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Monks, Monsters and Barbarians: Re-defining the African Periphery in Late Antiquity

By A. H. Merrills


This essay examines the intersection of geographical thought and the representation of desert monasticism in late antique Christian historiography. It argues that the descriptions of the ascetic fringe provided by Eusebius and his continuators were influenced by the accounts of peripheral groups provided by classical historians. In each case long accounts of the peculiar social, dietary, and sexual habits of peripheral groups could be used to reflect the mores of the society of the center. It is suggested that Philo's first-century work De Vita Contemplativa offered the paradigm for this exploitation of secular motifs of alterity in religious writing but that the approach had new resonances in the late antique world, particularly in the condemnation of schismatics and the celebration of the expansion of the church

Year: 2004
DOI identifier: 10.1353/earl.2004.0025
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