Christian Martyrs in the Coliseum?


Greetings fellow Christians!

Before a recent trip to Rome, I read The Martyrs of the Coliseum written by Father A.J. O’ Reilly in the late 19th century. Although some of the accounts of martyrdom seemed overdramatized and difficult to believe, it was clear that Christians were murdered in the great Colisseum for not sacrificing to the emperor and Roman gods. However during our visit to the great amphitheatre of Rome, our Italian tour guide, told our group that although Christians were persecuted in the first 3 centuries A.D., it was not in the Colisseum. Persecuted Christians were executed outside of the amphitheatre. Stories of Christians being fed to lions or tortured in the Colisseum are fabrications and fable.

Does anyone have other sources I could turn to to uncover the truth?

Sincerely in Christ,


I believe I have this book in my collection. Thank you for reminding me of it. I’m going to look for it tomorrow. I’m interested as well.


According to St Ignatius they actually were fed to the lions. Scroll down to Chapter IV.

I write to all the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable goodwill towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may not be found troublesome to any one.

Considering the fact that St Ignatius actually lived in the first century (Letter to the Romans was wrote in 110 A.D) he would have known whether or not people were being fed to the lions in the Coliseum. If it wasn’t true why would he make such a bold claim? I question the facts the tour guide gave you. Read his letter to the Romans, he was quite serious about being eaten in front of a crowd.


According to Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, I know), the problem with St. Ignatius’s account is that he doesn’t specify which arena people were being fed to the lions in. There were “numerous stadia, ampitheaters, and circuses throughout Rome.” Most historians can only firmly date beliefs of its use to execute Christians to the 16th century. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t used, by any means, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that Christians weren’t persecuted within the city of Rome. It simply means that there is no firm historical proof that it was done at the Colosseum.


This seems to be a nitpick. If Christians were persecuted in Rome and people were were persecuted were frequently persecuted in the Colosseum, then we can be reasonable sure if not absolutely sure that they were persecuted in the Colleseum. All too often historical skepticism becomes historical belligerency when applied tot he Catholic Church.


What would make the Colosseum so special that the Romans would exclude it from such “entertainment”?

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