The Melanias of Late Antique Christianity

The Melanias of Late Antique Christianity
Illustration by Matt Lubchansky for Atlas Obscura

This fall, I will have the privilege of seeing a book I co-edited with the amazing Catherine M. Chin appear in print.  Melania:  Early Christianity through the Life of One Family contains articles by an incredible set of scholars all addressing the life, context, and legacy of Melania the Elder and Melania the Younger.  We are so pleased that the Christianity in Late Antiquity series at the University of California Press has picked it up.

The Melanias were probably the richest women in the Roman Empire during their lifetimes — maybe even the richest people in the Empire.  They influenced imperial policy, church politics, and religious doctrine.  In some ways, they were badass.  They didn’t let men stand in their way.  In some ways, they were disturbing figures.  As part of their wealth, they owned countless slaves.

photo of elizabeth a. clark
Elizabeth A. Clark, Ph.D.

Their influence on Roman history and Christian history received scant attention until the work of feminist historians in the late 20th century, especially the work of Elizabeth A. Clark, who translated the life of Melania the Younger.

I hope you enjoy the book.  And more importantly, I hope it leads you to think differently about early Christianity, historiography, and legacies.


The lives of Melania the Elder and Melania the Younger span one of the most important periods of Christian history, reaching from the reign of Constantine through the reign of Theodosius II. They and their family members were well known to some of the most influential political and cultural figures of the period; their patronage promoted the work of major Christian thinkers from both before their time and during it. Their property and travels connected the political, economic, and religious worlds of the late antique Mediterranean. This volume examines the history of early Christianity as it was created and imagined through the lives of the two Melanias. The volume overlays the history of Christianity with a set of narratives that explore themes in the lives of the Melanias, such as constructions of gender, asceticism, orthodoxy and heresy, family and wealth, travel, patterns of memory, worship and hagiography. The resulting collaborative portrait of this family, its influence, and its interests offers a new window on to early Christian history, not by portraying Christianity as a timeless entity unfolding over centuries, but by considering in more complex ways the lives, representations, and later reception of two late ancient persons who attempted to be Christian.

Table of Contents

Introduction, Catherine M. Chin and Caroline T. Schroeder

Part I. Aristocracy


Chapter 1. Apostles and Aristocrats, Catherine M. Chin

Chapter 2. Namesake and Inheritance, Christine Luckritz Marquis

Chapter 3. Exemplary Women, Caroline T. Schroeder

Part II. Body and Family


Chapter 4. Holy Households, Maria Doerfler

Chapter 5. “Wounded by Divine Love,” Kristi Upson-Saia

Part III. Gender and Memory


Chapter 6. Memories of the Martyrs, L. Stephanie Cobb

Chapter 7. The Memory of Melania, Rebecca Krawiec

Part IV. Wisdom and Heresy


Chapter 8. A Life in Letters, Robin Darling Young

Chapter 9. Friends and Heretics, Susanna Drake

Chapter 10. Posthumous Orthodoxy, Christine Shepardson

Part V. In the Holy Places


Chapter 11. The Lost Generation, Andrew S. Jacobs

Chapter 12. “Sing, O Daughters of Zion,” Stephen J. Shoemaker

Part VI. Modernities


Chapter 13. Afterlives, Michael Penn

Chapter 14. Monastic Revivals, Stephen Davis

Chapter 15. The Future of Sainthood, Elizabeth A. Castelli

Afterword, Randall Styers

List of Contributors



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