It was still very illegal to be a Christian in the Roman Empire and many were arrested and used as used as “warm-up” acts for gladiatorial shows. This was the case with Perpetua and Felicity. They were arrested along with four others to be used as part of military games celebrating the Emperor’s birthday. Perpetua’s father tried to get her to recant her faith on four different occasions.
In one of the visits Perpetua asks her father a question. ‘See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what its?”
Her father says, “Of course not.”
Perpetua responds, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am – a Christian.
The prison was horrible. Deacons from the church paid the guards to move the Christians to a slightly better part of the prison where there were windows for ventilation and fewer people were put in the cells. Perpetua’s brother and mother were allowed to bring her baby to her for a visit.
Felicity was eight months pregnant, and it was against the law to put a pregnant woman in the arena. Felicity gave birth to a girl on March 5th. The baby was reared by members of the church.
On the birthday of the Emperor the group was led into the Carthaginian Circus. It is noted in both Greek and Latin accounts that they went in happily. The men went first and wild beasts, boars, bears, and a leopard, were put in the arena to kill them. When it was the women’s turn, the governor tried to have the women dressed up as popular goddesses. They said, “We are dying so we don’t have to worship your gods.” They were allowed to face their death in their own clothes. The women were attacked by a wild, crazed cow and gored. Novice gladiators were sent into the arena to kill them. Perpetua had to help one of them actually kill her.
Perpetua and Felicity are wonderful examples of how Christianity turns the traditional roles of women, ideas of race, and social roles on their heads. Perpetua and Felicity are treated as equals even through one was the master and one was the slave.