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Chapter 20: THE PARTICIPATION OF CHRISTIANS IN MILITARY SERVICE
The purpose of this section is to present the reader with as complete and accurate a statement as possible of the extent to which Christians actually served as soldiers in the pre-Constantinian period. It will thus serve as the complement to the former section dealing with the Christian refusal of service, alongside of which it will naturally be read, and will involve a certain amount of overlapping with what has gone before.
Taking first the period of the New Testament, and excluding the converts of John the Baptist, the centurion of Capernaum, and the centurion at the cross, as not being disciples of Jesus at all, Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, as not being a full convert to Christianity in the ordinary sense,(1) and the soldier--if soldier he was--who was executed with James the Apostle, as being relieved by his prompt martyrdom of all necessity of deciding whether he ought to remain in his calling or to resign it,(2) we are left with Cornelius, the one or two soldiers who may have been baptized with him, and the gaoler at Philippi,(3) as the only real cases of Christian soldiers in New Testament times.
The New Testament itself and the earliest Christian literature nowhere express disapproval of the continuance of these men--assuming they did continue--in their calling, or of the military calling in general. It is even possible that Luke, who records these cases, as well as the conversation between John the Baptist and the soldiers, may have meant to intimate thereby his view as to the propriety of admitting soldiers to the Church without requiring them to abandon the profession of
1. See above, pp. 97 f.
2. See above, p. 226.
3. Ac x. 1 ff, 7 ff, 47 f, xvi. 27-34.
arms(4): and the existence even of these few cases makes it possible that from the earliest times there may have been soldier-converts in the Church.(5) But as a matter of fact there is no trace of the existence of any Christian soldiers between these cases mentioned in Acts and--say--170 A.D. The supposed records of Christian soldiers of the times of Trajanus and Hadrianus are without historical value.(6)
We come however upon an important piece of evidence in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. During one of that Emperor's campaigns against the Quadi, a tribe inhabiting what is now Moravia, in 173 or 174 A.D., the Roman army found itself in serious difficulties owing to lack of water. In the Twelfth Legion, the Legio Fulminata, which was recruited and usually stationed in Melitene, a region in eastern Cappadocia where Christianity was strong, there were a considerable number of Christian soldiers. These prayed for relief from the drought, and at once a shower refreshed the Roman troops, while a storm discomfited the enemy. Such is, in bare outline, the story of what --as far as we can make out--actually happened.
It was evidently an incident of some importance, for it was commemorated on the column set up by Marcus Aurelius at Rome, and noticed by a number of writers, both Christian and pagan. The pagan accounts do not mention the Christians in the army at all,(7) and so are of no value for our immediate purpose, beyond confirming the historical background of the story. The earliest Christian witness is Apolinarios, bishop of Hierapolis
4. Harnack MC 53.
5. So Harnack ME ii. 52.
6. See pp. 99-101.
7. The pagan witnesses are the pillar of Marcus, Dio Cassius (lxxi. 8, 10), and Capitolinus (Hist. Aug. Life of M. Antoninus Philosophus, xxiv. 4).
in Phrygia, who gave a simple account of the incident--probably very soon after its occurrence--perhaps in the Apology which he addressed to Marcus Aurelius.(8) As reported by Eusebios, he spoke as if the whole legion had been Christian, and said that it received from the Emperor the name of keraunobolos (i.e. thundering) in memory of what happened.(9)
Now there is no doubt at all that either Eusebios misunderstood and misreported Apolinarios,(10) or else Apolinarios himself made a mistake about the name of the Legion: for the Twelfth Legion was called Fulminata (thunderstruck) not Fulminatrix (thundering), and had moreover borne that name since the time of Augustus or at least that of Nero.(11) In view of this error, the value of Apolinarios as a witness for the existence of a whole legion of Christian soldiers simply disappears; and it is more than doubtful whether he meant to speak of such a legion at all.
The next witness whom we can date with any confidence is Tertullianus, who twice mentions the incident,(12) but without committing himself as to the number of soldiers. Even the so-called Letter of Marcus Aurelius to the Senate(13) (which some put before the time of Tertullianus, some as late as early in the fourth century,(14) and which is usually regarded as a Christian forgery,(15) though Harnack regards it as substantially
8. So Harnack (C i. 360 f), though the dates are a little difficult to reconcile.
9. Eus HE V v. 3 f.
10. So Lightfoot AF II i. 491.
11. DCB iv. 1024a.
12. Tert Apol 5 (i. 295) (illam germanicam sitim christianorurn forte militum precationibus impetrato imbri discussam), Scap 4 (i. 703) (christianorum militum orationibus ad Deum factis).
13. Text in Otto's Justinus i. 246 ff, Lightfoot AF II i. 485 f, Blunt 133 f; ET in ANCL ii. 68 f.
14. Bigelmair 186 n 1.
15. Lightfoot AF II i. 490; Blunt 131 f.
genuine, but interpolated(16)), does not claim a whole legion of Christian soldiers--does not in fact mention the legion at all--but contents itself with the vague phrase, 'a great crowd'(17) of 'those who with us are called Christians.' Eusebios seems to have believed that the whole legion was Christian,(18) and was probably unintentionally responsible for the attribution of this view to Apolinarios. The remarks of Xiphilinos(19) are interesting, but much too late to be of any value as evidence.
While the Christian versions contain obvious embellishments and exaggerations, and the idea of a whole legion of Christian soldiers must be dismissed,(20) there can be no doubt about the main fact, that, in or about 174 A.D., the Legio Fulminata contained a considerable number of Christian soldiers. This means that the conversion of soldiers to Christianity must have been going on for some little time previously, though for how long we do not know. It is often said that these men were not censured or criticized by their fellow-Christians for their position(21); but in view of the fact that Celsus's censure of the Christians in general for objecting to military service came within a few years of the incident just described,(22) and in view of the fact that the later decision of the Church would tend to obliterate records of the earlier rigorism, it is not safe to conclude from the absence of any extant criticism of these Christian soldiers that their position passed uncriticized.
16. Harnack C i. 702.
17. plethos kai megethos auton.
18. Eus HE V v. 1-4.
19. Dio Cassius lxxi. 9.
20. So Stokes in DCB iv. 1024b.
21. So Harnack ME ii. 55 ("Neither then nor subsequently did any Christian censure these soldiers for their profession"), MC 57; Bigelmair 189.
22. See above, p. 104.
Julius Africanus appears to have served as an officer in the expedition of the Emperor Severus against Osrhoene in 195 A.D.(23): but we have already seen reason for refusing to regard him as in any way a representative Christian.(24) Clemens of Alexandria does not seem ever to have faced the problem of Christianity and war; and hence, despite his clear grasp of Christian principles in the abstract,(25) he uses expressions which concede the compatibility of military service with the Christian faith. He appeals to the Greek thus:
Some years later, when writing for Christian readers, he says: "Barefootedness is very becoming to a man, except when he is on military service"(27) and later, criticizing the love of wealth and display: "But even now the soldiers wish to be adorned with gold, not having read that (passage) in the poet: 'He came to the war, wearing gold, like a young girl.'"(28) He says that the divine 'Instructor,' under the heading of forbearance, "enjoins by John upon those in military service to be content with their wages only."(29) He quotes the Mosaic regulations in regard to the exemption of certain classes of men from military service and of summoning the enemy to come to terms before attacking them, without any intimation that they would
23. Gelzer, Sextus Julius Africanus und die byzantinische Chronographie, i. 8.
24. See above, p. 207.
25. See pp. 71 f, 78.
26. Clem Protr x. 100.
27. Clem Paed II xi. 117
28. Clem Paed II xii. 121.
29. Clem Paed III xii. 91.
not be applicable to Christians.(30) He mentions "the soldier's hope and the merchant's gain" along with life, angels, etc., as examples of the "things present" which are powerless to oppose faith.(31)
We have already had occasion to notice the susceptibility to Christian influence of soldiers employed in the horrible work of persecution -- a susceptibility which led in many cases to their conversion.(32) One or two cases merit repetition here. The soldier Basileides of Alexandria had, while still a heathen, received instruction under Origenes. During the persecution of 202 A.D., it fell to his lot to conduct the Christian maiden Potamiaina to death, and apparently to preside over the execution, which consisted of boiling pitch being poured over the girl's body from the feet upwards. He showed her what sympathy and kindness he could under the circumstances, and the experience issued--as well it might--in his conversion. This was at first kept a secret, but soon became known through his refusal as a Christian to take an oath when challenged to do so by his fellow-soldiers. He was led to the judge, confessed, and received sentence. He was visited in prison by the Christians, and baptized, and the next day was beheaded. Nothing is said in the extant record as to his conversion leading him to want to resign his post in the army.(33)
Somewhat similar was the case of the adjutant Pudens,
30. Clem Strom II xviii. 82, 88.
31. Clem Strom IV xiv. 96. Ramsay (Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, ii. 718) is mistaken in including Clemens among those who "absolutely forbade that Christians should be soldiers or bear arms."
32. See above, pp. 226 f. Harnack says MC 75): "That the soldier who accompanied a Christian to death, in particular the (soldier who acted as) informer, himself became a Christian, gradually became a stereotyped feature in the stories of martyrs, but is not always legendary." For instances in more or less fictitious martyr-acts, see Neumann 288-290.
33. Eus HE VI iii. 13, v.
The information contributed by Tertullianus is important. In 197 A.D. he wrote to the pagans:
He refers to the incident in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, when the drought afflicting the Roman army was removed "by the shower obtained by the prayers of the Christian soldiers (who were) by chance (serving under him)."(39) A little later, in arguing that no Christian ought to be a soldier, he lets us see that there were Christians who took the opposite view and supported their position by appealing to the examples of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, the Israelites, and even John the Baptist.(40) He himself says that Paul, in "teaching that everyone ought to live by his own labour, had introduced plenty of examples, (those,
34. See above, pp. 226 f.
35. DCB iv. 520b.
36. Tert Nat i. I (i. 559): similar words in Apol i (i. 262). The word translated 'fortified towns'--castellis--may mean simply 'villages.'
37. Tert Apol 37 (i. 462 f). The statement is of course an exaggeration, and must be taken with a grain of salt. Tertullianus makes a reference in Apol 32 (i. 447) to Christians taking the military oath.
38. Tert Apol 42 (i. 491).
39. Sec p. 230 n 5.
40. Tert Idol 19 (i. 690 f): see above, p. 109.
namely), of soldiers, shepherds, and husbandmen."(41)
Later still (211 A.D.), we have from him an account of the circumstances which occasioned the composition of his treatise 'De Corona Militis.' Shortly after the accession of the Emperors Caracalla and Geta, an imperial largess was being distributed to the Roman troops in Numidia, when one Christian soldier made himself conspicuous by refusing to put on the laurel garland which everyone else was wearing for the occasion. His fellow-Christians in the army--not to mention the heathen soldiers--and some at least of the Christian civilians as well, condemned his action on the ground that it was rash and presumptuous and likely to provoke persecution, and that nowhere in Scripture are we forbidden to be crowned.(42) The incident shows that there were at that time many Christians in the Roman army in Africa, and that some--possibly a majority--of the members of the local church raised no objection to their being there. It does not prove that the whole of the local church--still less that the Church generally--had no scruples at all about its members serving as soldiers.(43)
It is important also to notice that the 'De
41. Tert Marc v. 7 (ii. 487). 1 do not know any passage in Paul's letters justifying this statement about soldiers.
42. Tert Cor i (ii. 76 f). He astutely points out the similarity between the Christian and the pagan criticisms: exinde sententiae super illo, nescio an Christianorum, non enim aliae ethnicorum, ut de abrupto, etc., etc. Harnack has suggested (ME i. 418 n, ii. 56, MC 68) that this soldier's object was to secure for his Christian comrades in the army the same exemption from the semi-idolatrous garland that was enjoyed by the worshippers of Mithras.
43. It is therefore a gross exaggeration to say that the fact that the soldier was condemned "is conclusive proof that the Christian society of the time found no cause of complaint in the fact of its members serving in the legions, and that they did not regard such service as incompatible with their religion" (B.-Baker ICW W 25).
Idololatria' and 'De Corona' of Tertullianus are our oldest pieces of evidence for the existence of Christian soldiers who had joined the army after their conversion. In the former, his discussion of the questions 'whether a believer may turn to military service, and whether the military . . . may be admitted to the faith'(44) may be taken to imply that in practice cases had already arisen in which both these questions had been answered in the affirmative. In the 'De Corona' his condemnation of the act of 'transferring (one's) name from the camp of light to the camp of darkness'(45) shows pretty clearly that the thing had been done. Immediately afterwards he speaks of those who had been converted when already in the army as a special class of Christian soldiers(46); evidently, therefore, there were others who had become soldiers after conversion. These passages, however, are the earliest references we have to Christians becoming soldiers after baptism: all the Christian soldiers mentioned before the period of 'De Idololatria' (198-202 A.D.) may quite well have been--for all we know to the contrary--converted when already in the army. Such would obviously have been the more normal case.
In the year 217 A.D. the tomb of an imperial official, Marcus Aurelius Prosenes, received a supplementary inscription from his freedman, the Christian Ampelius who described himself as 'returning from the campaigns.'(47) Another inscription, about the middle of the
44. Tert Idol 19 (i. 690): see pp. 108 f.
45. Tert Cor 11 (ii. 92): see above, p. 111.
46. Ib.: see above, p. 112.
47. The inscription runs: Prosenes receptus ad Deum V non [apr]ilis Sa[uro in Carnp]ania, Praesente et Extricato II (sc. consulibus). Regrediens in Urbe(m) ab expeditionibus scripsit Ampelius lib(ertus) (De Rossi, Inscriptiones Urbis Romae, I 9; Marucchi, Christian Epigraphy, 225: Neumann (84 n) gives a slightly different interpretation).
third century, found at Hodjalar in Phrygia, gives us the epitaph on the family tomb of two Christian soldiers.(48)
Cyprianus tells us that the two uncles of a certain Christian who suffered in the persecution of Decius (250 A.D.) had been soldiers.(49) Dionusios of Alexandria tells us that there were soldiers among the martyrs in that very persecution.(50) At Alexandria during the persecution, a soldier named Besas rebuked the crowd that was insulting the martyrs on their way to execution. He was immediately challenged, arraigned as a Christian, confessed, and was beheaded.(51)
On another occasion a squad of five soldiers, attending at the trial of a Christian, attracted attention by making violent gestures of anxiety when the accused threatened to deny his faith, and then rushed before the tribunal and confessed themselves Christians. The governor, as well as his council, was amazed, but seems to have ordered them to execution.(52)
We have already spoken
48. Ramsay, Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, ii. 717.
49. See above, p. 147 n 2.
50. Dion Alex in Eus HE VII xi. 20: the letter of Dionusios here quoted refers to the Decian persecution, though Eusebios erroneously connects it with that of Valerianus (Feltoe 65).
51. Dion Alex in Eus HE VI xli. 16.
52. Dion Alex in Eus HE VI xli. 22 f. Their conversion seems to have been due to a sudden rush of feeling under the affecting circumstances of the hour. Harnack, I think, overlooks the fact that only five men were concerned, assumes that before their public confession they were already virtually Christians ("Christen oder ... christlich Gesinnten"), and infers that Christianity must have been very widespread in the army in Egypt, as there could have been no idea of picking out Christian soldiers for this particular task (Harnack ME ii. 58, MC 76 f). This seems to me to be making too much out of the passage. Sudden conversions were not uncommon at scenes of persecution; and there is no reason to suppose that these five men were in any way definitely Christian before this incident. They may have known about Christianity and been sympathetic towards it, but that does not warrant Harnack's conclusion that Christianity was widespread in the army in Egypt. I pass by the untrustworthy 'Acts of Polueuktes,' the soldier who is said to have been beheaded for refusing to sacrifice in compliance with an edict of 'Decius and Valerian'! (Conybeare 123-146; Harnack ME 1451, MC 83).
of the Christian military officer Marinus, who was martyred at Caesarea in 260 A.D.(53)
In 295 A.D., on the occasion of the martyrdom of Maximilianus in Numidia, the proconsul of Africa said to him: "In the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletianus and Maximianus, Constantius and Maximus, there are Christian soldiers, and they serve (as such)."(55) The silence of the Synod of Illiberis on the legitimacy of military service is significant. The Spanish bishops seem to have realized that there was too much to be said on both sides for them to commit themselves to either.(56)
Eusebios tells us that long before the outbreak of the general persecution in 303 A.D., the Emperor Galerius attempted, by means of degradation, abuse, and menace of death, to compel the Christians in the army, beginning with those in his own household, to desert their faith.(57) We learn from Eusebios and Hieronymus that about 299 A.D. a general named Veturius attempted to purge the troops under him of Christian soldiers; and a great number of them consequently retired from the service, and a few suffered the
53. See above, pp. 151 f.
54. Harnack ME ii. 54: cf MC 81 f.
55. See above, pp. 149 f. Fabius Victor, the martyr's father, seems to have been a Christian before the trial, and may have been a soldier (see p. 150 n 2): anyhow, he had bought his son a new military coat in anticipation of his joining up.
56. Harnack MC 79 n 2 (80).
57. Eus HE VIII appendix, 1.
penalty of death. The devil, says Eusebios, thought that if he could first subdue the Christians in the army, he would easily be able to catch the others---a remark which indicates that in Eusebios' belief the Christians in the army at that time were numerous and highly respected.(58)
The martyrdom of the Christian centurion Marcellus in Mauretania in 298 A.D.(59) may have been the outcome of a similar movement on the part of the military authorities in that quarter of the Empire. Typasius, another soldier of Mauretania, is said to have obtained his discharge from the army before the persecution broke out.(60) The famous legend of the martyrdom of the whole Thebaic legion (recruited in the Egyptian Thebaid) at the hands of Maximianus at Agaunum near the Lake of Geneva, is variously referred to 286, 297, or 302 A.D. The evidence for it is late, and the story as it stands is impossible. It may be that the actual martyrdom of a few--conceivably a few hundred--Christian soldiers for refusing to sacrifice underlies the legend: more than that cannot be said.(61)
In 302 A.D. Diocletianus, alarmed by unfavourable omens, which the priests attributed to the presence of Christians, required his whole retinue to sacrifice on pain of being scourged, and wrote to the commanding officers that soldiers should be required to sacrifice and, if they would not obey, dismissed from the service.(62) The following winter, when Galerius was urging him to undertake a general persecution of the Christians, Diocletianus long persisted "that it would be enough if he forbade that religion only to those at court and to
58. Eus HE VIII iv (with McGiffert's note); Hieron Chron ad ann 2317; Harnack ME 59 n, MC 80.
59. See above, p. 152.
60. See above, p. 153.
61. DCB iii. 641b-644b; Bigelmair 194-201; Harnack ME ii. 61 n 1, MC 83; De Jong 17 f.
62. Lact Mort Pers x. 4.
the soldiers."(63) When the persecution actually began, Christian soldiers were its first victims.(64) The fact that many of them suffered martyrdom is sufficiently established, and little purpose would be served by adding details concerning all the individual cases known to us.
One of them, Julius, who suffered in Moesia, said to the judge:
Other soldier-martyrs were Marcianus and Nicander in Moesia (or Italy),(66) Dasius, also in Moesia,(67) Nereus and Achilleus, apparently at Rome,(68) Tarakhos in Cilicia,(69) Ferreolus, a military tribune, at Vienna in Gaul,(70) Theodorus of Tyrus at Amasia in Pontus,(71) and Seleukos of Cappadocia at Caesarea.(72) In 303 A.D. a revolt broke
63. Lact Mort Pers xi. 3.
64. Eus HE VIII i. 8; Epiphanios Haeres lxviii. 2 (Migne PG xlii. 185) (some of them, like some of the clergy, gave way and sacrificed).
65. See the Acta Julii in Anal Bolland x. 50 ff. reprinted by Harnack in MC 119-121. An older edition is given by Ruinart (569 f). Another Christian soldier had been martyred just before Julius, and when he went to his death, a third was awaiting sentence.
66. Ruinart 571-573; cf Harnack ME ii. 62. n 4.
67. DCB i. 789b; Harnack ME ii. 62 n 5, MC 83 n 5; Bigelmair 192 f.
68. See above, pp. 153 f.
69. Ruinart 451 ff; Harnack C ii. 479 f; DCB iv. 781: see above, p. 153.
70. Ruinart 489 ff; DCB ii. 506b.
71. Ruinart 506-511; DCB iv. 956 f.
72. Eus Mart xi. 20 ff (see above, p. 153). I pass by the doubtful story of the 'quattuor coronati,' four soldiers who are said to have been flogged to death at Rome for refusing to sacrifice (DCA i. 461 f; DCB iv. 702 f; Bigelmair 328-330, Harnack C ii. 478 n 2). It is just possible that Getulius and Amantius, the husband and brother-in-law of Symphorosa, who are said to have been military tribunes under Hadrianus and to have suffered martyrdom for refusing to sacrifice, were really among the soldier-martyrs of the great persecution under Diocletianus (see above, pp. 100 f). It is also barely possible that Albanus, the proto-martyr of Britain, was martyred about this time and was a soldier (Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, p. 271; DCB i. 69 f). Other soldier-martyrs of minor importance and questionable historicity are mentioned by Bigelmair (192-194) and Harnack (MC 84 n 3).
out in Melitene and Syria, and Diocletianus suspected that the Christians were at the bottom of it, and it is possible that his suspicions were not altogether without foundation.(73) We know that the Christians of Armenia, when the Emperor Maximinus Daza tried to force them to abandon their Christianity, took up arms and defeated him.(74)
There must have been large numbers of Christians in the armies of Constantinus and Licinius in their campaigns against Maxentius and Maximinus Daza. Pachomius, later famous as a monk, served in the war against Maxentius, and was won to Christianity by the love which his Christian fellow-soldiers showed to himself and others.(75) The Constantinian troops were witnesses of the professed adherence of their great leader to the Christian faith just before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and actually bore in that battle the sign of the cross upon their shields and in their standards: they took part in the bloodshed of the battle, and doubtless joined in their leader's confident boast that he had conquered by virtue of that same sign.(76) The campaign of Licinius against Daza, after his meeting with Constantinus at Milan, would enlist Christian sympathy as warmly as did that of Constantinus against Maxentius. Both conflicts were regarded, not unnaturally, as
73. Eus HE VIII vi. 8.
74. Eus HE IX viii. 2, 4.
75. DCB iv. 170b; Harnack ME ii. 63 n 1, MC 85.
76. Eus HE IX ix. 1-12, Vit Const i. 26-31, 37-41, iv. 19-21; Lact Mort Pers xliv.
struggles between Christianity and Paganism.
Licinius himself prescribed for his soldiers a form of prayer, which was monotheistic, if not overtly Christian, in tone.(77) His victory would naturally attract additional Christian favour and support.(78) We do not know how far Christian soldiers were implicated in the bloody acts of vengeance--the massacres, tortures, and murders--that marked his triumph.(79) Later in his reign, between 315 and 322 A.D., Licinius relapsed into paganism, and required the soldiers in his army to sacrifice on pain of being degraded and dismissed the service. A number of martyrdoms resulted.(80) The final war between Licinius and Constantinus was again a war between Paganism and Christianity, and ended in a decisive triumph for the latter.(81)
Reserving for Part IV all discussion of the position finally attained through the ascendancy of Constantinus and all attempt to summarize the movements of Christian thought and practice which we have been studying, we may bring this section to a close with a word or two on the question of the numbers of Christians in the army
77. Lact Mort Pers xliv. Harnack regards this act of Licinius as showing bow widespread Christianity must have been in his army (MC 89 f).
78. Eus HE IX x. 3.
79. Eus HE IX x. 4 (destruction of Daza's army), xi. 3 (all his favoured partizans slain), 4 (a few examples out of many given), 5 f (torture and death of Theoteknos and others at Antioch, cf PE 135cd), 7 f (Daza's children and relatives slain); Lact Mort Pers xlvii. 2-4 (immense slaughter of Daza's troops), l. 2 f (death of Candidianus, son of Galerius, who had put himself unsuspectingly in Licinius' hands), 4 (Licinius slays Severianus, son of the late Emperor Severus), 6 (he slays Maximus, the eight-year-old son, and the seven-year-old daughter, of Daza, after throwing their mother into the river Orontes), li (Valeria , widow of Galerius, and her mother Prisca, caught at Thessalonica, beheaded, and their bodies cast into the sea). To the commission of such acts as these did those believers who took up arms under this Christian Emperor render themselves liable!
80. Eus HE X viii. 10, Vit Const i. 54. It is to this period (320 A.D.) that the legend of the forty soldiers martyred at Sebaste in Armenia belongs (cf DCB ii. 556 f; De Jong 33 f).
81. Eus Vit Const ii. 16 f.
during these closing years of our period. In the unfortunate absence of any definite statistics, we have to content ourselves with a few vague statements.
It is clear that there were more soldiers in the armies at the end than in the middle of the third century, and that Constantinus' accession to power increased the number still further. We may perhaps conjecture that before the persecution there was a larger percentage of Christians in the army of Constantinus, the tolerant Emperor of the West, than in those of the southern and eastern Emperors, though of this we cannot be sure, and the comparatively larger numbers of Christians in the eastern than in the western empire would tend to put the position the other way round.
It is doubtless true that there were 'many' soldiers in the legions of Diocletianus and Galerius round about 300 A.D.; but what does 'many' mean? Figures are, of course, out of our reach; but when we consider that these two emperors endeavoured to purge all the Christians out of their army, we cannot imagine that the percentage of Christians could have been very high. No sovereign readily deprives himself of a tenth, or even of a twentieth part of his military power. Furthermore, as we shall see presently, Christian opinion, even at this date, was still very far from being unanimous as to the propriety of military service for Christians. A good deal of caution is necessary in accepting some of the phrases in which the state of affairs is at times described.(82)
82. Harnack is on the whole cautious, but is a little inclined to overestimate the evidence (see his remarks quoted above, p. 237 n 5 and 242 n 1, and cf. MC 83, 87). Cf Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, i. 346 ("the number of Christians enrolled in the army seems not to have been very considerable before the era of Constantine"); De Jong 26 ("this is certain, that the Christians in the army were as yet only a small minority").