PERSECUTIONS, THE TEN, of the Christian church, is the name by which are known hi ecclesiastical history certain periods of special severity exercis:al towards the rising community of Christians, for the purpose of compelling them to renounce their new creed, and to .conform to the established religion of the empire. The Christian com• munity were at all times regarded with suspicion and dislike in the Roman empire—the constitution of Rome not only being essentially intolerant of those new religions which. like the Christian, were directly aggressive against the established religion of the state, but being particularly hostile to private associations and private assemblages for worship, such as those which every Christian congregation by its very nature presented; and thus there are very few periods, during the first three centuries, in which it can be said that the church enjoyed everywhere a complete immunity from persecution. But the name is given particularly to certain periods when either new enactments were passed against Christianity, or the existing ones were enforced with unusual rigor. The notion of lea such periods is commonly accepted almost as an historical axiom; and it is not generally known •that this precise determination of the number is comparatively recent. In the 4th c., no settled theory of the number. of persecutions seems to have been adopted. Lactintius reckons up but six; Eusebius does not state what the number was, but his narrative supplies' data for nine. Sulpicius Severus, in the 5th c., is the first who expressly states the number at ten ; but he only enumerates nine in detail, and in Com pleting the number to ten, he adds the general persecution which, at the coming of Anticririst, is to precede the end of the world. The fixing of ten as the number seems to have orignated in a mystic allusion to the ten horns of the beast in the apocalypse (xvii. 12).
It need hardly be said, however, that this is only a question of words, the diversity of enumeration arising from the different notions attached by the several historians to the designation general. If taken quite strictly to comprise the entire Roman empire,
the number must fall below ten; if used more loosely of local persecutions, the num ber might be very largely increased. The ten persecutions commonly regarded as gen eral are the following: the persecution under Nero, 04 A.D.; under Donntian, 05 A.D.; under Trajan, 107 A.D.; under Hadrian, 125 A.D. ; under Marcus Aurelius, 165, A.D.; under Septimins Severus, 202 A.D.; under Maximinus, 235, A,D. ; under Decins, 249 A.D. ; under Valerianus, 257 A.D. ; under Diocletian, 303 A.D. The extent and the duration of some of these have been the subject of considerable controversy, and indeed an ani mated discussion was maintained for a long period as to the probable total number of victims in the pagan persecutions of the church. Such controversies are beyond the scope of this publication. It is quite certain that there have been exaggerations on the Christian as well as on the adverse side; but it has been shown beyond the possibility of doubt, and the most recent explorations have confirmed the arguments, that the data on \ vhichthe estimates of Dodwell and Gibbon, the most prominent advocates of the theory of the' small number, were founded, were uncertain, and even fallacious; and that, not to speak of the many victims of the constantly recurring local violences, the number who NI in each of the above-named persecutions was both large in itself, and spread, in most eases, over it considerable extent of the Roman empire. The most violent, as we'r: as the most widely-spread of these persecutions, were those under Nero, Trajan, Maxi Deeius, and Diocletian. The last-named, though called by Dioeletinu's name, was in reality far less the work of that emperor than of his colleague Galerius; but it was extremely cruel, and, with occasional interruptions, continued from the year 303 down to the victory of Constantine over Maxentius—a period of nearly ten years.