Roman arena at Arles, France Image may be subject to copyright
In The Roman Empire 60-313AD
Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome, whom he blamed for the disastrous fire of 60AD that many suspected he had started himself, saw one Roman emperor after another instigate violent persecution of the Christians. Among those who suffered martyrdom for their faith were Peter and Paul (around 62-63AD).
Christians were regarded as enemies of the State because -
• They refused to swear allegiance to the emperor
• They refused to particpate in worship of the emperor as a god.
Because of this Christians were called atheists
When asked to say "Caesar is Lord", Christians refused because "Jesus is LORD", not Caesar. And of course to worship a mere human being as God was idolatry and utterly unthinkable.
The Martyrdom Of Bishop Polycarp & Other Christians
A notable martyr during the Roman persecutions was 83 year old Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna in Turkey. Over the following two hundred and fifty years, thousands of Christians were hunted down and killed, some even ending up in the Colosseum and other Roman arenas like criminals, condemned to die at the hands of gladiators or wild beasts.
The Blood Of The Martyrs The Seed Of The Church
But it soon became clear that martyrdom was a wonderful witness to the reality of God's faithfulness and ability to sustain his children in the face of the most barbaric treatments. The Christian writer Tertullian (160-225AD) writing later said "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" - a statement that has been confirmed over the centuries, right down to the 21st century with the astounding growth of the Church during times of perscution under atheist regimes in Russia, Eastern Europe and most notably China.