At the Poena aut Venia workshop Ekaterina Nechaeva asked how emigration (in our case, the exile of clerics) shaped the communities they came from (or ‘sending societies, as Ekaterina put it).

It was great having such as specific research question to work on, because it is important to our project that the database will be able to help a wide range of users who will have very different questions about clerical exile that the original project team. Nonetheless, I had to think a bit about how to extract meaningful data, as the database was of course not constructed with this particular question in mind. It is reminder that all databases have a human factor and are determined by the work of the researchers behind their construction, as well as technical limits.

It turned out that, with the help of the database, it is reasonably easy to see that one way in which clerical exile affected ‘sending societies’ was that the exiled clerics often took a lot of people with them. The database is able to list all exile cases where the exiled cleric had companions, which was the case for about a fifth of our recorded cases (78/409).  The category of companions also encompasses when bishops or other clerics were exiled together to the same place, but in about half of the cases the companions were a bishop’s own subordinate clergy. Interestingly, we have most information about this phenomenon from Vandal North Africa, where lots of bishops were allegedly banished under Huneric. Some of the numbers of accompanying clergy that derive from this scenario are astonishing (and perhaps fantastical), such as 4966 African clerics accompanying Cyprianus of Unizibira and other bishops to a desert region near the cities of Thubunae, Macri, and Nippis in south east Numidia in 483-484 (Victor of Vita Historia Persecutionis 2.33). But other sources also record high numbers of clerics moving with their bishops, such as 300 clerics accompanying the banished Theodorus of Alexandria in 536 (John of Ephesus, Life of Z’ura (PO 17, 35) and Life of John of Hephaistopolis (PO 18, 528s.).

It looks like these clerics were not exiled themselves, that is, technically they moved ‘voluntarily’. However, I would say that ‘voluntarily’ is an ambiguous concept here. Rather, this phenomenon tells us something about the tight patronage structures ruling the late antique clergy: if a bishop was exiled particularly for doctrinal reasons, often there was a rival successor. Would such a successor have kept on the clergy of their predecessors? And even if the successor wasn’t hostile, we can not be sure whether this would happen or whether such clerics were made redundant. I am not aware of sources that tell us. Chances are that clerics moved with their exiled bishops because they were vulnerable and had more opportunities with than without their bishop. Chances are also that successors of exiled bishops had their own dependants who’d move into the posts so vacated. If there were no successors, these lower clerical posts must also have stayed vacant. Either way, if some of the numbers that appear in late antique sources are only approximately to be believed, for ‘sending’ communities this must have meant an utter transformation of pastoral care (not to speak of power structures).

Some sources do not only give us numbers, but also some insight into the identity of an exiled bishop’s companions. For example, the sources reporting on the exile of Mare of Amida, who was banished in 521 for his Miaphysite believes, first to Petra and then to Alexandria, report that he was accompanied by his ‘sisters’, the deaconesses Shmuni and Marutha (or Nonna) and by three notaries, as well as the bishop of Kenneshrin, Isidore, who was also banished. This is how our database visualises his network in exile (based on John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 13, Zacharias, historia ecclesiastica 8.5  and Chronicle of Zuqnin, Third part, 517-518, 525-526):






We should pause to ask why such companions taken from home were mentioned in our sources at all. I think one of the reasons was to underscore an exiled bishop’s continuing authority, on a universal level, but also in the community back home. Exile was meant to end a bishop’s career particularly if they were also deposed by a synod (though not all were). However, exiled bishops did of course usually not accept their condemnation and neither did sympathetic chroniclers. It was important to show that these bishops still had a following and the infrastructure and personnel to perform their episcopal activities. This was particularly important if bishops had not been legally exiled, but escaped arrest, as they could be seen as ‘deserting’ their community.

Margarita Vallejo Girvés has eloquently written about the duties and activities of clergy accompanying exiled bishops in our recent edited volume Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. One of these duties was to act as links between bishops in exile and the home community. This could involve carrying letters of exiled bishops during their lifetime, but it also could involve taking care of his memory, and crucially body, after his death. This is what happened in the case of Mare of Amida: after he had died in Alexandria in about 529, his deaconesses, with the help of the empress Theodora, brought his relics back to Amida and buried them in a church he himself had built outside the city. John of Ephesus writes how when they reached Amida with Mare’s body ‘the magnates and their kinsmen and the whole city had come out to receive them’. This implies that his memory had been kept alive among the inhabitants of the city, but John does not explain quite how this had been accomplished.

One has to bear in mind that the rejoicing city or the city clamouring for the return of a banished bishop may be a hagiographical topos. A similar scene occurs in the Life of Eutychius, written by his pupil Eustratius after 580 (who was also with him in exile). Eutychius, twice patriarch of Constantinople, had been banished by Justinian to his old monastery at Amasea in 565 for refusing to subscribe to the emperor’s edict on the incorruptibility of Christ’s body (aphthartodocetism). In Amasea he preformed many miracles, but after his successor’s death in 577 the people of Constantinople demanded his return from Justinian’s successors Justin and Tiberius, which was granted (Vita S Eutychii Patriarchae 38-71 (PG 86:2317-56). Here is his social network in exile as described by Eustratius:

The brown lines indicate Eutychius’ relationships with people he performed miracles for and on in Amasea (and a couple in Euchaita on his way back to Constantinople). They form the majority of his social relationships. There are very few links with people in Constantinople and they all date to the beginning or end of his banishment. Again, it is unclear what exactly kept his memory alive in Constantinople during his twelve year absence to the extent that his community wanted him back so desperately as Eustratius describes.

When looking into Ekaterina’s question regarding the attitudes of ‘sending societies’, this is generally what I found: while it is easy to count and even name people who went with exiled clerics from their original communities, it is less clear how many exiled clerics were in touch with their original communities. This may be due to a real oversight on our behalf when we constructed our database. While we do specify where contacts of exiles were located, we did not record whether this location was the home location of the exiled cleric. Therefore, we cannot quantify these data, even though we can recover it for individual exiled clerics via their location maps. Consider, for example, the locations connected with Athanasius of Alexandria’s ‘ third ‘exile’ (actually, escape, 357-362) which he spent in various locations around Egypt. On this map, generated by our database, we can see that five of his contacts were situated in Alexandria (whose identities can then be researched further):

From Athanasius and other examples, particularly of exiled clerics who kept correspondence, we know that it was not uncommon to keep in contact with ‘home’ communities, but, as it stands, the database is not able to quantify this phenomenon, even though it is able to reveal this information on a case by case basis. Yet a quick (though by no means exhaustive!) look at some of the bishops who wrote home reveals that often their letters are addressed at a rather diffuse set of people, such as ‘brethren’ or ‘the orthodox’. These letters may have been circulars, and it is difficult to gain an understanding of the actual addressees from them. Such vagueness is rather similar to the examples described above, where ‘the people’ demanded or welcomed the return of banished bishops. Even in the case of Athanasius, which looks so promising, his ‘contacts’ date to the beginning of his exile, before he left Alexandria (users will be able to access those details from the map).

An interesting example of concrete members of a home community working for the return of a bishop and keeping his memory alive is that of Liberius of Rome, banished after the council of Milan in 355 for refusing to condemn Athanasius. Liberius would return two years later. Here is his exile network:



Liberius’ return was clearly down to him subscribing to the creed of Sirmium sponsored by the anti-Nicene emperor Constantius II., which he advertised in several letters to several other bishops of influence. Later stories, however, in particular the fifth-century Church historians who were trying to turn Liberius into a Nicene hero, also talked about his popularity in Rome. His contacts in Rome are shown in the bottom right corner of the network graph. It may indeed have been the case that the ‘people of Rome’ also had demanded his return, as this is a fairly early tradition. Yet, in the church histories – particularly in Theodoret of Cyrrhus (historia ecclesiastica 2.17) – a range of women in Rome pop up in Liberius’ support, including the wife of Constantius, resident in Rome at the time, and the wives of influential Roman nobles. A later story also claims that Liberius first lived with the sister of Constantius when he returned from exile. Some of this may be true, most, I would say is an invented tradition. The problem that Liberius had was that he had caved into a ‘heretical’ emperor’s demand . This created huge problems for this memory and was acerbated by the fact that while in exile he had been replaced by another bishop, Felix, so there was a schism when he returned to Rome. Accounts of his popularity in Rome, and in particular support of women served to bolster Liberius’ authority. These women went against their husbands’ convictions for Liberius’ sake; i.e. they were ready to subvert established authority to promote Liberius’ return. It may therefore be that we know most about a bishop’s relationships with his home community in such cases as that of Liberius, where the reputation of the exiled bishop was tainted and had to be continuously defended. That in turn means that we have to approach such stories with caution.

Yet, there is some statistical information that the database can generate which may help to contextualise the importance of home communities in the lives of exiled clerics. These are data pertaining to return and to the development of saint cults. Of all exiled clerics recorded in the database we only know of about a quarter who returned from exile. To be fair, we only know positively of about a fifth who did not return, but the remaining clerics’ fate is unknown and it is therefore likely that they also did not return (see graph)

Did exiled clerics return from exile?

If we now turn to the reasons why exiled clerics returned from exile we can see that they were varied. It could happen because the people demanded the return of a beloved bishop, but this was certainly not the main reason. Often bishops were allowed to return at the beginning of a new imperial reign. The edict of amnesty by Julian in 362 is only the most prominent of such recalls, but as we can see from the graph below accounts for a sizeable chunk of returns of exiled bishops in the period covered by the project:

Reason for return from exile.


When we look at whether exiled clerics were venerated as saints during the late antique period (whether they had returned from exile or not) the result is again mostly negative:

Were exiled clerics venerated as saints in late antiquity?

As with ties to home communities generally, it is difficult to extract quantitative data on how many of these attestations of saint veneration refer to an exiled cleric’s home community. Our best bet, in this regard, is to look at evidence for the translation of relics or the establishment of other forms of cult in the places that the exiled clerics came from. Of relic translations back to the cities the exiled clerics had come from the database only has records of nine (Dionysius of Milan, Paulinus of Trier, Flavian of Constantinople, Dioscorus of Alexandria, Mare of Amida, Eustathius of Antioch, Paul of Constantinople, Meletius of Antioch, John Chrysostom) and of veneration generally, without evidence of relics, only a few more (Eusebius of Vercelli, Hilary of Poitiers, Liberius of Rome). There are others who were venerated elsewhere (e.g. Nestorius), but the results on veneration ‘at home’ are meagre.

What to make of all of this? One thing that is becoming clear when looking at clerical exile quantitatively is that it was a relatively successful strategy for those who imposed it, whose aim, we must assume, was to severe links between a troublesome cleric and his home community. We are easily blinded by some spectacular cases, where clerics were influential despite being exiled, established new communities, kept in contact with home, successfully lobbied the (often new) emperor for return and/or managed to turn themselves into saints. But the truth is that we know very little about the majority of exiled clerics beyond their names (and sometimes not even that). Often we do not even know where they went to. It does not seem then that the majority of  late antique exiled clerics were very good at keeping their memory alive in their home communities or elsewhere.

But of course, some of them were, and some had been influential enough  both in their home communities and abroad for later church historians and chroniclers to tell stories about them and to keep them ‘present’. As modern historians, we need to ask where these stories derived from. From the data we have, it does not seem that we should look at actual home communities of exiled clerics as the source, but at the men and women from these home communities who moved with them. Because these were free to come and go as they pleased, they must have been instrumental in creating an exiled cleric’s network, including with the home community (e.g. as messengers of letters), in circulating exile stories, including about the continuing popularity of exiled clerics at home, and in curating a cult. Sometimes they did this also to cement their own authority: we know of a few companions who became bishops at their exiled bishop’s see later (Honoratus, Eusebius of Vercelli’s companion, in Vercelli, Petrus Mongus, Dioscorus of Alexandria’s companion, in Alexandria) and precisely because they could put themselves in continuity with an exiled bishop. These men and women are, in social network terms, the ‘weak link’. With the database we are now in a position to name, describe and analyse their role.