had caused no small apprehension to Dionysius, turned out much better than the former one. If intercourse with Egypt was more difficult, it was easier with Alexandria; Dionysius had the consolation of seeing his friends more frequently, those who were nearer to his heart, and he could hold partial meetings with them as was customary in the most remote suburbs of the capital (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", VII, xi, 1-7). This is unfortunately all we know of Valerian persecution in Egypt. The portion of Dionysius' letter to Domitius and Didymus in which Eusebius refers to the persecution of Valerian (loc. cit., VII, xx) belongs rather to the Decian times. It is to be regretted that Eusebius did not preserve for us in its entirety Dionysius' letter "to Hermammon and the brethren in Egypt, describing at length the wickedness of Decius and his successors and mentioning the peace under Gallienus".

Immediately after Valerian's capture by the Persians (260?) his son Gallienus (who had been associated with him in the empire for several years) published edicts of toleration if not of recognition in favour of the Christians (see McGiffert's note 2 to Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", VII, xiii). But Egypt having fallen to the lot of Macrianus it is probable that he withheld the edicts or that the terrible civil war which then broke out in Alexandria between the partisans of Gallienus and those of Macrianus delayed their promulgation. After the usurper's fall (late in 261 or early in 262), Gallienus issued a rescript "to Dionysius, Pinnas, Demetrius, and the other bishops" to apprise them of his edicts and to assure them that Aurelius Cyrenius, "chief administrator of affairs", would observe them (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", VII, xiii; and McGiffert, note 3).


For reasons on which sources either disagree or are silent (see Duchesne, "Hist. anc. de l'église", II, 10 sq.; McGiffert in "Select Lib. of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, N. S.", I, 400), Diocletianus, whose household was full of Christians, suddenly changed his attitude towards Christianity and initiated the longest and bloodiest persecutions against the Church. Lactantius informs us (De mort. persec., IX) that Diocletian acted on the advice of a council of dignitaries in which Galerius played the principal part. It was in A. D. 303, the nineteenth year of his reign, and the third of Peter Alexandrinus as Bishop of Alexandria. Egypt and Syria (as part of the Diocese of Orient) were directly under the rule of Diocletian. This general outbreak had been preceded for three years at least by a more or less disguised persecution in the army. Eusebius says that a certain magister militum Veturius, in the sixteenth year of Diocletian, forced a number of high rank officers to prove their loyalty by the usual test of sacrificing to the gods of the empire, on penalty of losing their honours and privileges. Many "soldiers of Christ's kingdom" cheerfully gave up the seeming glory of this world and a few received death "in exchange for their pious constancy" (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", VIII, iv; "Chron.", ed. Schöne, II, 186 sq.). On 23 February, 303, the Church of Nicomedia was torn down by order of the emperors. The next day (thus Lact., op. cit., xiii. Euseb. says "in March, on the approach of the Passion"), a first edict was published everywhere ordering the churches to be destroyed, the Holy Scriptures to be burned, and inflicting degradation on those in high rank and slavery on their households. Two other edicts soon followed, one ordering the imprisonment of all church officials, the other commanding them to sacrifice to the gods (Euseb., op. cit., VIII, ii, 4, 5; vi, 8, 10). In 304, while Diocletian was seriously ill, a fourth edict was issued commanding all the people to sacrifice at once in the different cities and offer libations to the idols (Euseb., "Mart. Pal.", III, i). On 1 May, 305, both Diocletian and Maximian Herculius retired officially from the public life and a tetrarchy was organized with Galerius and Constantius as Augusti and Severus and Maximinus Daia as Cæsars; and a new apportionment of the empire was made, Egypt and Syria with the rest of the Diocese of Orient going to Maximinus. Superstitious in the extreme, surrounded by magicians without whom he did not venture to move even a finger, ferocious and dissolute, Maximinus was far more bitter against the Christians than Galenius himself.

To give a fresh impetus to the persecution, he published again (305) in his provinces, in his own name, the fourth edict which had been issued the year before by all the members of the tetrarchy, thus making it clear that no mercy was to be expected from him (Euseb., "Mart. Pal.", IV, viii). In 307, after the death of Constantius, his son Constantine was made second Cæsar and Severus promoted to the rank of Augustus. The following year Severus, defeated by Maxentius, was obliged to take his own life and his place and rank was given by Galerius to Licinius. Maximinus then assumed the title of Augustus against the wish of Galerius who nevertheless had to recognize him and bestowed the same title on Constantine. It was probably on the occasion of this quarrel with Galerius that Maximinus for a short while in the summer of 308 relaxed somewhat his measures against the Christians. "Relief and liberty were granted to those who for Christ's sake were labouring in the mines of the Thebaid" (Mart. Pal., IX, i). But suddenly in the autumn of the same year he issued another edict (so-called fifth edict) ordering the shrines of the idols to be speedily rebuilt and all the people, even infants at the breast, to be compelled to sacrifice and taste of the offerings. At the same time he commanded the things for sale in the markets to be sprinkled with the libations from the sacrifices, the entrance to the public baths to be contaminated similarly (Mart. Pal., IX, ii). And when three years later (April, 311) Galerius, devoured by a terrible disease and already on the point of death, finally softened toward the Christians and asked them to pray to their God for his recovery, Maximinus significantly kept aloof (Hist. eccl., VIII, xvii). His name does not appear with those of Galerius, Constantinus, and Licinius, in the heading of the edict of toleration, which, moreover, was never promulgated in his provinces. However, probably to placate his two colleagues on the occasion of a new apportionment of the power as a result of Galerius' death, he told his chief official, Sabinus, to instruct the governors and other magistrates to relax the persecution. His orders received wider interpretation than he expected, and while his attention was directed by the division of the Eastern empire between himself and Licinius, the confessors who were awaiting trial in the prisons were released and those who had been condemned to the mines returned home in joy and exultation.

This lull had lasted about six months when Maximinus resumed the persecution, supposedly at the request of the various cities and towns who petitioned him not to allow the Christians to dwell within their walls. But Eusebius declares that in the case of Antioch the petition was Maximinus' own work, and that the other cities had sent their memorials at the solicitation of his officials who had been instructed by himself to that effect. On that occasion he created in each city a high-priest whose office it was to make daily sacrifices to all the (local) gods, and with the aid of the priests of the former order of things, to restrain the Christians from building churches and holding religious meetings, publicly or privately (Eusebius, op. cit., IX, ii, 4; Lactant., op. cit., XXXVI). At the same time everything was done to excite the heathens against the Christians. Forged Acts of Pilate and of Our Lord, full of every kind of blasphemy against Christ, were sent with the emperor's approval to all the provinces under him, with written commands that they should be posted publicly in every place and that the schoolmasters should give them to their scholars instead of their customary lessons to be studied and learned by heart (Euseb., op. cit., IX, v). Members of the hierarchy and others were seized on the most trifling pretext and put to death without mercy. In the case of Peter of Alexandria no cause at all was given. He was arrested quite unexpectedly and beheaded without explanation as if by command of Maximinus (ibid., IX, vi). This was in April, 312, if not somewhat earlier. In the autumn of the same year Constantine defeated Maximinus and soon after conjointly with Licinius published the edict of Milan, a copy of which was sent to Maximinus with an invitation to publish it in his own provinces. He met their wishes half way, publishing instead of the document received an edict of tolerance, but so full of false, contradictory statements and so reticent on the points at issue, that the Christians did not venture to hold meetings or even appear in public (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", IX, ix, 14-24). It was not, however, until the following year, after his defeat at Adrianople (30 April, 313) at the hands of Licinius, with whom he was contending for the sole supremacy over the Eastern empire, that he finally made up his mind to enact a counterpart of the edict of Milan, and grant full and unconditional liberty to the Christians. He died soon after, consumed by "an invisible and God-sent fire" (Hist. eccl., IX, x, 14). Lactantius says he took poison at Tarsus, where he had fled (op. cit., 49).


On the effects of the persecutions in Egypt, Alexandria, and the Thebaid in a general way we are well informed by ocular witnesses, such as Phileas, Bishop of Thmuis, in a letter to his flock which has been preserved by Eusebius (Hist. eccl., VIII, x), who visited Egypt towards the end of the persecution, and seems to have been imprisoned there for the faith. Eusebius speaks of large numbers of men in groups from ten to one hundred, with young children and women put to death in one day, and this not for a few days or a short time, but for a long series of years. He describes the wonderful ardour of the faithful, rushing one after another to the judgment seat and confessing themselves Christians, the joy with which they received their sentence, the truly Divine energy with which they endured for hours and days the most excruciating tortures; scraping, racking, scourging, quartering, crucifixion head downwards, not only without complaining, but singing and offering up hymns and thanksgiving to God till their very last breath. Those who did not die in the midst of their tortures were killed by the sword, fire, or drowning (Euseb., "Hist. eccl.", VIII, viii, 9). Frequently they were thrown again into prison to die of exhaustion or hunger. If perchance they recovered under the care of friends and were offered their freedom on condition of sacrificing, they cheerfully chose again to face the judge and his executioners (Letter of Phileas, ibid., 10). Not all, however, received their crowns at the end of a few hours or days. Many were condemned to hard labour in the quarries of Porphyry in Assuan, or, especially after A. D. 307, in the still more dreaded copper mines of Phûnon (near Petra, see Revue Biblique, 1898, p. 112), or in those of Cilicia. Lest they should escape, they were previously deprived of the use of their left legs by having the sinews cut or burnt at the knee or at the ankle, and again their right eyes were blinded with the sword and then destroyed to the very roots by fire. In one year (308) we read of 97, and again of as many as 130, Egyptian confessors thus doomed to a fate far more cruel than death, because of the remoteness of the crown they were impatient to obtain and the privation of the encouraging presence and exhortations of sympathetic bystanders (Mart. Pal., VIII, i, 13).

God in at least two instances related by Eusebius inspired the tyrant to shorten the conflict of those valiant athletes. At his command forty of them, among whom were many Egyptians, were beheaded in one day at Zoara near Phûnon. With them was Silvanus of Gaza, a bishop who had been ministering to their souls. On the same occasion, Bishops Peleus and Nilus, a presbyter, and a layman, Patermuthius, all from Egypt, were condemned to death by fire probably at Phûnon, A. D. 309 (Euseb., "Mart. Pal.", XIII, Cureton, pp. 46-8). Besides Peter of Alexandria, but a few of the many who suffered death illustriously at Alexandria and throughout Egypt and the Thebaid are recorded by Eusebius, viz., Faustus, Dius, and Ammonius, his companions, all three presbyters of the Church of Alexandria, also Phileas, Bishop of Thmuis and three other Egyptian bishops; Hesychius (perhaps the author of the so-called Hesychian recension, see Hastings, "Dict. of the Bible", IV, 445), Pachymius, and Theodorus (Hist. eccl., VIII, xiii, 7); finally Phioromus, "who held a high office under the imperial government at Alexandria and who administered justice every day attended by a military guard corresponding to his rank and Roman dignity" (ibid., ix, 7). The dates of their confessions, with the exception of that of St. Peter (see above) are not certain.


Among these, Eusebius mentions Pæsis and Alexander, beheaded at Cæsarea in 304, with six other young confessors. Hearing that on the occasion of a festival the public combat of the Christians who had lately been condemned to the wild beasts would take place, they presented themselves, hands bound, to the governor and declared themselves Christians in the hope of being sent to the arena. But they were thrown in prison, tortured, and finally were beheaded (Mart. Pal., IV, iii). Elsewhere we read of five young Egyptians who were cast before different kinds of ferocious beasts, including bulls goaded to madness with red-hot irons, but none of which would attack the athletes of Christ who, though unbound, stood motionless in the arena, their arms stretched out in the form of a cross, earnestly engaged in prayer. Finally they were also beheaded and cast into the sea (Hist. eccl., VIII, vii). We must also mention with Eusebius a party of Egyptians who had been sent to minister to the confessors in Cilicia. They were seized as they were entering Ascalon. Most of them received the same sentence as those whom they had gone to help, being mutilated in their eyes and feet, and sent to the mines. One, Ares, was condemned to be burnt, and two, Probus (or Primus) and Elias, were beheaded, A. D. 308 (Mart. Pal., X, i). The following year five others who had accompanied the confessors to the mines in Cilicia were returning to their homes when they were arrested as they were passing the gates of Cæsarea, and were put to death after being tortured, A. D. 309 (ibid., vi-xiii).

We close this section with the name of Ædesius, a young Lycian and brother of Apphianus (Mart. Pal., IV). He had been condemned to the mines of Palestine. Having somehow been released, he came to Alexandria and fell in with Hierocles, the governor, while he was trying some Christians. Unable to contain his indignation at the sight of the outrages inflicted by this magistrate on the modesty of some pure women, he went forward and with words and deeds overwhelmed him with shame and disgrace. Forthwith he was committed to the executioners, tortured and cast into the sea (Mart. Pal., V, ii-iii). This glorious page of the history of the Church of Egypt is not of course quite free from some dark spots. Many were overcome by the tortures at various stages of their confessions and apostatized more or less explicitly. This is attested by the "Liber de Pœnitentia" of Peter of Alexandria, dated from Easter, 306 (published in Routh, Reliquiæ Sacræ, 2nd ed., IV, 23 sqq.). (See LAPSI.)


The Acts of Martyrs of Egypt in their present form have been, with few exceptions, written in Coptic, and were currently read in the churches and monasteries of Egypt at least from the ninth to the eleventh century. Later they were, like the rest of the Coptic literature, translated into Arabic and then into Ethiopic for the use of the Abyssinian Church. The Coptic Acts have often come down to us both in Bohairic and in Sahidic, those in the latter dialect being as a rule fragmentary, as most of its literature. Where we have the same Acts in two or more dialects or languages, it generally happens that the various versions represent more or less different recensions, and this is sometimes the case even between two copies of the same Acts in the same language. The greater part of the extant Bohairic Acts have been published with a French translation by the present writer of this article in "Les Actes des Martyrs de l'Egypte", etc., I (here=H), and by J. Balestri and the present writer, with a Latin translation, in "Acta Martyrum", I (here=B-H). Two of the Arabic Acts have appeared in French translation only, and without indication of the Manuscripts from which they were taken, under the name of E. Amélineau in "Contes et romans", etc., II (here=A). For the publication of some of the Ethiopic Acts we are indebted to E. Pereira in "Acta Martyrum", I (here=P).

Unlike the Acts of martyrs of the other churches, those of the Coptic Church, almost without any exception, contain some historical data of a more general character, which are as the background of the narrative proper. Put side by side, the data furnished by the various Acts of martyrs referred to the persecution of Diocletian prove on careful examination to constitute just such an outline of the history of that persecution as could result from a condensed compilation of the writings of Eusebius. Indeed it seems as though each individual writer of those Acts had before his eyes a compilation of that nature and took from it just what best served his purpose. Sometimes the original text is almost literally rendered in Coptic (and what is still more surprising in Arabic or in Ethiopic), with here and there an occasional distortion owing to the failure on the part of the translator to grasp the right meaning of a difficult or obscure passage; sometimes it is paraphrased; frequently it has been amplified or developed, and still more frequently we find it more or less curtailed. In other cases several passages have been condensed into one, so as to make appear simultaneous facts chronologically distinct. Finally, it not seldom occurs that a paragraph or even a short passage of Eusebius has been transformed into a real historical romance. In the latter case all proper names are fictitious, and the same historical character appears under various names. Antiochia is universally substituted for Nicomedia as the capital of the eastern empire. Naturally also some violence is inflicted on the original at the point where the romance is grafted upon it. A few examples will suffice to illustrate our view and at the same time we hope to show its correctness.

Bringing together the data furnished by the "Acts of Claudius" (P., 175, and A., 3), and Theodore Stratelates (B-H, 157), we can easily reconstruct the primitive Coptic version of the beginning of the persecution as follows: In the nineteenth year of Diocletian, as the Christians were preparing to celebrate the Passion, an edict was issued everywhere, ordering their churches to be destroyed, their Holy Scriptures burnt, and their slaves liberated, while other edicts were promulgated demanding the imprisonment and punishment of the ministers of the Christian Church unless they sacrificed to the gods. This is unmistakably a translation of Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", VIII, ii, 4-5, and although it shows three omissions, viz., the indication of the month; the mention that this was the first edict, and the third provision of the edict, together with the wrong translation of the fourth clause, however, two of the omissions are supplied by the "Acts of Epime" (B-H, 122; comp. Didymus H., 285), in which we find as heading of the general edict (fourth edict, see p. 707c) these curious words: This was the first edict [apographê] that was against all the saints. He [the king] got up early on the first day of the month of • Pharmuthi [27 March-25 April], as he was to pass into a new year and wrote an edict [diatagma] etc. It needs but a superficial comparison between Eusebius, "Hist. eccl.", VIII, ii, 4-5, and "Mart. Pal.", III, i, to see that the italics in the Coptic version above belong to the former passage, while the rest represent a distorted rendering of the latter. The Coptic has even retained to some extent the difference of style in the two places, having apographê for graphê in the first case and diatagma for prostagma in the latter. The other omission, viz., the third clause of the edict, may be lurking in some other text already extant or yet to be discovered. As for having misunderstood the fourth clause of the edict, the Coptic compiler may well be forgiven his error in view of the divergence of opinion still obtaining among scholars as to the right interpretation of this somewhat obscure passage. (See McGiffert on the passage, note 6. In this case, as the reader may have observed, we have departed from McGiffert's translation in supplying "their" before "household", thus making this fourth clause in reality a continuation of the third one.)

Here is now another passage in which the text of Eusebius is gradually transformed so as to lose practically everything of its primitive aspect. In the "Acts of Theodore the Eastern" (one of the most legendary compositions in the Coptic Martyrology), we read that Diocletian, having written the edict, handed it to one of the magistrates, Stephen by name, who was standing by him. Stephen took it and tore it up in the presence of the king. Whereupon the latter grasped his sword and cut Stephen in twain, and wrote the edict over again which he sends all over the world (P., 120 sq.). The legend process has begun, to say the least. Yet everybody will recognize in this story a translation, distorted as it may be, of Eusebius, VIII, v (those in Nicomedia). As in Eusebius it is a man in high rank who tears the edict. Only in Eusebius the edict was posted up instead of being handed by the emperor, and the act took place "while two of the emperors were in the same city" not "in the presence of the emperor"; finally, Eusebius does not say with what death the perpetrator of the act met (Lactantius, "De mort. persec.", XIII, says he was burnt). In the "Acts of Epime", the legend takes another step forward. A young soldier of high rank, seeing the edict (posted up) takes off his sword-belt and presents himself to the king. The king asks him who he is. The soldier answers that he is Christodorus, son of Basilides the Stratelates, but that henceforth he shall not serve an impious king, but confess Christ. Then the king takes the sword of one of the soldiers and runs it through the young man (B-H, 122 sq.). There is almost nothing left of Eusebius' account of this story. In fact it looks as if the writer of the "Acts of Epime" had taken it from those of Theodore the Eastern, or some other already distorted version of the Eusebian account, and spoiled it still more in his effort to conceal his act of plagiarism.

We could cite many more passages of the Acts of martyrs of Egypt, thus reproducing more or less exactly, yet unmistakably, the account of the persecution of Diocletian as given by Eusebius. In fact almost every chapter of the eighth book of his "History" is represented there by one or more passages, also some chapters of the seventh and ninth books, and of the book on the Martyrs of Palestine, so that there can be no serious doubt as to the existence of a Coptic history of the persecution of Diocletian based on Eusebius, This may have been a distinct work, or it may have been part of the Coptic church history, in twelve books, of which considerable fragments are known to be extant. (see EGYPT, History). From that same Coptic church history were taken, possibly, the several excerpts from Eusebius to be found in the "History of the Patriarchs" of Severus of Ashmunein (EGYPT, p. 362d), and it might be one of the Coptic and Greek works to which this author refers as having been used by him [Graffin-Nau, "Patrologia Orientalis", I, 115; cf. Crum, "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology", XXIV (1902), 68 sqq.]. However, it seems more likely that the Coptic and Greek works spoken of by Severus were lives of the individual patriarchs, the compilers of which may have used either Eusebius' original text or more probably the Coptic work in question.

There are also in the Acts of martyrs of Egypt clear traces of other sources of information as to the persecution of Diocletian. This is generally the case with some of the more legendary pieces. For instance, in the introduction to the "Acts of Epime", we read that Diocletian, formerly a Christian (probably here confused with Julian the Apostate), apostatized and made for himself seventy gods, calling the first of them Apollo, and so on. Then he called a council of dignitaries of the empire and told them that Apollo and the rest of the gods had appeared to him, and demanded a reward for having restored him to health and given him the victory. In behalf of all, Romanus the Stratelates suggested to oblige all the subjects of Diocletian to worship his gods under penalty of death. Is it not clear that the first author of the narrative must have read in some form or other the ninth chapter of Lactantius' "De mortibus persecutorum"? In what other source could we have found that Diocletian acted on the advice of a council, and that of Apollo, no matter whether the god volunteered his advice or Diocletian sought it? Can it be a mere coincidence that both Lactantius and the Coptic writer explain practically in the same way Diocletian's determination to persecute the Christians?

EUSEBIUS, Historia ecclesiastica in P. G., XX; IDEM, De martyribus Palœstinœ (ibid.); both works also, in English tr, (which we follow) with Prolegomena and notes by MCGIFFERT in Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, new series, I (Oxford, 1890); LACTANTIUS, De morte persecutorum in P. L., VII; GREGG, The Decian Persecution (Edinburgh, 1897); HEALY, The Valerian Persecution (Boston, 1905); MASON, The Persecution of Diocletian (Cambridge, 1876); SCHOENAICH, Die Christenverfolgung des Kaisers Decius (Jauer, 1907); TILLEMONT, Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire ecclésiastique des six premiers siècles, III-V; HYVERNAT, Les actes des martyrs de l'Egypte tirés des manuscrits coptes de la bibliothèque Vaticane, etc., I (Paris, 1886-87); BALESTRI AND HYVERNAT, Acta Martyrum, I in Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium: Scriptores Coptici, I (third series, Paris, 1907): PEREIRA, Acta Martyrum, ibid., Scriptores Æthiopici, XXVIII (second series, Paris, 1907); AMÉLINEAU, Contes et romans de l'Egypte chrétienne (Paris, 1888). For a complete bibliography of the material at hand see BOLLANDISTS (PEETERS), Bibl. Hagiogr. Orient. (Brussels, 1910). The only important addition to be made to this Very useful work is the recent publication of WINSTEDT, Coptic texts on Saint Theodore the General, St. Theodore the Eastern, etc. (with English tr., London, 1910).


Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved