Vibia Perpetua, about 22 years old, a recently widowed young breast-feeding mother, her personal slave Felicity, and 3 other young Christians, were executed by being thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre in Carthage in March 203.
Under the Roman emperor Septimius Severus (193-211), the Roman Empire reached its peak, with relative prosperity. But loyalty to the empire was more and more symbolised by cult worship of the emperor, the Romans believed in an large pantheon of Gods and at first, Christianity was considered unimportant and just another one, but its believers were passionate in sharing their belief, then misunderstanding occured and they thought that Christians were practicing cannabalism with the taking of communion, you may laugh, but there were religions around that did demand that, and the Romans had stamped down fairly hard on any religion involving human sacrifice of any kind. The state found Christians disturbingly non-conformist; the public found Christians convenient scapegoats for any misfortune. Conflict was inevitable, and early in the 3rd century there were sporadic outbreaks of violence and state action against the Christians.
Perpetua and her companions were articulate followers of the Christian way in Carthage, North Africa. A contemporary diary, edited and published soon after their deaths, gives an insight into this group of faithful Christians who were prepared to defy the authorities and the accepted wisdom of family and Roman tradition for the sake of the gospel. Perpetua’s father argued and begged her to change her mind, and give up her faith, in order to save her life. All the group were new believers when they were arrested, and were baptised in prison. As the diary of their sufferings shows, they were determined to follow their Lord in his sufferings and in the hope of being with him in paradise. Perpetua suffered most the loss of her baby, who was eventually brought to the prison and allowed to remain with her and feed until Perpetua’s sentence was carried out in the arena. Perpetua's companion, Felicity, was afraid that she would not be able to die with the others and would suffer alone as they would not kill a pregnant woman. But she went into early labour and gave birth in prison to a healthy child, the day before the sentence was due to be carried out. Taunted by her jailer about her labour pains, she said, “What I am suffering now, I suffer by myself. But then [in the arena] another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.”
The attempt by the state to stop the spread of Christianity, failed. Many people were sickened by the brutality of the persecutions and admired the courage and increasingly questioned, that if Christians were willing to die, rather than give up their belief, there must be something different, something real about this. By 212 the pressure had eased, and Christians were “allowed to exist”, at least for the time being. But we remember today, the courage of Perpetua and her companions and others like them, who bore witness to the power of the gospel.
DIED: 7 March 202, Carthage Arena, Africa (Modern day Tunisia on the Mediterranean Coast.)