Introduction to Martyrdom
Today's definition of a martyr, according to dictionary.com, is "a person who willingly suffers death rather than renounce his or her religion."However, in its original meaning, martyr translates to witness.
As we know, Perpetua and Felicitas willingly went to their deaths in the arena in Carthage around 0200-0250, making them holy martyrs for Christianity. Perpetua, specifically, embodies the true meaning of a martyr, a witness, because she expresses that she had visions that prompted her to devote her life to her religion; therefore being a witness to her faith and causing others to become witnesses of her martyrdom.
Here, Perpetua and Felicitas are drawn in the arena, faced with a bull. At this time in the Roman Empire, martyrs would enter the arena as "warriors for Christ," thus facing any challenge, in this case the bull, with life on the line.
The following engraving, from The British Museum, by Niccolo Circignani, displays Perpetua and Felicitas as well as two other martyrs, Victor and Zephyrinus, exposed to lions in the arena. At the same time, liquid is pouring down on the female in the center.
This image evokes fear in its viewers and reveals the measures that martyrs would endure for his or her religion.
Finally, we have this powerful painting of Christians gathered in a circle for their last prayer in an arena, by Jean-Leon Gerome, painted around 1863-1883.
This painting is a 19th century depiction of Christian martyrdom in the Roman empire.
It suggests that people were thrown into the arena in groups. Not only are there grown adults but there appears to be a child, making his or her last prayer before being martyred. The crowd implies that they are gathered for a sort of spectacle.
Additionally, there are multiple methods to be martyred seen: either being devoured by wild beasts or put onto a cross and set on fire, which is more symbolic of Jesus.
Christian martyrdom in the Roman Empire was viewed differently between Roman authorities and Christians, but nonetheless, it speaks to sacrifice and clearly has influences on Christianity. In its essence, though, being a witness and proclaiming one's faith is paramount to martyrdom.