Mamontov Andrei

Martyrdom in North Africa of the 4th — 5th centuries: self-identification and polemics

Mamontov Andrei (2019) "Martyrdom in North Africa of the 4th — 5th centuries: self-identification and polemics ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia I : Bogoslovie. Filosofiia. Religiovedenie, 2019, vol. 83, pp. 107-123 (in Russian).

DOI of the paper: 10.15382/sturI201983.107-123


The impact of martyrdom on the Christian identity did not disappear with the end of the persecutions. The 4th century saw many transformations of the classical conception of martyrdom as a testimony for Christ; one of these took place in Donatist literature. Everything started during the years of the Great Persecution (303‒313). Under the threat of execution, the clergymen were behaving very diff erently, which made the discourse about martyrdom and apostasy more active. Numidian bishops and particularly Secundus of Tigisi took a stricter position. When a schism began among the African Christians, the adherents of Donatus adopted this view; after a while, the Donatist conception of martyrdom came to be diff erent from the traditional, as its bearers were persecuted in a Christian empire. Apart from the Great Persecution, the milestone in the history of the schism was the persecution in the time of Constans (337‒350) or, as it is termed according to the executioner, the “times of Macarius”. All Donatist literature is replete with memories of these events. Hagiographic texts show that martyrdom for Donatists was an important element of their identity and simultaneously an instrument in polemic. One can clearly see the intention to build succession with martyrs of the past and justify the isolation, mixing the opponents (Catholics and the empire) together and condemning them all. Thus, in addition to the criticism for apostasy, the Catholics were accused of the organisation of blood-shedding. Having been created in the atmosphere of struggle and hatred, these texts replicated them and prepared the fl ock for the imitation of the heroes. Main attempts of the Catholics were, on the opposite, focused on the criticism against the Donatist martyrdom as being void of sense. The Catholics also had a positive agenda, by means of which they were trying to keep the link with the legacy of the era of persecutions and to make use of it. In his sermons, Augustine portrayed martyrs as ideal believers thus cultivating Christian virtues in his listeners. One can make a conclusion that both for the Catholics and particularly for the Donatists, martyrdom was an important component of their identity, and it is not surprising that this theme was recurrent in the polemic. The African discourse on martyrdom looks harmonious against the Mediterranean background; however, it was only in African church disputes that the theme of persecution and martyrdom came to be decisive, as in other regions it was, on the whole, less visible.


Donatists, hagiography, Augustine, Optate, martyrs and martyrdom, Great Persecution, North Africa, Late Antiquity, history of Christianity


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Information about the author

Mamontov Andrei

Student status: Graduate student;
Place of study: St. Petersburg State University; 5 Mendeleevskaya liniya, St. Petersburg, 199034, Russian Federation;
Post: Department of Ancient History of Greece and Rome;
ORCID: 0000-0002-1172-7649;
Email: andrey-2006@mail.ru.