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Reading the “Life of Olympias”: A Case for Female Deaconesses at Constantinople

Roberta Franchi, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Summer Fellow 2015–2016

What was the social and economic status of wealthy widows in the Christian community during the fourth and fifth centuries? To what extent can sources help us to reflect on their roles? To answer these questions, I am preparing a new critical edition, with introduction and commentary, of the Greek Life of Olympias. Olympias was a deaconess at Constantinople in the fifth century whose story demonstrates much about widowhood and diakonia in late antique society. This edition is based on four extant Greek manuscripts and the Narratio Sergiae. Sergia was an abbess who saved the relics of Olympias that rested in the monastery of Saint Thomas in Brochthoi when it was burned by Persian soldiers. She convinced the patriarch of Constantinople to deposit the relics in the monastery of Saint Olympias. Her account of the translation of the relics of Olympias (BHG 1376) is a valuable source of information. These texts—the Life of Olympias and the Narratio Sergiae—will be published in the Italian series Biblioteca patristica.