De Mortibus Persecutorum is one of the most troubling texts of Latin Patristics. Although now generally agreed to be an authentic work of Lactantius, it has generally been read as a puzzling minor work characterized by a sadistic delight in violence, with little relation to the themes expressed in Lactantius' other works.
This short communication will instead argue that De Mortibus reflects in a practical fashion two central themes in Lactantian thought: firstly that the existence of divine anger is proof of the action of divine providence in the world, and secondly that the Roman Empire could be made Christian. To illustrate these points, it will look closely at the death of the emperor Galerius, who dies in De Mortibus 33 from a disease that causes his body to produce worms, which culminates in the issuing of an edict of toleration. Using a combination of close reading and contextualization, this communication will argue that Lactantius moves beyond a narrative of divine punishment to suggest that the death of Galerius is necessary for the reshaping of the imperial office, and by extension the entire Roman Empire, in the person of Constantine.