|286 A.D. - The Theban Legion Stands Firm|
|Written by Dan Curry|
|Wednesday, 08 August 2007|
286 A.D. - The Theban Legion Stands Firm
In the days of the Roman co-Emperor Diocletian which spanned about A.D. 284 - 305 there began times of great persecution against Christians throughout much of the Roman Empire, though it was by no means Rome's first proclamation against the growing sect called Christians.
Persecutions became especially severe among Coptic Christians as Diocletians reign wore on. But it was near the beginning of his reign that a certain Roman legion composed of over 6,600 Coptic Christians, (one tradition has it that they were 6,666 in number) from the area of Thebia in Egypt, were witnessed to have done a remarkable thing. (The Coptic Christian's were basically the Christians from Egypt, a church largely founded by Mark, of the Gospel of Mark, and they tended to be very fervent Christians as the events of passing centuries proved. They also were, despite being Christian brothers and sisters, somewhat poorly treated by both Rome's bishop and also the Eastern Orthodox power figures at various times for some reason, but that's not that pertinent here.)
This particular account began when the legion was brought along with other legions to Gaul, under the co-Emperor Maximian. Plans were afoot to, among other things, rid Gaul of Christianity and to battle the Bergundians. More soldiers were needed. It was common for Rome's military authorities to station foreign auxillaries such as these Coptic troops far away from their homeland. It avoided the situation of their being drawn into local uprisings and rebellions on the side of the home-team, and it avoided having troops on your side that might turn against you in the heat of battle because they didn't wish to fight against their own people.
Probably Maximian wanted to ensure that this Coptic Christian Legion would be loyal to Rome above all else. At any rate, he ordered that the Thebian Legion, all Christians, should all make a general sacrifice to the 'gods' and should take a vow to assist in eliminating Christianity within Gaul.
They could not in good conscience do this, of course. They decided they must refuse the order. Their leader walked forward to explain their dilemna (a questionable tradition holds that he carried with him the very spear that had pierced the side of Jesus) and to offer his head if it must be so. When he said these things Maximian became angry and determined to change their mind the hard way. He had the leader of the Theban Legion beheaded - a fate the man calmly accepted. Still the Thebans maintained their opinion. So Maximian ordered that every 10th man be brought out from this Legion and executed, as a lesson to the others. (This was called a 'DECI'mation.) These Christian soldiers of Egypt submitted to this without resorting to arms, feeling that this was the example set by Jesus when he was led to his death. And that 1/10th were killed.
The effect was not as desired, however. The Theban Legion still stood firm in their conviction that they could not take part in the ordered plan, reportedly in unanimous agreement. Incensed, Maximian ordered an additional 1/10th of the men be executed. This order was also carried out by the non-Christian soldiers. But it had no better effect than the first round of executions. The Thebians were resolved that it was better to die than take part in what was plainly wrong before their Lord - sacrifice to false gods and slaughter of their brother Christians.
For this obstinance, Maximian ordered the execution of the remaining members of the Thebian Legion. As before the men did not use their swords in their own defense, though their numbers were fairly large and they surely could have fled if not fought with at least some success. They just offered their necks to their executioner's swords.
The order was carried out (near present-day St. Moritz in Switzerland) by the other troops on September 22, 286 A.D., when the remaining members were slaughtered by sword, preferring death to the dishonoring of their Lord Jesus. All of the Thebans accepted this death rather than betray Jesus. Over 6,600 died, and in a manner that will probably qualify them to be numbered among the martyrs - those who have died for the name and word of the Lord. Providing that kind of faith to so many seems to me a great deed of the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, for Faith is a gift from the Lord!
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