outskirts of Constantinople, we constantly see the monks interacting between rulers and citizens, as arbitrators in conflicts and as sources of consolation and inspiration in periods of distress. More problematic is the issue of the relation between monks and the ecclesiastical offices. In several of the earliest sources the monks are depicted as keeping a distance between themselves and the hierarchy. Later in the fourth century the bishops seem to have actively sought to make use of monks in various services, including ordaining them as bishops. During the fifth century, a tradition rapidly developed in the East that all bishops ought to be monks. There is, however, no evidence for any attempts to integrate all monks into the ordained ministry. Instead we find an interpretation of monastic life as a special ministry belonging to those who were not ordained (for example, in the late fifth-century writings of Dionysius the Areopagite: see his Ecclesiastical hierarchy 6). There is growing evidence that, in the late fourth century, there were conflicts between monks and bishops and attempts by the bishops to define proper monastic conduct. In the fifth century, we see a more active role of monastic communities in various ecclesiastical affairs, especially in the large cities, as well as attempts by different parties to enrol monks in their support. This practice is particularly pronounced in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon.

Sources for female monasticism are, unfortunately, less abundant. There seems, however, not to have been anything gender-specific about becoming or being a monk in the earliest period. The specific condition for female monks was only a reflection of the general position of women in late antiquity. Thus female ascetics were supposed to be weaker and in need of protection, and thus not suited for life in the wilderness. Female monks in the desert did in fact pretend to be men and, when their identity was revealed, were often hailed as having become male.11 Women were on the one hand not expected to appear and to speak in public, but on the other they were famous for their role as founders, supporters and organisers of monastic communities. Hagiographical accounts of female monks, as well as their correspondence, show that they were expected to be as educated, as well-versed in the Bible and as competent in theological discourse as the men. It is striking that, from the beginning, women from the highest social classes took an active part in the emerging monastic tradition. This practice reached as high as the imperial family: fifth- and sixth-century empresses were amongthe most significant and politically important promoters of monasteries. The support given to various

11 For female monks in early Egyptian tradition see Palladius, H.L. 3, 6, 28, 33, 34, 41, 46, 54-7, 59-61, 63-4, 69.

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