person who suffers persecution and death for advocating, refusing to renounce, and/or refusing to advocate a belief or cause, usually a religious one

Martyrdom is death for refusing to renounce a belief, principle or cause.

Albrecht Dürer (1508)
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).
The Young Martyr, by Paul Delaroche (1855).


  • MARTYR, n. One who moves along the line of least reluctance to a desired death.
  • Nothing, indeed, can be more deserving of our admiration than the conduct of the Christian martyrs, who cheerfully submitted to an ignominious death, inflicted by the most atrocious torments, rather than deny their faith even by the mere performance of an apparently insignificant rite of Paganism.
  • “The total disregard of truth and probability in the representation of the primitive martyrdoms was occasioned by a very natural mistake. The ecclesiastical writers of the fourth and fifth centuries ascribe to the magistrates of Rome the same degree of implacable and unrelenting zeal which filled their own breasts against the heretics and idolaters of their own times.... The learned Origen, who, from his experience as well as readings, was intimately acquainted with the history of the Christians, declares, in the most express terms, that the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable. His authority would alone be sufficient to annihilate that formidable army of martyrs, whose relics, drawn for the most part from the catacombs of Rome, have replenished so many churches, and whose achievements have been the subject of so many volumes of holy romances....”
    • Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Martyrs have been the stock-in-trade of prophetic creeds down the ages. Long before the prophet of Islam was born, the annalists of Judaism and Christianity had perfected the art of making the agressor look like the victim of aggression, and vice versa. The Bible was the master-piece produced by this art. The biographers of the Prophet had only to borrow the art and practise it in the new context.
    • Goel, S. R. (1993). Hindu temples: What happened to them. Vol. II
  • The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone.
  • The tyrant dies and his rule is over; the martyr dies and his rule begins.
  • The most zealous among them saw it as their solemn duty to make a public display of their faith even if it meant arrest, torture and death … A few of the Soldiers of Christ actively sought martyrdom by charging into the shrines and temples of the pagans, smashing the statuary, and overturning the altars, as they were instructed to do by their own scriptures: 'You shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, for the Lord is a jealous God.' .... Indeed, the spectacle of men and women who went willingly and even ardently to their deaths – and, long afterward, the memory of these martyrdoms and the relics of the martyrs themselves – only stirred the fires of true belief and inspired ever greater acts of zealotry. Sometimes the pagan magistrates literally begged the Christians to make some gesture of compromise in order to save their own lives.
    • Kirsch, Jonathan. God Against the Gods. New York: Viking Compass, 2004. quoted in Malhotra, R., & Infinity Foundation (Princeton, N.J.). (2018). Being different: An Indian challenge to western universalism.
  • Either one defines “personality” and “individuality” in terms of their possibilities within the established form of civilization, in which case their realization is for the vast majority tantamount to successful adjustment. Or one defines them in terms of their transcending content, including their socially denied potentialities beyond (and beneath) their actual existence; in this case, their realization would imply transgression, beyond the established form of civilization, to radically new modes of “personality” and “individuality” incompatible with the prevailing ones. Today, this would mean “curing” the patient to become a rebel or (which is saying the same thing) a martyr.
    • Herbert Marcuse, “Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism,” Eros and Civilization (1955)
  • Ideas grow quickly when watered with the blood of martyrs.
    • Giuseppe Mazzini, as attributed in The Cambridge Modern History (1907), ed. Adolphus William Ward et al., Vol. 10, p. 122.
  • I do not think life will change for the better without an assault on the establishment, which goes on exploiting the wretched of the earth. This belief lies at the heart of the concept of revolutionary suicide. Thus it is better to oppose the forces that would drive me to self-murder than to endure them. Although I risk the likelihood of death, there is at least the possibility, if not the probability, of changing intolerable conditions.
  • When a heretic wishes to avoid martyrdom he speaks of “Orthodoxy, True and False” and demonstrates that the True is his heresy.
  • The Sheikh has departed, may God have mercy on him, to his God as a martyr and we must continue on his path of jihad to expell the invaders from the land of Muslims and to purify it from injustice. Today, and thanks to God, America is not facing an individual or a group, but a rebelling nation, which has awoken from its sleep in a jihadist renaissance.

Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations

Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 495.
  • For a tear is an intellectual thing;
    And a sigh is the sword of an angel-king;
    And the bitter groan of a martyr's woe
    Is an arrow from the Almighty's bow.
  • The noble army of martyrs.
    • Book of Common Prayer, Te Deum Laudamus.
  • Strangulatus pro republica.
    • Tortured for the Republic.
    • James A. Garfield, last words; written as he was dying (July 17, 1882).
  • Who falls for love of God, shall rise a star.
  • He strove among God's suffering poor
    One gleam of brotherhood to send;
    The dungeon oped its hungry door
    To give the truth one martyr more,
    Then shut,—and here behold the end!
  • Martyrs! who left for our reaping
    Truths you had sown in your blood—
    Sinners! whom long years of weeping
    Chasten'd from evil to good.
  • It is the cause, and not the death, that makes the martyr.
  • His wife and children, being eleven in number, ten able to walk, and one sucking on her breast, met him by the way as he went towards Smithfield: this sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood, dear as they were to him, could yet nothing move him, but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death with wonderful patience, in the defence and support of Christ's Gospel.
    • Martyrdom of John Rogers. See Richmond's Selection from the Writings of the Reformers and Early Protestant Divines of the Church of England.
  • Like a pale martyr in his shirt of fire.

See also

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