Byzantine and Coptic Hagiography

Byzantine and Coptic Hagiography

Unit Code


Unit Name

Byzantine and Coptic Hagiography

Unit Weighting

9 cpts

Type of Unit



Academic Staff

Mario Baghos
PhD (Sydney, 2015), BTh(Hons) (SCD, 2010)

Curriculum Objectives

This graduate course unit explores the historical and literary development of hagiography in the Byzantine and Coptic contexts, highlighting its relevance both for the Byzantines and Copts and for the contemporary ecclesial experience.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit students will be able to:
1. Contextualise and account for the emergence and development of hagiographical literature within the Byzantine and Coptic contexts.
2. Distinguish and assess the various themes and sub-genres within hagiography, as well as hagiographical motifs in other literary genres (such as historiography, hymnography, etc.).
3. Critically apply the findings of a study of primary sources to hagiography.
4. Critically apply the findings of secondary studies sources to hagiography.
5. Evaluate the relevance of the study of Byzantine and Coptic hagiography for the contemporary ecclesial experience.
Threshold concept to be acquired in this unit
The Churches in Byzantium and Egypt were permeated by the reverence given to saints as participants in God, and the rise of hagiographical literature in late antiquity would impact the major metropolises in both Byzantium and Egypt, as well as their fringes. The saints were considered paragons of behaviour, and the narratives of their lives contained pedagogical tools that assisted many Byzantines and Copts on the Christian journey. Hagiography was such a potent force that delving into this important literary genre is significant for understanding the Church in both Byzantium and Egypt respectively.


1. Hagiography as a literary genre and its related genres
2. Hagiography and martyrdom
3. Hagiography in the city and the desert: the Egyptian context
4. Hagiography within the city and without: the Byzantine context
5. The spiritual and theological significance of hagiography
6. The relevance of Byzantine and Coptic hagiography for contemporary ecclesial experience

Weekly Syllabus:

1. Hagiography in context
2. Establishing the paradigm: St Anthony the Great
3. The hero of the fourth century: St Athanasius the Great
4. St John Chrysostom and the tyranny of empire
5. A pillar of the Church: St Cyril of Alexandria
6. Coptic hagiography in Egypt and beyond I
7. Coptic hagiography in Egypt and beyond II
8. Byzantine hagiography in Constantinople and beyond I
9. Byzantine hagiography in Constantinople and beyond II
10. Modern Coptic Orthodox saints
11. Modern Eastern Orthodox saints
12. The relevance of hagiography today


Primary Sources:
Brock, Sebastian and Brian Fitzgerald, trans. Two Early Lives of Severos, Patriarch of Antioch.
Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013.
Talbot, Alice-Mary, ed. Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints’ Lives in English Translation. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1996.
Talbot, Alice-Mary and Scott Fitzgerald Johnson, trans. Miracle Tales from Byzantium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.
Vivian, Tim and Apostolos N. Athanassakis, trans. The Life of Antony: The Coptic Life and the Greek Life. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2003.
Ward, Benedicta, trans. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: the Alphabetical Collection. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975.
Secondary Sources:
Coon, Lynda L. Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.
Davis, Steven J. The Popes of Egypt, I: The Early Coptic Papacy. Cairo and New York: The American University in Cairo Press, 2004.
Efthymiadis, Stephanos. Hagiography in Byzantium: Literature, Social History and Cult. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Variorum, 2011.
Rapp, Claudia. Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2005.
Zaborowski, Jason R. The Coptic Martyrdom of John of Phanijoit: Assimilation and Conversion to Islam in Thirteenth Century Egypt. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2005.



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