Byzantine Hagiography

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The practically non-existent archival documents from the Byzantine era have forced historians to look to other sources as a means of understanding the significance of this great empire. Scholars have therefore turned to the abundance of surviving hagiographical documents such as lives of saints, passions of martyrs, collections of miracles, liturgical poetry, and translations of relics from Late Antiquity to the fall of the Eastern Empire. These accounts have been preserved in thousands of manuscripts and continue to be translated, studied, and modified by modern scholars. Not only are there so many diverse Byzantine saints’ lives produced throughout the empire’s existence, but a number of vitae have been written by more than one author. Older …show more content…
Often, however, historians have dissected sacred biographies in order to establish factual information. A more useful approach, and one that has been taken up by many recent scholars, is to examine Byzantine hagiography as a means of providing insight into the political, social, economical, and cultural environment in which it was produced. With that being said, an investigation of the ninth century Life of Saint Ioannikios will demonstrate how hagiography may be used to understand Byzantine monastic society during the iconoclastic period. Specifically concentrating on the hagiographer’s intentions, the sources of his material, and his anticipated audience, will make manifest the ways in which hagiography may be used as a source of medieval history, along with the limitations of the genre. While the bulk of the analysis will concentrate on the Life of Saint Ioannikios, other medieval Byzantine sources will be addressed. The attempt here is not to explain why or how the controversy over sacred images erupted, but rather to examine the discourse of hagiography as a means of exploring monastic concerns of the …show more content…
Details of the saint’s youth, movement, accomplishments, and miracles are all recounted. While authors often situate their saint’s lives in some distant moment of the past, most vita are in fact written by a contemporary of the saint not too long after his/her death. This is true for the case of the Life of Saint Ioannikios. The biography was first recounted by the monk Peter almost immediately after the saint’s death. Not long after Peter’s production, the monk Sabas also wrote a version retelling the wisdom and miracles of the iconodule saint. While there are discernable differences between these two versions (which will be alluded to throughout this discussion), in terms of the fundamental components of Ioannikios’ life, the two vitae are more or less in agreement. Ioannikios was born in the middle of the eighth century in Bythynia. In his youth, he joined the imperial army where he followed the movement in support of the iconoclasts. After experiencing the horrors of warfare, Ioannikios deserted the army and entered the monastery of Antidion on Mt. Olympos, where he reformed his views on the iconoclastic struggle and subsequently became a hermit. During the height of the second wave of iconoclasm, Ioannikios, now being a supporter of the veneration of icons, fled the region to avoid persecution. Ioannikios was particularly gifted with incredible capabilities. For

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