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by Archaeology Newsroom

Perpetuci’s Testimony

On 7 March 203 ad, the 22- year old Vibia Perpetua died facing the wild beasts in the arena at Carthage. What sets this young woman apart from other martyrs of the Christian faith is the testimony she has left of the visions, which led her to seek martyrdom. In prison, and while awaiting trial, Perpetua had a series of dreams which, revealed the future to her step by step, and trace for us the psychological stages of a journey from the human to the divine world. At the same time, through their intimate or mundane details, the dreams evoke the worldly condition renounced by Perpetua – the education, experiences, habits and emotional attachments of an upper-class provincial in Roman Africa. Written in Greek of asuperb simplicity, the prison diary is a precious document for the intellectual history of late antiquity. Analysed against the canon of Artemidoros’ oneirocritic handbook, and compared with the writings of another North African visionary, Apuleius, Perpetua’s dreams yield evidence on the common late-antique experience of religious conversion.