Perpetua was the first woman to have documented writing of her life as a Christian and the persecution she suffered. She was of noble birth and was an educated woman who was taught how to write. The Perpetua Story is one that challenges the faith of those who believe and witnesses to those that do not yet know the love of Jesus Christ.
Below is a detailed summary of The Perpetua Story, both the animated story and the history given by historians in an additional documentary that is included in this DVD.
Perpetua was born into a noble family and was said to be her father’s favorite, even above her brothers. Her family lived in Northern Africa, controlled by the Roman Empire, where most people were polytheistic, believing in more than one God. The Romans tolerated other religions as long as those religions also tolerated other religions. That being said, Christianity was not tolerated because the Christian religion did and does not agree that other religions are true.
It is unknown how Perpetua was introduced to Christianity, but Perpetua and two of her slaves, one of which was eight months pregnant, were discovered to be Christians at the time that the Emperor said nobody could be a Christian (AD 202). The Emperor was feeling threatened by the strength that Christianity was gaining. He wanted to make an example out of some Christians by persecuting them so that other Christians would be afraid and convert away from Christianity and would prevent others from becoming Christians.
Once Perpetua was captured she was taken into prison with her two Christian slaves and two other Christians. Perpetua had a baby boy and was still nursing during this time. Perpetua’s father was tormented by what was happening to her and begged and pleaded for her release. Because of his noble blood, Perpetua was allowed to be on house arrest for a short time and was allowed to once again be with her son.
As her father continued to fight for her release, he was granted permission for Perpetua and the other Christians to be released if they would curse God, even if it was just the one time in front of the Emperor. But even with the heartache of leaving her baby boy behind, Perpetua and the other captured Christians refused to curse God, even just that one time, and were sentenced to death by the wild beasts.
After their sentencing, Perpetua and the other slaves were imprisoned and poorly treated. It was up to others to take care of them, providing them with food and nourishment. This was provided for them by other Christians. They began praying for her slave Felicity to give birth to her baby early so that she could give it to somebody else to raise and then she could die together with the others. It was Roman law that a woman could not be put to death by the wild beasts if she was with child. These events became a witness to the prison care taker who as a result, accepted Christ himself!
Perpetua’s execution and the execution of the other Christians with her, was to be a public execution as one of the games for the Emperor’s son’s birthday. The Christians knew this to be true and when given their final meal, they used it as a meal of communion and a final meal to worship together.
On March 7th, 203 AD, Perpetua and her fellow Christians were led to the arena where they were to be publicly executed by wild beasts, such as boar, bear and leopard. In place of fear, Perpetua portrayed faith and sang songs cheerfully as she was being brought into the arena. The men that were to be persecuted with her preached to the crowd and even gestured to the Emperor, ‘Today you are condemning us but one day God will condemn you’.
As the animals tossed and tormented each of them, Perpetua maintained her dignity by consciously replacing her tunic when it would fall and would put her hair back up if it fell. Her hair down was a sign of mourning, but her hair up was a sign of victory.
It is said that Perpetua was the last one to be killed that day and she was killed by the sword. The gladiator that was to kill her was said to be a new one and with his initial swing at her, he missed and hit her collar bone first, which she cried out in pain. Then Perpetua helped guide the sword that killed her.
It is said that unlike what the Emperor had hoped, this public execution of Christians did not deter people from their faith, but rather turned more towards Christianity. As Tertullian put it: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”