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Title: Circumcellions  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Donatism, Early African Church, Ancient Aliens
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Circumcellions or Agonisticis[1][2] (as called by Donatists) were bands of Berbers considered as heretical[3] Christian extremists in North Africa in the early- to mid-4th century.[4] They were initially concerned with remedying social grievances, but they became linked with the Donatist sect.[4] They condemned property and slavery, and advocated canceling debts and freeing slaves.[5] Donatists prized martyrdom and had a special devotion for the martyrs, rendering honours to their graves.

The term "Circumcellions" was coined by others, based on "circum cellas euntes", they go around larders, because "they roved about among the peasants, living on those they sought to indoctrinate."[1]


The Circumcellions regarded martyrdom as the true Christian virtue (as the early Church Father Tertullian said, "a martyr's death day was actually his birthday"), and thus disagreed with the Episcopal see of Carthage on the primacy of chastity, sobriety, humility, and charity. Instead, they focused on bringing about their own martyrdom.

On occasion, members of this group assaulted Roman legionaries or armed travelers with simple wooden clubs to provoke them into attacking and martyring them. Others interrupted courts of law and verbally provoked the judge so that he would order their immediate execution (a normal punishment at the time for contempt of court).[6] The sect survived until the fifth century in Africa.


Because Jesus had told Peter to put down his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane ( John 18:11), the Circumcellions piously avoided bladed weapons and instead opted for the use of blunt clubs, which they called "Israelites." Using their "Israelites", the Circumcellions would attack random travelers on the road, while shouting "Laudate Deum!" ("Praise God!" in Latin.) The object of these random beatings was the death of the intrepid martyr, who sought to provoke the victim to attack and kill them.[7][8][9]

They preferred to be known as agonistici ("fighters (for Christ)").[4] "Agonistici" are not to be confused with agnostics: the first term is based on "agon", the second on "gnosis".


  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^  
  3. ^   it has been suggested that they may have been of Berber blood
  4. ^ a b c Cross, FL, ed. (2005), The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church, New York: Oxford University Press .
  5. ^ Durant, Will (1972). The age of faith. New York: Simon & Schuster. 
  6. ^ Gibbon, Edward (1993). "XXI – Part VII". The History of the Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire 2. New York, NY: Everyman's Library.  
  7. ^  .
  8. ^ "Circumcellions", Catholic Encyclopedia 5, 1909, p. 125 .
  9. ^  .

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