Diocletianic Martyrs

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The Diocletianic or Great Persecution (303-313)

The persecution of Diocletian (r. 284-305) and his immediate successors was the longest and most destructive persecution the pagan Roman state waged against the Orthodox Church. It is also the most well documented period of anti-Christian persecution in the Roman Empire. The persecution began on February 23, 303 with the demolition of a large and prominent church in Diocletian's capital Nicomedia. The following day, Diocletian and his co-emperors issued the first of four edicts against the Christian Church. It forbid Christian assemblies, order the Church buildings and Holy Scriptures to be burned. Christians in the Roman government were reduced to slavery and pagan sacrifice required to be done at court. Any Christians who resisted were to subjected to torture and imprisonment. The second edict was issued in summer of that year ordering all Christian clergy to sacrifice on pain of torture and imprisonment. The third edict was issued on the 20th November (Diocletian's Vicennalia). Diocletian promised amnesty to any Christian who performed a pagan sacrifice. The fourth and final edict was issued early the following year (304 A.D.) and demanded that all inhabitants of the Roman Empire were to offer sacrifice or else suffer torture and death. Of these four edicts, only the first was enforced in the Western Empire by Diocletian's co-Augustus Maximianus Herculius (r. 285-305). However, Frend argues that Herculius (who had authority over Italy, Africa, and Spain) enforced the fourth edict as well based on evidence from Africa (Frend 503). The Christians of Gaul and Britain faced almost no persecution (except for the demolition of some churches) given that the Caesar of the West Constantius (father of Constantine and ex-husband of Helena) was well disposed towards Christianity.

The persecution came to an end in the west shortly after the mutual abdications of the Augusti Diocletian and Maximianus Hercuius on March 1, 305 A.D. Diocletian was succeeded by his Caesar Galerius and Herculius by Constantius. Galerius performed a dynastic coup and managed to have his appointees made Caesars, Flavius Severus in the West (r. 305-307) and Maximinus Daia in the East (r. 305-313). Severus showed no interest in continuing the persecution, but Maximinus Daia proved himself to be every bit as cruel a persecutor as Diocletian and Galerius. Constantius died in Britain on the 25 of July 306. His troops then hailed his son Constantine as Augustus, who immediately ended persecution in his territories (Gaul, Britain, and Spain) and ordered that Christians have their property restored to them. Shortly there after, on October 28, Maxentius, son of Herculius, was proclaimed emperor in Rome and he issued toleration in Italy and Africa, although he did order property restitution until 311 (Barnes 2010, 150). The Great Persecution in the West ended after about two years.

In the east however, persecution continued under the fanatical pagan emperors Galerius and Maximinus Daia. However, on the 30 of April 311, after eight years, the dying Galerius issued toleration to the Christians of the east. The peace was short lived though for Christians in Anatolia, the Levant, and Egypt, where in November Maximinus Daia renewed the persecution with enthusiastic vigor. The Great Persecution finally came to an end in 313. Constantine by this point had defeated Maxentius, controlled the entire Western Empire, and had converted to Orthodox Christianity. His co-Augustus Licinius extended his policy of toleration and restitution to his eastern provinces in February of 313 (the so-called "Edict of Milan"). Licinius then proceeded to defeat Maximinus Daia and take over the entire Eastern Empire. Knowing defeat was immanent, Maximinus finally issued toleration for Christians in May of 313. He was soon decisively defeated by Licinius and died in August that same year. The Great Persecution finally came to an end.

List of martyrs either confirmed to have died or alleged to have suffered martyrdom under Diocletian and Tetrarchy

Martyrs named by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Historia ecclesiastica book VIII-IX and/or his Martyrs of Palestine

• 24 Feb 303 John (or Euetius) of Nicomedia

• Early 303 Dorotheus, Gorgonius and Peter of Nicomedia

• 28 Apr 303 Anthimus of Nicomedia

• 7 Jun 303 Procopius of Gaza

• 17 Nov 303 Zacchaeus of Gadara, Alphaeus of Eleutheropolis, Romanus the Deacon of Caesarea

• Spr 304 Timothy of Gaza

• 24 Mar 305 Dionysius of Palestine, Timothy of Pontus, Dionysius of Tripolis, Romanus of Diospolis, Paesis the Egyptian, Alexander the Egyptian, Agapius and Dionysius

• 31 Mar 306 Apphianus of Lycia

• 2 Apr 306 Ulpianus of Tyre

• 8 Apr 306 Aedesius of Lycia

• 20 Nov 306 Agapius and Thecla of Gaza

• 2 Apr 307 Theodosia of Tyre

• 5 Nov 307 Domninius of Palestine

• c. 307 Phileas of Alexandria

• c. 307(?) Philoromus of Alexandria

• 25 Jul 308 Ennatha of Gaza, Valentina of Gaza, Paul the Confessor

• 13 Nov 309 Antoninus of Palestine, Zebinas of Eleutheropolis, Germanus of Palestine, Ennatha of Scythopolis

• 14 Dec 309 Ares the Egyptian, Primus the Egyptian, Elias the Egyptian (I)

• 10 Jan 310 Peter Apselamus of Anea and Asclepius the Marcionite Bishop

• 16 Feb 310 Pamphilus of Caesarea, Porphyrius of Caesarea, Paul of Jamnia, Seleucus of Cappadocia, Julianus of Cappadocia, Vales of Jerusalem, Theodulus of Caesarea, Elias the Egyptian (II), Jeremiah the Egyptian, Isaiah the Egyptian, Samuel the Egyptian, Daniel the Egyptian

• 5 Mar 310 Hadrianus of Manganaea

• 7 Mar 310 Eubulus of Manganaea

• 19 Sep 310 Paul (or Peleus) the Egyptian Bishop and Nilus the Egyptian

• 16 Feb 310 Patermuthius the Egyptian and Elias the Egyptian (III)

• 4 May 311 Silvanus of Gaza, John of Egypt, and theThirty-Nine Confessors of Zoar (or Phaeno)

• 26 Nov 311 Peter of Alexandria

• c. 311-Oct 312 Wife of the Ubran Prefect of Rome Julius Flavianus

• 7 Jan 312 Lucian of Antioch

• 312 Silvanus of Emesa and his two Companions

Martyrs in Eusebius of Uncertain Dates

• Mother and Virgins of Antioch

• Aduactus the Rationalis of Phrygia(?)

• Tyrannion of Tyre

• Zenobius of Sidon

• Faustus the Deacon

• Dius the Egyptian

• Ammonius the Egyptian

• Hesychius the Egyptian

• Pachymius the Egyptian

• Theodorus the Egyptian

Historical martyrs named to in authentic Acta, semi-historical Acts, or later credible sources

• 24 Apr 303 The Presbyters Eusebius and Charalampus and Two-Hundred Sixty-Eight Christians of Nicomedia

• 3 May 303 Helpidius and Hermogenes of Melitene

• 15 Jul 303 Felix, bishop of Thibiuca

• Nov 303 Dasius of Durostorum

• 22 Jan 304 Vincent of Caesaraugusta

• 12 Feb 304 Forty-Nine Martyrs of Abitiane

• 24 Mar 304 Irenaeus of Sirmium

• 1 Apr 304 Agape, Chione, and Eriene of Thessalonica

• 7 Apr 304 Calliopus of Pompeiopolis and Claudius, Asterius, Neon, Theonilla, and Dominina in Lycia

• 11 Apr 304 Domnio of Salona

• 29 Apr 304 Euplius of Catania

• 30 Jul 304 A Christian Woman of Saltus Cephalitanus

• Sum 303 Thirty-Four Martyrs of Haidra

• 22 Oct 304 Bishop of Heraclea and Hermes the Deacon of Heraclea

• 5 Dec 304 Crispina of Tebessa

• 10 Dec 304 Eulalia of Merida

• 22 Dec 304 Crispina of Thagora

George the Trophy-bearer

Martyrs of Questionable Historicity (It should be noted that there are many martyrs whose exsitance is likely because their cult is attested to early on even though their Acta are historical unreliable)

Catherine of Alexandria


• Tarachus of Anazarbus and his companions Probus and Andronicus 11 Oct 303 or 304

Primary Sources

Eusebius of Caesarea

Historia ecclesiastica

Martyrs of Palestine (Long and Short Recessions)


De morbitus persecutorum

Acts of Martyrs

Acts of Crispina

Acts of Dasius of Durostorum

Acts of Euplius of Catania

Acts of Felix of Thibiuca

Acts of Irenaeus of Sirmium

Acts of Vincent of Caesareaugusta

Martyrdom of Agape, Chione, and Eriene of Thessalonica

Secondary Sources

Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Barnes, Timothy D. Early Christian Hagiography and Roman History. Mohr Siebeck. 2010

Frend, William H.C. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of Conflict from Maccabees to Donatus. James Clarke & Co. 2008 Corrected Edition

See Also

Timeline of Saints

Timeline of Church History (Ante-Nicene Era (100-325))