Erich Lessing

Christians were also regular victims in the Roman arena. They were crucified, burned to death or exposed to the beasts (damnatio ad bestias). One of the first Christian martyrs to be publicly executed was the third-century Saint Sebastian. A member of Rome’s elite Praetorian guard who used his position to comfort Christian prisoners and spread pro-Christian propaganda, Sebastian was initially sentenced to a traditional military execution. He was taken out into a field, tied to a post and shot repeatedly with arrows, as shown in the Martyrdom of Sebastian by the 15th-century Italian Painter Andrea Mantegna. Miraculously, Sebastian survived his wounds; but when the saint returned to Rome and reasserted his Christianity, the emperor Diocletian ordered him flogged to death in the Palatine Hippodrome.