In the National Geographic series "Jesus: Rise To Power", it seemed as if some Christians actively sought out martyrdom. One anecdote it mentioned, featuring Arrius Antoninus, is also mentioned in Wikipedia:

Some early Christians sought out and welcomed martyrdom. Roman authorities tried hard to avoid Christians because they "goaded, chided, belittled and insulted the crowds until they demanded their death." According to Droge and Tabor, "in 185 the proconsul of Asia, Arrius Antoninus, was approached by a group of Christians demanding to be executed. The proconsul obliged some of them and then sent the rest away, saying that if they wanted to kill themselves there was plenty of rope available or cliffs they could jump off." Such seeking after death is found in Tertullian's Scorpiace or in the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch but was certainly not the only view of martyrdom in the Christian church. Both Polycarp and Cyprian, bishops in Smyrna and Carthage respectively, attempted to avoid martyrdom. (emphasis added)

It also mentioned a woman who was supposed to be killed by a gladiator, but the gladiator refused to kill her, so she pulled the sword on her neck.

I know that martyrdom is a concept in Christianity, but I didn't think that Christians sought out martyrdom. Is there any evidence showing that Christians did seek out martyrdom during the Roman empire?

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    Your Wikipedia quote mentions specific examples. What's your question? Do you want to know if its examples are true? Is your question, "Why did they do that?" Is it something else? Apr 26, 2015 at 1:13
  • @Mr.Bultitude I want to know if either the examples are true, or other such incidents happened. Motivation is mainly explaining why I am skeptical.
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 26, 2015 at 2:59
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    A question about various (specific) Christian groups' historical beliefs about the afterlife in relation to martyrdom might be on topic for C.SE, but as that does not seem to be what you are asking, the historicity of specific claimed events is better suited to this site.
    – Caleb
    Apr 26, 2015 at 6:45

1 Answer 1


Martyrs were honoured from earliest times, and Christian tradition certainly says that some notable Christians sought out and hoped for martyrdom. While some of these tales seem fanciful, no doubt others did seek out the honour of martyrdom and the glory they hoped for in the next life.

Alvar Ellegard says, in Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ, page 202, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was taken prisoner by the Roman authorities and put on a ship to be taken to Rome, where he expected, and in fact eagerly desired, to die as a martyr. On its way, the ship stopped at Smyrna, where delegations from various churches in Asia Minor visited him. There are problems with this account that raise doubts about its historicity, and therefore whether Ignatius really sought martyrdom. And even the story of Polycarp avoiding martyrdom may not be historical.

Adrian Hastings tells in A World History of Christianity page 25, that a number of very insignificant people, led by a man named Speratus, came from the small, now unidentifiable town of Scillium in July 180 and were brought before the proconsul Saturninus in Carthage, charged with the practice of an illicit religion. The proconsul was reluctant to order their execution and begged them to 'return to a right mind' or, at least, think it over for 30 days, but they remained adamant in adherence to ‘the religious rites of the Christians’ and there refusal to honour the Roman gods. Of course many other Christians throughout imperial history recanted and lived.

The story of voluntary martyrdom under Arrius Antoninus comes from Tertullian, in Ad Scapulam chapter V.

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    Nothing in your third paragraph suggests that they sought out martyrdom... refusing to renounce their beliefs in the face of potential persecution is very different from actively seeking out persecution. Apr 26, 2015 at 13:05
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    @curiousdannii I am not in a position to say whether very many Christians sought martyrdom. What I can do is present the facts, or at least a representative sample. It seems likely a few Christians actively sought out martyrdom, including those who confronted A. Antoninus, but early 'history' is too coloured by hagiography to make a strong case that many other Christians sought out voluntary martyrdom. With this information, readers can i) see the difficulty in blindly accepting one truth or the other; ii) be better informed; accept that views on either side can not be held as absolute. Apr 26, 2015 at 21:44
  • But your third paragraph simply doesn't address this question at all. We all know there were lots of martyrs. There's no need to list them, and I don't see anything that would mean the ones you do mention deserve being mentioned more than any ofthe others. Apr 26, 2015 at 23:35
  • @curiousdannii I think you have confused the concept of martyrdom. Wikipedia: "A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and/or death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause of either a religious or secular nature." That is what my third para, in fact my whole answer addresses. The question does not ask about suicide, or voluntarily dying without cause, just whether they actively sought out martyrdom. Travelling to Carthage just in order to refuse to worship the gods is consistent with "actively seeking out martyrdom." Apr 27, 2015 at 3:34
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    If they voluntarily went to Carthage then they would be a valid example of seeking martyrdom, but the way you phrased it, "were brought before the proconsul ... charged with ..." made me think that they were not seeking anything - it sounds like normal involuntary persecution to me. Apr 27, 2015 at 14:04

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