monasteries are governed by a defined leadership responsible for all relations to the authorities, civic as well as ecclesiastical.

Even with this classification scheme in place, it should be noted that not all monks were defined by these categories, that not all monks remained within a given category all their life, and that communities occasionally changed over time. Especially during the fourth and the earlierpart ofthe fifth century, before the increase of episcopal power as an outcome of the Council of Chalcedon, the monastic scene was characterised by experiments and a high degree of mobility. It is only later that a clear tendency towards coenobitism appears, with the result that ascetics in the cities form single-sex communities and recluses as well as itinerant monks attach themselves to, or create, stable communities.

Local developments

Since there is no single origin and no unified development of monasticism, and since there were significant differences in the monastic developments between various regions of the Eastern Mediterranean due to different historical backgrounds as well as different social and political circumstances, the history of early monasticism will here be treated separately for five main regions: Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor and Constantinople. However, this should not blind us to the great mobility within monasticism between the various regions and the rapid diffusion of ideas, models and texts. A certain bias towards Egypt is caused first by the uneven distribution of the sources, and second by the fact that the developments in Egypt to a great extent both pre-dated and (through the literary portrait of Egyptian monasticism) deeply influenced developments in the other regions.


Earliest evidence from Egyptian papyri shows that 'monk' was a current designation for persons who were clearly engaged in business and were property owners; most probably, it denoted someone who was celibate for religious reasons. This kind of social involvement is borne out by further evidence from two larger archives for communities of monks in fourth-century Egypt, which contain letters dealing with pastoral and business matters: the archives of Paphnutius attest to a monk (addressed as a spiritual father) who was apparently a well-known representative of Bishop Athanasius' opponents, and the

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