Acts of the Martyrs

Acts of the Martyrs (Latin Acta Martyrum) are accounts of the suffering and death of a Christian martyr or group of martyrs. These accounts were collected and used in church liturgies from early times, as attested by Saint Augustine.[1]

These accounts vary in authenticity.[1] The most reliable follow accounts from trials.[1] Very few of these have survived.[1] Perhaps the most reliable of these is the account of Saint Cyprian.[1] The account of Scillitan Martyrs is also based on trial records, though it has been embellished with miraculous and apocryphal material.[1]

A second category, the "Passiones," are based on eyewitness accounts. These include the martyrdoms of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Polycarp, the Martyrs of Lyons, the famous Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas, and the Passion of Saint Irenaeus.[1] In these accounts, miraculous elements are restricted, a feature that proved unpopular.[1] These accounts were often later embellished with legendary material.[1]

A third category is accounts that are purely legendary, probably without even a kernel of historical information.[1] The Acts of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and those of Saint George fall into this category.[1]

Eusebius of Caesarea was likely the first Christian author to produce a collection of acts of the martyrs.[1]

Besides these, there are romances, either written around a few real facts which have been preserved in popular or literary tradition, or else pure works of the imagination, containing no real facts whatever. Still, as they were written with the intention of edifying and not deceiving the reader, a special class must be reserved for hagiographical forgeries. To this must be relegated all those Acts, Passions, Lives, Legends, and Translations which have been written with the express purpose of perverting history, such, for instance, as the legends and translations falsely attaching a saint's name to some special church or city.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Acts of the Martyrs." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Acts of the Martyrs". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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