The Theban Legion killed for Christ

An entire Roman Legion was Martyred for Christ

In the year of Christ 286, a most remarkable affair occurred; a legion of soldiers, consisting of six thousand six hundred and sixty-six men, contained none but Christians. This legion was called the Theban Legion, because the men were Egyptian Christian Copts who had been recruited from and stationed in Thebias in Upper Egypt. The Theban Legion were quartered in the east until the emperor Maximian ordered them to march to Gaul, to assist him against the rebels of Burgundy. It was the custom of the Romans to move troops from extreme parts of the empire to avoid the problem of Roman-trained soldiers participating in uprisings to free their native lands.

It should be noted here that the Egyptians or the Copts accepted Christianity so very rapidly to the extent that the Romans had to exercise a series of persecutions in an attempt to suppress the growth of a religion which openly defied the divinity of the Emperor. The Roman Edict of 202 A.D. decreed that Christian conversion should be stopped at all costs. The edict of 250 A.D. decreed that every citizen should carry at all times a certificate issued by the local authorities testifying that he had offered sacrifice to the gods. Those who refused to conform were tortured with unprecedented ferocity. Some were beheaded, others were thrown to the lions and others were burnt alive. All were subjected to even innovated veracious torture regardless of age or sex. The Catechetical School of Alexandria was closed by order of the authorities, though its members continued to meet in other secret places. At one time, the number of bishops was restricted by the State to three. The consummation of the age of persecution is considered by the Copts to be during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (284-305). So severe was the mass execution and the savage torture of the Copts that they took the day of DiocIetian's military election as Emperor to mark the beginning of the era of the Coptic martyrs. That very day marked the start of the Coptic Calendar known in the Western world as Anno Martyrum (A.M.) or the year of the Martyrs.

The area around Thebes has always enjoyed a reputation for its strong, almost fanatical, Christianity. The first monks in the Christian tradition, known as "The Desert Fathers," contained a majority of Thebans, and Theban Christians celebrate many martyrs who have refused to yield their faith to the many persecutions in the first centuries of the church.

The Theban Legion passed through the Alps into Gaul, under the command of Mauritius, Candidus, and Exupernis, their worthy commanders, and at length joined the emperor. About this time, Maximian ordered a general sacrifice, at which the whole army was to assist; and likewise he commanded that they should take the oath of allegiance and swear, at the same time, to assist in the extirpation of Christianity in Gaul. Alarmed at these orders, each individual of the Theban Legion absolutely refused either to sacrifice or take the oaths prescribed. This so greatly enraged Maximian, that he ordered the legion to be decimated, that is, every tenth man to be selected from the rest, and put to the sword. The names of the soldiers were written on papers and placed in the caps of the centurions, for 600 were destined to perish as examples. These embraced their comrades, who encouraged them and even envied their fate. The plain soon flowed with the blood of the martyrs. The survivors persisted in declaring themselves Christians, and the butchery began again; the blood of another 600 reddened the waters of the Rhone. This second severity made no more impression than the first had done; the soldiers preserved their fortitude and their principles, but by the advice of their officers they drew up a loyal remonstrance to the emperor. This, it might have been presumed, would have softened the emperor, but it had a contrary effect: for, enraged at their perseverance and unanimity, he commanded that the whole legion should be put to death, which was accordingly executed by the other troops, who cut them to pieces with their swords, September 22, 286. The Maximian period is known as the Sixth Primitive Persecution in Fox's Book of Martyrs. During this persecution, raised by Maximinus, numberless Christians were slain without trial, and buried indiscriminately in heaps, sometimes fifty or sixty being cast into a pit together, without the least decency. See Fox's Book of Martyrs

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