Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VI/Archelaus/Acts of Disputation/Chapter II
2. Marcellus, as might well be expected, was exceedingly gratified by these incidents; and summoning one of the prisoners, by name Cortynius, he inquired of him the cause of the war, and by what chance it was that they were overcome and bound with the chains of captivity. And the person addressed, on obtaining liberty to speak, began to express himself in these terms: “My lord Marcellus, we believe in the living God alone. And we have a custom of such a nature as I shall now describe, which has descended to us by the tradition of our brethren in the faith, and has been regularly observed by us up to the present day. The practice is, that every year we go out beyond the bounds of the city, in company with our wives and children, and offer up supplications to the only and invisible God, praying Him to send us rains for our fields and crops. Now, when we were celebrating this observance at the usual time and in the wonted manner, evening surprised us as we lingered there, and were still fasting. Thus we were feeling the pressure of two of the most trying things men have to endure,—namely, fasting and want of sleep. But about midnight sleep enviously and inopportunely crept upon us, and with necks drooping and unstrung, and heads hanging down, it made our faces strike against our knees. Now this took place because the time was at hand when by the judgment of God we were to pay the penalty proper to our deserts, whether it might be that we were offenders in ignorance, or whether it might be that with the consciousness of wrong we nevertheless had not given up our sin. Accordingly at that hour a multitude of soldiers suddenly surrounded us, supposing us, as I judge, to have lodged ourselves in ambush there, and to be persons with full experience and skill in fighting battles; and without making any exact inquiry into the cause of our gathering there, they threatened us with war, not in word, but at once by the sword. And though we were men who had never learned to do injury to any one, they wounded us pitilessly with their missiles, and thrust us through with their spears, and cut our throats with their swords. Thus they slew, indeed, about one thousand and three hundred men of our number, and wounded other five hundred. And when the day broke clearly, they carried off the survivors amongst us as prisoners here, and that, too, in a way showing their utter want of pity for us. For they drove us before their horses, spurring us on by blows from their spears, and impelling us forward by making the horses’ heads press upon us. And those who had sufficient powers of endurance did indeed hold out; but very many fell down before the face of their cruel masters, and breathed out their life there; and mothers, with arms wearied, and utterly powerless with their burdens, and distracted by the threats of those behind them, suffered the little ones that were hanging on their breasts to fall to the ground; while all those on whom old age had come were sinking, one after the other, to the earth, overcome with their toils, and exhausted by want of food. The proud soldiers nevertheless enjoyed this bloody spectacle of men continually perishing, as if it had been a kind of entertainment, while they saw some stretched on the soil in hopeless prostration, and beheld others, worn out by the fierce fires of thirst and with the bands of their tongues utterly parched, lose the power of speech, and beheld others with eyes ever glancing backwards, groaning over the fate of their dying little ones, while these, again, were constantly appealing to their most unhappy mothers with their cries, and the mothers themselves, driven frantic by the severities of the robbers, responded with their lamentations, which indeed was the only thing they could do freely. And those of them whose hearts were most tenderly bound up with their offspring chose voluntarily to meet the same premature fate of death with their children; while those, on the other hand, who had some capacity of endurance were carried off prisoners here with us. Thus, after the lapse of three days, during which time we had never been allowed to take any rest, even in the night, we were conveyed to this place, in which what has now taken place after these occurrences is better known to yourself.”
- [The similar institution of the Rogation fasts in the West is referred to the fifth century. Pellicia, p. 372; Hooker, book v. cap. xli. 2.]
- Reading cervicibus degravatis et laxis, demisso capite, frontem genibus elidit. The text gives demerso.