Traveling Classroom Foundation
Saturday November 18th 2017

Ten Against the Emperor

After leaving Gortys, we stop in the small village of Ayioi Deka, at the eastern edge of the ancient city. This village is important to all Orthodox Christians on the island, because it was here that early supporters of the Cretan church were martyred.

Street in the old part of Ayioi Deka village

Christianity spread across Crete mainly due to the earlier work of Titos (Titus), a Cretan apprentice of the Apostle Paul who landed on the island around 62 CE.  Titos became the patron saint of Crete and a huge basilica dedicated to Ayios Titos was built west of the Gortys praetorium, near the village of Metropolis (this is not the smaller church at the public site).

Roman Emperor Gaius Messius Quintas Decius

By the end of the second century Gortys was becoming a Christian city. In 249 CE, the year he became emperor of Rome, Gaius Messius Quintas Decius decided to go back to the old Roman standard – he wanted to be worshiped as a god throughout the empire. This was mainly a ploy to weed out Christians in the Empire.

A shrine was built in Gortys, and a festival declared to venerate the Emperor Decius as a Roman god. Although there were many Christians in Gortys by this time, no one wanted to argue with the Emperor of Rome. So everyone went through the motions. All except ten men who protested, saying that no one should be worshiped except the true God.

This protest may have been organized. Although five of the men were from Gortys, the others came from Leviena, Panormos, Kydonia (Hania), Knossos and Iraklio to participate in the protest. They were all arrested, held in prison, and tortured for one month. But they refused to renounce their religious views, and so they were sentenced to death by the Roman governor of Crete.

The executions took place in the main amphitheater of Gortys. Later, during the reign of Constantine, the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, permission was given to raise the bodies of the ten men, now sanctified as martyrs and saints, and rebury them in holy ground.

They became known as Ayioi Deka (Holy Ten), and the little village we are now exploring was named for them. In the village is the church of Ayioi Deka, built in the late 12th or early 13th century. It stands in the center of the amphitheater where the ten were decapitated.

Ayioi Deka church near the old village center

In the nave of the church is an icon portraying the martyrdom of the ten, and the block on which they were beheaded.

Interior of Ayioi Deka Church

Ironically, Emperor Decius died about a year after the ten were executed, and his anti-Christian edicts faded. Within two generations religious tolerance was proclaimed throughout the Empire.

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