Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity background information.

Early Christian Writings

Title: Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis – The Martyrdom of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas 


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Ante-Nicene Fathers

Τὰ ἀρχαῖα ἔθη κρατείτω. The Nicene Council

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By: Roger Pearse  

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ECST: 167.24.1.T77

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On March 7th, 202AD (203 – Rives), 22-year old Roman woman named Vibia Perpetua and her slave Felicitas, were put to death in the arena by being thrown to the beasts.  With them were 3 other catechumens, Saturus, Saturninus and Revocatus.  All had been arrested and convicted on a charge of Christianity.  Perpetua was ‘well-born, liberally educated, honourably married, having father and mother, and two brothers, one like herself a catechumen, and an infant son at the breast’.  Felicitas had been pregnant when arrested and actually gave birth to a girl in prison shortly before her death.  The process was carried out by the temporary procurator, Hilarianus, whose predecessor had died in office unexpectedly, and who is probably the P. Aelius Hilarianus of some pagan inscriptions in Spain (cf. Rives).

The account is very vivid.  Part of it (chapters 3-10) is Perpetua’s own diary[1]3. CTC 92, 29.; ‘From this point onward she shall herself narrate the whole course of her martyrdom, as she left it described by her own hand and with her own mind.’ (ch. 2).  Chapters 11-13 were written by Saturus.  The author and editor of the whole work has often been thought to be Tertullian himself, who refers to this persecution in Ad Scapulam, and to Perpetua herself (De anima 55).  However this view is not generally held today[2]3. CTC 92, 29..  It has also been suggested that the visions of the martyrs and the attitude to the clergy are suggestive of Montanism.  The consensus of scholarship however today is that if so this is not very marked[3]3. CTC 92, 29..

The work is extant in both Latin and Greek versions.  The Latin contains plays on word which are specific to that language (21,2; 16,3) so it is generally inferred that the Greek is derived from it.  The work was very popular; St. Augustine was obliged to remind his flock that it should not be treated as if it were scripture (De anima et eius origine, 1, 10, 2).  Other references ancient and medieval come in St. Augustine, Serm. 280-282 and Goscelin de Saint-Bertin[4]1. Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea (CTC), collected edition, indexes, p.613..  It has attracted immense attention in modern times[5]3. CTC 92, 29..

The manuscript tradition is detailed by VAN BEEK, who collated all known witnesses apart from some extracts present in Lambeth Palace (London) MS. 51, ca. 1200AD[6]2. CTC 87, 3..

Note that the chapter division in Wallis’ translation is different from the standard usage.


• Martyrdom is twice referred to as a second baptism (18, 3; 21, 2).

• Perpetua’s Vision of the Good Shepherd includes details of the communion.


Over the last half-century an immense literature has been written on this work, which it would be inappropriate to attempt to assemble here.  This selection is given as a beginning, but does not cover anything between 1950-1974, and only portions thereafter.  All details are unchecked from Quasten unless otherwise indicated.  Entries from the Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea have the review reference against them (CTC).  For all the work since 1974, consult the CTC.  I have tried to list all the editions and translations, and a few studies I thought useful.


J. A. ROBINSONThe Passion of S. Perpetua (Texts and Studies, 1,2). Cambridge, 1891.

P. FRANCHI DE CAVALLIERILa Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis (RQ, Suppl. 5). Freiburg i. B., 1896, 104-148.

W. H. SHEWRINGThe Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicity. New edition and translation of the Latin text, together with the Sermons of St. Augustine upon these saints. London, 1931.

C. J. M. J. VAN BEEKPassio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis. T. I. Nijmegen, 1936;

C. J. M. J. VAN BEEK, Passio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, latine et graece (FP 43). Bonn, 1938.

Herbert MUSURILLO (ed.), The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Oxford (1972). p.106-130.  Not checked. (Details from the Latin Library site).

James W. HALPORNPassio Sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, Bryn Mawr (1984).  Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries.  Not checked. (Details CTC SH.4, p.554.).

A.A.R.BASTIAENSEN etc, Atti e passioni dei martiri, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla (1987).  Reprints Latin of VAN BEEK with small changes of detail. Not checked. (Details CTC 87,3).

Peter HABERMEHLPerpetua und der Ägypter oder Bilder des Bösen im frühen afrikanischen Christentum. Ein Versuch zur Passio sanctarum Perpetuae et Felicitatis, Berlin: Akademie-Verlag (1992), IX+280p. (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, vol. 140).  Not checked. (Details CTC 92, 29). Reprints VAN BEEK with minor corrections.  Based on his dissertation.



R. E. WALLISANF 4 (1885), 697-706Checked.

E. C. E. OWENSome Authentic Acts of the Early Martyrs. Oxford, 1927, 78-92.

W.H. SHEWRING, (see above), 1931.

Rosemary RADERThe Martyrdom of Perpetua. A Protest Account of Third-Century Christianity – A lost Tradition. Women writers of the Early Church, Washington (1981), p.1-32.  Not checked. (Details CTC SH. 7, p555).  Detailed introduction with English translation of ch.3-10.


Adalbert G. HAMMANLes premiers martyrs de l’Église. Traduction, introduction, notes et plan de travail, [Paris]: Desclée de Brouwer (1979), 170p. (Les Pères dans la foi).  PPerp is pp.117-120. Not checked. (Details CTC SH.5)

Victor SAXERSaints anciens d’Afrique du Nord. Textes les concernant traduits, présentés et annotés par Mgr. V. S., Città del Vaticano: Tipografia poliglotta Vaticana (1979) 214 p. PPerp. is pp.40-56. Not checked. (Details CTC SH.10)


G. RAUSCHENEchte alte Martyrerakten (BKV 14). Kempten, 1913, 328ff.

O. HAGEMEYERDie Passion der hl. Perpetua und Felizitas, aus dem Lateinischen übertragen. Klosterneuburg bei Wien, 1938.

Peter HABERMEHL, (see above), 1992.


G. SOLA. Rome, 1920.

Victor SAXERAtti dei martiri dei primi tre secoli. Scelti e presentati da V. S., Padova: ed. Messagero (1984), 231 p. (Classici dello spirito. Patristica).  PPerp. is pp.110-134.  Not checked. (Details CTC SH.9).

G. CALDARELLIAtti dei martiri, Collana Patristica e del Pensiero Cristiano. (1975).  Reprinted little changed as Atti dei martiri. Introduzione, traduzione e note di • Giuliana CALDARELLI, 2a ed., Torino, Edizioni Paoline (1985), 782p. (Letture cristiane delle origini, 14/Testi).  Not checked. (Detailed CTC 85, 6).

A.A.R.BASTIAENSEN etc, (see above), 1987.

Clementina MAZZUCCO“E fui fatta maschio”: la donna nel cristianesimo primitivo (secoli I-III), con un’appendice sulla “Passio Perpetuae”. presentazione di Eugenio CORSINI, Firenze: Le Lettere; Torino: Università degli Studi (1989), xi+196p. 4 pl. in colour. (Università degli Studi di Torino, Fondo di Studi Parini-Chirio, Letterature 1).  Not checked. (Details CTC 89, 35).  Examines all the data on the role of women in the early church, superceding all earlier work.  Translation is p.141-161.


Ioan RAMUREANUActele Martirice, Bucuresti: Inst. Bibl. si de misiune al Biserici Ortodoxe Romane (1982), 372 p. Not checked. (Details CTC SH. 9).


Andrzej MALINOWSKI, Sylwetki diakonów w “Acta martyrum”, [Exempla diaconorum in “Actibus martyrum” proposita], Vox Patrum 9 (1989), f.17, p.757-779. Partial Polish version.  Not checked. (Details CTC C.140, p.523).


Shôsaku TOKI & Kenji TOKIJunkyôsha gyôden [Acts of the martyrs], Tokyo: Kyôbunkan (1990), 345-101p. (Kirisutokyô kyôfu chosakushu, 22).  Not checked. (Details from CTC C. 7 p.480).  PPerp. is pp.77-95.  Annotated translation of Mururillo’s text with very detailed indexes of terms and language.


P. KITZLERUmuèení svaté Perpetuy a Felicity. Passio SS. Perpetuae and Felicitatis. In: Teologický sborník (2, 2002), pp. 75-83.  Translation of cc.3-10, brief introduction and notes.  The only translation in Czech. (Details from the author).  The journal name means ‘Theological Quarterly’, ISSN 1211-3808, and is published by The Centre for Democracy and Culture Studies/Centrum pro studium demokracie a kultury (CDK) (Details from their website).


A. DE WAALDer leidende Dinokrates in der Vision der hl. Perpetua: RQ. 17 (1903) 839-847.

A. D’ALESL’auteur de la Passio Perpetuae: RHE 8 (1907) 1-18.

P. DE LABRIOLLETertullien, auteur du prologue et de la conclusion de la passion de Perpetue et de Felicite: Bull. anc. litt. arch. chret. 3 (1913) 126-132;

P. DE LABRIOLLELa crise montaniste. Paris, 1913, 338-353.

A. H, SALONIUSPassio Sanctae Perpetuae. Helsingfors, 1921.

L. GATTILa Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis: Did 1 (1923) 31-43.

F. J. DÖLGERGladiatorenblut und Märtyrerblut. Eine Szene der Passio Perpetuae in kultur- und religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung: Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg (1923/24) 196-214.

J. A. JOHNSTONThe Passion of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas: Month 153 (1929) 216-222.

W. H. SHEWRINGProse Rhythm in the Passio Perpetuae: Journal of Theological Studies 30 (1929) 56f.

F. J. DÖLGERAntike Parallelen zum leidenden Dinokrates in der Passio Perpetuae: AC 2 (1930) 1-40.

W. H. SHEWRINGEn marge de la passion des saintes Perpetue et Felicite: RB 43 (1931) 15-22.

F. J. DÖLGERDer Kampf mit dem Aegypter in der Perpetua-Vision. Das Martyrium als Kampf mit dem Teufel: AC 3 (1932) 177-188.

G. BARDYLa vie spirituelle d’après les Pères des trois premiers siècles. Paris, 1935, 173-180.

J. QUASTENDie Grabinschrift des Beratius Nikatoras: Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archeologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 53 (1938) 66-68.

A. FERRUAS. Saturnino martire Cartaginese-Romano: CC 90 (1939) 436-445.

H. LECLERCQDAL 5, 1259-1298.

J. STEINTertullian. Christliches Bewusstsein und sittliche Forderungen. Düsseldorf, 1940, 274-313: Tertullians theologische Ethik als Kommentar zur Passio Perpetuae.

J. QUASTENA Coptic Counterpart of a Vision in the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitas: Byz 15 (1940/41) 1-9.

E. RUPPRECHTBemerkungen zur Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis: RhM 90 (194;) 177-192.

J. QUASTENA Roman Law of Egyptian Origin in the Passio SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis: The Jurist 1 (1941) 193-198.

René BRAUNNouvelles observations linguistiques sur le rédacteur de la “Passio Perpetuae”, Vigiliae Christianae 33 (1979), pp.105-117. Not checked. (Details CTC 79,6).  Repeats the view of Monceaux and expands his own 1955 article (REL 33, 79-81).  Detailed philological comparison.  Conclusion is that Tertullian cannot be the editor.

Rosemary RADER, (see above), 1981.

Louis ROBERTUne vision de Perpétue martye à Carthage en 203, Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (1982), pp. 228-276. Not checked. (Details CTC 82,32).  Suggests Tertullian may be the author, and (unusually) prefers the Greek text as the original (cf. CTC 88, 31).

A.A.R.BASTIAENSENHeeft Perpetua haar dagboek in het Latijn of in het Grieks geschreven? De Heiligenverering in de eerste eeuwen van het christendom. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt (1988), p.130-135.  Not checked. (Details CTC 88, 31).  Was the work written in Latin or Greek? (He says Latin).

J. BREMMERWhy did early Christianity attract Upper-class Women?, Fructus centesimus: Mélanges offerts à Gerard J. M. Bartelink, Steenbrugis-Dordrecht (1989), pp.37-47. Not checked. (Details CTC 89, 35).

Clementina MAZZUCCO, (see above) 1989.

Peter HABERMEHL, (see above), 1992.

E. SAUSERBiographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikons 7 (1994), pp. 205-209. Online (offsite)

J. RIVESThe Piety of a Persecutor, JECS 4.1(1996), pp.1-25. Online (offsite)

Larissa Carina SEELBACH, Perpetua und Tertullian. Die Märtyrerin und der Kirchenvater. Jena: IKS Garamond (2000), 103pp. (Details from CTC2002).

Petr KITZLERPassio and Acta Perpetuae: Between tradition and innovationListy filologicke 130 (2007), pp.1-19.

Petr KITZLER, Montanismus a Passio Perpetuae. Staré otázky, nové odpovědi? Poznámky ke knize Rexe D. ButleraListy filologicke 130 (2007) The Biographisch-Bibliographischen Kirchenlexikons entry has a limited additional bibliography to 1949.


1, 2, 3, 5 3. CTC 92, 29.
4 1. Chronica Tertullianea et Cyprianea (CTC), collected edition, indexes, p.613.
6 2. CTC 87, 3.

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