Acts of the Martyrs
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Acts of the Martyrs are accounts of the suffering and death of a martyr or group of martyrs. In the strictest sense, acts are the official records of the trials of early Christian martyrs made by the notaries of the court, such as were preserved from the trial of the Scillitan Martyrs. In a wider sense, however, the title is applied to all the narratives of the martyrs' trial and death.
Besides official records, contemporary accounts may be written by eyewitnesses, or by others recording the testimony of eyewitnesses. The Martyrdom of Polycarp is among the earliest of these, and the Acts of Perpetua and Felicitias among the best known.
Other acts may be based on the official records or contemporary accounts, and their value is variable, owing to editorial manipulation of various kinds.
Besides these, there are romances, either written around a few real facts which have been preserved in popular or literary tradition, or else pure works of the imagination, containing no real facts whatever. Still, as they were written with the intention of edifying and not deceiving the reader, a special class must be reserved for hagiographical forgeries. To this must be relegated all those Acts, Passions, Lives, Legends, and Translations which have been written with the express purpose of perverting history, such, for instance, as the legends and translations falsely attaching a saint's name to some special church or city.