Friday, May 17, 2019

The Purpose of Opinion Polls is to Influence Public Opinion, Not to Measure It.

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I created the above graphic four years ago as the presidential election cycle was just ramping up. As we approach election year 2020, it is even more critical to make American citizens aware of this. Public opinion polls, especially this far out from an election, are not about gauging your opinion about a particular candidate. Honestly, the pollsters don't much care what you think.

The true purpose of most opinion polls is to influence public opinion, not to measure it. 

This is especially true the farther from the election you are. Why? Because the election is the only real test of how accurate the pollsters are. A poll taken six months, a year, or eighteen months before an election will not be tested for a long time. By the time of the election, such erroneous or fraudulent polls will be long forgotten.

Pollsters seek to create an illusion of viability in some candidates or issues because they know that many low-information voters will simply glom onto whoever the perceived front-runner is as the election approaches. Rather than allowing this sleight-of-hand to influence your opinion, don’t let the polls determine which candidates are viable for you. Rather, do the research and find out which candidates are on record as having views that mirror your own, and vote for that person, particularly in the primaries.

In short, don't be a low-information voter. Ignore the polls completely, not just because they are inaccurate but because they are purposefully manipulative.

If everyone did that, we wouldn’t be stuck with media-approved “lesser of two evils” candidates in every single election.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"Noble in person and excellent in royal manners" ~ Baptism of Desire and the suspicious death of Valentinian II

Potrait of Valentinian II from a statue originally found in Aphrodisias. 
On May 15, anno domini 392, the young Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II was found dead in the imperial residence at Vienne in southern Gaul. It is said he was hanged using his own handkerchief.

Son of the great warrior emperor, Valentinian I, the younger Valentinian had been declared emperor when he was only four years old upon the premature death of is father in AD 375, even though his half-brother, Gratian, already ruled as co-emperor in the West. Under the regency of his mother, the forceful Empress Justina, and the protection of the army, Valentinian II came to an uneasy accommodation with his brother, Gratian. An Arian, Justina dominated the early years of her son's reign while he was still a small child, and is most commonly remembered today as a bitter opponent of Saint Ambrose, archbishop of Milan.

Just as Valentinian II was coming of age, however, a rebellion arose in Britain and the usurper Maximus defeated and killed Gratian. By AD 387, Valentinian II and Justina were forced to flee to the East and seek the protection of the emperor Theodosius in Constantinople. A year later, Theodosius invaded the West and put down the rebellion, re-establishing the now 18 year old Valentinian II on the Western throne and providing him with a powerful guardian — Arbogast.

A Frankish general, Arbogast had little loyalty to Valentinian II and viewed him as an impediment to his own ambitions. The two soon came into conflict and Valentinian, to his chagrin, discovered who truly held the power in the West when his magister militum treated him contemptuously in public and refused to obey orders. The early 6th century pagan historian Zosimus provides a dramatic description of one such incident between the two men:
At length Valentinian, no longer able to submit to his correction, when Arbogastes was approaching him as he sat on the imperial throne, looked sternly upon him, and presented him with a writing, by which he dismissed him from his command. Arbogastes, having read it, replied, "You neither gave me the command, nor can deprive me of it;" and having said this, tore the writing to pieces, threw it down, and retired. From that period their hatred was no longer kept to themselves, but appeared in public. [Zosimus, New History, Book IV]
Such a situation could not long endure without a violent break. Writing about fifty years after the fact, the historian Hermias Sozomen provides the following summary of the events surrounding Valentinian’s death:
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While Theodosius was thus occupied in the wise and peaceful government of his subjects in the East, and in the service of God, intelligence was brought that Valentinian had been strangled. Some say that he was put to death by the eunuchs of the bedchamber, at the solicitation of Arbogastes, a military chief, and of certain courtiers, who were displeased because the young prince had begun to walk in the footsteps of his father, concerning the government, and contrary to the opinions approved by them. Others assert, however, that Valentinian committed the fatal deed with his own hands, because he found himself impeded in attempting deeds which are not lawful in one of his years; and on this account he did not deem it worth while to live; for although an emperor, he was not allowed to do what he wished. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
Socrates Scholasticus, writing at about the same time, provides similar testimony [see Book V, Chapter 25].

Valentinian’s death was deeply lamented by his former opponent, Ambrose, the great champion of orthodoxy at Milan. This was because Valentinian had recently corresponded with the bishop and declared himself willing to throw off Arianism and accept baptism at his hands. Ambrose was preparing to journey to Vienne to accomplish this theological coup when news arrived that Valentinian was dead. Ambrose has left at least two testimonials of his grief in the form of a letter to Theodosius and a funeral oration which he offered in honor of the deceased young emperor. In his letter to the emperor, Ambrose writes:
I am filled, I confess, with bitter grief, not only because the death of Valentinian has been premature, but also because, having been trained in the faith and moulded by your teaching, he had conceived such devotion towards our God, and was so tenderly attached to myself, as to love one whom he had before persecuted, and to esteem as his father the man whom he had before repulsed as his enemy. [Ambrose of Milan, Letter 51]
Sozomen’s account also includes praise of the young emperor’s character as follows:
It is said that the boy was noble in person, and excellent in royal manners; and that, had he lived to the age of manhood, he would have shown himself worthy of holding the reins of empire, and would have surpassed his father in magnanimity and justice. But though endowed with these promising qualities, he died in the manner above related. [Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book VII, Chapter 22]
But perhaps most interesting aspect is Ambrose’s funeral oration for Valentinian II and the role it has played over the succeeding centuries in forming Catholic doctrine on the concept known as Baptism of Desire. This notion, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, means that those who perish prior to baptism, like Valentinian II, may receive the efficacy of the sacrament if they profess an explicit desire to receive it together with penitence for their sins and charity. In his funeral oration in honor of Valentinian II, Saint Ambrose says:
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But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: What else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought that I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace which he desired; has he not the grace which he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore is it said: 'By whatsover death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’ (Wisdom 4:7) [Taken from Deferrari: "On Emperor Valentinian" in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose of Milan]
Though accepted as a dogma of the Catholic Church, the concept of Baptism of Desire remains controversial among Christians to this day. Thus we may see the relevance of Valentinian II’s death reflected in theological debates that carry on even to the present time.

Arbogast would eventually get his comeuppance at the hands of Theodosius at the Battle of the River Frigidus a mere two years later.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

"We are to be thrown overboard by the Empire" ~ The short reign of the last western Roman Emperor, Julius Nepos

A gold solidus of Julius Nepos minted in Thessalonica.
May 9 is one of several possible dates given for the death of the last Western Roman emperor, Julius Nepos, in the year AD 480.

“Wait,” you say. “I thought the last Western Emperor was Romulus Augustulus who was deposed by Odoacer the Scirian in AD 476.” Well, about that…

Julius Nepos was named Western Emperor by the ailing Eastern Roman emperor Leo in AD 473. Leo did this because he opposed the puppet emperor Glycerius who had been raised by the Burgundian general Gundobad. According to the Chronicle of John of Antioch, this Gundobad had personally beheaded the Western emperor Anthemius the previous year in the service of uncle, the treacherous generalissimo, Ricimer. According to the Fragmentary History of Priscus:
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When the Eastern emperor Leo learned of Glycerius’s accession, he marshaled an army against him under the command of Nepos, who when he captured Rome subdued Glycerius without a fight. He drove him out of the palace and appointed him bishop of Salon [that is, Salona in Dalmatia across the Adriatic]. Glycerius made a mockery of the office for eight months. Nepos was immediately proclaimed emperor and began to rule Rome. [Taken from Given: Fragmentary History of Priscus, page 171]
The contemporary poet Apollinaris Sidonius described Julius Nepos as: “a man whose character, no less than the success of his arms, entitles us to hail him as Supreme Augustus.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 346]

Unfortunately for Nepos, he possessed neither sufficient military strength nor support in Italy to establish a lasting reign. The only accomplishment Nepos could claim during the 14 months he held the imperial authority in Italy was the ceding of practically all of Gaul to Euric, king of the Visigoths in exchange for peace. Sidonius, who had been an early supporter of Nepos, laments this shameful negotiation and the subsequent quitting of his homeland by the Romans, saying: “For all these daring experiments of our devotion our reward, as I hear, is that we are to be thrown overboard by the Empire. Oh! blush, I pray you, for this peace which is neither expedient nor honorable.” [Taken from Hodgkin: Italy and Her Invaders, page 493]

The abandonment of Gaul for a tenuous peace seemed an unpopular move in Italy as well. The history of what happened next is exceedingly hazy, but it appears that the Roman forces under a certain Ecdicius were recalled from Gaul, arrived in Italy, and were subsequently placed under the command of Orestes. This Orestes was a man with a long pedigree of service to the Roman empire, most memorably as an ambassador to Attila in AD 449. Once named Magister Militum, Orestes quickly seized the opportunity to depose Nepos and install his own son as emperor—Romulus Augustulus.

As his support in Italy evaporated, Julius Nepos fled to Dalmatia to join his previous adversary, Glycerius, in exile. There he remained quiet as events unfolded in Italy. The barbarian warlord Odoacer deposed Augustulus and declared himself king of Italy in AD 476. Writing to Constantinople in AD 477, the Roman Senate, no doubt as a mouthpiece for Odoacer, declared that they no longer needed an emperor—that the emperor of the East was sufficient for them with Odoacer as their protector—and they returned the imperial insignia of the west to Zeno.

To this embassy, Zeno replied (as per the near-contemporary historian, Malchus):
The western Romans had received two men from the eastern Empire and had driven one out, Nepos, and killed the other, Anthemius. Now, he said, they knew what ought to be done. While their emperor was still alive, they should hold no other thought than to receive him back on his return. [taken from the De Imperatoribus Romanis website ~ Julius Nepos by Ralph W. Mathisen]
Needless to say, Odoacer had no interest in re-instating Nepos, though he seems to have tolerated his presence in nearby Salona for a few more years. In AD 480, however, things suddenly came to a head. Some of the sources claim that Nepos was in the process of gathering resources for an attempt to retake his throne in Italy when he was suddenly slain by two retainers. One source (Photius, writing a summary of the lost history of Malchus) claims that the assassination of Nepos was instigated by none other than Glycerius himself.

Taking advantage of the situation, Odoacer used the assassination as an excuse to invade Dalmatia, thereby extending his rule over the region and establishing the boundaries of the barbarian kingdom of Italy. Odoacer would rule this kingdom until until AD 493 when he was slain by Theodoric the Ostrogoth.

Meanwhile, in the farther reaches of Gaul, a Roman rump state—the so-called "kingdom" of Soissons, survived until AD 486 under the leadership of the general Syagrius.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

“O Athanasius, you think to escape, but you will not escape” ~ May 2, Feast day of Saint Athanasius the Great

Saint Athanasius is exiled from Alexandria.
Today is the feast of Saint Athanasius, 4th century patriarch of Alexandria, and a doctor of the universal Church. Athanasius has been revered through the ages primarily for his Holy Spirit-inspired steadfastness in defending orthodoxy of doctrine, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. He served as patriarch of Alexandria for nearly fifty years, though with frequent interruptions due to his being exiled by Arian heretics during the intervals when they attained political supremacy. In all, Athanasius was exiled from Alexandria five separate times.

An interesting account of Athanasius’s early life and testament of his many virtues may found in the Ecclesiastical History of Hermias Sozomen. Here, Sozomen tells the extraordinary story of how Athanasius first came to the attention of Alexander, Patriarch of Alexandria, while still a boy:
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[Alexander] chanced to cast his eyes towards the sea, and perceived some children playing on the shore, and amusing themselves by imitating the bishop and the ceremonies of the Church. At first he considered the mimicry as innocent, and took pleasure in witnessing it; but when they touched upon the unutterable [that is, the Holy Mass], he was troubled, and communicated the matter to the chief of the clergy. The children were called together and questioned as to the game at which they were playing, and as to what they did and said when engaged in this amusement. At first they through fear denied. But when Alexander threatened them with torture, they confessed that Athanasius was their bishop and leader, and that many children who had not been initiated had been baptized by him.
Alexander carefully inquired what the priest of their play was in the habit of saying or doing, and what they answered or were taught. On finding that the exact routine of the Church had been accurately observed by them, he consulted the priests around him on the subject, and decided that it would he unnecessary to rebaptize those who, in their simplicity, had been judged worthy of the Divine grace. He therefore merely performed for them such offices as it is lawful only for those who are consecrated to initiating the mysteries. He then took Athanasius and the other children, who had playfully acted as presbyters and deacons, to their own relations under God as a witness that they might be brought up for the Church, and for leadership in what they had imitated.
Alexander soon found Athanasius to be very well educated and wise beyond his years. He invited the young man to dine with him and eventually made him his secretary. When Alexander’s health began to decline, he sought to make Athanasius his successor as patriarch. According to Apolinarius the Syrian (as quoted by Sozomen), Athanasius had other ideas:
In all these matters much disturbance was excited by impiety, but its first effects were felt by the blessed teacher [that is, Alexander] of this man [that is, Athanasius], who was at hand as an assistant, and behaved as a son would to his father. Afterwards this holy man himself underwent the same experience, for when appointed to the episcopal succession he fled to escape the honor, but he was discovered in his place of concealment by the help of God, who had forecast by Divine manifestations to his blessed predecessor, that the succession was to devolve upon him. For when Alexander was on the point of death, he called upon Athanasius, who was then absent. One who bore the same name, and who happened to be present, on hearing him call this way, answered him; but to him Alexander was silent, since he was not summoning this man. Again he called, and as it often happens, the one present kept still, and so the absent one was disclosed. Moreover, the blessed Alexander prophetically exclaimed, "O Athanasius, you think to escape, but you will not escape," meaning that Athanasius would be called to the conflict.
Athanasius’s appointment would generate controversy almost immediately. For his part, Sozomen offered a testimonial in favor of Saint Athanasius in the following terms:
“For my part, I am convinced that it was by Divine appointment that Athanasius succeeded to the high-priesthood; for he was eloquent and intelligent, and capable of opposing plots, and of such a man the times had the greatest need. He displayed great aptitude in the exercise of the ecclesiastical functions and fitness for the priesthood, and was, so to speak, from his earliest years, self-taught.”
The above excerpts from Sozomen are all taken from his Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 17. Sozomen’s History follows the entire career of Athanasius through his various defeats and triumphs and is well worth reading in that regard. An excellent, detailed summary of Saint Athanasius's eventful life may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for him here.

To close, here is a quote from Saint Athanasius’s treatise On the Incarnation of the Word in which he argues that the mighty works accomplished in the name of Christ in the aftermath of the Great Persecution of Diocletian constitute ample proof that the resurrected Savior is indeed alive:
The Savior works so great things among men, and day by day is invisibly persuading so great a multitude from every side, both from them that dwell in Greece and in foreign lands, to come over to His faith, and all to obey His teaching, will anyone still hold his mind in doubt whether a Resurrection has been accomplished by the Savior, and whether Christ is alive, or rather is Himself the Life? Or is it like a dead man to be pricking the consciences of men, so that they deny their hereditary laws and bow before the teaching of Christ? Or how, if he is no longer active (for this is proper to one dead), does he stay from their activity those who are active and alive, so that the adulterer no longer commits adultery, and the murderer murders no more, nor is the inflicter of wrong any longer grasping, and the profane is henceforth religious? Or how, if He be not risen but is dead, does He drive away, and pursue, and cast down those false gods said by the unbelievers to be alive, and the demons they worship?
For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is deposed and all imposture of evil spirits is exposed, and any spirit is unable to endure even the name, nay even on barely hearing it flies and disappears. But this work is not that of one dead, but of one that lives — and especially of God. [Taken from On the Incarnation of the Word, Chapter 30]
These observations are even more remarkable in that they were ostensibly written about the year AD 318 when Christianity was less than a decade removed from outright government persecution.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

How Did Saint Mark Become the Patron of Venice?

Detail from the central lunette of the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice showing
the translation of Saint Mark's relics, ca. 13th century AD.
April 25 is the feast day of Saint Mark the Evangelist, a well-known figure in Apostolic times who is mentioned throughout the New Testament. An excellent summary of these numerous mentions may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Saint Mark. He is perhaps best known as a companion and interpreter of Saint Peter while the latter was in Rome, and it is theorized that his Gospel account represents the viewpoint of Peter with regard to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. He is mentioned by name by Saint Peter in his first letter. [1 Peter 5:13].

A somewhat later tradition, bolstered by the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius and On Illustrious Men of Saint Jerome, makes Saint Mark the founder of the Church in Alexandria, the second great metropolis of the Roman Empire. In the legendary Acts of Saint Mark, probably written in the mid-4th century AD, he is portrayed as a martyr for the faith. Following is an excerpt from this work which also supplies us with the date of his death:
It happened [that] our blessed feast of Passover fell on the holy Sunday, Pharmouthi 29th, from the eighth Kalend of May, i.e., April 24th, which coincided with the festive procession of Serapis. Finding such an opportune moment, [the pagans] deployed spies. They fell upon [Saint Mark] saying prayers of the divine offering. And seizing him, they threw a mooring rope around his neck and dragged him, saying, “Let us drag the antelope to [the places of the] Boukalou.”

But while the holy Mark was being dragged along, he offered up thankgiving to the savior Christ, saying, “I thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that I have been counted worthy to suffer these things on behalf of your name.” And his flesh was falling to the ground, and the stones were stained with his blood.
This painting by Jacopo Tintoretto is identified
as the bringing of St. Mark's Body to Venice.
But it may in fact be a representation of the
rescue of his body after his martyrdom.
Badly injured, he was thrown in prison. There, Mark experienced a vision of an angel and later of Jesus himself, who said to him: “Peace to you, our own Mark, my evangelist.” Mark replied: “Peace to you, my Lord Jesus Christ.” The next day, the multitude of pagans returned and completed the saint’s martyrdom, apparently dragging his body through the city until he perished. The mob then attempted to burn the remains, but a great storm arose and they were forced to abandon the corpse which was then taken up by the Christians and buried. They laid him in a tomb “in the eastern section” of Alexandria, and subsequently valued him as the “first treasure in Alexandria.”

The full account may be read at Roger Pearse’s blog here. It may be noted that this type of mob violence was apparently not abnormal behavior in ancient Alexandria.

The Doge of Venice kneels before a
winged lion—the symbol of St. Mark. 
About eight hundred years later, the remains of Saint Mark were removed from Alexandria and sent to their present resting place in Venice, Italy. This event is described in a Medieval source of questionable authenticity known as the Traslatio Sancti Marci. Here we read that two Venetian merchants, Bonus and Rusticus, arrived in Alexandria and found out that the Church of Saint Mark had been condemned by the Islamic Arab overlords of the country so that its columns and décor might be used in the construction of a new palace. The Greek priests in charge, Stauricius and Theodorus, were in despair at the expectation that their church would be destroyed and the relics of their saint along with it. The two Venetians suggested an alternative. Why not transfer the relics of Saint Mark to the safety of Venice where he had preached at nearby Aquileia when in the flesh? When the Greeks balked, the Venetians offered them safe passage back to Venice so that they might remain as guardians of Saint Mark’s relics.

Getting the relics out of Alexandria was tricky business, however. Not only would the Christian community be outraged, but the Muslim lords had absolutely forbidden the removal of relics from the city. To get around the first problem, the conspirators replaced the body of Saint Mark with that of Saint Claudia which was apparently nearby. To get by the inspectors at the port, they concealed the corpse under slabs of pork—a meat considered unclean to Muslims.

Muslim customs officials are repulsed at the sight and smell of pork in this mosaic
from one of the lunettes on the facade of St. Mark's Basilica, Venice.
The conspirators then embarked upon the long and dangerous voyage home, experiencing miracles along the way. When approaching Venice, they worried that the Doge would punish them for visiting Alexandria illegally. Not surprisingly, the Doge was delighted with their arrival when he learned that they had secured the relics of a saint as eminent as the evangelist Mark. Shortly thereafter, Saint Mark would become the patron of the city with a magnificent, glittering basilica built by wealthy Venice as a fitting shrine for his relics.

[The above account was summarized from Geary: Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages - Revised Edition]

Monday, April 22, 2019

Kate Smith: "All men are equal and have an equal right to enjoy the fruits of this earth."

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The memory of Kate Smith—best known for her soaring rendition of Irving Berlin's God Bless Americahas been sullied over the past few days by accusations of racism against the mid-20th century singer. Two sports teams (The New York Yankess, and the Philadelphia Flyers) have decided to pull their regular use of Ms. Smith’s rendition of God Bless America as a result of this controversy. Further, the Flyers even went so far as to remove a statue of Smith which hearkened back to their Stanley Cup victories of the 1970s when she appeared before games as a good luck charm to belt out the tune.

All this happened ostensibly because Ms. Smith sang a couple of minstrel songs in the 1930s (out of the 3,000 that she recorded during her career) which used words and imagery that are considered racially offensive today. It should be pointed out that other artists of the time (both Black and White) recorded similar songs using the same terms—indeed, such imagery was commonplace in traditional songs as well-known as Swanee River and Old Kentucky Home.

I don’t know if Ms. Smith was racist in her heart or not. But the chivalrous part of me can't stand the idea that a woman dead for 30 years and unable to defend herself is having dirt kicked on her gravestone. I did a little research about Ms. Smith as a result of this controversy, and I ran across the following quote which she said on the public airwaves on the day after VJ-Day (Victory over Japan Day, for those of you in the Millennial generation, 😉), August 15, 1945:
"Millions must be fed and clothed. Other millions must be taught an entirely new way of life: a philosophy which does not include aggression and cruelty and the absolute worship of a Hitler or a Hirohito. They must be taught that there is no super-race, that all men are equal and have an equal right to enjoy the fruits of this earth and the tranquility and decency to which the truly civilized subscribe."
This quote formed part of the closing of Ms. Smith’s radio program on that date. The program, entitled Kate Smith Speaks, broadcast on CBS radio from the late 1930s through the late 1940s. For a while, it was the most popular program on daytime radio. The quote may be found in the book, Kate Smith Speaks: 50 Selected Original Radio Scripts, 1938-1951 by Richard Hayes.

Call me crazy, but this statement does not sound like the sentiment of an inveterate racist to me. Perhaps other evidence will emerge, but at this point, the accusation of racism against Kate Smith looks fairly ridiculous, particularly when compared against how selflessly she used her talents during her lifetime. As Dan Cirucci detailed in a column over the past weekend: "during World War II, she traveled nearly 520,000 miles to entertain troops and sold a record $600 million in war bonds in a series of round-the-clock radio appeals. One of these, a 24-hour marathon on Feb. 1, 1944, raised a record $110 million in pledges." Indeed, these charges against Smith seem so ridiculous that they may be a cop-out.

My suspicion is that the perceived problem with Kate Smith, as identified by the massive corporate sports culture, is less about racism than about three little words that make them supremely uncomfortable these days:


Saturday, April 20, 2019

The 16,000 Martyrs of Persia during the Reign of Shapur II, 4th century AD

King Sapor II sentences Persian Christians to torture and death, ca. AD 340.
With Constantine's turn toward Christianity in AD 312, the systematic persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire came to an end. However, at the same time Christianity was enjoying increasing imperial favor in the Roman world, a great persecution erupted in the neighboring kingdom of Persia, starting about the year AD 339. Constantine himself had written a letterto the Persian king, Sapor II, lauding the Christian religion to his fellow ruler and asking him to protect the Christians among his subjects. But some within the Persian court—and eventually Sapor himself—came to view the dramatic rise of Christianity as a dire threat that needed to be extirpated from the realm.

Here are several passages which describe the origin and progress of the Persian persecution, taken from the near contemporary Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen written about a century after the events they describe.
When in course of time the Christians increased in number, assembled as churches, and appointed priests and deacons, the Magi, who had from time immemorial acted as priests of the Persian religion, became deeply incensed against them. The Jews who, through envy, are in some way naturally opposed to the Christian religion, were likewise offended. They therefore brought accusations before Sapor, the reigning sovereign, against Symeon who was then archbishop of Seleucia and Ctesiphon, royal cities of Persia, and charged him with being a friend of the Cæsar of the Romans and with communicating the affairs of the Persians to him. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 9]
This passage shows the impact of Constantine’s conversion on the politics of rival Persia. Whereas Christianity was once tolerated in Persia because Christians were considered fellow enemies of the Roman Empire, with the conversion of Constantine, Christians were now viewed as agents of the Roman state. It should be noted that these Magi were a far cry from the astrologers who hailed the new-born king of the Jews in the Gospel accounts. These were the high-priests of the ancient Zoroastrian religion in Persia.

In the Syriac Martyrologies, some additional details of the accusations against the Christians emerge: “If you, King of Kings…should send great and wise epistles of your empire and handsome gifts…to Caesar, they would not be honorable in his eyes. But if Symeon sent him one small, contemptible letter, he would rise and pay homage…and speedily carry out his command. And under these circumstances, there is no secret in your empire which he does not write and make known to Caesar.” [taken from Neusner: "Babylonian Jewry and Shapur II"]

Sozomen continues:
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Sapor believed these accusations and at first imposed intolerably oppressive taxes upon the Christians, although he knew that the generality of them had voluntarily embraced poverty. He appointed cruel men to exact these taxes, hoping that by the want of necessaries and the atrocity of the tax-gatherers, they might be compelled to abjure their religion, for this was his aim.
     Afterwards, however, he commanded that the priests and ministers of God should be slain with the sword. The churches were demolished, their vessels were deposited in the treasury, and Symeon was arrested as a traitor to the kingdom and the religion of the Persians. Thus the Magi, with the co-operation of the Jews, quickly destroyed the houses of prayer. Symeon, on his apprehension, was bound with chains and brought before the king. There he evinced the excellence and firmness of his character, for when Sapor commanded that he should be led away to the torture, he did not fear and would not prostrate himself. The king, greatly exasperated, demanded why he did not prostrate himself as he had done formerly. Symeon replied that formerly he was not led away bound, in order that he might abjure the truth of God, and therefore did not then object to pay the customary respect to royalty. But that on the present occasion it would not be proper for him to do so, for he stood there in defense of godliness and of the one true faith.
     When he ceased speaking, the king commanded him to worship the sun, promising as an inducement to bestow gifts upon him and to raise him to honor, but on the other hand threatening, in case of noncompliance, to visit him and the whole body of Christians with destruction. When the king found that promises and menaces were alike unavailing, and that Symeon firmly refused to worship the sun or to betray his religion, he remanded him to prison, probably imagining that if kept for a time in bonds, he would change his mind. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 9]
At this point, Sapor was shocked to discover that there were Christians in his own court—indeed, a member of his own household was a Christian:
When Symeon was being conducted to prison, Usthazanes, an aged eunuch, the foster-father of Sapor and superintendent of the palace who happened to be sitting at the gates of the palace, arose to do him reverence. Symeon reproachfully forbade him in a loud and haughty voice, averted his countenance, and passed by, for the eunuch had been formerly a Christian but had recently yielded to authority and worshiped the sun. This conduct so affected the eunuch, that he wept aloud, laid aside the white garment with which he was robed, and clothed himself as a mourner in black. He then seated himself in front of the palace, crying and groaning, and saying, “Woe is me! What must not await me? For I have denied God, and on this account Symeon, formerly my familiar friend, does not think me worthy of being spoken to, but turns away and hastens from me.”
     When Sapor heard of what had occurred, he called the eunuch to him and inquired into the cause of his grief and asked him whether any calamity had befallen his family. Usthazanes replied and said, “O king, nothing has occurred to my family but I would rather have suffered any other affliction whatsoever than that which has befallen me. Now I mourn because I am alive and ought to have been dead long ago. Yet I still see the sun which, not voluntarily but to please thee, I professed to worship. Therefore, on both accounts, it is just that I should die, for I have been a betrayer of Christ and a deceiver of thee.” He then swore by the Maker of heaven and earth that he would never swerve from his convictions.
     Sapor, astonished at the wonderful conversion of the eunuch, was still more enraged against the Christians as if they had effected it by enchantments. Still, he compassionated the old man and strove by alternate gentleness and severity to bring him over to his own sentiments. But finding that his efforts were useless and that Usthazanes persisted in declaring that he would never have the folly to worship the creature instead of the Creator, he became inflamed with passion and commanded that the eunuch’s head should be struck off with a sword. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 9]
Sapor hoped that by holding his own foster-father accountable for the crime of being a Christian, he would overawe the rest of his subjects and convince them to apostatize. Symeon the bishop, who was still in prison, offered prayers for the martyred eunuch and prepared for his own execution which happened on Good Friday:
The following day, which happened to be the sixth day of the week and likewise the day on which, as immediately preceding the festival of the resurrection, the annual memorial of the passion of the Savior is celebrated, the king issued orders for the decapitation of Symeon, for he had been again conducted to the palace from the prison, had reasoned most boldly with Sapor on points of doctrine, and had expressed a determination never to worship either the king or the sun.
Detail of Persian Christians awaiting their fate.
     On the same day a hundred other prisoners were ordered to be slain. Symeon beheld their execution, and last of all he was put to death. Amongst these victims were bishops, presbyters, and other clergy of different grades. As they were being led out to execution, the chief of the Magi approached them and asked them whether they would preserve their lives by conforming to the religion of the king and by worshiping the sun. As none of them would comply with this condition, they were conducted to the place of execution and the executioners applied themselves to the task of slaying these martyrs. Symeon exhorted them to constancy and reasoned concerning death, and the resurrection, and piety, and showed them from the Sacred Scriptures that a death like theirs is true life, whereas to live and through fear to deny God is as truly death....
     The martyrs gladly listened to this discourse of Symeon’s and went forward with alacrity to meet their death. After the execution of three hundred martyrs, Symeon himself was slain, and Abdechalaas and Ananias, two presbyters of his own church who had been his fellow-prisoners, suffered with him. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 10]
It seems that these executions were not fully successful in frightening Persian Christians into abandoning their faith. So on Easter day the next year, Sapor issued an edict that made it a capital crime for any of his subjects to profess Christianity. Acting as willing agents of the king, the Magi fanned out throughout Persia in an effort to discover every Christian and bring them to punishment. Sozomen reports that "an immense number" were executed by the sword. But it wasn't until another of Sapor's beloved eunuchs, Azadas by name, was found out and slain that the king decided to relent slightly, declaring that only "teachers of religion" should be slain.

During this time, the superstitious fears of a credulous queen (who may have been Sapor's wife or mother—the sources are unclear), resulted in the literal undoing of Saint Tarbula, the sister of Saint Symeon, and two other women:
About the same period, the queen was attacked with a disease and Tarbula, the sister of Symeon the bishop, a holy virgin, was arrested, as likewise her sister who was a widow and had abjured a second marriage and her servant who, like her, had devoted herself to a religious life. The cause of their arrest was the calumny of the Jews who reported that they had injured the queen by their enchantments in revenge for the death of Symeon. As invalids easily give credit to the most frightful representations, the queen believed the calumny and especially because it emanated from the Jews, for she had great confidence in their veracity and in their attachment for herself—she had embraced their sentiments, and lived in the observance of the Jewish rites. 
Antique woodcut of Saint Tarbula sawn in twain.
      The Magi having seized Tarbula and her companions, condemned them to death and after having sawn them asunder, fastened them up to posts, advising the queen to pass through the place of execution that the charm might be dissolved and the disease removed. It is said that Tarbula was extremely beautiful and that one of the Magi having become deeply enamored with her, sent some money secretly to her and promised to save her and her companions if she would accede to his desires. But instead of listening to his proposals, she rebuked his licentiousness and joyfully prepared for death, for she preferred to die rather than to lose her virginity. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 12]
See the abovementioned article by Jacob Neusner, "Babylonian Jewry and Shapur II", for a modern perspective, context and opinion on this incident.

The Magi continued to sweep the country in search of Christian clergy and were apparently very successful, gathering up a very large number of prisoners. In their zeal to compel these captured Christians to worship the sun, the Magi used various excruciating tortures, scourging some and breaking the limbs of others, Sozomen providing several additional examples not recorded here. Many of these victims were eventually put to death. Toward the end of his account, Sozomen attempted a partial reckoning of the victims:
Subsequently, a multitude of presbyters, deacons, monks, holy virgins, ministers of the church, and laborers in word and doctrine, terminated their lives by martyrdom. The following are the names of the bishops, so far as I have been able to ascertain: Barbasymes, Paul, Gadiabes, Sabinus, Mareas, Mocius, John, Hormisdas, Papas, James, Romas, Maares, Agas, Bochres, Abdas, Abdiesus, John, Abraham, Agdelas, Sapor, Isaac, and Dausas. The latter had been made prisoner by the Persians and brought from a place named Zabdæus. He died about this time in defense of the Christian doctrine and Mareabdes, a chorepiscopus and about two hundred and fifty of his clergy, who had also been captured by the Persians, suffered with him. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 14]
Sozomen wraps up his account of the Persian persecution with an attempt to reckon the numbers of the slain:
It would be difficult to relate in detail every circumstance respecting them, such as their names, their country, the mode of their martyrdom, and the species of torture to which they were subjected. I shall briefly state that the number of men and women whose names have been ascertained and who were martyred at this period, has been computed to be upwards of sixteen thousand, while the multitude of martyrs whose names are unknown was so great that the Persians, the Syrians, and the inhabitants of Edessa, have failed in all their efforts to compute the number. [Taken from the Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen, Book II, Chapter 14]
The number 16,000 seems like a reasonable baseline estimate. Sozomen, as a native of Roman Palestine with strong connections to the monastic communities in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, was well placed to have access to data as accurate as the time period could afford.

It is intriguing to compare the persecution experienced by the Persian Christians with that of the Roman Christians of a generation before. Based on Sozomen's account, the Persian persecution seems to have been more wide-ranging, brutal and thorough than the persecutions carried out in Roman domains by Diocletian and the other tetrarchs. The reason for this seems to be that the Zoroastrian religion and its primary priest-practitioners—the Magi—were more zealous in seeking out and destroying the Christian religion than Roman pagan priests had been. In general, the Persians seem to have retained a stronger belief in and attachment to their ancestral religion than the Romans, for whom the potency of the pagan pantheon seems to have already been on the wane even before the advent of Christ.

Furthermore, with their more advanced legal system and Republican traditions, the Romans seem to have at least paid lip-service to civil liberties and due process. By contrast, the Persian system was largely autocratic. The king's word was law and if he deigned to transmit his power over life and death to the magi, allowing them to act as his agents in enforcing the law against a despised minority group, then each of them could become a mini tyrant, destroying whoever they wished via the power of accusation. This was exactly the sort of outcome that Trajan sought to avoid in his famous letter to Pliny the Younger.