The blood of Christians is seed," wrote Tertullian, a North African Christian, in about 197. "[It is] the bait that wins men to our school. We multiply whenever we are mown down by you."

Tertullian, of course, wrote with rhetorical exaggeration. Pagans hardly flocked to the church after witnessing the death of Christians. Martyrdom eventually made a large-scale impact on pagans but not before two centuries of sacrifice.

The pleasure of persecution

Ordinary citizens in Tertullian's day were not impressed with Christian deaths. In fact, they seemed to take pleasure in the persecution of Christians.

"Faggot-fellows" and "half-axle men" were nicknames of contempt for people who allowed themselves to be tied to a half-axle post or have faggots (wood chips) heaped around them in preparation for being burnt. Christians were viewed as only a sect or school that opposed the established order, dabbled in black magic, and practiced incest and ritual child-murder. They were seen as a dangerous cult, disliked and despised.

"Through trusting [in resurrection], they have brought in this strange and new worship and despised terrors, going readily and with joy to death," mocked one ancient. "Now let us see if they will rise again, and if their god be able to help them and take them out of our hands."

Officials were even more contemptuous, telling one group of Christians in the province of Asia (now Asian Turkey) that if they wanted to kill themselves, there were precipices and halters enough for the job.

We find similar feelings aroused by Christians in the account of the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas at Carthage in March 203. Inside the prison, many visitors were impressed by the constancy of Christians, but once in the amphitheater, attitudes ...

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