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Holy Women of Byzantium

Holy Women of Byzantium

Ten Saints’ Lives in English Translation

Edited by Alice-Mary Talbot

ISBN 9780884022480

Publication date: 01/01/1996

The ten holy women whose biographies are presented here represent a wide variety of Byzantine female saints: nuns who disguised themselves in male monastic garb; a repentant harlot who withdrew to the desert for forty-seven years of self-imposed isolation; a nun who escaped from Arab captivity to spend thirty-five years as a hermit on the abandoned island of Paros; a wonder-working abbess who slew a dragon; widows who found refuge in the ascetic life of the convent; married laywomen and a queen abused by their husbands.

The careers of these holy women demonstrate some of the divergent paths to sanctification in Byzantium, including mortification of the body, unquestioning obedience to a superior, repentance, acts of charity, prophecy, and miracle-working. At the same time, the texts of the Lives reveal the Byzantine ambivalence toward women, reflecting a paradox of civilization that simultaneously denigrated women as daughters of Eve and elevated Mary as the Mother of God and the instrument of man’s salvation.

These vitae, ranging from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries, also supplement traditional narrative histories by providing information on such aspects of Byzantine civilization as the impact of Arab and Bulgarian raids, iconoclasm, the monastic routine in convents, everyday family life and household management, and a smallpox epidemic in Thessalonike.

This collection of sacred biographies is the initial volume in a new Dumbarton Oaks series, Byzantine Saints’ Lives in Translation. The vitae selected for the series are rendered into English for the first time and are fully annotated.


  • The notes are exemplary in their attention to historical details and patristic and scriptural citations, without being too profuse or scholarly. This volume represents an indispensable addition to the library of every Byzantinist, theologian and general reader. As the first volume of a series of English translations of Byzantine saints’ lives, it stands on its own merits, while offering a glimpse of treasures to come.



  • Alice-Mary Talbot is Director of Byzantine Studies Emerita, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection