Over six thousand men formed the Theban Legion, a group primarily conscripted from profoundly Christian regions surrounding Thebes, Egypt, which explains the origin of their name. Their dedication and loyalty were evident as they journeyed from the East to Gaul, simultaneously upholding their commitment to the Roman Emperor and their faith in God.
While encamped near Lake Geneva under Emperor Maximian, a pivotal test of their faith occurred. They received orders to both offer sacrifices to the Roman deities and to turn their weapons against fellow Christians. Bound by their unwavering faith, the legion chose to defy this command.
Maximian, incensed by their defiance, decreed their “decimation.” In this brutal order, every tenth soldier would be executed as a chilling lesson. Despite witnessing their comrades fall, the legion remained resilient, not even attempting to defend themselves against this grim fate. Their leader, St. Maurice, became a beacon of hope and encouragement. He declared to Maximian, “We remain your loyal soldiers, yet we are also the faithful servants of the true God. While we will obey in all that’s just, we cannot bear the guilt of shedding innocent blood. We’ve witnessed our brethren’s sacrifice and honor their martyrdom. We bear arms, yet we won’t resist. We’d rather meet an honorable death than live in sin.” In a display of steadfast faith, the soldiers laid down their weapons, awaiting their fate with quiet dignity. The Emperor’s wrath, however, knew no bounds, and he continued the massacres until none remained.
Today, the memory of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion lives on, notably in the town of Saint-Moritz, Switzerland.
Among those remembered from the Theban Legion are:
Saint Alexander of Bergamo
Saint Candidus the Theban
Saint Innocent the Theban
Saint Secundus the Theban
Saint Ursus the Theban
Saint Victor of Agaunum
Saint Victor of Xanten
Saint Victor the Theban
Saint Vitalis of Agaunum.