The Circumcellions


The name “Circumcellions” somehow sounds like the name of an advanced Star Trek alien race, or perhaps a groundbreaking association of Ancient Roman jurists. The truth is so much less, and yet, at the same time, somehow, so much more…

The word itself means “guys who hang around villages,” rather unglamorously. The Circumcellions were a Christian suicide cult of the fourth and fifth centuries. Their religious practice consisted of delivering random beatings to strangers along the road, with the purpose of goading the strangers into killing them. If that didn’t work, they just threw themselves off a cliff instead.

(via Reddit)


  1. This looks very dubious. A more probable-sounding description can be found here: according to this source,

    They viewed the government, the landowners, creditors and the possessing classes as agents of the Devil out to persecute God’s saints and the poor in general. For the Circuncellions, God’s work included harrying landlords who oppressed poor peasants. They were the first Christian group who openly aimed at overthrowing and overturning the existing social order. Contemporary accounts include stories of Circumcellion bands stopping chariots on the highways, forcing the masters out of their carriages and making them run alongside, while their slaves were seated in the carriage in the master’s place.

    That site also talks about their martyrdom fetish:

    When Circumcellions attacked wealthy citizens and magistrates they would sometimes give them the choice between dying or killing the Circumcellions. The Circumcellions hoped to be killed since they were doing the Lord’s work, and could therefore claim the martyrs crown. Some went so far as to charge fully armed Roman Legionaries, or as a last resort, leaping off city walls or a cliff.

    This description of politically radicalized cultists (sort of proto-Trotsyists!) sound more credible to me than Rotten’s account.

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