Monks and Their Children: Family and Childhood in Late Antique Egyptian Monasticism


ACLS Fellowship Program


Religious Studies


Monasteries have served as influential institutions for the education and welfare of children since the medieval period. Yet we know little about children in the first monastic communities. Early asceticism—in which people fasted, practiced celibacy, lived in poverty, and spent much time in prayer—is often framed as countercultural, in opposition to traditional Roman values that promoted marriage and reproduction as crucial vehicles for continuation of social, cultural, and economic capital. This study proves that despite strong imperatives to renounce children, textual and archaeological sources testify to the significance of children in the first Egyptian monasteries. By the fourth and fifth centuries, the monastery functioned as an institution parallel to traditional Roman familial structures