In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hagiography in the Byzantine Empire

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Research Tools
  • Electronic Resources
  • General Surveys: Handbooks
  • General Surveys: Chapters in Books
  • Overview: Studies and Discussions of General Interest for Byzantine Hagiography
  • Overview: The Subgenres of Byzantine Hagiography
  • Overview: The Literary Aspects of Byzantine Hagiography
  • Overview: The Early Byzantine Period (4th–7th Centuries)
  • Overview: The Middle Byzantine Period (8th–12th Centuries)
  • Overview: The Late Byzantine Period (13th–15th Centuries)
  • The Metaphrastic Phenomenon
  • Overview: Byzantine Hagiography and Gender Studies
  • Overview: The Byzantine Hagiographer

Medieval Studies Hagiography in the Byzantine Empire
Stephanos Efthymiadis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0325


Hagiography is the literary genre represented by the texts written in honor of a saint or a group of saints and unfolding as shorter or longer accounts of their biography, martyrdom, and/or other manifestations of their confession of faith. Derived from the components hagios (saint) and graphe (writing), hagiography is a term coined by European scholarship, not a word used in the premodern era in the sense and implications it has acquired today. Hagiography as practiced in the Byzantine Empire had a long and rich history between the 4th and the 15th century. In Late Antiquity it emerged as a distinct genre, developing from simple forms to works of rhetorical sophistication and spreading into different parts of the eastern empire. The bulk of late antique hagiography produced there consists of texts written in Greek; yet Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Arabic also arose as languages of hagiography both inside and outside the borders of the Byzantine state, as an expression of Christianity in the lands where these languages were spoken. From the 8th century onward, and with the shrinking of the eastern empire, Greek acquired the monopoly on literature at large, a development that affected hagiography too. But Georgian and Slavonic texts were added to the production of eastern Christian hagiography, with a significant output including both translations from a Greek original and original works chiefly celebrating local saints. From the Byzantine millennium (330–1453) there are preserved upward of 2,500 Greek hagiographic texts. This estimate is based on the texts listed in the inventory of the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca. Although in their majority they have been transmitted anonymously, a fair portion of those preserved with an author’s name derive from major figures of Byzantine letters. The most influential and perhaps most enigmatic among them was Symeon Metaphrastes. His reworking of earlier hagiographies in the late 10th century and the creation of a collection arranged according to the months of the church calendar (the Menologion) marked a turning point in the history of the genre and its dissemination in Byzantium.

General Overviews

The initiative and endeavor to research hagiography on a serious and systematic basis must be credited to the Society of the Bollandists (Société des Bollandistes), who take their name from their founder Jean Bolland (b. 1596–d. 1665). This was a community of Jesuits, first established in Antwerp and then in Brussels, who for four centuries were the leading experts in the study of hagiography. Their initial mission was to offer annotated editions of the Lives of medieval saints, what later came to be known as the collection of the Acta Sanctorum. The first two volumes were published in 1643. Although their attention was naturally oriented toward the Latin West, the Bollandists did not exclude Greek texts and Eastern saints at all from their editions. As they targeted a “Western Christian” audience, they would print Greek texts side by side with their Latin translations, either the available ones or their own. Apart from the collection of Acta Sanctorum, which remains an ongoing publishing project, albeit since long dormant, the Bollandists launched in the late 19th century two new series of publications, the biannual journal Analecta Bollandiana and the Subsidia Hagiographica, which comprises monographs, critical editions, and reference works. Many titles of this series are closely related to Byzantine hagiography and, as a result, deserve to be cited in the following catalogue. A bulletin of hagiographical publications is appended to the end of each volume of Analecta Bollandiana. Citations of monographs are usually followed by a short description and a list of their contents. The study of Greek Byzantine hagiography as an autonomous field, i.e., separately from the rest of hagiographical output in the Christian world, came about with the emergence of Byzantine studies as a coherent and self-standing discipline. In the bibliographical appendix of Byzantinische Zeitschrift, the journal founded by Karl Krumbacher in 1892, hagiography earned its separate place next to theology, with titles of published books, articles, and chapters in books now appearing every year in increasing numbers.

  • Acta Sanctorum (AASS). Brussels, 1643–.

    A collection of sixty-eight volumes arranged according to the feasts of saints as they appear in the calendar year. Each volume includes editions of texts, translations, and commentaries on the dossier of each saint. In this collection published by the Society of the Bollandists, ‘Eastern’ saints are also documented, though, to a lesser extent, compared to those of the Latin Christianity. The last volume of the Acta Sanctorum appeared in 1925.

  • Analecta Bollandiana: revue critique d’hagiographie. 1882–.

    A biannual journal devoted to the critical study of hagiography. Its bibliographical appendix lists monographs and collected studies that refer to Byzantine hagiography. Electronic access to the bibliographies is available by subscription from the publisher Brepols.

  • Byzantinische Zeitschrift. 1892–.

    In its bibliographical section this journal (emblematic for Byzantine studies) publishes a bibliography of hagiography. Some entries have a short summary of content. Electronic access to the bibliographies is available by subscription from the publisher, De Gruyter.

  • Subsidia Hagiographica. Edited by the Société des Bollandistes. Brussels, 1886–.

    A collection of publications which must be viewed as a complement to the Acta Sanctorum and the Analecta Bollandiana. It includes monographs, critical editions, and reference works. Several titles are of interest for the student of Byzantine hagiography.

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