By the mid-2nd century, mobs could be found willing to throw stones at Christians, and they might be mobilized by rival sects.
The Persecution in Lyon was preceded by mob violence, including assaults, robberies and stonings.
- Lucian tells of an elaborate and successful hoax perpetrated by a "prophet" of Asclepius, using a tame snake, in Pontus and Paphlygonia. When rumor seemed about to expose his fraud, the witty essayist reports in his scathing essay
- ...he issued a promulgation designed to scare them, saying that
- Pontus was full of atheists and Christians who had the hardihood to
- utter the vilest abuse of him; these he bade them drive away with
- stones if they wanted to have the god gracious.
Further state persecutions were desultory until the 3rd century, though Tertullian's Apologeticus of 197 was ostensibly written in defense of persecuted Christians and addressed to Roman governors.
The "edict of Septimius Severus" familiar in Christian history is doubted by some secular historians to have existed outside Christian martyrology.
- After annexations in Parthia, Severus's son Bassianus (Caracalla) was accorded a triumph "over the Jews", and when the emperor visited Alexandria in 202 he issued an edict forbidding Jewish proselytising and conversions to Judaism, which has
- been interpreted as having applied to Christians as well.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia states that the edict "forbade conversion to Christianity under the
- severest penalties," immediately adding that "Nothing is known as to the execution of the edict in Rome itself nor of the martyrs of the
- Roman Church in this era."
- The first documentable Empire-wide persecution took place under Maximinus Thrax, though only the clergy were sought out.
- Christian sources aver that a decree was issued requiring public sacrifice, a formality equivalent to a testimonial of allegiance to the
- Emperor and the established order.
Decius authorized roving commissions visiting the cities and villages to supervise the execution of the sacrifices and to deliver written certificates to all citizens who performed them. Christians were often given opportunities to avoid further punishment by publicly offering sacrifices or burning incense to Roman gods, and were accused by the Romans of impiety when they refused. Refusal was punished by arrest, imprisonment, torture, and executions.
Christians fled to safe havens in the countryside and some purchased their certificates, called libelli. Several councils held at Carthage debated the extent to which the community should accept these lapsed Christians.
The persecutions culminated with Diocletian and Galerius at the end of the third and beginning of the 4th century.
Their persecution, considered the largest, was to be the last major Roman Pagan persecution, as Constantine I soon came into power and in 313 legalized Christianity.
It was not until Theodosius I in the latter 4th century, however, that Christianity would become the official religion of the Roman Empire.