These guards had all the power, and set up and put down Emperors so rapidly that there are hardly any names worth remembering. In the unsettled state of the empire no one had time to persecute the Christians, and their numbers grew and prospered; in many places they had churches, with worship going on openly, and their Bishops were known and respected. The Emperor Philip, called the Arabian, who was actually a Christian, though he would not own it openly, when he was at Antioch, joined in the service at Easter, and presented himself to receive the Holy Communion; but Bishop Babylas refused him, until he should have done open penance for the crimes by which he had come to the purple, and renounced all remains of heathenism. He turned away rebuked, but put off his repentance; and the next year celebrated the games called the Seculae, because they took place every Seculum or hundredth year, with all their heathen ceremonies, and with tenfold splendor, in honor of this being Rome’s thousandth birthday.
Soon after, another general named Decius was chosen by the army on the German frontier, and Philip was killed in battle with him. Decius wanted to be an old-fashioned Roman; he believed in the gods, and thought the troubles of the empire came of forsaking them; and as the Parthians molested the East, and the Goths and Germans the North, and the soldiers seemed more ready to kill their Emperors than the enemy, he thought to win back prosperity by causing all to return to the old worship, and begun the worst persecution the Church had yet known. Rome, Antioch, Carthage, Alexandria, and all the chief cities were searched for Christians. If they would not throw a handful of incense on the idol’s altar or disown Christ, they were given over to all the horrid torments cruel ingenuity could invent, in the hope of subduing their constancy. Some fell, but the greater number were firm, and witnessed a glorious confession before, in 251, Decius and his son were both slain in battle in Maesia.
[Illustration: TEMPLE OF THE SUN AT PALMYRA.]
The next Emperor whose name is worth remembering was Valerian, who had to make war against the Persians. The old stock of Persian kings, professing to be descended from Cyrus, and, like him, adoring fire, had overcome the Parthians, and were spreading the Persian power in the East, under their king Sapor, who conquered Mesopotamia, and on the banks of the Euphrates defeated Valerian in a terrible battle at Edessa. Valerian was made prisoner, and kept as a wretched slave, who was forced to crouch down that Sapor might climb up by his back when mounting on horseback; and when he died, his skin was dyed purple, stuffed, and hung up in a temple.
[Illustration: THE CATACOMBS AT ROME.]