Tradition holds that on September 22, 286, a legion of Christian soldiers—more than six thousand men—were killed for choosing faithfulness to Jesus over obedience to Caesar.
The legion hailed from the area of Thebes in Egypt and was fiercely loyal to their Roman Emperors, Diocletian and his co-ruler, Maximian. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the Caesars.
By this point in history, Christianity had grown quite a bit, and Diocletian came to view the burgeoning faith as a threat to his rule. As such, he began to persecute Christians in what would come to be known as the “Age of Martyrs.”
The primary way he distinguished those loyal to him and those loyal to Jesus was by requiring all Romans to pledge their fealty to Caesar as lord. This practice played a key role in periodic persecutions throughout this era of church history, but Diocletian was far more systematic about its implementation than those who had come before him.
The martyrdom of the Theban Legion
However, as Christians remained scattered throughout the empire, performing this task was rather difficult. So he tasked Maximian and the Roman armies to help root them out.
At this point, the story of what happened to the Theban legion gets a bit murky.
Some reports say that the legion as a whole refused to call Caesar Lord and were slaughtered as a result. One of the earliest accounts, however, claims that they were killed because they refused to help round up and execute their fellow believers.
As Eucharius, the Bishop of Lyons, writes, once Maximian was told of their refusal, “he burned with a fierce anger on account of their neglect of his commands and ordered every tenth person from that same legion to be executed by the sword.” When they refused to kill their brothers, he sent word to the surrounding legions, who then carried out his wishes.
Courage in life and death
Regardless of whether the Theban legion was martyred for refusing to call Caesar Lord or for their refusal to kill their fellow believers, their story of courage and faithfulness has inspired countless generations since.
And though it is highly unlikely that you or I will be faced with the prospect of dying for our faith anytime soon, we don’t have to risk our lives to show those same qualities. Living for Christ and remaining committed to his calling will require courage and faithfulness as well.
So decide right now that you will remain as committed to God in life as the legion from Thebes was in death. And understand that neither would be possible without his help.
Have you asked for that help today?