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Chronology of the Persecution of Christians from 299-324

The table below is divided gives a separate column for each of the four prefectures of the Roman from 299-324. The rows give a brief summary of the events which occurred each year in the given prefecture. You can click on the "Source Cited" to read an English translation of the original source of the information, usually taken from the Nicene-Post Nicene Father series, but updated into modern English. The colors represent official persecution, i.e., the legal status of Christians, and not necessarily the enforcement of those laws. Though laws against Christians were on the books, they were enforced differently by the various local governments, some of which tried to ignore the edicts, and some of which tried to show their zeal for the empire by taking their persecutions above and beyond what was called for. This caveat is not intended to lessen the severity of the persecution when it was enforced. The succession of Caesares and Augusti of this time period can be quite confusing, but the following two charts will help to clarify the chronology:

Black background represents no imperially-mandated persecution.
Green represents a mild or limited form of imperially-mandated persecution (e.g., the loss of certain rights for certain groups of Christians).
Yellow background represents more virulent persecution (e.g., destruction of Christian property; burning of Scripture and churches).
Red background represents total persecution (widespread imprisonment and loss of life).

Date Prefecture of Gaul Spain, Gaul, Britian Prefecture of Italy Africa (Carthage), Rome, Italy Prefecture of Illyricum Macedonia (including Greece), Dacia Prefecture of the East Egypt, Palestine, Pontus, Asia (Turkey), Thrace Source Cited (click to read)
299 In Antioch, Diocletian, calls upon fortune tellers, who are unable to predict the future, claiming that the presence of Christians is making it impossible to read the omens correctly. Under the influence of Galerius, he orders all members of the imperial court and all soldiers to either make pagan sacrifices or leave their place in the army/imperial court.

Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 10.6

Eusebius, Historica Ecclesiasica 8 appendix

Autumn 302
23 Feb. 303 Galerius convinces Diocletian to start persecuting the Christians. Christian assembly is made illegal, all churches and houses with Christian contents are to be burned. Christians who refuse to recant lose legal status and can be tortured. Anyone coming to court has to first make a pagan sacrifice. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.4
Early Spring 303 Constantius allows no executions, but did burn churches. Maximian enforces the edict more strictly than Constantius. Deacon Romanus, in Caesarea, offends Diocletian at Antioch. Apparently some churches had been destroyed, and Romanus made a scene, publicly denouncing former Christians who were on their way to make pagan sacrifices. His tongue is cut out and he is imprisoned (and later executed in Nov. 303). Eusebius, De Martyribus Palestinae 2
Spring/Summer 303 2nd new edict orders Christian clergy to be arrested and imprisoned. They are to be compelled by torture to make pagan sacrifices. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.2.5
Autumn 303 Eusebius says that the number of martyrs was uncountable, and that martyrdom was occurring all over in cities and towns across the empire. 3rd edict declares release for all prisoners who sacrificed to the gods, and torture and death for all who refuse. Many are martyred all throughout the three tetrarchies, especially in north Africa and Egypt. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 8.6.10
early 304 4th edict orders all inhabitants to gather and sacrifice and pour libations, making it increasing difficult for Christians to hide. Eusebius, De Martyribus Palestinae 3.1
1 May 305 Constantius named Augustus. Maximian retires. Severus named Caesar. Galerius named Augustus Diocletian retires, Maximinus named Caesar. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 19.1Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.2
25 July 306 Constantius dies at York, Constantine is immediately named his successor. Constantine immediately declares the end of Christian persecution in his realm and restores their former privileges. Full restitution of property is given to those who had lost it during the persecution. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 1.21Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.2.1
28 October 306 The Praetorian Guard proclaims Maxentius princeps of Rome. Very soon after, he proclaims toleration in his realms. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 26.1
307 Constantine is promoted to Augustus and assumes the title of "Pontifex Maximus," a title he will keep until death. Severus marches on Rome to quell Maxentius' uprising, but instead is captured and killed. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 26.1
11 November 308 Licinius is named Caesar in place of the now dead Severus, and attempts to overthrow Maxentius. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 29.1
311 Maxentius provides restitution of property to Christians under his rule.
30 April 311 Galerius rescinds persecution edicts with a deathbed letter. This allows the release of prisoners, freedom of assembly, etc., with no restrictions. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 1.57
Fall 311 Maximinus takes over Galerius's territory after his death and continues the persecution. He orders the mutilation of Christians who refuse to sacrifice to the pagan gods, and orders the burning of churches. (The mutilations account for the amount of crippled and disfigured bishops at Nicaea in 325). Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 36.1
26 November 311 Maximinus has the Bishop of Alexandria arrested and executed, thus restarting the martyrdoms in the East. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 7.32, 9.6.2
7 January 312 In Nicomedia, Maximinus executes the scholar Lucian after hearing a lengthy defense of Christianity from him. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica , 9.6.3
Early 312 Constantine writes a letter, asking Maximinus to stop the persecution in the East, and briefly Maximinus eased the intensity of the persecution, only throwing a few Christians into the sea. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 37.1
28 October 312 Constantine defeats Maxentius at the Milvian bridge using the Christian labarum. He afterwards offers no pagan sacrifices. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 44.9
late 312 Constantine issues the "Edict of Milan," tolerating Christians, beginning a series of laws which restored their property. He and Licinius immediately send a letter to Maximinus demanding that he stop the persecution of Christians. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 9.9.12
30 April 313 Licinius defeats Maximinus near Adrianople. Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 47.1
May 313 Maximinus issues an edict restoring privileges and property to the Christians. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 1.59
July 313 Licinius declares religious freedom. Maximinus kills himself at Tarsus. 1.Concerning Licinius: Lactantius, c.f. Eusebius 2.Concerning the death of Maximinus: Lactantius, Eusebius,
c. late 316 Licinius, now at Nicomedia, purges his court of Christians. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 1.52
317-c. 320 Licinius enacts all sorts of laws against Christians, forbidding bishops to communicate, banning assemblies of bishops, forbidding men and women to worship together, and decreeing that Christian assemblies must meet outside the city walls in the open air. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 1.51-2.2
late 323 Licinius' governors use these laws as a pretext for martyring Christians. The Bishop of Pontus is put to death with severe torture. Eusebius, Vita Constantine 2.1
25 December 323 Constantine, at Sirmium, issues a letter threatening Licinius and all those who force Christians to sacrifice. Theodosian Code, 16.2.5
spring 324 Constantine prepares for war against Licinius Zosimus, New History 2.22
19 September 324 Constantine receives the surrender of Licinius at Nicomedia.

How many Christians were killed in the persecution? It is impossible to say. Timothy Barnes notes a tradition that 660 died in Alexandria alone (Constantine and Eusebius [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981], p. 201). To this day the Coptic church's calendar begins in the year 284 in remembrance of the Diocletian persecution.

Created by JRZ