Vincent Hunink

Acta Martyrum Scillitanorum

A Literary Commentary


Brepols, Turnhout 2021

(Giornale Italiano di Filologia, Bibliotheca, GIFBIB 24)
  138 p., 156-234 mm, 2021
ISBN 978 2 503 59095 0



The Acta Martyrum Scillitanorum is the first martyr text in Latin, and one of the earliest documents in Christian Latin. This short text presents a group of young Christians facing trial in Carthage before a Roman judge on July 17th, 180 A.D. This is the first full commentary on this important text in English. It studies the fiery altercation between the defendants and the Roman proconsul, highlighting the rhetorical and narrative aspects of the original Latin (and the Greek translation from late antiquity). Throughout the book, much attention is paid to the communication, or miscommunication, between antagonists. For this dramatic and narrative approach to the text, the Acta Martyrum Scillitanorum may be taken as it is: a coherent body of text, describing an altercation that either took place exactly like that, or was deemed by the author to be probable and natural, that is, a plausible and convincing dialogue between contrasting characters in a Roman judicial context.




Vincent Hunink (1962) is associate professor of early Christian Greek and Latin at Radboud University Nijmegen. His publications in English include commentaries on Lucan, Apuleius, and Tertullian. He is widely known as a translator of Latin texts, mostly in Dutch, but also in English and German (






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One of the main arguments of my commentary is that the accused Christians are deliberately spreading confusion in the debate with the Roman proconsul. They do so e.g. by apparently repeating some of his words, while actually using them in a specific Christian sense. Their statements were thus more or less incomprehibible to the Roman official. The Christians do not wish to enter into dialogue and consistently refuse all proposals by Saturninus who seems keen to prevent their condemnation and execution.

This main contention is, no doubt, controversial in the eyes of modern Christian scholars, who follow a line of 'defence' of the Christian martyrs which has been common and widespread in the study of the AMS until now.

For a critical approach of my book, see e.g. the two blogposts by Alexander Smarius, written in Dutch, at the site
first blog
second blog




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