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Byzantium through
Byzantne Eyes
Orphanages
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What does orphan mean?
Anna Comnena - Author of the Alexiad
"One of the most distinguished men acts as guardian of this city with its many thousands of inhabitants, called the
'Orphanage,' because of the emperor's solicitude for orphans and ex-servicemen, but with special emphasis on the
orphans.  There are tribunals which deal with all these matters and accounts have to be rendered by those who
administer the funds of these poor folk.  Chrysobulls, moreover, are published to establish the inalieable rights of
the persons maintained at the Orphanage.  A large and impressive body of clergy was appointed to the church of
St Paul, the great herald of our faith, and expensive lighting was provided for it.  Were you to enter this church you
would hear the antiphonal chants, for Alexius, after the example of Solomon, decreed that there should be both
male and female choristers.  The work of the deaconesses was also carefully organized and he devoted much
thought to Iberian nuns who lived there; in former times it was their custom to beg from door to door whenever
they visited Constantinople, but now, thanks to my fahter's solicitude, an enormous convent was built for them and
they were provided with food and suitable clothing.... When you enter it, the sanctuaries and monasteries are on
your left; on the right of the great church of St Paul stands the grammar school for orphan children drawn from all
races, presided over by a master.  Boys stand round him, some anxiously puzzling over grammatical quesion,
others writing out gramatical analyses.  You might see a Latin boy being trained there, A Scyth learning Greek, a
Byzantine handling Greek texts; an illiterate Greek discovering how to speak his own language correctly - all the
result of Alexius' profound interest in literary studies."  


The Alexiad of Anna Comnena - (1118-1123 AD)
Book 15 (Penguin p. 494-495)