From William Stearns Davis, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. II: Rome and the West, p. 289. Accessed 05/23/2017 through Paul Halsall, The Internet Ancient History Sourcebook, Fordham University 1998, <http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/250sacrificecert.asp>. Certificate of Having Sacrificed to the Gods 250CE:
To the Commissioners of Sacrifice of the Village of Alexander’s Island:
From Aurelius Diogenes, the son of Satabus, of the Village of Alexander’s Island, aged 72 years: —scar on his right eyebrow.
I have always sacrificed regularly to the gods, and now, in your presence, in accordance with the edict, I have done sacrifice, and poured the drink offering, and tasted of the sacrifices, and I request you to certify the same. Farewell.
—–Handed in by me, Aurelius Diogenes.
—–I certify that I saw him sacrificing [signature obliterated].
Done in the first year of the Emperor, Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Trajanus Decius Pius Felix Augustus, second of the month Epith. [June 26, 250 A.D.]
This text is from a papyrus found in Oxyrhyncus, Egypt. It is an example of a certificate of sacrifice, or libellus, which was a legal document proving the carrier observed Roman religious traditions. These libelli are the physical witnesses to Decius’ 250 persecution of Christians and other non-conforming peoples. They demonstrate the rigor with which Decius enforced his decree, but also that Christians were not the only group targeted by this program.
At this early stage of project development, I imagine showing this text, along with other examples of libelli, to demonstrate the Roman empire’s view of Christians in the 3rd century and how they acted upon those views. I would like to pair these documents with Pliny’s letter to Trajan, about 100 years earlier (in which Pliny isn’t sure how to deal with Christians), to prompt the question: “How did Romans’ attitude towards Christians change? How did it stay the same?” As intermediate questions to answer, “Why were Christians a concern at all?”