Suburban saints: space, place and environment in Theodoret’s 'Religious History'

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter charts some of the features that make Theodoret’s representation of space in the Religious History both typical of fifth-century hagiography more broadly, in its portrayal of the tension between wild landscape and human culture, and in some respects quite distinctive and unusual. The first section surveys the text’s representation of the relationship between saints and cities, with reference to Theodoret’s manipulation of the long tradition of representing mountains as spaces on the edges of urban territory, both within and beyond human control. Some of his subjects inhabit mountain territory that is represented as being outside human civilisation, but there is also a repeated pattern whereby even these figures are absorbed within urban society; others inhabit suburban spaces on the very edges of the city. To some extent those patterns reflect the distinctive geography of the upper Euphrates valley where many of Theodoret’s subjects lived, with high ground rising up sharply above the river valleys. I then move on in the second half of the chapter to look at Theodoret’s representation of human–environment relations from an ecocritical perspective, arguing that there is a closely related tension between anthropocentric and ecocentric visions of ascetic practice running through the text: any account which attempts to ascribe it to one or other of those categories is likely to end up with an oversimplified view. Images of the saints immersed in the environments they inhabit – sometimes quite literally, by their contact with the ground – or as figures who challenge the distinction between human and animal alternate with images of human mastery over the environment, for example by Theodoret’s repeated comparison of his subjects with Moses exercising control over the natural world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLived space in late antiquity
EditorsCarlos Machado, Rowan Munnery, Rebecca Sweetman
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780429427152
ISBN (Print)9781138385306, 9781032704357
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2024


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