This article considers the phenomenon of Greek loan words appearing in Germanic languages—specifically the word martyr in Old English—tracking its appearances first in Classical Greek literature then through the New Testament as a crucial theological concept that underwent a drastic semantic evolution from “witness” to “someone who dies for his or her faith.” After scanning medieval sources that feature and highlight this word, such as Isidore’s Etymologiae and the Old English Martyrology, I examine Anglo-Saxon words whose definitions recall both the martyr of Classical Greece as well as the martyr of late-antiquity. I conclude by suggesting that martyr’s early, easy assimilation into and prominence in Old English writing demonstrates a subtle linguistic strategy by which Christianity came to power in England and much of Western Europe: loan words.


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