So I have heard the popular claim that Christians weren’t exactly killed in the Roman Coliseum and that there is no evidence that has yet been discovered which shows they were killed there. I was wondering if anyone else has some insight on this subject?
Persecution of early Christians was sporadic and often confined to certain areas. It is a myth that early Christians were continuously persecuted throughout the Roman empire until the reign of Constantine.
But persecutions did happen. The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote a book, The Annals, which was published a few years after the great fire in the city of Rome, which people initially blamed on Nero, but Nero blamed on Christians, giving him an excuse to execute many of them.
Therefore, to stop the rumor [that he had set Rome on fire], he [Emperor Nero] falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition - repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, - where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.”
According to other historians, Nero crucified Christians, had them covered in tar, and set them on fire - these were “Nero’s torches.” But there is evidence that this happened in Nero’s own garden, not in the Colosseum. I’m not aware of any historic accounts that specifically took place in the Colosseum itself, but it seems likely that it happened. After all, people were killed in the Colosseum all the time - that’s what it was built for. It seems unlikely that Christians would have never been included as victims.
YosefYosep. You asked:
So I have heard the popular claim that Christians weren’t exactly killed in the Roman Coliseum and that there is no evidence that has yet been discovered which shows they were killed there.
When St. Ignatius of Antioch was on his way to martyrdom to Rome (for being a Catholic Bishop) he wrote to the Roman Christians the following . . . .
ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow 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 let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.
This was ALREADY going on there (the sacrifice of Christians) and St. Ignatius knew it. And he willingly embraced it.
Tradition tells us he was killed by two lions (see this) but as I said, others evidently were already undergoing such treatment and St. Ignatius matter-of-factly refers to it, and assumes his readers are well aware of it.
The “Flavian Amphitheater” is the Coliseum.
Here is some information on Damnatio ad bestias.
Damnatio ad bestias (Latin for “condemnation to beasts”) was a form of capital punishment in which the condemned were maimed on the circus arena or thrown to a cage with wild animals, often lions. It was brought to ancient Rome around the 2nd century BC. In Rome, damnatio ad bestias was used as entertainment and was part of the inaugural games of the Flavian Amphitheatre. From the 1st to 3rd centuries AD, this penalty was mainly applied to the worst criminals, slaves, and early Christians.
Can see more details on Damnatio ad bestias here.
The atrocities carried out against Christians were passed on by tradition, art, and some writings. Some of the early Christian martyrology is not yet even translated into English so there will be more to follow.
The Venerable Bede, who had historical data that we may not now have, suggests implicitly, that the crimes against Christians there at the Coliseum were so bad, that they had eschatological dimensions saying (quote here). . . .
ST. BEDE “While the Coliseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Coliseum falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, the world shall fall.” [Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) quoting a prophecy of Anglo-Saxon pilgrims.
Christian persecution was habitual in the pagan ruled Roman empire. Here is St. Augustine encapsulating some of it (and how God’s wrath came upon some of the Roman leaders in retribution for this persecution) . . . .
ST. AUGUSTINE You urge on emperors, I say, with your persuasions, even as Pilate, whom, as we showed above, the Jews urged on, though he himself cried aloud, as he washed his hands before them all, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person,’(5)–as though a person could be clear from the guilt of a sin who had himself committed it. But, to say nothing of ancient examples, observe, from instances taken from your own party, how very many of your emperors and judges have perished in persecuting us. To pass over Nero, who was the first to persecute the Christians, Domitian perished almost in the same way as Nero, as also did Trajan, Geta,(6) Decius, Valerian, Diocletian; Maximian also perished, at whose command that men should burn incense to their gods, burning the sacred volumes, Marcellinus indeed first, but after him also Mensurius of Carthage, and Caecilianus, escaped death from the sacrilegious flames, surviving like some ashes or cinders from the burning. For the consciousness of the guilt of burning incense involved you all, as many as agreed with Mensurius. Macarius perished, Ursacius(7) perished, and all your counts perished in like manner by the vengeance of God.
Persecution of Christians was so bad, we had to have Mass secretly even sometimes going (literally) underground in burial crypts. Lots of archeological evidence as to this, not so much writings (if you would get caught writing about something that would result in your being put to death, you might hold off on writing explicit details too).
Hope this helps.
Well I have been extremely fortunate,to have actualy seen and walked in the Collossium,
Such an impressive structure, the tour guides gave a brief history ,and they said Christians were fed to the big puddy Cats, just for a little entertainment,
I will take their word for it, But then again,I didn’t see the event myself,
just because I didn’t see it myself ,does that say it isn’t so ?
Correct. Nero’s Circus was actually located in the Vatican.
Oh yeah, about that.
Our idea of early Christians being this sort of secret society that met in the underground tunnels of Rome is actually modern, dating no earlier than the 18th-19th century, when the catacombs of Rome were rediscovered. Archaeologists and explorers at that time found stuff like abandoned plates and utensils inside those tombs (these were originally from the ritual commemorative picnics held at the tombs), which led them to imagine that the early Christians hid or even lived there.
The fact is, whenever Christians in Rome went into the catacombs it was to bury the dead and to commemorate them by holding ritual picnics in their memory. They can’t hide, live or even meet regularly there because everyone knew where these burial places are (which kinda defeats the purpose of hiding), not to mention that the conditions are not really healthy down there. The more common meeting-places for Roman Christians (where they celebrated the Eucharist), as in many other areas, would be various private houses above ground, which is where we got the concept of the titular churches from. (Each house church took their name, or titulus, from the property owner. Christians would regularly call these house churches by their tituli: ‘Tigrida’, ‘Equitus’, ‘Praxedis’, ‘Cecilia’, ‘Prisca’. By the end of the 3rd century, we have more than twenty such house churches in Rome.) There was even a 3rd-century Roman community who contracted with an innkeeper to purchase a building for use as a church.