Martyrdom, though usually used to define someone who dies in the name of their religion, should not be connected exclusively with faith. The phenomenon of martyrdom is far from new; the ancestral expression “pro patria mori” – to die for one’s homeland — described the most honorable way for a citizen of Ancient Greece and Rome to die.
There have been many popular and famous martyrs throughout history, but there are many more that have been ignored by history, and it’s time they got their due as well.
10. Nathan Hale
His final words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” are probably more famous than he is. Nathan Hale is one of the greatest American heroes and martyrs in history, but unfortunately he is not very well-known, even in the US. During the battle of Long Island, Nathan volunteered to go behind the British lines, and report back on the movements of the British troop, their tactics and other valuable information. Unfortunately for Hale, he was caught and executed, as was the normal punishment during these wars. This gave him the less-than-desirable distinction of being the first-ever American spy to be executed. Today, there are statues standing in his honor at Yale University, and at the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters.
9. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho
Paulos Faraj Rahho, the Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul in northern Iraq, was kidnapped by a group of Islamist terrorists, while returning home from Mass. Three of the Archbishop’s companions were killed in a gunfight during his kidnapping. later on, he was tortured and killed by these terrorists. There are still adverse reports about the causes of his death. Some suggest that it resulted from antecedent health conditions, which had worsened during his captivity, while others claim he had been shot.
One of the most famous quotes made from Mar Paulos will always be a great reminder of the true persecution we sometimes forget about while living in the comforts of the West: “We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine, persecution ended only for Western Christians, whereas in the East threats continued. Even today we continue to be a Church of martyrs.”
8. Manche Masemola
Manche Masemola was a member of the Pedi tribe of South Africa. When a Christian missionary began spreading the gospel to her tribe, Manche actually found the whole thing fascinating, and started to follow him frequently. Her family was far from pleased with this situation since, if Manche became a Christian, that would ruin their plans to give her away as a bride to the son of another Pedi family. Her parents beat and abused her on a daily basis to try and change her mind, but to no avail. On February 4, 1928, out of desperation, Manche’s parents led her to a remote location, where they killed her by burying her under a granite rock. How this was supposed to speed up the marriage, we’ll never know, but it certainly helped place Masemola in the upper annals of martyrdom.
7. Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople
Patriarch Gregory was born to very poor parents in a very small village in Greece. His exceptional learning skills, and love for study, led him to Athens and Smyrna, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. After many years in a brilliant professional and ecclesiastic career, Gregory V was finally ordained Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1797, the first of three times he would earn that holy title.
During his third reign as a Patriarch (1818-1821,) the Greek Revolution of 1821 broke out. After the first Mass of Easter Day ended, Grigorios was arrested, declared ousted, and jailed. In the afternoon of the same day, he was hung in front of the main gate of the Patriarchate, where he remained for three days as sign of humiliation. His dead corpse was finally taken down and delivered to a squad of anti-Christian Jews, who dragged his body through the streets and finally threw it into the Bosphorus River. His body was later found by Greek sailors, who sent it for placement in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.
6. Athanasios Diakos
Athanasios Diakos was a hero of the Greek War of Independence. In April 1821, the Turkish forces (nearly 10,000 men) departed from Thessaly to beat the Greek rebellions in Southern Greece. Diakos and his army, which was comprised of fewer than 1,500 men, took up defensive positions at the river of Alamana, near Thermopylae. Even though the men of Diakos fought bravely and with passion, they were finally overwhelmed after many hours of a bloody battle. The wounded Diakos was captured. The Turkish commander offered to make him an officer in his Turkish army, and offered him a beautiful Turkish woman from his harem as a wife, but Diakos refused with the famous quote: “I was born a Greek and I will die a Greek.”
The Turkish general, insulted from the rejection, ordered that Diakos be impaled on a spit. The brutal manner of Diakos’s death initially struck fear into the rebellious populace of Ottoman Greece, but his final stand near Thermopylae, echoing the heroic defense of the Spartan King Leonidas, made him the ultimate martyr for the Greek cause.
5. Bhagat Singh
In 1920, Bhagat Singh was involved in the peaceful movement of Gandi, following the instructions for the burning of government textbooks and imported English products. The philosophy of non-violence, however, was later rejected as ineffective against the killings of Indian citizens by the English colonial forces, and in 1922 Bhagat joined the Revolutionary Youth movement. After a very short period of action, Bhagat Singh was arrested and sentenced to death for the supposed installation of non-hazardous handmade bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly. He was only 24 years old when he was executed, and his name was added in the long list of young Indian martyrs who died for the Independence of their country.
You almost certainly have heard of Socrates, one of the greatest philosophers in history, but you might not have known that he was one of the most glorious martyrs of all time. In 399 BC, Socrates was accused of openly disrespecting the Gods, and corrupting the Athenian youth. For this, the philosopher was sentenced to death. During the trial, Socrates showed incredible courage and dignity, and not even the announcement of the death penalty was able to scare him. After the judgment, he remained in prison for 30 days, since the law did not allow any death penalty to take place before the ending of the sacred celebrations of Dilos.
From the dialog of Plato, we know that Socrates could have been saved, if he wanted, since his students offered him the opportunity to help him escape and leave the city of Athens. Socrates refused, and he peacefully waited for his unfair death sentence. He died by drinking hemlock, an honorable citizen who remained true to his own teachings and lifestyle, right up until death.
3. Vladimir Bogoyavlensky
St. Vladimir became archbishop of Kartalin and Kahetin in 1892, and he would later be selected as Metropolitan of Moscow and Kolomna in 1898. He was beloved by the vast majority of his people thanks to his notable concern for widows, orphans, the poor, and alcoholics. Despite his great contributions to society, Vladimir was the first bishop to be tortured and murdered by the Communists during the Bolshevik revolution. Vladimir was driven from the monastery where he was captured, to his place of execution. As they got out of the car, the holy martyr asked, “Do you intend to shoot me here?”
“Why not?” his executors replied.
After praying for a short time, and asking forgiveness for his sins, St. Vladimir smiled and blessed the executioners, saying, “May God forgive you,” just before being shot to death. The holy New Martyr Vladimir of Kiev was glorified by the Orthodox Church of Russia in 1992.
2. The Souliot Women
At the end of December of 1803, on top of the hills of Zalongo mountain, there was a desperate mass suicide of Souliot women, during the battles of the Ottoman Forces against the Greek rebellions of Souli. Twenty-two Souliot women were trapped by enemy troops, and committed suicide to avoid capture, rape, and other humiliation. According to tradition they did this by committing an act known as the Dance of Zalongo, where they first threw their babies off a steep cliff, then jumped down themselves, one after the other, all while dancing and singing. The incident soon became known across Europe and inspired many writers, poets and painters to pay tribute to such a heroic act, with the most famous being the painting of “The Souliot Women” by the legendary Ary Scheffer.
1. Jean Francois De La Barre
Many historians consider De La Barre as one of the very first figures to inspire the French Revolution. He was one of the many victims of Catholic Christian intolerance, and the ferocious brutality of the local French authorities at the time. La Barre’s youth, wild lifestyle, and extremely good looks had angered more than a few local judges, while quite possibly charming all their daughters. La Barre was accused of defacing a crucifix and not removing his hat when a Catholic procession passed by. A search of his home followed shortly thereafter, which revealed three forbidden books, including Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary. La Barre was tortured mercilessly before he was finally decapitated, and eventually burned on a pyre along with his copy of Voltaire’s Dictionary.
Theodoros II is a multilingual law graduate from Europe. When he’s not writing or working, he’s usually traveling, reading or diving. He’s a newbie on Twitter, and would really appreciate it if you followed him.