Some thoughts on the fourth-century monk Anthony and the rise of heroic monastacism




To compliment yesterday’s blog on the seminal Christian historian Eusebius, I have added a piece on the rise of Christian heroes in the fourth-century Roman Empire.


Life of Anthony

Despite the continuing allure of the martyrs, by the fifth century this form of sacrifice had largely become outmoded.[1] There were several reasons for this change. When the Empire became a Christian one, two things occurred: first, the opportunities for a glorious death declined; second, because Christians joined the establishment, many of them found it unnecessary to treat the Roman government as an adversary. As Christianity’s role in the Roman government grew, it also became essential for the Church to control individuals who acted outside the established hierarchy, even charismatic heroes such as the martyrs.[2]  Even before the decline of the martyr, some Christians had adopted a new form of valour. In third and fourth-century Egypt and Syria, an elite cadre became Christian heroes by pushing the limits of abstinence. Following New Testament examples of Jesus, who “escaped to the desert to pray in solitude”,[3] devout Christians like the Egyptian Anthony had set out alone from the cities of the Empire and into the deserts, determined to separate themselves from the physical world’s corruption.[4] Struggling against temptation, they battled to purify their bodies against the “demon of fornication” and fears of starvation.[5] By persevering, these individuals became heroic models for the segment of devoted Christians who proclaimed that supreme men practiced sexual abstinence, restricted their diet, and treated possessions, rank, and power with indifference.[6]

To some extent, the rise of the extreme ascetic was connected to concerns on the part of some Christians about the growing influence of the Roman secular authorities in fourth-century religious matters, as well as a rejection by these same intellectuals of the increased effect of “aristocratic status culture” on Late Roman Christianity.  Part of the appeal of the Christian ideal of heroism appears connected to its more inclusive nature.  Though the majority of these extreme ascetics hailed from the upper-classes, some came from the peasantry, and as we have noted, at times, either gender.[7] This differed from classical Greco-Roman and Germanic cultures that focused on men, emphasized a hero’s lineage, and tended to look down on men of humble origins. Despite the fact that Late Roman Christians from the upper classes rarely spoke of “universal salvation or egalitarian spirituality”, Christian writers from the less privileged classes often preached a less restricted theology. [8]  These theologians rebelled against the traditional Roman attitude that a man’s lineage and political accomplishments determined his nobilitas (distinction). They claimed that nobilitas served as a universal virtue and should be open to all men, regardless of their social class. To emphasize their scorn for the Roman social order, these Christians gained acclaim by rejecting their family ancestry and joining Christ’s family, thereby creating their own “aristocracy”.[9]Although most Christians could never hope to attain the strict perfection demanded by this new principle of heroism, by interacting with holy men or appealing to male and female saints they could gain a glimpse of God’s flawlessness.[10]

 The seminal work describing the innovative Christian heroes was the Life of Anthony composed by the Alexandrian bishop Athanasius (the probable author) around 357.[1] Written in simple Greek prose,[2] it set out, and largely succeeded, in promoting the devotion and the heroism of Anthony as an exemplar of the “extreme” ascetic life.[3]  As Peter Brown puts it, “Anthony was the hero of the Panerémos, of the Deep Desert, the Outer Space of the ascetic world”.[4]  The influence of this work for attracting potential converts to monasticism, and as a literary model for later hagiographers is clear. [5] Yet, like ecclesiastical history, its ancient readership included Christians and non-Christians.[6] Though a detailed analysis of this important text remains outside of this study’s scope, the metaphorical martial themes found in its opening chapters, as well as the influence this life has had on some modern academics’ conceptualization of a “new Christian masculine ideal” deserves some comment.[7]

Athanasius opened his account with a brief summary of the saint’s early life. He emphasized the boy’s noble upbringing, his love of solitude, and a predilection to avoid the study of secular literature (a sure sign in Christian literature of the time that the future Saint had the “innate” traits necessary to take on the rigours of the ascetic like).[8] When Anthony was eighteen or twenty (Athanasius is uncertain of his exact age) his parents died.  As a result, Anthony inherited the responsibility of running the family estate and the care of his younger sister.  Athanasius explained that one day Anthony wandered into a Church and heard the Gospel’s message that: “If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven”.[9] Anthony immediately set about to obey Mathew’s memorandum. In a theme that remained controversial for even committed Christians of the time, Anthony “rejected” the classical notions of patriarchal responsibility by suggesting that a real Christian man needed to abandon his biological family in order to take on a patriarchal role in the eternal Christian family.[10] Nevertheless, for all of his detachment from worldly affairs and bonds of kinship, the author makes it clear that Anthony looked after his sister by giving her some of her belongings and “protected” her by sending her to a convent.

Having sorted out his obligations in the secular world, Anthony set out to sever ties with his old world by taking on the challenges of the extreme ascetic life; according to Athanasius, God was “training the athlete”.[11] Complete abandonment of his corporeal frailty, however, remained difficult for an “untrained athlete” such as Anthony. Early on in his “conditioning”, Anthony acted like a typical apprentice; he lingered near to his village and only observed the activities and personalities of the different Holy Men. He strove to master each of the disparate virtues exhibited by these men. Yet, akin to Polybius’ description of Scipio Africanus’ adolescence, though innately superior, Anthony (1.4) still felt compelled to be morally superior to the boys of his own age. The traditional path to Roman manliness was filled with this sort of competition amongst young men attempting to match the deeds and the manly virtues of their ancestors.[12] Thus, Christian asceticism as portrayed by Athanasius, may have offered an alternative avenue to traditional Roman manliness that might have appealed to young aristocratic men, steeped in classical traditions, yet hesitant or unwilling to match the codes of masculinity and/ or the martial prowess of their ancestors.

Though endowed with some innate courage and ascetic qualities, like other young Roman men seeking “true” manliness, Anthony needed to hone these traits through constant self-discipline and tests of his courage in combat. For Anthony, the desert represented the ideal place to test one’s resolve and to fight invisible foes. This belief had a long history in Jewish and Christian theology.  The desert represented a spiritual place for Jews, Christians, and even pagans of Anthony’s era. In the Christo-Judaic traditions the desert was the domain of good and evil spirits; a place where the select might encounter God, but the majority would face “demons, death, and pollution”.[13]  During the early stages of his regime, Anthony had only enough strength to enter the tombs located on the cusp of the desert. As Claudia Rapp notes, even this step would have taken considerable courage considering the ancient concern associated with such crypts as places of religious impurity and death.[14]

Inside the burial chambers, the temptations of his old secular life represented the first obstacle that Anthony had to overcome. Unaware of Anthony’s “unique” strength at this early age, the Devil tempted the young man with visions of the “softness and the pleasure” of his former life. Seeking to undermine Anthony’s emergent self-discipline, the devil reminded his opponent about his duties to his sister and his family, the joys ofmoney,” love of glory” [φιλοδοξίαν], the “luxurious life” [ἡδονήν], and finally “the difficulty of virtue” [τό τραχύ τῆςἀρετή, 1.5]. The author assured his readers that Anthony was “not thrown for a fall,” but this” sturdy contestant” resisted temptation even in the face of the Devil’s deceitful whispering. We have seen this motif before. Though this incident was surely meant to emulate the Devil’s temptation of Christ during his forty-day fast in the Judean desert, [15] the reader of this dissertation is immediately reminded of examples found in its previous chapters that show how Roman writers connected the love of the soft life and luxury to unmanliness and the austere and the virtuous path with the manly life. Anthony’s courage and one might assume his manliness, allowed him to stand up to Satan.Though only a creature of flesh, Anthony confronted the Devil, as well as hordes of demons, with “good courage” (καταθαῤῥήσας, 1.6). Athanasius shortly after reminded his audience that the Devil and the demons could only triumph over the cowardly (1.13).  In a culture where the dichotomy between courage and cowardice was often a gendered one, it seems likely that Athanasius’ early Byzantine readers would have seen the courage displayed by Anthony in the face of supernatural attacks as evidence of his manliness.[16]

The martial metaphors come fast and furious at this point in the text. “Combat” (ἄθλησις) and “struggle” (ἀγώνισμα) against a multitude of demonic threats drives the narrative.[17]   Despite his biographer’s reassurances that the Saviour’s “work in Anthony” helped him with his struggles [1.7], throughout much of this section, Anthony seemingly relied on his own courage and self-mastery to beat back a constant barrage of demonic attacks. In fact, the only assistance he received was from some of his friends in the “real” world who sought to soothe his “wounds” and provided him with the meagre sustenance required to face his adversaries [1.6-10]. In a life famously bereft of miracles, God intervened with a ray of divine light to drive off a horde of demons only after Anthony had proven his worthiness in combat.[18] In Athanasius’ telling, Anthony appeared somewhat exasperated, when God finally got involved, indeed, he demanded to know why the Saviour had not shown up sooner. God explained to Anthony, that he had always been watching over him, but that he wanted to see Anthony’s courage under fire.  Like the young Roman soldier who first needed to be blooded in battle to gain his comrades’ and his commander’s respect, Anthony had to prove his qualities in spiritual warfare before he was able to break down some of the barriers between heaven and earth. As a harbinger of Anthony’s future fame, God explained that he would spread news of his name “everywhere” [πανταχοῦ].  Anthony immediately discovered that he had attained even more “power” [δύναμις]. With such hyperbole, one is reminded, less of the ideal of the humble Christian, and more of the victorious Roman general or emperor publicizing a triumph.

Anthony was thirty-five years old at this time, the prime of most men’s lives in this period. Athanasius revealed to his readers that Anthony eagerly set out for the most difficult final challenge. In his final transformation, Anthony headed deep into the heart of desert, a place where Satan and the demons were at their most powerful. In another martial metaphor, Anthony entered an abandoned fortress to begin what the author described a twenty-year battle against his demonic foes. These the author did not describe, preferring instead to take up the narrative when Anthony emerged victorious amongst a crowd of admirers. His description of Anthony presented a vision of a man who had taken the first steps towards the world of spiritual perfection:

When they beheld him, they were amazed to see that his body had maintained its former condition, it was neither fat from lack of exercise, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons, but was as they had known him prior to his withdrawal. The state of his soul was one of purity, for it was not restricted by grief, nor affected by either laughter or dejection. Moreover, when he saw the crowd, he was not annoyed any more than he was elated at being embraced by so many people. He maintained utter equilibrium, like one guided by reason and steadfast in that which accords with nature.[19]


Though it is clear that Athanasius sought in the passage above to paint a portrait of an individual who had taken his first steps towards incorporeity, its similarity with traditional Roman secular portraits of ideal manly deportment is striking.[20]  The heavy focus on the physiognomy and the apatheia of Anthony in the passage follows conventions found in classical biography and Stoic teachings. [21]  In fact, the depiction mirrors, in some ways, Ammianus’ famous account of Constantius II’s adventus into Rome in 357.[22]

At its core, the story is one of transformation.  The early chapters relate the time-honoured Roman account of a young adolescent male on the cusp of manhood, and the choices he must make to become an ideal citizen and a manly Roman man. Of course, what makes it special is the Christian twist on this conventional theme. Instead of becoming a productive member of civic society once his metamorphosis is complete, Anthony sought to reject it.[23] Just as in Eusebius’ profile of the emperor Constantine I, Athanasius both followed and subverted the classical forms of biography.[24] Whereas the ancient generals, political leaders, and emperors in traditional biography had often demonstrated their manliness and worth in war, Anthony must validate his merit in spiritual warfare.

Conflict, albeit of a spiritual and a metaphorical type, is rife in the early part of the life where Anthony has to prove his worth. Athanasius portrayed a world where Anthony vied for supremacy with false Hellenic deities and the Devil.  In the words of Claudia Rapp, “Anthony’s progressive withdrawal into the desert amounted to nothing less than a territorial battle with the demons”.[25]According to Athanasius, the demons whom Anthony confronted in the tombs outside his hometown and deep in the desert represented fallen angels who had tricked the Greek oracles into worshipping them as Hellenic deities [1.22, 33].[26]   It seems likely then, that for Athanasius, Anthony’s numerous victories over these demons—spurred on by God’s spirit within him—symbolised the Christians’ triumph over the pagans and their “false” pantheon of gods.[27] Anthony’s role as a prototypical soldier of Christ dominates the early part of the biography.[28]  In fact, Anthony faced many of same choices and challenges that a young Roman recruit would have confronted upon joining the Eastern Roman army, the abandonment of one’s city and family to an often distant outpost at the fringes of Empire, rigorous drilling to hone’s one’s battle skills, and courage under the guidance of a commander that served as a conduit to courage and virtue. Even the desert offered a familiar terrain for battles involving the traditional Eastern Roman rival, the Persians, deep in the deserts of modern day Turkey and Iraq.

The Life of Anthony demonstrates again that Christian theologians often sought ways to associate their Christian heroes with more traditional aspects of Roman masculine ideology.  Though this Life must at its core be seen as a work of Christian literature based on Biblical allusions and mimesis,[29] it also adhered to some of the basic tenets of biography and traditional codes of masculinity based on one’s self-mastery, courage in the face of danger, and the need to prove these skills in combat. In a culture that had long associated courage in warfare to manliness and cowardice in battle to unmanliness, we can understand why proving one’s bravery in even metaphorical struggles remained a fundamental aspect in the creation of any early Byzantine hero.   It is probably not too much to suppose that the ability of these Late Roman and early Byzantine writers to adopt and at the same time adapt these traditional codes was critical in gaining support from the classically educated elites in the fourth and the fifth centuries.

 The extreme ascetic life exemplified by Egyptian monks like Anthony , as well as the  more city-linked asceticism popularised in the Syrian and Mesopotamian forms proved attractive for a segment of devoted Christians in the  latter half of the fourth and the fifth-century—particularly in the Eastern half of the Empire. Though the movement was probably never as popular as some modern studies would have us believe, even Christians, like Augustine, who practiced a more moderate form of asceticism, felt attracted to its allure.[30] One finds that the early Byzantine historians—Christian and even some secular— thought that their audiences would be interested in the deeds of these holy heroes.[31]  One observes a good example of this admiration in the fifth-century Church historians. Sozomen populated his ecclesiastical history with a multitude of often-obscure holy men. In a remark that suggests that these holy men may have been seen as masculine as well as religious role models, Sozomen described Anthony as “prudent and manly” [].[32]The holy man’s martial qualities in his spiritual battles also attracted notice. Another fifth-century Church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, who assumed that most of his readers were familiar with Athanasius’ account, ignored most of Anthony’s ascetic traits, as well as his later deeds as the leader of his monastic community, but still found space in his truncated account to praise the saint for his combat with demons, and his ability to overcome their “wily modes of warfare”.[33]

Anthony’s spiritual battles certainly became a focal point for latter hagiographers to emulate in their writings. The author of life of a popular fifth-century pillar saint,  Daniel the Stylite, revealed that early in his “career” the holy man fought demons in order to emulate “the model of asceticism” Anthony.[34] Instead of fighting his battles against demons deep within the desert, however, Daniel took his fight to a church within a city[35]. The author wrote:

On reaching the porch of the church, just as a brave soldier strips himself for battle before venturing against a host of barbarians, so he, too, entered the church reciting the words spoken by the prophet, David, in the Psalms: ‘The Lord is my light and my saviour, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?’ (ps. 27:1) and the rest. And holding the invincible weapon of the Cross, he went round into each corner of the church making genuflections and prayers.


Like the barbarian enemies that afflicted the empire, however, the demons plaguing the church refused to go down without a fight. They threw stones at him and threatened to take his life. As long as the “athlete of Christ” Daniel kept awake and focussed on reciting his prayers, the demons had no way to harm him.[36] Whereas the trumpet blast of the Roman army struck fear in the Empire’s foes, here the power of prayer enfeebled the enemy.

The examples above, and others like it from hagiographical accounts from the period, attest to the attraction for some early Byzantine Christian intellectuals in representing the holy man as an exemplar of virtuous Christian behaviour, and at times courageous and manly men as well. Part of this appeal may have been the independent authority that often allowed these individuals to act outside of the restrictions of either the State or the religious establishment. These men often show up in secular and Church histories as heroic men of great power and influence who stand up to secular and ecclesiastical authority, and even to the enemies of the Empire.[37]

Before taking leave of Anthony, we must discuss one last issue. Some recent scholarship suggests that there was a more sinister side to the influence wielded by these “independent” holy men. The rise of a less tolerant, and what one recent academic describes as a “militant piety”, has been traced to the Late Roman ascetic movement and in particular to the religious authority given to these men by their admirers. Thomas Sizgorich has argued that the metaphorical battles found in the early Byzantine Christian literature all too often turned into acts of violence in the “real” world. In fact, Sizgorich declares that a willingness to “suffer on God’s behalf” in search of religious perfection was matched by the proclivity by some “zealots” to commit acts of violence against members of their own society that they deemed to be “pagans” or “heretics”.[38] Though, one must be careful not to overstate, either the severity these “pogroms”, or the central role that these extreme ascetics played in the factional violence that occasionally flared up in this period,[39] unquestionably this era witnessed the increased intensity of doctrinal disputes amongst rival Christian sects and a heavy focus on confronting those individuals or groups considered as unorthodox or pagan.[40] We do know that some members of the clergy saw these independent holy men as a threat, or at least as individuals who needed to be brought more fully under the Church’s control. One way local bishops accomplished this aim was by seeking to prevent ascetics from wandering from place to place by recommending communal prayer and fasting.[41]

In addition, it is important to emphasise, that despite the fact that “independent” holy men continued to play an important role in the early Byzantine Empire, when compared to the clergy within the Empire’s cities, their actual political authority and influence over theological debates were limited.[42] Indeed, by the close of fourth century, we find Christian theologians more and more emphasising the heroic virtues of the clergy living within the cities.[43]  The fifth-century bishop and ecclesiastical historian Theodoret of Cyrrhus stressed that living a virtuous life amongst the temptations of the Empire’s cities represented a more difficult than starving alone in the desert.[44]


[1]Martyr stories continued to be produced involving men and woman facing persecutions outside of the Roman Empire, particularly in the Persian Empire, see, e.g., Theodoret, HE 5.38.


[2] Stuart George Hall, “The Organization of the Church,” in The Cambridge Ancient History volume 14 Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors A.D. 425-600, ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 731.


[3] Luke 5:16.


[4]Many of these men and women it seems, however, had first entered the desert not to practice an ascetic lifestyle, but to escape persecution. James Goehring, Ascetics, Society, and the Desert: Studies in Early Egyptian Monasticism (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1999), 16. Moreover, completely abandoning one’s secular obligations, however, proved difficult for even for the most dedicated ascetic. Christian holy men’s newfound notoriety often made it difficult for them to labour alone. We see from the example of Antony, for instance, that people travelled long distances to seek out the holy heroes for advice or to engage in religious deliberation. Over time, some of these visitors became permanent disciples, and religious communities emerged around these charismatic leaders. The isolated monk had always been the exception rather than the rule. Far from living a solitary life unconcerned with secular affairs, most monks participated in local politics and followed a coenobitic lifestyle. By the fifth century, the Eastern Provinces of the Empire had developed organized monastic communities often based on military discipline.

[5] For these men isolated in the desert, conquering hunger became an even more difficult task than their struggle against lust. Many Christian intellectuals alleged that Adam and Eve’s first sin had not been fornication, but their inability to resist eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. See Brown, The Body and Society, 220-21.


[6]Philip Rousseau, “Monasticism”, in The Cambridge Ancient History volume 14 Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors A.D. 425-600, ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 745


[7] Theresa Urbainczyk, Theodoret of Cyrrhus: The Bishop and the Holy Man (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002), 67-79.


[8]Salzman, Christian Aristocracy, 218.


[9] This section owes much to Salzman, Christian Aristocracy, 200-19.


[10]Peter Brown, “Holy Men”, in The Cambridge Ancient History volume 14 Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors A.D. 425-600, ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000),781-2. While it is important to note the revolutionary aspects of the “new” Christian heroic ideal based on extreme asceticism, it is also essential to recognize its similarities and debt to Hellenic and Jewish traditions. It would be a mistake to see the rise of the holy man as a spontaneous development. From its birth, Christianity had embraced Greco-Roman and Jewish customs that promoted secluded persons or groups of men practicing a lifestyle that were similar to the later tradition of monasticism.



[1] Some scholars dispute that Athanasius composed the life, see Timothy Barnes Athanasius and Constantius, Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge.: Harvard University Press, 1981), 240, n.64.


[2] Anthony’s biography, like much of the much of the Christian literature of the day, was composed in a far simpler prose than much of the secular literature of the time. As a result, these Christian authors reached a far broader spectrum of Late Roman literate society than their non-Christian counterparts. These Christian Lives also concentrated on and frequently praised women and the poor, members of Late Roman society much more neglected in the non-Christian literary tradition. These issues are discussed in Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 147-49.[2]


[3] The modern literature on Anthony is vast. A good starting point is Brown, Body and Society, 213-40. An excellent survey on current historiographical controversies is found in Timothy Barnes, Angel of Light or mystic initiate? The problem of the Life of Antony”,Journal of Theological Studies. 37: (1986):353-68.


[4] Brown, Body and Society, 214-15.


[5] Rapp, Holy Bishops, 110. The prescriptive and edifying nature of the work has also been explored in some depth; see Urbainczyk, Theodoret, 44-6.


[6]For this diverse audience, see Averil Cameron, “Form and Meaning; The Vita Constantini and the Vita Antonii”, in Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity Transformation of the Classical Heritage Series, 31. ed. Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 78.


[7] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 281.

[8]Samuel Rubenson, “Philosophy and Simplicity: The Problem of Classical Education in Early Christian Biography”, in Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity. Transformation of the Classical Heritage Series, 31. ed. Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2000), 115.


[9]Mathew, 19: 21.


 [10]As Liebeschuetz’s suggests (Ambrose and John, 205-15), this rejection of the world was never expected of the majority of Christians or as absolute for this elite cadre as the rhetoric suggests.


[11] Indeed, we find like earlier sophists and New Testament authors, Athanasius comparing the difficulties of asceticism in athletic terms.  See e.g., Philostorgius, Live of the Sophists (trans. Wilmer C, Wright, LCL,[Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921, reprint 2005]) 1.525. For the reputation of athletes as courageous, self-disciplined, and manly in the Greek and Roman literary tradition, see Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 175-78.


[12]Carlin A. Bartin, Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 84-7.


[13] For the nuanced and differing views of the desert in Judaic, Christian, and non-Christian spirituality, see Rapp, Holy Bishops, 109-24.


[14] Rapp, Holy Bishops, 111.

[15]Cf.: Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4: 1-13

[16] As Craig Williams argues (Roman Homosexuality, 142), in the Greco-Roman literary tradition “the oppositional pair masculine/effeminate” was often associated closely with the binarism of courage/cowardice.


[17]Athanasius of Alexandria, The Life of Anthony and the Letter to Marcellus (trans. Robert Gregg Mahwah N.J: Paulist Press, 1980), 1.10. (I consulted and translated some of the Greek text for section 1.5-10 found at


[18] This reluctance to intervene may be a response to pagan literary motifs where the Gods continually interfere in the lives of mortals.


[19] Athanasius, Life of Anthony 1.14.


[20] As Caroline Walker Bynum points out, Athanasius suggests here that “the body is maintained in resurrection”. An idea that was disputed by some Christian theologians of the time, see Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia University, 1995), 109. For the notion of incorporeity as the “ultimate masculine achievement” for many ancient Greco-Roman writers, see Conway, Behold the Man, 16.


[21]Urbaincyzk, Theodoret, 45.


[22]Ammianus, Res gestae 16.10.


[23] In the end his rejection is only partial. Anthony in fact communicates directly with many secular leaders of the day, including the emperor.


[24] Cameron, “Form and Meaning”, 75.


[25] Rapp, Holy Bishops, 110.


[26]For the influence of “Greek” culture on Athanasius’ vision of these pagan deities and his view that the pagan god were not imaginary but demons in disguise, see Dag Oisten Endsjo, Primordial Landscapes, Incorruptible Bodies: Desert Asceticism and the Christian Appropriation of Greek Ideas on Geography Bodies, and Immortality (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2008).


[27]Mathew, 19:21.


[28] It is, however, Anthony’s role as a “teacher” that plays the prominent role in the remainder of the biography. For this theme, see Philip Rousseau, “Antony as Teacher in the Greek Life”, inGreek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity. Transformation of the Classical Heritage Series, 31. ed. Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 89-109.


[29]Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau, “Introduction: Biography and Panegyric”, in Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity. Transformation of the Classical Heritage Series, 31. ed. Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 2000), 16-23.


[30] Augustine, Confessions (trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin [London: Penguin, 1961]), 10.43.70.


[31]See e.g., Procopius (Wars  1.7.7-8, 2.13.14-5) Geoffrey Greatrex argues, that even if these accounts of Christian ascetics comes from another source, Procopius’ use of them indicates that both he and his audience were interested in the deeds of “holy heroes”. Geoffrey Greatrex, Rome and Persia at War, 502-532 (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1998), 63, 87.


[32] Sozomen, HE 1.13.


[33] Socrates, HE 1.21.


[34]Life of Daniel the Stylite (trans. Elizabeth  Dawes and Norman Baynes, Three Byzantine Saints [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948]), 14.


[35]Daniel appeared much more at ease than Anthony with interacting with the leading secular authorities of his age. In the Life, he meets frequently with the Eastern Roman emperors providing both religious and political advice. A fragment from a contemporary secular source, Malchus (frag. 9.3), suggests that some of this political influence was real. However, I would argue against scholars like Claudia Rapp who claim (Holy Bishops, 3-6) those holy men like Daniel had “considerable” power and influence over the emperor.

[36]Life of Daniel the Stylite, 14-15.


[37]See e.g., Procopius, Wars 1.7.7-11.


[38]Sizgorich, Militant Devotion in Christianity, 3-7;


[39]The famous example of the riots by the circus factions and the violent response by the Roman army in Thessaloniki in 390 and riot of the statues 387 in Antioch should serve as reminders that outbreaks of violence were only infrequently based on religious divides alone. For the role of the circus factions in urban violence, see Alan Cameron, Circus Factions- Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976).


[40] For these disputes: W.H.C. Frend, The Early Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991; Timothy E. Gregory, Vox Populi: Popular Opinion and Violence in the Religious Controversies of the Fifth Century A.D. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1979).


[41]Rousseau, “Monasticism”, 775.


[42]Peter Brown, Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of Christianization of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 72-3. Contra Rapp’s claims (Holy Bishops, 3-6) that men like Daniel had considerable power and influence over the emperor. Such claims, though supported somewhat by secular sources (see e.g. Malchus, frag 9.3), rely heavily on hagiographical accounts interested in promoting such influence.


 [43]See e.g., Ambrose, Epistula Extra Collectionem 14. 74.


[44]Urbainczyk, Theodoret, 120-21.



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