Najran was a predominantly Christian city in the ancient Himyarite Kingdom of Yemen. The kingdom was known for it's religious diversity with the majority being of the Jewish faith and after some initial problems, Christianity had flourished in the area.
Some members of the Himyarite nobility saw Christianity as a threat, not for religious reasons, but saw it as an extension of Byzantine and Ethiopian influence, yet it was tolerated. In A.D. 517 Yūsuf Dhū Nuwas (Dunaan) usurped the throne and combined political and religious reasons as justification for a pogrom against the Christians of the Kingdom.
In A.D. 523 he attacked the Aksumite (Christian Ehtiopian) garrison at Zafar and burned the churches there. Dunaan then proceeded to Najran and laid siege to that city and it's Christian inhabitants. Dunaan's heralds announced that he would spare those who renounced Christ and accept the Jewish faith. The inhabitants under the leadership of their prefect Arethas, held fast and trusted in their defences.
Not daring to assault the Christian city by force, Dunaan resorted to a ruse. Dunaan swore an oath that he would not force the Christians into Judaism, but would merely collect a tribute from Negran. The inhabitants of the city would not heed the advice of Arethas, and putting their trust in Dunaan, they opened the city gates.
The first night of occupation was quiet and peaceful. The next day Dunaan gave orders to light an immense fire and throw all the clergy of the city into it in order to frighten the rest of the Christians. 427 men were burned. He also threw the prefect Arethas and the other chief men into prison. Then the oppressor sent his messengers through the city to convert the Christians to Judaism. Dunaan himself conversed with those inhabitants brought from the prisons, saying, "I do not demand that you should renounce the God of heaven and earth, nor do I want you to worship idols, I want merely that you do not believe in Jesus Christ, since the Crucified One was a man, and not God." Many refused the offer and the number of martyrs is estimated at between 4,300 - 20,000.
The massacre became the casus belli needed by the Ethiopian King Kaleb of Axum (with the help of the Byzantine Empire) to invade Yemen, a campaign which ended with the death of Dunaan in A.D. 525 and the establishment of a Christian vassal state.
Propers for the Martyrs of Najran
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who didst strengthen thy blessed Martyrs of Najran with the virtue of constancy in faith and truth: Grant us in like manner for love of thee to despise the prosperity of this world, and to fear none of its adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - 2 Esdras 2:42-48.
I ESDRAS saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel. What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said unto me, Go thy way, and tell my people what manner of things, and how great wonders of the Lord thy God, thou hast seen.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10:16-22.
BEHOLD, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall he brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
Reference and Resources: