Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church

By W.H.C. Frend

The definitive survey of martyrdom and persecution during the first four centuries of Christianity.

ISBN: 9780227172292


Although the story of the triumphant rise of Christianity has often been told, it was a triumph achieved through blood and tribulation. The literal meaning of the term martyr meant witness, but among early Christians it quickly acquired a harsher meaning – one who died for the faith – and that witness through death was responsible for many conversions, including those of Justin Martyr, himself to offer just such witness, and perhaps Tertullian.

Persecution was seen by early Christians, as by later historians, as one of the crucial influences on the growth and development of the early Church and Christian beliefs. Why did the Roman Empire persecute Christians? Why did thousands of Christians not merely accept but welcome martyrdom?

In his classic work, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church, the late W.H.C. Frend explores the mindset of those who suffered persecution as well as the motivation of those who persecuted them. He shows the critical importance for early Christians of Jewish ideas, influenced heavily as they were by the story of Daniel and the trauma of the revolt of the Maccabeean. He argues that the Christian concept of martyrdom, so highly regarded among early Christians, can only be understood as springing from Jewish roots.

Frend explores a number of major persecutions, such as that in Lyons in the second century, the Decian Persecution in the third, and the Great Persecution under Diocletian in the fourth, showing both the common themes and the variations, and examines also the relationship between the heavenly kingdom of Christ and the rule of the earthly emperor. In doing so he shows how the persecutions formed an essential part in a providential philosophy of history that has profoundly influenced European political thought.

Additional information

Dimensions234 × 156 mm


Trade InformationJPOD

About the Author

Professor William H.C. Frend devoted more than fifty years to the study of the Early Church and was one of the foremost church historians of the English-speaking world. He was Dean of the Divinity Faculty of the University of Glasgow from 1972 to 1975, and is Bye-Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Glasgow. He is also the author of: The Donatist Church, The Early Church, The Archaeology of Early Christianity, Saints and Sinners in the Early Church and The Rise of Christianity.



I. The Martyrs of Lyons
II. Judaism and Martyrdom
III. Martyrdom in the New Testament Period
IV. Rome and Foreign Cults
V. The Legacy of the Hellenistic East to A.D. 41
VI. The Church and the World to A.D. 70
VII. Old Israel and New, 70-135
VIII. Lord Caesar or Lord Christ? 70-138
IX. The False Dawn, 135-165
X. The Years of Crisis, 165-180
XI. The Turn of the Tide, 180-235
XII. The Great Divide: Alexandria, Carthage and Rome, 190-240
XIII. Decius
XIV. The Triumph of Christianity, 260-303
XV. The Great Persecution, 303-312
XVI. What has the Emperor to do with the Church? 312-361