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Basil the Great › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 12 April 2018
Icon of Saint Basil (Unknown Artist)
Saint Basil (c. 330 - c. 379 CE), also known as Basil the Great and Basil of Caesarea, was a bishop of Caesarea in central Asia Minor who staunchly defended the church against the 4th-century CE heresy of Arianism. Basil's writings on monasticism and theological issues would be hugely influential during his lifetime and in later centuries as the Christian Church developed in the east. The saint, regarded as one of the founders of the Greek Orthodox Church, was also noted for his work helping the poor and his sermons which addressed the imbalances in society.


Basil was born c. 330 CE into an aristocratic family who had a large estate at Ibora on the Pontic-Cappadocian border. He received a thorough education at Nicomedia in Bithynia, northwest Asia Minor, possibly under the tutorship of the famed rhetorician from Antioch, Libanius (dc 393 CE) who was, curiously enough, a staunch defender of paganism. As was relatively common for a young aristocrat's education at the time, Basil was also sent to Athens and Constantinople. It was in Athens that Basil reportedly first began to consider a career in the church, but on his return home, he began his working life as a teacher. Then, in the 350s CE, Basil spent some time in monasteries in Syria and Egypt to learn more about the ascetics there. He wrote of his experience in letters and was impressed with what he saw, as this extract reveals:
I was amazed at the way of life of the ascetics. I marvelled at their willingness to suffer, how fervent they were in prayer, how sparing in sleep, in no way admitting the needs of the body, always keeping to the highest purpose and preserving the goal of the soul, in hunger and thirst, cold and nakedness, not bothered with the body, not even giving it the slightest care, but living as if they had no part with things of the flesh, they showed by deed what it means to sojourn here below but to have citizenship in heaven. (Frazee, 22)
Returning home, once again, Basil began to develop his own take on the ascetic life, inspired chiefly by the Armenian Eustathios of Sebaste (bc 300 CE), and he established his own monastery near Caesarea.


Basil is considered one of the three great 4th-century CE “Cappadocian Fathers” in the Eastern Church along with his brother Gregory of Nyssa, a noted philosopher, and Gregory of Nazianzos, a bishop of Constantinople who had joined Basil in his early ascetic experiences. All three stood against Arianism and particularly its chief proponent Eunomios. Regarded as heresy, Arianism was an idea developed by Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria, which posited that since Jesus Christ was created from nothing then he could not be the equal of God. Arius' views were condemned by his own bishop, but the heresy became a powerful movement supported and actively promoted by several emperors. Basil and the two Gregories saw themselves as the defenders of orthodoxy.


Ultimately, Arianism was condemned at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, and the church doctrine was clarified so that Jesus Christ and God were considered homoousios or “of the same substance”. Arius was dismissed as a heretic, however, the issue would not rest, especially when Constantine I (r. 306-337 CE) recalled Arius in 328 CE. To confuse the issue further, the emperor was baptized by an Arian bishop on his deathbed, and his son and successor Constantius II (r. 337-361 CE) was also a supporter of Arianism. The whole issue was discussed again but without resolution at the Council of Serdica c. 343 CE. The next emperor, Julian (361-363 CE), boosted the Arian cause by recalling Eunomios from exile for the second time. Emperor Valens (r. 364-378 CE) continued the imperial support of the heresy and actively persecuted those who held on to the Orthodoxy.
Basil was a persistent opponent of Arianism, and to this end, he attended the 360 CE Council of Constantinople and wrote his Contra Eunomium which effectively damaged the reputation of Eunomius. Basil was made the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in c. 370 CE, although the appointment somehow caused a break in relations with his brother Gregory. Besides theology, Basil was noted at this time for his support of charitable institutions, his own hugely popular hospice, and for the sermons he preached with the then-radical message of social justice. Other non-religious causes Basil was passionate about was his opposition to the division of Cappadocia into two provinces.
Basil continued to work to defend the Orthodoxy, although his celebrated opposition to Valens from 364 CE was perhaps not as unambiguous as some later historians portray. The bishop was known, for example, to have agreed to initiate diplomatic missions in Armenia at the emperor's request. Valens also supported Basil's charity work, and it seems clear that Basil was not as radical as some others in the fight against heresy, but, rather, he took a more conciliatory approach which sought to heal the rift in the church. Further, some of Basil's private letters allude to criticism for not being wholeheartedly orthodox from different quarters, and the bishop was known as a great admirer of Plato. Neither did he dismiss completely some of the ideas in paganism, as shown by his treatise To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature. Still, the fight against Arianism continued, and the cause was greatly boosted when the imperial tide turned with a new emperor, Theodosius I (r. 379-395 CE), who, unlike his predecessors, was a staunch defender of the Orthodoxy. Theodosios exiled Eunomios, had the Orthodoxy affirmed in a decree of 380 CE and then had Arianism condemned once again in the 381 CE Council of Constantinople.
St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai


A writer of many theological works, Basil famously helped develop the concept of the Trinity in church doctrine, categorically stated that the taking of human life under any circumstances was a sin, and proposed that prayers to icons were permissible as they were thus passed on to the figure portrayed in them. He created an influential regime for monks which balanced work and worship, the Basilian rule, which would greatly define Byzantine monasticism for centuries thereafter. Basil's guidelines for monks and nuns and thoughts in general for the wider Christian community were set out in his Long and Short Rules. Basil promoted cenobitic monasticism, that is that monks should not simply be cloistered away but take an active part in the life of the community, helping the needy and spreading God's word. This is clearly stated in Basil's rule 3:
Who is unaware that man is a peace-loving and sociable animal, and not a solitary and wild one? For nothing is so characteristic of our nature as to associate with one another, to need one another, and to love our own kind?(Frazee, 28)
Basil also stressed that monasteries should ensure that their monks work together for common goals and that the monastery achieve economic self-sufficiency through working its own land. Benedict of Nursia, the famous ascetic, was said to have been inspired by the writings of Basil on these topics and Byzantine monasticism, in general, owes a great debt to Basil. In addition to his theological works, many of the letters which Basil wrote to friends and officials survive and are an invaluable insight into the general history of the period and provincial life especially.


Unfortunately, Basil did not live to see the final triumph of Orthodoxy, the traditional date of his death being held 1 January 379 CE. However, some scholars prefer an earlier date sometime in 377 CE. Made a saint for his life works, Basil remains a complex and somewhat controversial figure, with church scholars continuing to insist on his wholehearted orthodoxy while secular scholars tend to be more sceptical. Saint Basil's influence on monasticism, though, remains undisputed, and he still stands as one of the most important figures in medieval Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Linear A Script › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Cristian Violatti
published on 06 December 2016
Linear A Script (
The Linear A script was the writing system used by the Minoan civilization. Examples of this script have been recovered from Cretan sites such as Hagia Triada, Knossos, and Phaistos. Additional examples of the Linear A script have also been found outside of Crete, including the site of Trianda (Ialysos) on the north-west coast of Rhodes and Miletus, a testimony of the cultural links with the Minoans. Unfortunately, the Linear A script remains undeciphered.


Late in the 19th century CE, the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans published a paper named 'Cretan pictographs and the prae-Phoenician script', based on the study of a number of signs and short inscriptions found on Crete and mainland Greece.During the excavations conducted by Evans at the site of Knossos in 1901 CE, an archive of clay tablets was identified, similar to many clay tablets archives found in the Near East. The tablets retrieved by Evans recorded a number of scripts, all of which were different from the scripts known thus far.


The oldest of these signs was a pictographic writing system developed around 2000 BCE known today as Cretan hieroglyphs.Another group of signs was identified as Linear A, developed around 1700 BCE. While Cretan hieroglyphs have a pictorial appearance, Linear A has a linear appearance: most documented clay tablet Linear A inscriptions are arranged in square fields, typically four to nine lines long. Neither of these writing systems has been deciphered yet. It has been speculated that both Cretan hieroglyphs and Linear A represent the same language. The number of Linear A signs identified ranges from 77 to 85 according to different scholars, suggesting that this was a syllabic writing system.
Many studies have tried to identify the language behind Linear A, but none have produced convincing results. Many scholars have argued that Linear A represents a pre- Hellenic language unrelated to Greek. Some theories have gone even further claiming that the Linear A language does not even belong to the Indo-European language family. Other studies have speculated that Linear A is related to the Old European Vinca culture.
Another group of signs identified by Evans was the Linear B script. Although Evans never knew it, Linear B is an adaptation of Linear A employed to represent an archaic form of the Greek language. Linear B was deciphered in 1953 CE by Michael Ventris, more than a decade after the death of Sir Arthur Evans.


Although the Linear A script remains undeciphered, some scholars have attempted to understand the overall message of some Linear A texts based on functional comparison with the Linear B script. Based on these studies, it has been argued that Linear A inscriptions are concerned with accounting data and other forms of record keeping and administration. This position is consistent with the fact that Minoan palaces had a remarkable storage capacity and are believed to have acted as redistribution centres.


Some Linear A inscriptions have been found on libation tables, associated with ritual and religious items (eg votive terracotta or bronze figurines with ritual gestures, gold jewellery, pottery and stone vessels) found at sanctuaries located on or near mountain summits dated to Minoan times, sometimes referred to as rural sanctuaries or peak sanctuaries. This is a possible example of ritual or religious use of the Linear A script.
Most examples of Linear A have been found on clay tablets. Other examples have been identified on pottery sherds, seal-stones, steatite seals and pendants, and inscribed building blocks.


Around 1450 BCE, the Linear B script was developed. Linear B is the earliest written form of Greek that we know of. Since this script shares many signs with the older Linear A, it has been inferred that Linear B came into existence when scribes adapted Linear A to a new language: Greek. This idea is further supported by the fact that Linear B is poorly suited to writing Greek.
As the Mycenaean civilization was rising in the mid-2nd millennium BCE and the Minoans were declining, the Linear B script replaced the older Linear A. By c. 1450 BCE, most Minoan sites on Crete were destroyed and the Linear A script in Knossos was replaced by the Linear B. Finally by c. 1400 BCE, the Linear A script was completely abandoned and all writing in Greece and Crete was recorded using Linear B.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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