Historical Persection of Christians in First and Second Centuries by Romans and others
The Persecution of 1st and 2nd Century Christians Was Described by Ancient Non-Christians
Early non-Christian sources confirm the persecution accounts of the early Church.
Tacitus described the persecution of Christians in Rome (c. 64-68AD) within 30 years of Jesus’ crucifixion. “Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians.” According to Tacitus, some Christians “were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race.” These early Christians were brutally executed, “and perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps.” (Annals)
Suetonius (69-122AD) also described the persecution of the early Christians. He said Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD) “expelled them from Rome,” (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars;Claudius 25)and reported that, under Nero, “punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition” (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars;Nero 16)
Pliny the Younger (Governor of Pontus / Bithynia) confirmed the persecution of Christians in his letter to Emperor Trajan (c. 112AD). He asked the Emperor “whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.” Pliny told Trajan, “I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed.” Pliny excused those who rejected Christ and proved their allegiance to the Roman gods: “Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ–none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do–these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.” Trajan, in his response to Pliny, confirms the means by which early Christians could avoid persecution: “If they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it, that is, by worshiping our gods, even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance.”
The Persecution of 1st and 2nd Century Christians Was Described by Ancient Christians
Early Christian leaders wrote about the ongoing persecution of believers
Justin Martyr (100-164AD) described the continuous persecution of the Christian community in a letter to Emperor Augustus Caesar. He wrote, “You can kill us, but cannot do us any real harm” (The First Apology of Justin Martyr)
Tertullian (160-225 AD) described the suffering of the early Christians as he wrote to Roman governors in an attempt to stem the persecution of Christians in his era (Apologeticus)
Even the most skeptical critics of Christian history typically accept the 3rd and 4th Century records of large scale persecution of Christians under Emperor Decius (c. 250’s AD), Valerian (c. 260’s AD), Diocletian (c. 280’s AD) and Galerius (early 300’s AD). These four emperors persecuted Christians vigorously. Under Valerian alone, many well-known known Christian leaders were martyred, including Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage), Sixtus II (Bishop of Rome) and Saint Lawrence.
Source: Cold Case Christianity