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E01666: The Latin Martyrdom of *Perpetua and her Companions (martyrs of Carthage, S00009) is a compilation of accounts purportedly written by the martyrs themselves, and an account of their martyrdom. It calls for the commemoration of the martyrs as exemplars of grace and virtue, and justifies the necessity of writing their story. Written in Latin North Africa in the early 3rd c.

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posted on 2016-06-27, 00:00 authored by erizos
Martyrdom of Perpetua and her Companions (BHL 6633)

[1] Si vetera fidei exempla, et Dei gratiam testificantia et aedificationem hominis operantia, propterea in litteris sunt digesta, ut lectione eorum quasi repraesentatione rerum et Deus honoretur et homo confortetur, cur non et nova documenta aeque utrique causae convenientia et digerantur? ii. Vel quia proinde et haec vetera futura quandoque sunt et necessaria posteris, si in praesenti suo tempore minori deputantur auctoritati, propter praesumptam venerationem antiquitatis. iii. Sed viderint qui unam virtutem Spiritus unius Sancti pro aetatibus iudicent temporum, cum maiora reputanda sunt novitiora quaeque, ut novissimiora, secundum exuperationem gratiae in ultima saeculi spatia decretam. iv. In novissimis enim diebus, dicit Dominus, effundam de Spiritu meo super omnem carnem, et prophetabunt filii filiaeque eorum; et super servos et ancillas meas de meo Spiritu effundam; et iuvenes visiones videbunt, et senes somnia somniabunt. v. Itaque et nos, qui sicut prophetias ita et visiones novas pariter repromissas et agnoscimus et honoramus, ceterasque virtutes Spiritus Sancti ad instrumentum Ecclesiae deputamus (cui et missus est idem omnia donativa administraturus in omnibus, prout unicuique distribuit Dominus) necessario et digerimus et ad gloriam Dei lectione celebramus, ut ne qua aut inbecillitas aut desperatio fidei apud veteres tantum aestimet gratiam divinitatis conversatam, sive in martyrum sive in revelationum dignatione, cum semper Deus operetur quae repromisit, non credentibus in testimonium, credentibus in beneficium. vi. Et nos itaque quod audivimus et contrectavimus, annuntiamus et vobis, fratres et filioli, uti et vos qui interfuistis rememoremini gloriae Domini, et qui nunc cognoscitis per auditum communionem habeatis cum sanctis martyribus, et per illos cum Domino nostro Iesu Christo, cui est claritas et honor in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
[2] In civitate Tuburbitana Minore apprehensi sunt adolescentes catechumeni Revocatus et Felicitas, conserva eius, Saturninus et Secundulus. Inter hos et Vibia Perpetua, honeste nata, liberaliter instituta, matronaliter nupta, ii. habens patrem et matrem et fratres duos, alterum aeque catechumenum, et filium infantem ad ubera. iii. Erat autem ipsa circiter annorum viginti duo. Haec ordinem totum martyrii sui iam hinc ipsa narravit sicut conscriptum manu sua et suo sensu reliquit:

‘1. If ancient examples of faith that attest the grace of God and cause the edification of man have been written down so that God may be glorified and man strengthened when those deeds are read aloud—by making those deeds, as it were, visibly present—then why should new documents not also be published that likewise serve either end? ii. Because in any case these in their turn will at some point be ancient as well and indispensable for those who come after us, even if at the present time they are held to be of less authority thanks to an unquestioning veneration of antiquity. iii. But let that be the concern of those who judge the one power of the one Spirit according to epochs of the temporal world—though all more recent events ought for that very reason to be judged as greater, according to the superabundance of grace that has been decreed for the final stages of earthly time. iv. For in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and their sons and daughters shall prophesy; and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out of my Spirit; and young men shall see visions, and old men shall dream dreams. v. And so we too, who both acknowledge and honour new visions in the same way that we do prophecies as being similarly and equally vouchsafed, and who count all the other workings of the Holy Spirit as serving the instruction of the Church (for which moreover this same Spirit was sent to administer all gifts among all people, according as the Lord hath distributed unto each), of necessity do we compile records of the new as well, and make them known through public reading for the glory of God, lest any weakness in our faith or loss of hope infer that the grace of divinity was to be found only among the ancients, whether in the gift of martyrs or of revelations; since God is always bringing to pass what he has promised, as proof for those who do not believe, and as a benefit for those who do. vi. So then that which we have heard and handled declare we unto you, brothers and sons, both so that ye who were involved may recall the glory of the Lord and that ye who now come to know by hearing it read may have communion with the holy martyrs, and through them with our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory and honour forever. Amen.

2. Arrest was made in the town of Thuburbo Minus of the young catechumens Revocatus and Felicitas, his fellow slave, and of Saturninus and Secundulus. Among them was also Vibia Perpetua, who was well born, well educated, honourably married, ii. and who had a father, a mother, and two brothers, one of them also a catechumen, and an infant son at her breast. iii. She herself was about twenty-two years old. From this point on the entire narrative of her martyrdom is her own, just as she left it written out by her own hand according to her own intention.’

(3.) While the martyrs are detained, Perpetua’s father visits her, and attempts to change her mind. Within a few days the martyrs are baptized, and later they are taken to prison where the conditions are very harsh, but two deacons bribe the guards, and the martyrs are allowed to move to a better part of the prison. Perpetua is allowed to stay with her baby and nurse him.

(4) At the encouragement of her brother, Perpetua asks for and receives a vision. She sees a narrow bronze ladder leading to heaven, with weapons attached on it, and a huge dragon at its foot. The first to ascend is Saturus, and Perpetua follows, stepping on the head of the dragon. She ascends to a garden where she meets an old shepherd, milking sheep, surrounded by thousands of white-clad figures. He welcomes her and gives her to eat of the cheese he made. She wakes up, realising that the vision indicates her martyrdom.

(5) Perpetua’s father visits her again and pleads with her.

(6) The martyrs are taken to the forum for a hearing before the procurator Hilarianus, then acting governor of Africa. He calls on Perpetua to comply with the imperial decree for the sake of her father, but she refuses to. Her father attempts to drag her out, but he is pushed away by the guards. Hilarianus condemns the martyrs to the beasts, and they are taken to prison. Perpetua asks for her baby, but her father refuses to send him.

(7) During a conversation Perpetua spontaneously calls the name of her brother Dinocrates, who had died when he was seven. After praying for him, she has a vision of the boy emerging thirsty and miserable from a dismal place of torture, and approaching a basin of water, from which he cannot drink. She wakes up realising that her brother is suffering. The martyrs are now taken to a military prison, near the camp where the gladiatorial games are due to take place on the Birthday of the Caesar Geta. Perpetua prays for Dinocrates.

(8) She has a second vision of Dinocrates happy and healthy, thus realising that his soul has been redeemed, as a gift to her.

(9) After some days, the prison warden, Pudens, starts to treat the martyrs with respect. Perpetua’s father visits her again.

(10) The day before her martyrdom, Perpetua has a vision of herself being taken to an amphitheatre, in order to wrestle against a dreadful Egyptian. She is transformed into a man, and is prepared as a wrestler. A gigantic man, richly dressed, appears promising a golden prize for Perpetua, if she defeats the Egyptian. She does so, and receives the prize and praise from the master of the game. She wakes up, realising that her struggle is to be fought against the Devil himself. Her notes end here.

(11) There follows an account by Saturus on a vision. In it, he sees himself as already dead, and he and Perpetua are taken by four angels to a beautiful garden in the east, which appears as a spacious place full of various trees and flowers. They are welcomed by angels and meet the martyrs Iocundus, Saturninus, Artaxius, and Quintus.

(12) They enter a place made of light where they meet an enthroned man with white hair and youthful face, surrounded by elders. They venerate him and go out.

(13) They also see Optatus, the bishop, and Aspasius, the presbyter, who beseech the martyrs to reconcile them. They admonish them. Perpetua talks to them in Greek. The angels reproach Optatus for the disorderliness of his congregation.

(14) The editor resumes the narrative, stating that Secundulus has died in prison.

(15) Felicitas is pregnant, and is distressed that her pregnancy might lead to the postponement of her martyrdom. The prayers of the martyrs make it possible that she gives birth to a daughter, in the eighth month of her pregnancy, three days before the games. Her daughter is adopted by Christian women.

(16) The military commander treats them more harshly, but Perpetua convinces him that he should respect the victims offered on the Birthday of the Caesar, and he treats them better. The prison warden is converted.

(17) The martyrs preach to the people from their prison, causing many to convert to the faith.

(18) On the day of the games, the martyrs are led into the amphitheatre, where they are asked to dress like priests and priestesses of Saturn and Ceres. Perpetua demands that this does not happen.

(19) Various beasts are set before the martyrs. Saturninus and Revocatus are assaulted by leopard and a bear. Saturus is set before a boar and a bear, but not harmed.

(20) Felicitas and Perpetua are exposed naked to a wild heifer, but, after the reaction


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Perpetua, Felicitas and their companions, martyrs in Carthage, ob. 203 : S00009

Saint Name in Source

Perpetua, Felicitas, Saturus, Saturninus, Revocatus, Secundulus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Thuburbo Minus Carthage

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Thuburbo Minus Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage Carthage Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of the cult of saints

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Unbaptized Christians Women Slaves/ servants


The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas is among the earliest known martyrdom accounts. It is thus a source of the utmost interest for the history of the cult of saints at its inception, allowing an understanding of the ideas concerning it, as they circulated among the Christian communities of Latin North Africa, and further afield, in the early 3rd century. The text is a synthesis of three documents: (1, 2) A brief introduction by the unnamed editor. (3-9) A personal diary purportedly written by Perpetua in gaol, recounting the arrest, incarceration, and trial of the martyrs, and describing four dream visions she received before her martyrdom. (11-13) A note by Saturus, recounting a vision he received before martyrdom. (14-21) The account of the martyrs’ deaths, written by the editor who also wrote paragraphs 1 and 2. It purports to be an eye-witness account. The text was most probably written in the first decade of the 3rd century, a date based on the fact that it is mentioned by Tertullian in his work De Anima (55.4), written before 211. It survives in nine manuscripts, on which see Amat 1996, 84-90. There is also a Greek translation (see E01667). In the 4th century or later, the narrative was reworked into the so-called Acts of *Saturus, *Saturninus, *Revocatus, *Felicitas and *Perpetua (see E01726), which became the most popular version of the legend in the Middle Ages.


The account is very close in chronology and shares several features with other early martyrdom accounts. The composite structure of the text, in particular, is reminiscent of the Martyrdom of *Pionios (E00096), which also seems to be a collation of different documents, including a diary section written in the first person. The brief account of the interrogation is reminiscent of the Martyrdom of the *Scillitan Martyrs (E00). The most distinctive feature of our text is its pronounced interest in visions and prophecy, which has been ascribed by many scholars to a Montanist background (Butler 2006, with bibliography). The main themes of the text, namely charisma, prophecy, belief in the continuous working of the Holy Spirit, and the authoritative position of women, alongside several details in the narrative, point to central positions of the New Prophecy (as the Montanist movement styled itself). Many recognise the anonymous editor as the Montanist author Tertullian who mentions the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas in his work De Anima (55.4), written before 211. These views, however, have not been universally accepted. Like most early martyrdom accounts, our text provides ample evidence for the theology and realities of martyrdom in the age of persecution, but very little information about posthumous veneration of the martyrs. With regard to the history of the cult of saints, perhaps the most important parts are the preface and the closing section, both written by the anonymous editor: these can be rightfully described as an apologia of hagiographic writing, defending the legitimacy and indeed necessity of producing texts about the martyrs. It seems that the production and use of martyrdom accounts was seen by some Christians as unnecessary and possibly troublesome, in an age when the biblical canon itself was still being negotiated and contested. Our anonymous author defends their necessity in the light of the most probably Montanist faith in the continuous working of the Holy Spirit: martyrdom is described as a condition of extraordinary charismatic grace which allows the martyrs to have revelatory visions and a special direct contact with God; as a work and manifestation of the Holy Spirit, contemporary martyrdoms are not to be distinguished from the ancient stories described by the Scriptures, and their recent date does not diminish their importance. Perhaps the most interesting point is that the author envisages his account as being part of a literary legacy which will eventually acquire equal status and prestige to the biblical texts. The author recommends his text for reading in the church, since communion with the martyrs leads to communion with Christ. It is perhaps no coincidence that the preface, where these ideas are most emphatically expressed, is known from only one of the nine manuscripts of our text, and from the Greek translation. It seems that its statements concerning the Spirit and the legitimacy of hagiographic writing were regarded as superfluous or even disturbing by the medieval copyists. Besides generic commemoration, our text mentions no other devotional practices, and it does not contain any information about the date and place of the saints’ martyrdom and burial. The feast date for the saints, which eventually emerged, 7 March, was probably inferred from the statement that the executions took place on the birthday of Caesar Geta (7 March). Geta, who was Caesar from 198 to 209, paid a formal visit of Africa in 203/4. Thus the martyrdoms of the saints are believed to have taken place on 7 March AD 203. Even vaguer is the geographical information. Although some versions indicate Thuburbo Minus as the city of the martyrs’ origin, it is uncertain if this was also where they were martyred. The memory of the martyrs was celebrated at Carthage and other cities of North Africa, and relics are later attested at the Basilica Maiorum in Carthage, for which there is also epigraphic evidence (E00011, E00012). Yet it is unknown whether that church was revered as the original site of their burial and martyrdom. It is remarkable that the later hagiography of Perpetua and Felicitas (the Acts), evidently relying on the Martyrdom, places the whole story at Thuburbo (without specifying Maius or Minus?). This lack of geographical specification in hagiography may suggest that the cult was not centred on a well-known martyrium-shrine. Finally, our text provides no information about the relics of the saints, except for the interesting reference to the blood of Saturus on the ring of Pudens (on which see E01668). Remarkably, this episode is omitted in the Acts, suggesting that the blood-stained ring did not survive as a venerable relic.


Text and translations: Amat, J. Passion de Perpétue et de Felicité, suivi des Actes. Introduction, Texte Critique, Traduction, Commentaire et Index. Sources Chrétiennes 417. Paris: CERF, 1996. (with French translation and comments) Farrell, J. and Williams, C.. "The Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicity." In Perpetua's Passions, edited by Jan N. Bremmer and Marco Formisiano, 1-34. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. (Text edition and English translation). Rebillard, E. Greek and Latin Narratives About the Ancient Martyrs. Oxford Early Christian Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, 295-329. Further reading : Various papers in : Bremmer, J. N., and Formisiano, M. eds. Perpetua's Passions: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae Et Felicitatis. Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2012. Butler, R. D. The New Prophecy and New Visions: Evidence of Montanism in the Passion of Perpetua and Felicitas. Patristic Monograph Series 18. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006.

Continued Description

of the spectators, they are dressed. Perpetua is injured by the animal, but, being in a trance, she does not realise it. She admonishes her brother, also a catechumen, to keep steadfast in the faith.(21) Saturus talks with the guard Pudens, and offers him some of his blood on a ring as a reminder of his martyrdom. At the demand of the crowd, the martyrs are decapitated. The text concludes as following:xi. O fortissimi ac beatissimi martyres! o vere vocati et electi in gloriam Domini nostri Iesu Christi! Quam qui magnificat et honorificat et adorat, utique et haec non minora veteribus exempla in aedificationem Ecclesiae legere debet, ut novae quoque virtutes unum et eundem semper Spiritum Sanctum usque adhuc operari testificentur, et omnipotentem Deum Patrem et Filium eius Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum, cui est claritas et inmensa potestas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.‘xi. O bravest and most blessed martyrs, truly called and chosen for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ! And He who magnifies and honours and adores that glory should also read these testimonies, which are no less important than ancient ones for the edification of the Church, so that new acts of bravery as well may testify to the continuing work, even down to the present moment, of the Holy Spirit, ever one and the same, and of God the Father and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom renown and measureless power forever! Amen.’Text and translation: Farrell and Williams 2012. Summary: Efthymios Rizos

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