Probably one of the most emotive words in our ethical and religious languages, ‘martyrdom’ poses the historian with a complex array of powerful images and awesome actions. Its very naturalness, as a grounding moment through which religions and radical movements are substantiated and made public, raises serious problems of perspective, empathy, judgement: studying martyrdom brings us in touch with some of the most admirable and some of the most repugnant and saddening aspects in human behaviour. Religions, parties, and nations claim martyrs as unambiguous signs of virtue, truth, and moral justification, and thus render martyrdom seemingly obvious. Painful, yes, but admirable; chilling, but satisfying, since in it men and women turn into gods, become myth-makers, and lend legitimation to whoever may claim them. So martyrdom—its discussion, definition, the claim to its virtue and beauty—is always open to appropriation, to competition, to contestation.