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In the intense but blurry religious atmosphere oflate antiquity, when Christianity was beginning to explore the possibilities of engagement with the empire and vice versa, personal sanctity could also be sought or achieved by emperors. Theodosius II was particularly noted for his exceptional piety,13 Marcian was hailed as a 'new Paul' and 'new David', and Constantine and Justinian received liturgical commemoration as saints after their death.14

Sanctity was equal opportunity, regardless of status and gender. Theodore of Sykeon, for example, a popular holy man in late sixth- to early seventh-century Galatia, was the son of an unmarried working woman and an absentee father who was an imperial messenger. Women, too, could achieve sanctity in various ways. Like men, they could be ascetics, living either as hermits in the desert or in monastic communities. Family connections played an important role. Macrina, the sister of Basil of Caesarea, was recognised as a saint, along with their mother Emmelia, because these two women had turned their household into a monastic community. Monica, the mother of Augustine, and Marta, the mother of Symeon the Stylite, were considered saints because of their sons. Particularly popular types of female saints in late antiquity were the beautiful prostitute who repented and the runaway housewife who became a transvestite monk.15

Three examples for the cult of saints

The cult of a saint was prepared long before that person's death, in the admiration and adulation of disciples and visitors to the holy man or woman and in the reports that circulated about their miraculous interventions. The impresarios who set in scene the holy man's popularity during his lifetime and orchestrated his cult immediately after his death were usually close associates or disciples. Over time, saints' cults developed into important rallying points for the people and the powerful of their locality and region. Especially in the Latin West, bishops and aristocrats vied for the opportunity to patronise a cult through building activity, donations to the saint at his resting place, and literary displays of devotion from their own pen. A case in point is Damasus (304-84), bishop of Rome, who boosted the local cult of martyrs by identifying their tombs in the catacombs and adorning them with large marble plaques that carried short poems he had composed in their honour. These inscriptions

13 J. Harries, 'Pius princeps".

14 G. Dagron, Emperor and priest, esp. 127-57.

15 Holy women of Byzantium, ed. A.-M. Talbot; E. Patlagean, 'L'histoiredelafemmedeguisee en moine'.

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