Monday, October 11, 2010
Diocletian reigned at the end of the Crisis of the Third Century, and though he significantly stabilized and improved the Empire’s military and economy, he will forever be remembered as the worst persecutor of Christians in history.
He issued several edicts in 303 removing all rights from Christians until they converted to the Roman religion. Of course, the Christians refused, and from 303 to 311, at least 3,000 were martyred. At first, those who refused were simply imprisoned, but it was not long before they were executed by both crucifixion and beheading. Christian churches were sought all over the Empire and burned to the ground, looted, and even Christian senators were stripped of their jobs, imprisoned and executed.
When the persecution did not seem to be working, as the Christians simply went into hiding and continued to spread their religion, Diocletian advocated their torturous and entertaining executions in the Circus Maximus and Colosseum, and this was the time when most Christians were thrown to the lions, much to the delight of the Roman citizens who worshiped Roman gods.
The murders did not truly stop until Constantine’s rise to absolute power in 324.