February 23rd 303: Great Persecution begins

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Emperor Diocletian (244 – 311)

On this day in 303, the Roman Emperor Diocletian began the systematic persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. This became known as the ‘Great Persecution’ or the ‘Diocletianic Persecution’. It was this day that Diocletian ordered the total destruction of the new Christian church in Nicomedia, demanding the building and its scriptures to be burned and its treasures seized. The following day Diocletian issued an ‘Edict Against the Christians’; the persecution of Christians had begun.

 

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‘The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer’ by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Christians had been targeted throughout the history of the empire, but violence was at its fiercest between 303 and 313. The campaign did not end with Diocletian’s retirement in 305, as his successors continued what he had begun (though to varying degrees of intensity). The persecution saw the execution of Christians, the rescinding of their legal rights and the requirement that they embrace traditional Roman polytheistic religion. The persecution is generally considered to have ended with the 313 Edict of Milan issued by the converted Christian Emperor Constantine and Licinius.

 

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Emperor Constantine (272 – 337)

This is true religious persecution: the pressure to abandon one’s identity, the threat of violence, the violent destruction of culture. Whilst Christianity may be one of the dominant religions in the world now, we must not forget the sacrifices made by early Christians who would rather die than renounce their faith. When you hear conservative Christian commentators in the United States proclaiming that the ‘liberal establishment’ is waging a war on Christianity because one town didn’t have a nativity display, I would like to show them the Great Persecution of the fourth century. Maybe then they will realise what a true war on Christianity looks like.

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December 6th 343: St Nicholas dies

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On this day in 343 AD, Nikolaos of Myra (better known as Saint Nicholas) died aged 73. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, thieves, children, and students. During his lifetime, Nicholas was Greek Bishop of Myra (which is in modern day Turkey). Many today associate Saint Nicholas with Santa Claus, as the Christmas character is modeled after Nicholas, who was known for secretly giving people gifts like coins in their shoes. The name ‘Santa Claus’ is loosely derived from translations of ‘Saint Nicholas’.

November 26th 1922: Tutankhamun’s tomb opened

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On this day in 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter and his financer Lord Carnarvon became the first people to enter the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun in over 3000 years. On 26th November, Carter made the famous “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway, and was able to peer into the antechamber by the light of a candle and see that many of the gold and ebony treasures were still in place. When Carnarvon asked “Can you see anything?”, Carter replied: “Yes, wonderful things.”

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The first item was removed from the tomb on December 27th and on February 16th 1923, the Burial Chamber was oficially opened, where the team found the sarcophagus and the mummified remains of Tutankhamun.

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This was a hugely significant development in the study of world history, as Carter’s discoveries drew the world’s attention to Egypt and its rich history. Tutankhamun’s tomb can be considered the birth place of modern Egyptology.

July 24th 1911: Machu Picchu re-discovered

July 24th 1911: Machu Picchu re-discovered

On this day in 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham III re-discovered the ‘Lost City of the Incas’: Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is a 15th Century Inca estate built for emperor Pachacuti and is located in the mountains of Peru. The site lay largely undisturbed for hundreds of years, with only locals knowing of its existence. However, with Bingham’s re-discovery of the site it became known to the wider world. He took artefacts from the site to Yale University for examination and only recently has the university agreed to return them to Peru. Reconstruction work began and the site has become a major tourist attraction.