Christian History Timeline: Persecution in the Early Church

Many dates are approximate

Persecution in the Early Church

35 Stephen martyred; Paul converted

42 Apostle James beheaded by Herod Agrippa I

49 Jews expelled from Rome (for disturbances with Christians?)

64 Nero launches persecution

65 Peter and Paul executed

80s Domitian develops emperor worship

95 Domitian executes or exiles several family members on charges of “atheism”

107 Simeon, cousin of Jesus and bishop of Jerusalem, killed for political (anti-Semitic) reasons

110 Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, martyred in Rome

112 Pliny inquires of Trajan how to treat Christians

155 (166?) Polycarp martyred

155, 160 Justin writes First and Second Apology

165 Justin martyred

177 Pogrom in Lyons and Vienne: 48 killed

178 Celsus’s True Discourse against Christians

180 12 from Scilli (N. Africa) killed

197 Tertullian writes his Apology

202 Emperor Septimius Severus forbids conversions to Christianity Judaism)

203 Origen’s father and Perpetua and Felicitas martyred, among others

211–213 North African hostilities

235–36 Emperor Maximin Thrax persecutes church leaders, including Hippolylus

248 Origen writes Against Celsus; persecutions in Alexandna

250 Emperor Decius orders universal sacrifice; church leaders arrested; Origen jailed and tortured; Pope Fabian martyred, as are bishops of Antioch and Jerusalem; Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, flee

251 Decius dies; Cyprian returns to Carthage and deals with lapsed Christians; Novationist schism

252–53 Emperor Callus revives persecutions of Decius

254 Origen, weakened from torture, dies

257–60 Emperor Valerian hounds clergy; Cyprian, Pope Sixtus II, and others martyred

261 Emperor Gallienus issues rescript ordering toleration

270s Emperor Aurelian establishes state cult of the Unconquerable Sun (birthday, Dec. 25) and threatens persecution

275 Porphyry writes Against the Christians

298–302 Christians in army forced to resign

303 Great Persecution begins February 23. Four edicts call for church buildings to be destroyed, sacred writings burned, Christians to lose civil rights, clergy to be imprisoned and forced to sacrifice, and (in 304) all people to sacrifice on pain of death

305 Diocletian and Maximian abdicate; hiatus in persecution

306 Constantine named Augustus by troops; in the East, Maximinus II renews persecution (through 310); Council of Elvira, in Spain, passes severe penalties for apostates

311 On death bed, Galerius issues edict of toleration; Maximinus II continues persecution in Egypt; Donatist schism begins

312 Constantine defeats Maxentius to take control of Western Empire

313 Constantine and Licinius meet at Milan; resulting “Edict” of Milan grants toleration of Christianity

324 Constantine defeats Licinius to become sole Roman emperor

Significant Social, Religious, and Political Events

18 Caiaphas becomes high priest

26 Pontius Pilate appointed prefect of Judea

30 Crucifixion of Jesus

39 Herod Antipas dies

43 Rome invades Britain; London founded

46–58 Paul’s missionary journeys

48 Jerusalem Council

64 Great fire in Rome

66 Jewish War begins

70 Jerusalem taken by Romans

74 Masada captured

79 Mt. Vesuvius erupts, destroying Pompeii

95? John exiled to Patmos; Book of Revelation written

101–102, 105–6 The Dacian Wars; Empire reaches greatest extent

132 Second Jewish War led by bar Kokhba (through 135)

140–160 Heretic Marcion and Gnostic teacher Valentinus active

164 Fifteen-year plague breaks out

172 Montanism, an apocalyptic movement later condemned, begins in church

195 Theological writer Tertullian converts to Montanism

212 Roman citizenship extended to every freeborn person

216 Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, a non-Christian sect, born of

230 First Persian War (further wars in 243–44, 254)

232 First known house—churches built

248 Goths attack Rome

259 Shapur I of Persia captures Valerian in battle

268 Goths sack Athens, Corinth, and Sparta

270 Saint Antony, monastic pioneer, seeks solitude in Egyptian desert

285 Roman Empire divided into western and eastern empires

293–303 Emperor Diocletian creates administrative Tetrarchy; reforms army, currency, and taxatation; establishes price controls

311 Eusebius writes Ecclesiastical History

314 Constantine summons Council of Arles to deal with Donatist schism; Lactantius writes On the Death of the Persecutors

318 Arian controversy begins

325 Constantine summons First Council of Nicea to deal with Arian question

328 Athanasius, defender of orthodoxy, elected bishop of Alexandria

330 Constantinople dedicated as Empire’s new seat

337 Constantine baptized shortly before death

Key Roman Emperors

31 B.C.–A.D. 14 Augustus

14–37 Tiberius

41–54 Claudius

54–68 Nero

69–79 Vespasian

81–96 Domitian

98–117 Trajan

117–38 Hadrian

138–61 Antoninus Pius

161–80 Marcus Aurelius

180–92 Commodus

193–211 Septimius Severus

211–17 Caracalla

222–35 Severus Alexander

235–38 Maximin Thrax

249–51 Decius

253–60 Valerian


Diocletian (284–305) 
Maximian (286–305, 307–308) 
Constatntius I (Aug. 305–306) 
Galerius (Aug. 305–311]

284–305 Diocletian

286–305, 307–308 Maximian

305–306 Constantius I

305–311 Galerius

306–312 Maxentius

306–337 Constantine I “the Great”

308–324 Licinius

310–313 Maximinus II Daia

Primary sources for timeline are The Rise of Christianity, by W. H. C. Frend (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984); The Triumph of the Meek by Michael Walsh (London: Roxby, 1986); A History of Christianity, edited by Ray C. Petry (Englewood Cliffs,

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #27 in 1990]

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