Vibia’s Diary in Prison and Reflection of Roman Empire
Vibia Perpetua was a martyr in the Roman Empire who had strong Christian beliefs. Being a young mother at the age of 22 she decided to publicly show her Christian faith and actions together with other women for conviction of the beast of the arena. She was reported to have committed a crime of civil obedience and fighting which made her arrested and later prosecuted then sentenced to death. While in prison Vibia Perpetua wrote a diary explaining her experiences in the prison together with her fellow Christians. From the diary there is much to conclude about the roman empire and the leaders including the emperor who prosecuted Perpetua and her fellows to death (Perez, Melissa C. Pg 22). The diary helps us explore the relationship between Passio Sanctarum Martyrum Perpetua et Felicitatis and the roman empire.
The first thing to note from the diary was that the Roman empire was against Christianity. Despite the efforts by the martyrs and the roman setting provoking the rise of Christianity, if you were a Christian and declared it publicly then you had no place in the hearts of the Roman leaders. The fact that Perpetua was arrested for publicly declaring that she was a Christian is enough to tell us that in Rome you had to be silent to practice your faith. Emperor Severus was determined to silence Christianity since it was viewed to undermine roman culture and patriotism of the Romans (Perez, Melissa C. pg.23) We read on how her father begged her to accept that she was a Christian to avoid prosecution and gain freedom. Perpetua explains to us in her diary how her father begged her to give up and do as the Rome wanted but she did not. Quoting from her letter “‘My daughter, have pity on my white hairs! Show some compassion to your father if I deserve to be called father by you. If with these hands I have helped you to the flower of your youth, if I favored you beyond all your brothers – do not bring me into disgrace in all men’s eyes…” (Part I) All she did was to encourage him that things will go according to Gods will at the tribunal.
The Roman Emperors were highly respected by everyone and during trials people had to make sacrifices. Making sacrifices is something Vibia Perpetua vowed not to do. Many people including Vibia’s father respected and obeyed the emperors. Perpetua and her fellow Christian inmates exempted themselves from these kind of respect and sacrifices given to the leaders. They believed in God and as staunch Christians they would make no sacrifice but show respect to their religion. Her father again is the victim of Perpetua’s strong stands and during the next trial he begged again ‘Perform the sacrifice! Have pity on your child!’(Part II). The emperor too told her to have pity on her father who was old age and perform the sacrifice. ‘Spare your father’s old age, spare your little boy’s infancy! Perform the ritual for the Emperor’s welfare.’ (PART II) Performing the sacrifice was highly regarded by the emperors that’s why governor Hilarianus also did beg her to do the rituals but she refused since she was a Christian.
From her diary we get to understand the place of women in the Roman empire where their voices were less heard and many regarded them as illiterate. Being a noble woman Perpetua did not allow her stands to be controlled by men especially her father who was a pagan and asked her to deny being a Christian. From previous letters by other women and books about roman empire we know that women were to be under the support and guided by men thus Perpetua was to be exempted from such trial but because of her stands she had to take the consequences. (Bremmer, Jan N, and Marco Formisano. Pg. 38). Women being known to be submissive and respectful it was a shock to her family to learn that she was being prosecuted.
From the way the Emperor treated Vibia’s father we can say the roman empire was characterized by merciless leaders. We get questions of what was the reason of strucking her father after she had refused to perform the ritual if the case she was the one responsible and not her father. As soon as she admitted to the governor she was a Christian according to her letter, “And as my father still hovered, trying to deflect me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown out, and he was struck with a rod. And I grieved for my father’s downfall as if I’d been struck myself: that’s how I mourned for his pitiful old age” (Part III). At least for his old age he would be spared to suffer for his daughters stand since hovering was enough. The governor was merciless to the poor man.
. Lastly on the role of women we can say that noble women who were regarded not to breastfeed in the Roman Empire was a myth and something usual. Perpetua introduces her letter by addressing it to her child which show mother love she then later explains to us of the struggles she went through to breastfeed her child. She would get sores if she did not do so, the fact that she was allowed to breastfeed concludes that it was not an uncommon thin in the Roman Empire.in the society we need to have women who are pure on their stands and that is what Christianity entails.
Bremmer, Jan N, and Marco Formisano. Perpetua’s Passions: Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Passio Perpetuae Et Felicitatis. 2012.
Perez, Melissa C. Vibia Perpetua’s Diary: A Woman’s Writing in a Roman Text of Its Own. Orlando, Fla: University of Central Florida, 2009.
Rea, Jennifer A, and Liz Clarke. Perpetua’s Journey: Faith, Gender, & Power in the Roman Empire.
Vibia Perpetua’s Diary