As you probably know by now, I’ve been reflecting a bit on martyrs lately. In this post, I wanted to follow up on one point which I passed over in my last bit of public writing.
Some public commentators have claimed that ancient Christians needed to die to be considered real “martyrs.” Lucy Grig’s book Making Martyrs in Late Antiquity (London: Duckworth, 2004) helped here greatly by pointing to some evidence in Cyprian of Carthage. Writing in the mid third century A.D., Cyprian provides indisputable proof of this point in his Letter 10, which was written to Christians who were recently put in jail. Cyprian calls them “martyrs,” even though they’re still alive.
I think this is an important detail which helps us see how the ideology and rhetoric of “martyrdom” was expansive enough in the Roman Empire to be associated with civil disobedience. Not every example involved the proverbial lions.