Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born in Carthage c. 155 or 160 BCE. He was of Berber and Phoenician origin and was thought to have been the son of a centurion in an African-based Roman legion. Tertullian received an exceptional education studying literature, law, rhetoric and philosophy in Carthage. He travelled to Rome in his late teens or early twenties to study further and perhaps began his work as a lawyer. In Rome he became interested in the Christian movement, but it was not until he returned to Carthage that he converted to the Christian faith.
Apologeticus, Tertullian’s defence of Christianity, demands that Christians should be treated with equality, as all other sects in the Roman Empire. The book falls into two parts, dealing with the two types of accusations against Christians: that Christians partake in abhorrent, vile crimes and that Christianity involves high treason and contempt for the state religion. A theme of Apologeticus is that Christians are not given fair trials and are treated badly because non-believers are ignorant of Christianity, and therefore held to be in the wrong: ‘If the Tiber rises too high for the walls, or the Nile too low for the fields…instantly the howl is, “The Christians to the lion!” What, all of them, to a single lion?’
In his Latin Christian literature, Tertullian defends the Christians, a group discriminated against by the Romans and questions which Greco-Roman values should be accepted, asking ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ While we do not know if Tertullian was hindered by his Berber descent, his conversion to Christianity would have been a barrier in Roman public life. His work Apologeticus established Tertullian as the first major work on Christianity written in Latin.
On to Apuleius