Byzantine monasteries were located both in the countryside and in the cities, pre-eminently in Constantinople, and constituted centres of religious, cultural, philanthropic and economic life. They consisted of a complex of buildings, which apart from the monks' cells included the katholikon or main church, chapels, a refectory, a fountain, a bakery, storerooms and stables. Some of them also had hostels for pilgrims and travellers and hospitals and almshouses for the old. Quite often they had libraries and scriptoria, in which manuscripts were copied and in special cases beautifully illuminated. They were usually contained within strong defensive walls. Most of them possessed agricultural lands, which besides providing foodstuffs for the monks were a source of revenues, to be used for the benefit of the monastery - often to maintain or enhance its buildings. Their landed estates were largely acquired through imperial donations and grants of privileges - often in the shape of exemptions from state taxes. Private individuals also made donations to monasteries, usually in exchange for posthumous commemoration and prayers for the salvation of their soul. Donations in general were not just limited to landed property, for there were also gifts of cash and precious objects. Exemption from taxes and a stream of donations enabled monasteries to acquire additional properties through purchase. From the tenth century onwards their landed properties increased substantially thanks to the inclusion not only of fields and vineyards but also of mills, livestock and fishponds. Furthermore, they began to acquire urban rental properties, workshops and boats.
Certain general principles regulated monastic life. Cenobitic monasticism meant a community following an egalitarian way of life, with all the monks following the same routine and sharing the same food at a common table. There was also idiorrhythmic monasticism, which allowed for an individualised style of existence, in which monks were permitted to possess personal property. This form of monastic life, for reasons to be analysed, became more
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