Encyclopedia > Martyr

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Historically, a martyr (from Greek martyros for "witness") was considered to be a person who died for their religious faith, typically by being tortured to death.

Christian martyrs in the first three centuries A.D. were crucified in the same manner as Roman political prisoners or eaten by lions as a circus spectacle. Many church historians claim that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in the first 19 centuries combined.

The term has since been used metaphorically for people killed in a historical struggle for some cause, such as Steve Biko or Rachel Corrie, or those whose deaths served to galvanize a particular movement, such as Matthew Shepard.

In the 20th century, some writers began to apply the term to suicide bombers as well, a usage hotly disputed.

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