In Christianity, death in sectarian persecution can be viewed as martyrdom.
For example, there were martyrs recognised on both sides of the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England after 1534, with two hundred and eighty Christians martyred for their faith by public burning between 15 by the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I in England leading to the reversion to the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 and then three hundred Roman Catholics martyred by the Church authorities in England over the following hundred and fifty years in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Originally applied only to those who suffered for their religious beliefs, the term has come to be used in connection with people imprisoned or killed for espousing a political cause.
The death of a martyr or the value attributed to it is called martyrdom.
The early Christians who first began to use the term martyr in its new sense saw Jesus as the first and greatest martyr, on account of his crucifixion.
Religious martyrdom is considered one of the more significant contributions of Hellenistic Judaism to Western Civilization. Martyrdom (called shahadat in Punjabi) is a fundamental concept in Sikhism and represents an important institution of the faith.
1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees recount numerous martyrdoms suffered by Jews resisting Hellenizing (adoption of Greek ideas or customs of a Hellenistic civilization) by their Seleucid overlords, being executed for such crimes as observing the Sabbath, circumcising their boys or refusing to eat pork or meat sacrificed to foreign gods. The Sikh Gurus and the Sikhs that followed them are some of the greatest examples of martyrs who fought against Mughal tyranny and oppression, upholding the fundamentals of Sikhism, where their lives were taken during non-violent protesting or in battles.
Analyses of the Gospel passion narratives have led many scholars to conclude that they are martyrdom accounts in terms of genre and style.
In the context of church history, from the time of the persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire, it developed that a martyr was one who was killed for maintaining a religious belief, knowing that this will almost certainly result in imminent death (though without intentionally seeking death).This definition of martyr is not specifically restricted to the Christian faith.Though Christianity recognizes certain Old Testament Jewish figures, like Abel and the Maccabees, as holy, and the New Testament mentions the imprisonment and beheading of Saint John the Baptist, Jesus's possible cousin and his prophet and forerunner, the first Christian witness, after the establishment of the Christian faith (at Pentecost), to be killed for his testimony was Saint Stephen (whose name means "crown"), and those who suffer martyrdom are said to have been "crowned." From the time of Constantine Christianity became the religion of the realm and there was less and less persecution.The process of bearing witness was not intended to lead to the death of the witness, although it is known from ancient writers (e.g.Josephus) and from the New Testament that witnesses often died for their testimonies.During the early Christian centuries, the term acquired the extended meaning of believers who are called to witness for their religious belief, and on account of this witness, endures suffering or death.