Nephoros archives describe the business activities of a larger monastery.19 In the absence of any archaeological evidence for fourth-century monasticism in Egypt, these documents are invaluable sources to complement the literary sources. They prove that Anthony, Pachomius and their successors were not the only monks in Egypt in the first half of the fourth century, and that the early monastic tradition was both literate and socially integrated in the economic and cultural environment. The latter fact is also substantiated by the report of Epiphanius about a certain monk, Hieracas, who was writing in the 320s and by the literary papyri from monastic libraries of the fourth century.20

The first monk about whom we have more extensive knowledge is Anthony the Great. His international reputation was secured through the biography written by Athanasius soon after his death in ad 356, which appeared in two Latin versions shortly thereafter. The Latin version, as is well known, figures prominently in the eighth book of Augustine's Confessions, thus indicating the tremendous impact the Life had within thirty years of its initial appearance. Yet it is clear from other sources that it was not the biography that made Anthony famous, but rather that the bishop wrote his version of Anthony's life both to claim Anthony for the church and to promote his own view of monastic ideals. In addition to the Vita, our main sources for information about Anthony are his letters, the Apophthegmata patrum and the references to him in several other early monastic texts. However, these other sources are silent regarding many biographical details and it is only the Vita that tells us that he was born to wealthy parents in 251, that at the age of eighteen he gave up all his belongings after their death, and that he then lived as a recluse for more than twenty years. Similarly, the Vita is our only source for the history of his withdrawal into the interior desert and his visit to Alexandria to strengthen the martyrs under Licinius. A reference to him in the index to the festal letters of Athanasius makes it clear that he was a well-known monastic figure in 337, and a passage in the Life ofPachomius shows him to be an old man revered as a pioneer for monasticism at the death of Pachomius in ad 346. His letters, which seem to be a kind of testament of his teaching, most probably appeared around 340. His death in 356 is attested by Jerome. The letters show that Anthony was a teacher acquainted with contemporary Alexandrian traditions represented

19 Editions by H. I. Bell, Jews and Christians in Egypt; B. Kramer and J. C. Shelton, DasArchiv des Nephoros.

20 For a broad discussion of these matters see Samuel Rubenson, The letters of St. Antony, 116-25.

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