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E03558: An anonymous monk of Jerusalem writes the History of the Monks in Egypt, a collection of stories about holy men and monastic communities, which he recorded during a visit to the monasteries of Egypt in 394/5. It is the first monastic collection in Christian literature. Written in Greek at Jerusalem, 395/397. Overview entry.

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posted on 2017-08-11, 00:00 authored by Bryan
History of the Monks in Egypt



1. *Ioannes (John) of Lykopolis (S00102). The author met him shortly before his death.

2. Abba Or.

3. Ammon and the Tabennesiots.

4. Abba Bes in the Thebaid.

5. The monks of the city of Oxyrhynchus

6. Theon, ascetic near Oxyrhynchus.

7. Elias, ascetic in Antinoopolis.

8. Apollo, near Hermopolis.

9. Amoun.

10. The story of Patermouthios, recounted by Kopres.

11. The story of Sourous, Esaias, and Paulos, recounted by Kopres.

12. Abba Helles, recounted by Kopres.

13. Appelles of Achoris, who recounts the story of Ioannes.

14. *Paphnoutios (S00880).

15. Pityrion, disciple of *Antony, head of Antony’s Outer Mount.

16. Eulogios the presbyter.

17. Isidoros and his monastery in the Thebaid.

18. Sarapion, father of several monasteries near Arsinoe. Visits to Memphis and the ‘granaries of Joseph’ (the pyramids).

19. The martyrs *Apollonios, Philemon, and their companions, whose shrines and relics the author venerated in the Thebaid ($E03559).

20. Dioskoros of the Thebaid; the monks of Nitria. *Ammonios of Kellia, Didymos, Kronides, and *Evagrios of Pontus.

21. *Makarios the Egyptian (S00863).

22. *Amoun of Nitria (S00419).

23. *Makarios the Alexandrian, story recounted in Sketis ($S01479).

24. *Paulos the Simple, disciple of Anthony (S01480). Story recounted in Nitria.

25. Piammonas of Diolkos.

26. Ioannes of Diolkos.

27. Epilogue.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Amun, monk in Nitria : S00419 Antony, 'the Great', monk of Egypt, ob. 356 : S00098 Makarios the Egyptian, ascetic in Sketis, ob. 391 : S00863 John of Lycopolis, 4th-century monk in Egypt : S00102 Paphnoutios, founder of the convent in Heraclea (T

Saint Name in Source

Ἀμοῦν Ἀντώνιος Μακάριος Ἰωάννης Παφνούτιος Παῦλος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Monastic collections (apophthegmata, etc.) Literary - Pilgrim accounts and itineraries


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai Egypt and Cyrenaica

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Jerusalem Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - monastic

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Miracle with animals and plants Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money) Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miracle at martyrdom and death Assumption/otherworldly journey Miraculous protection - of communities, towns, armies Exorcism Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - abbots Pagans Peasants Animals

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


The History of the Monks in Egypt is the account of a pilgrimage through the monastic centres of Egypt, undertaken by a group of Jerusalem-based monks from c. September 394 to c. February 395. The narrators are a group of seven Greek and Latin speaking monks, including an ordained deacon, whose monastic base was the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem – very probably the monastery of Rufinus of Aquileia and Melania the Elder. The text was produced at the request of other members of this monastic community, between 395 and 403, when Rufinus of Aquileia translated it into Latin. Since he is likely to have acquired it before his departure from Palestine in 397, the text may indeed have appeared between 395 and 397. The identity of the author is unknown. Some of the manuscripts erroneously ascribe the text to Palladius of Helenopolis or Jerome. Sozomen, who used it as a source in his Ecclesiastical History, ascribes it to Timothy of Alexandria (d. 385). None of these attributions can be accepted, though Sozomen’s claim may suggest that, in fifth-century Constantinople, the work circulated under the name of a certain Timotheos. C. Butler (1898, 277) suggested identifying him with Timothy, archdeacon of Alexandria in c. 412. More recently, A. Cain (2016, 48) proposed the hypothesis that the author was the Spanish monk Anatolius, a companion of Melania the Elder and member of the monastery of Rufinus.


The History of the Monks in Egypt is the first recorded memoir of a monastic journey/pilgrimage and the first work of the genre of monastic collections of short stories and sayings of holy men. It constitutes the first survey of oral traditions about living and past holy men circulating in the burgeoning monastic centres of Egypt after Athanasius’ Life of Antony, including stories associated with Antony which were not recorded by Athanasius. Although structured according to the topography of the author’s wanderings, the text differs from other works of travel literature, including Holy Land itineraries, due to the purposes of the journey. Pilgrims visiting shrines and sites in the Holy Land and elsewhere focused on seeing and venerating things and, as a result, their written accounts are highly descriptive, outlining routes, sites, and objects. By contrast, our author and his companions only occasionally report visiting/venerating holy sites and shrines which happened to be on their way, like the temple of Hermopolis Magna (where the Holy Family stopped during their journey to Egypt), the ‘granaries of Joseph’ in Babylon (the pyramids), and the shrine of the martyrs Apollonios and Philemon in the Thebaid. The main purpose of our author and his companions was to observe and hear about the life of monastic communities and holy men. The History of the Monks is a collection of stories, anecdotes, and sayings, following the sequence of the actual journey, but not focusing on the author’s travel impressions. Thus the text reads much like the other monastic collections which do not stem from journeys. The author records aspects of his heroes’ personality, miracles, and teaching, without producing full biographies. It does not seem to matter whether the figures discussed are dead or still living, and no veneration of dead saints is reported, with the sole exception of the monastic martyr Apollonios and his companion Philemon (E03559). Some of the stories about dead ascetics are recorded as parts of the oral teaching of a living holy man. The stories of Patermouthios, Sourous, Esaias, Paulos, and Helles are recounted by Kopres (10-12); Appelles of Achoris talks about Ioannes (13). Other stories of dead saints are recorded as traditions of their monastic communities about their founding fathers, like Paphnoutios in Herakleopolis (14), and the Nitrian fathers Amoun, Makarios the Egyptian, Makarios the Alexandrian (21-23). The section reflecting the Nitrian hagiographical tradition (21-24, including the story about Antony’s disciple Paulos the Simple) recounts the stories of figures which are also included in the Lausiac History of Palladius (E03314, E03318, E03319, E03321). There appears no intention of venerating these figures, but only to collect information about them - with the exception, perhaps, of Paphnoutios, whose topos (monastic community, tomb, or both?) the author reports having visited. The itinerary of the author's journey must have been related to the close connections between his monastery on the Mount of Olives and the centres of Egyptian monasticism, chiefly the communities of Lycopolis (Asyut) and Nitria (Wadi el Natrun). A few years earlier, Palladius of Helenopolis (also a monk from Palestine and personally known to the founders of the monastery of the Mount of Olives) had moved to Egypt and spent most of the 390s in monastic communities of the desert. Our author’s journey overlaps chronologically Palladius’ presence in Egypt and indeed some of the places and figures of the History of the Monks also feature in the Lausiac History. When our author and his party visited Nitria, they may even have met Palladius in person, and they certainly met people he knew and revered as holy men (Ammonios of Kellia, Evagrios of Pontus, Kronides; John of Lycopolis). The itinerary is as follows (for details, see Cain 2016, 129-135): the community of John at Lykopolis; the community of Or, probably near Joseph’s canal (Bahr Yusuf); Hermopolis Magna (temple/church of the Holy Family) and the Tabennesiot community of Ammon; Oxyrhynchus with its numerous monks; Antinoopolis and the hermitage of Elias; the monastery of Apollo at Bawit, and communities in the surrounding desert, including the monastery of Kopres; Achoris and the community of Apelles; Heracleopolis Magna and the topos of Paphnoutios; Antony’s Outer Mountain and the fortified monastery of Isidoros in the same area; the community of Sarapion near Arsinoe; Babylon and Memphis (‘Joseph’s granaries’ i.e. pyramids); Shrine of Apollonios and Philemon (Antinoopolis); Nitria and the neighbouring communities of Sketis and Kellia; Lake Mareotis; Alexandria; and Diolkos.


Text: Festugière, A.-J., Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (Subsidia Hagiographica 34; Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1961). Translations: Frank, K.S., Mönche im frühchristlichen Ägypten (Historia monachorum in Aegypto) (Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1967). Russell, N., The Lives of the Desert Fathers: The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (London: Mowbray, 1980). Further reading: Bammel, C.P. "Problems of the Historia Monachorum," Journal of Theological Studies 47:1 (1996), 92-104. Butler, E.C., The Lausiac History of Palladius. 2 vols. (Texts and Studies 6.1-2; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1898, 1904). Cain, A., "The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto and Athanasius’ Life of Antony," Vigiliae Christianae 67:4 (2013), 349-63. Cain, A., The Greek Historia Monachorum in Aegypto: Monastic Hagiography in the Late Fourth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). Frank, G.A., "Miracles, Monks, and Monuments: The Historia Monachorum in Aegypto as Pilgrims' Tales," in: D. Frankfurter (ed.), Pilgrimage and Holy Space in Late Antique Egypt (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 134; Leiden: Brill, 1998), 483-505.

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