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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter X

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter X.—Valerian and the Persecution under him.

1. Gallus and the other rulers, 2210 having held the government less than two years, were overthrown, and Valerian, with his son Gallienus, received the empire. The circumstances which Dionysius relates of him we may learn from his epistle to Hermammon, 2211 in which he gives the following account:

2. “And in like manner it is revealed to John; ‘For there was given to him,’ he says, ‘a mouth speaking great things and blasphemy; and there was given unto him authority and forty and two months.’ 2212

3. It is wonderful that both of these things occurred under Valerian; and it is the more remarkable in this case when we consider his previous conduct, for he had been mild and friendly toward the men of God, for none of the emperors before him had treated them so kindly and favorably; and not even those who were said openly to be Christians 2213 received them with such manifest hospitality and friendliness as he did at the beginning of his reign. For his entire house was filled with pious persons and was a church of God.

4. But the teacher and ruler of the synagogue of the Magi from Egypt 2214 persuaded him to change his course, urging him to slay and persecute pure and holy men 2215 because they opposed and hindered the corrupt and abominable incantations. For there are and there were men who, being present and being seen, though they only breathed and spoke, were able to scatter the counsels of the sinful demons. And he induced him to practice initiations and abominable sorceries and to offer unacceptable sacrifices; to slay innumerable children and to sacrifice the offspring of unhappy fathers; to divide the bowels of new-born babes and to mutilate and cut to pieces the creatures of God, as if by such practices they could attain happiness.”

5. He adds to this the following: “Splendid indeed were the thank-offerings which Macrianus brought them 2216 for the empire which was the object of his hopes. He is said to have been formerly the emperor’s general finance minister 2217 ; yet he did nothing praiseworthy or of general benefit, 2218 but fell under the prop. 299 phetic saying,

6. ‘Woe unto those who prophesy from their own heart and do not consider the general good.’ 2219 For he did not perceive the general Providence, nor did he look for the judgment of Him who is before all, and through all, and over all. Wherefore he became an enemy of his Catholic 2220 Church, and alienated and estranged himself from the compassion of God, and fled as far as possible from his salvation. In this he showed the truth of his own name.” 2221

7. And again, farther on he says: “For Valerian, being instigated to such acts by this man, was given over to insults and reproaches, according to what was said by Isaiah: ‘They have chosen their own ways and their abominations in which their soul delighted; I also will choose their delusions and will render unto them their sins.’ 2222

8. But this man 2223 madly desired the kingdom though unworthy of it, and being unable to put the royal garment on his crippled body, set forward his two sons to bear their father’s sins. 2224 For concerning them the declaration which God spoke was plain, ‘Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.’ 2225

9. For heaping on the heads of his sons his own evil desires, in which he had met with success, 2226 he wiped off upon them his own wickedness and hatred toward God.”

Dionysius relates these things concerning Valerian.



οἱ ἀμφὶ τὸν Γ€λλον. Eusebius is undoubtedly referring to Gallus, Volusian, his son and co-regent, and Æmilian, his enemy and successor. Gallus himself, with his son Volusian, whom he made Cæsar and co-regent, reigned from the latter part of the year 251 to about the middle of the year 253, when the empire was usurped by Æmilian, and he and his son were slain. Æmilian was recognized by the senate as the legal emperor, but within four months Valerian, Gallus’ leading general,—who had already been proclaimed emperor by his legions,—revenged the murder of Gallus and came to the throne. Valerian reigned until 260, when his son Gallienus, who had been associated with him in the government from the beginning, succeeded him and reigned until 268.


Upon this epistle, see above, chap. 1, note 3.


Rev. xiii. 5.


Philip was the only emperor before this time that was openly said to have been a Christian (see above, Bk. VI. chap. 34, note 2). Alexander Severus was very favorable to the Christians, and Eusebius may have been thinking of him also in this connection.


viz. Macrianus, one of the ablest of Valerian’s generals, who had acquired great influence over him and had been raised by him to the highest position in the army and made his chief counselor. Dionysius is the only one to tell us that he was the chief of the Egyptian magicians. Gibbon doubts the statement, but Macrianus may well have been an Egyptian by birth and devoted, as so many of the Egyptians were, to arts of magic, and have gained power over Valerian in this way which he could have gained in no other. It is not necessary of course to understand Dionysius’ words as implying that Macrianus was officially at the head of the body of Egyptian magicians, but simply that he was the greatest, or one of the greatest, of them. He figures in our other sources simply as a military and political character, but it was natural for Dionysius to emphasize his addiction to magic, though he could hardly have done it had Macrianus’ practices in this respect not been commonly known.


The persecution which the Christians suffered under Valerian was more terrible than any other except that of Diocletian. Numerous calamities took place during his reign. The barbarians were constantly invading and ravaging the borders of the empire, and on the east the Persians did great damage. Still worse was the terrible plague which had begun in the reign of Decius and raged for about fifteen years. All these calamities aroused the religious fears of the emperor. Dionysius tells us that he was induced by Macrianus to have recourse to human sacrifices and other similar means of penetrating the events of the future, and when these rites failed, the presence of Christians—irreligious men hated by the gods—in the imperial family was urged as the reason for the failure, and thus the hostility of the emperor was aroused against all Christians. As a consequence an edict was published in 257 requiring all persons to conform at least outwardly to the religion of Rome on the penalty of exile. And at the same time the Christians were prohibited from holding religious services, upon pain of death. In 258 followed a rescript of terrible severity. Only the clergy and the higher ranks of the laity were attacked, but they were sentenced to death if they refused to repent, and the clergy, apparently, whether they repented or not. The persecution continued until Valerian’s captivity, which took place probably late in 260. The dates during this period are very uncertain, but Dionysius’ statement that the persecution continued forty-two months is probably not far out of the way; from late in the year 257 to the year 261, when it was brought to an end by Gallienus. In Egypt and the Orient the persecution seems to have continued a few months longer than elsewhere (see chap. 13, note 3). The martyrs were very numerous during the Valerian persecution, especially in Rome and Africa. The most noted were Cyprian and Xystus II. On the details of the persecution, see Tillemont, H. E. IV. p. 1 sq.


i.e. the evil spirits. As Valesius remarks, the meaning is that since the evil spirits had promised him power, he showed his gratitude to them by inducing the Emperor Valerian to persecute the Christians.


πῖ τῶν καθόλου λόγων. The phrase is equivalent to the Latin Rationalis or Procurator summæ rei, an official who had charge of the imperial finances, and who might be called either treasurer or finance minister. The position which Macrianus held seems to have been the highest civil position in the empire (cf. Valesius’ note ad locum). Gibbon calls him Prætorian Prefect, and since he was the most famous of Valerian’s generals, he doubtless held that position also, though I am not aware that any of our sources state that he did.


The Greek contains a play upon the words καθόλου and λόγος in this sentence. It reads ς πρότερον μὲν ἐπὶ τῶν καθόλου λόγων λεγόμενος εἶναι βασιλέως, οὐδὲν εὔλογον οὐδὲ καθολικὸν ἐφρόνησεν. The play upon the word καθόλου continues in the next sentence, where the Greek runs τὸ καθόλου μὴ βλέπουσιν, and in the following, where it reads οὐ γὰρ συνῆκε τὴν καθόλου πρόνοιαν. Again in the next sentence the adjective καθολική occurs: “his universal Church.”


Ezek. xiii. 3.


καθολικῆς, “catholic” in the sense of “general” or “universal,” the play upon the word still continuing.


Μακριανός. The Greek word μακρ€ν means “far,” “at a distance.”


Isa. 66:3, 4.


i.e. Macrianus.


Valerian reposed complete confidence in Macrianus and followed his advice in the conduct of the wars against the Persians. The result was that by Macrianus’ “weak or wicked counsels the imperial army was betrayed into a situation where valor and military skill were equally unavailing.” (Gibbon.) Dionysius, in chap. 23, below, directly states that Macrianus betrayed Valerian, and this is the view of the case commonly taken. Valerian fell into the hands of the Persians (late in 260 a.d.), and Macrianus was proclaimed emperor by his troops, and on account of his lameness (as both Dionysius and Zonaras put it) or his age, associated with him his two sons, Quietus and Macrianus. After some months he left his son Quietus in charge of Syria, and designing to make himself master of the Occident, marched with his son Macrianus against Gallienus, but was met in Illyrium by the Pretender Aureolus (262) and defeated, and both himself and son slain. His son Quietus meanwhile was besieged in Edessa by the Pretender Odenathus and slain. Cf. Tillemont’s Histoire des Empereurs, III. p. 333 sq. and p. 340 sq.


Ex. xx. 5.


ηὐτύχει. Three mss., followed by Stephanus, Valesius, Burton, Stroth (and by the translators Closs, Crusè, and Salmond in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, VI. p. 107), read τύχει, “failed” (“in whose gratification he failed”). ηὐτύχει, however, is supported by overwhelming ms. authority, and is adopted by Schwegler and Heinichen, and approved by Valesius in his notes. It seems at first sight the harder reading, and is, therefore, in itself to be preferred to the easier reading, τύχει. Although it seems harder, it is really fully in accord with what has preceded. Macrianus had not made himself emperor (if Dionysius is to be believed), but he had succeeded fully in his desires, in that he had raised his sons to the purple. If he had acquired such power as to be able to do that, he must have given them the position, because he preferred to govern in that way; and if that be so, he could hardly be said to have failed in his desires.

Next: Chapter XI

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