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28 Pages

Vibia Perpetua: Mystic and Martyr

ByJudith Lynn Sebesta

On the morning of March 7, 203 C.E., Carthaginian spectators took their seats in the amphitheater with greater anticipation than usual, for in addition to the usual beast hunts and gladiator combats celebrating the thirteenth birthday of Geta Caesar, younger son of the emperor Septimius Severus, five Christians were scheduled for execution. Among these five were two women, Vibia Perpetua, who had recently stopped nursing her young son, and her slave-woman, Felicity, who had given birth the day before. Immobilized in nets, the two women were charged and tossed by a maddened cow. Though bruised, Perpetua calmly picked herself up, rearranged her torn dress, and helped the stunned Felicity. Having faced her punishment, Perpetua could now expect to be dispatched quickly out of sight of the crowd. Instead, she was made to stand in the middle of the arena, where the young gladiator-in-training was so unnerved that when he drew his sword, he only sliced into her bones without killing her. Perpetua screamed, but then took his hand, guided the sword across her throat, and died.