On the martyrdom of Laurence

For some time I have been quietly putting together a note on the martyrdom of Laurence in third century Rome. In essence my intent was to defend the fundamental historical core of the legend that has been received against the somewhat reductionist approach of Franchi and Delehaye.

Today I find that somebody had got there first, namely Dom Bernard Green in a conference paper from 2008 entitled “The martyrdom of St Laurence reconsidered” to be found here.

Although this is not exactly the paper I was writing, it is close enough. We agree on the substantive and central points that Laurence, as deacon, had charge of the church’s goods (and charity) and that he died under torture. I do not have the same degree of confidence in the Liber pontificalis as Green, and might point out that the use of hot plates is an attested method of torture, but these are detailed matters. There is no point my producing a paper almost identical in substance and so rest content with this posting.

The one substantive point I would add to Green’s paper, which gives it pertinence to the blog, is that Laurence’s death under torture indicates that he might have been a slave, and not a free citizen as Delehaye seems to assume. This links to the discussion below with Daniel Vaucher about slaves as office-holders. It seems that still, in the third century, it is possible to find an office-holder of servile status in Rome.



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3 responses to “On the martyrdom of Laurence

  1. Pingback: Laurence’s name | ancientchurchorders

  2. Dani Vaucher

    This is a highly interesting post and article. Unfortunately it comes a few weeks too late, as my book on Christian slaves is now being printed. I should have given this some attention. It is very plausible that a slave could become diacon, as did Laurence. Laurence is attested as a slave name, but could also be the name of a free. The same with torture. Peter Brunt has shown that in the 3rd century torture was used in trials with free people of lower ranks also.
    I wish we had more unambiguous evidence. But this one is a good one (given that the dating of Laurence’s death to the Decian persecution is right – under the persecution of Diocletian, horrible tortures and executions were by no means limited to slaves)

    Leadership names: I do agree with your explanation on slave naming. But I’m no adherent of the contra-culture theory – do you suggest that Christian leaders were similarly “renamed” for their function?

    Peter Brunt, ”Evidence Given under Torture in the Principate”, Zeitschrift der Savigny- Stiftung fur Rechtsgeschichte, Romanist. Abt. 97 (1980) 256-265

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, congratulations on the publication. I really look forward to this.
    Second, I actually suspect that Laurence might be a Decian martyr, as the earliest sources suggest. This, however, is contrary to the consensus that he was martyred under Valerian, and cuts to an extent the link with Sixtus. Note that Cyprian makes no mention of Laurence when he refers to the martyrdom of Sixtus and his companions.
    Anyway, I was looking to see a rationale for Richard Fellows’ leadership naming, and thinking that, along the lines of “whoever wishes to lead must first serve” that naming leaders might be an inverted way of identifying them as slaves of God. Might Laurentius have been Sixtus’ slave (or am I letting my imagination run away from the evidence?) I now have this from RF: “Parents named their children.
    Adoptive fathers renamed their adopted sons (and daughters?).
    Masters renamed their slaves.
    Converts to Judaism often received new names.
    In general, we can say that new names often followed a change of allegiance (new father, new master, or new God).”
    So maybe I was thinking in too narrow a way. And maybe, in spite of the extensive overlap with Green, I should have another go at writing this up. I could cite your book! And, of course, your very helpful reference to Brunt.


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