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Speratus (Ac. Scil.)

Role: Literate Worker

Gender: Male

Date: late second century (ca. 180 CE)

Place: North Africa

Language:  Latin

Literary Genre: Martyrdom Account

Title of Work: Acts of the Scilitan Martyrs

Reference:  Ac. Scil 

Original Text:

1.Praesente bis et Claudiano consulibus, XVI kalendas augusta, Kartagine in secretario inpositis Sperato, Nartzalo et Cittino, Donata, Secunda, Vestia, Saturninus proconsul dixit: “Potestis indulgentiam domni nostri imperatoris promereri, si ad bonam mentem redeatis.” 2. Speratus dixit: “Numquam malefecimus, iniquitati nullam operam paebuimus; numquam malediximus, sed male accepti gratias egimus; propter quod imperatorem nostrum observamus.” 3. Saturninus proconsul dixit: “Et nos religiosi summus et simplex est religio nostra, et iuramus per genium domni nostri imperatoris, et pro salute eius suppplicamus, quod et uos quoque facere debetis.” 4. Speratus dixit: “Initianti tibi mala de sacris nostris aures non praebebo; sed potius iura per genium domni nostri imperatoris.” 6. Speratus dixit: “Ego imperium huius seculi non cognosco; sed magis illi deo seruio, quem nemo hominum vidit nec  videre his oculis potest. Futurum non feci; sed siquid emero teloneum reddo quia cognosco domnm meum, regem regum et imperatorem omnium gentium.” (Ac. Scil. 1–6)

Saturninus proconsul dixit: “Quae sunt res in capsa uestra?” (Ac. Scil 12)

English Translation:

In the consulship of Praesens (for the second time) and Claudius, on the seventeenth of July, when Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda and Vestia were brought to the governor’s  in Carthage. The proconsul Saturninus said, “You can acquire the indulgence of our lord the emperor, if you return to your senses.”  2. Speratus said, “We have never done harm, we have never given ourselves to wickedness. Never have we uttered a curse, but when abused, we have given thanks for we hold our emperor with honor.” 3. Saturninus the proconsul said, “We too are a religious people, and our religion is simple: we swear by the genius of our lord the emperor and we offer prayers for his health, which you should do as well.” 4. Speratus said, “If you listen calmly, I will tell you the mystery of simplicity.” 5. Saturninus said, “If you begin to malign our sacred rites, I will not listen to you. But instead, swear by the genius of our lord the emperor.” 6. Speratus said, “I do not recognize the authority of this world, but I rather serve that God whom no human being has seen, nor can see, with these eyes.  I have not stolen, and I pay tax on whatever I buy, since I recognize my lord, the emperor of kings and of all the nations.” (Ac. Scil. 1–6)

The proconsul Saturninus said, “What is in your case?”  Speratus said, “The books and letters of Paul, a just man.” (Ac. Scil. 12)

Text and Translation adapted from Éric Rebillard, Greek and Latin Narratives about the Ancient Martyrs (Oxford Early Christian Texts; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 


Speratus was the leader of a group of Christians from Scili in Numidia (Tunisia) who were arrested, arraigned, and executed in 180 CE. The site of Scili is in the region of Simitthu in Tunisia in a part of Numidia that was included in proconsular North Africa. Speratus is listed first in the list of martyrs and is the most vocal member of the group. He acts as a spokesperson. 

Several studies by Ronald Syme have argued that names like Speratus and his fellow-martyr Donata are typical of low status enslaved and formerly enslaved workers in North Africa. Speratus carries with him a case (capsa) that was used to hold book rolls, suggesting that the literature he was carrying was produced in the scroll format. The use of scrolls is a detail of some consequence for the history of Gospel media (Larsen and Letteney; Elder). There has been considerable debate about whether or not the texts Speratus carried were Gospels and letters of Paul, or only letters of Paul. In either instance Speratus seems to be either the owner, custodian, or transporter (i.e. messenger) of these works. This, together with the format of his name may suggest that he was enslaved or formerly enslaved.

Keywords: Christian; Literate Worker; Martyrdom Account; Messenger; North Africa


Elder, Nicholas. Gospel Media. Reading, Writing and Circulating Jesus Traditions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2024. 

Larsen, Matthew and  Mark Letteney. “Christians and the Codex: Generic Materiality and Early Gospel Traditions.” JECS 27.3 (2019): 383–415.

Syme, Ronald. “‘Donatus’ and the Like.” Historia 28 (1978): 588–603.

———“Roman Papers III.” Ed. Anthony R. Birley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984): 1105–1119.

How to Cite:

Moss, Candida R. “Speratus.” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. URL. 



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