Pagan Persecution

One of the most violent persecutions of the Christians happened at the hands of Emperor Nero (54-68 CE)  Needing a scapegoat to deflect blame from himself, he accused the Christians of causing the Great Fire of Rome and ordered them to be mocked, tortured, crucified and burned.

Tacitus wrote about the event explaining that people accused Nero of having set Rome alight, as his reputation was sullied for killing his half-brother, mother and wife.  Nero is said to have sung the "Sack of Illium" from the Trojan War in epic verse dressed in stage costume while the fires raged through the city.  According to Tertullian who converted to Christianity around 197 CE, Nero's persecution of the Christians was a 'passing matter' as he needed a scapegoat to deflect the anger of the Romans away from himself.

In 250 CE emperor Decius issued an edict against Christians, as the Coptic Orthodox Church Annals talk about the serious plight of the Christians starting in that year.  The edict commanded a public sacrifice to the Roman gods or the Emperor, which ensured that the people were given a certificate by the pagan commissioners and were acquitted.  Those who refused to obey the edict were subject to the death penalty.  Examples of these certificates have been found written on papyrus dating 249-251 CE.  The Latin name for these certificates was "libelli".