Circumcellions

Fanatical Donatist* fringe. Their origins are obscure, perhaps antedating Donatism, and their name of uncertain meaning, though interpreting the cellae around (circum) which they assembled as martyrs' shrines (rather than barns, storehouses) harmonizes with their enthusiastic martyr-dominated ethos. They are most convincingly understood in religious terms, as pilgrim “warriors (agonistici) of Christ” marked by apocalyptic defiance of worldly powers, and not as a social or economic grouping only accidentally connected with Donatism. Neither their passion for righting injustice nor their support for local anti-Roman revolts justifies casting them in a revolutionary role. Their asceticism and undisciplined wanderings led to their being confused with Eastern monks (cf. the suggested derivation of their name from monastic cellae), and their violence, randomly exerted for egalitarian ends, found frequent outlet in intimidating Donatists against joining the Catholic Church.