Boskoi: The Grazing Hermits

The fascinating blog, “Bosci or Boskoi; the Grazing Hermits” – – provides a wide range of material on the “Grazing Hermits”[ βοσκοί (Greek) Boskoi (E) = grazers or browsers; from bovskw, to graze, to feed] or “Graziers”.
thebaid map
They were described in “Tales of Early Ages” by Horace Smith as located it the Thebaid, the Southernmost part of Egypt, “the Bosci, or grazing hermits, hirsute, bearded, satyr-like savages, clad in the skin of wild beasts; who having neither cells nor habitation of any sort, but living like the cattle in the fields, spent their whole time in praying and singing psalms, and when hungry, tore up with their nails the grass and wild herbs, which they devoured without cooking.”
symeon the fool 2
Symeon the Holy Fool lived for a time as a Grazier:
“Leontius provides a chronology of Symeon’s career before his arrival in Emesa in Syria. He narrates how Symeon left his native Edessa to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, how he and his friend John first entered a monastery in the Jordan and later lived as hermits, grazing in the desert like sheep.
… the first half of the Life, Leontius presents Symeon and his friend John as living as grazers (βοσκοί) in the Syrian desert. An account of such grazers, unrelated to the account of Symeon of Emesa, can be found in the first book of Evagrius’s History. [47] As Rydén has observed, Leontius seems to combine Evagrius’s account of the boskoi with the account of Symeon of Emesa when he composes his full-length vita.[48] Leontius uses the time Symeon “spent” as a boskos to account for how he achieved the state of apatheia, so important to Leontius’s understanding—indeed his construction—of Symeon.”
symeon the holy fool
Derek Krueger “Symeon the Holy Fool, Leontius’ Life and the Late Antique City’” [University of California Press, 1996]
“Writing in Constantinople in the middle of the fifth century, the church historian Sozomen believed the first monks of Syria were those who had ’emulated the monks of Egypt in the practice of philosophy’ by scraping a raw existence off the mountains near the Persian frontier…. Wrapped in goatskins or straw mats, boskoi monks pursued a decidedly counter-cultural anachoresis. Hunters were believed to sometimes mistake them for strange animals…. As celebrated in Syrian chant:
‘Those who graze on grass and roots instead of delicacies,
and in place of lofty dwellings, live in caves.
Like birds they go up to live on rocky ledges,
Where ever one of them goes,
he enjoys the herbs he picked in faith,
he leaves the rest behind and moves on from there,
because he has heard the saying;
Do not be anxious about tomorrow.’
Such zealots for ‘freedom from care’ not only avoided artificial shelter and clothing, but rejected all ordinary labors by which human beings obtained their food. According to Sozomen this ‘strict philosophy off the beaten track of mankind’ had been introduced to Syria by a monk named Aones ‘just as Anthony introduced it to Egypt.’Aones is otherwise unknown, but the ascetic lifestyle associated with him is familiar to what we have already seen of Bessarion and other wanderers in Egypt. In fact, testimony from the Western Mediterranean to Northern Mesopotamia shows that the lifestyle attributed to only a few Egyptian monks was one that many adopted wherever there was enough vegetation to survive. It especially came into vogue in Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine. Here monks could easily follow the footsteps of their Old Testament forebears (the patriarchs and the prophets) and imitate their nomadic patterns. Near Eastern hinterlands offered more possibilities for healthy sustenance than the Egypt desert did, nuts, asphodel roots and a juicy thistle (mannouthia) that grew on the desert fringe may even account for the reported longevity of many who took up the diet. In cultivated regions they could live by scavenging garden fruits and vegetables. They may have also picked tares off the ground or used their sickles to reap uncut corners of fields set aside for the poor to glean in accordance ancient charitable custom. Although one admirer in the fifth century expressed concern that some Boskoi were settling down and taking up agriculture, their ascetic lifestyle (as distinct from other forms of anachoresis) would long persist among Christian monks, both male and female. Late into the sixth century they could still be glimpsed roaming along the Dead Sea coast or forging in the Palestine desert naked ‘like animals… no longer human in the way they thought.’”
‘Wandering, Begging Monks; Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity’ by Daniel Caner [University of California Press, 2002]: 50
wandering begging monks
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware referred to Graziers living on Mount Athos as late as the 1960s:
athos 2
“There are even solitaries on Athos today who follow the same way of life as the boskoi [browsers] in primitive monasticism—dwelling with the animals like Adam in Paradise, not building cells but remaining in caves or in the open air, wearing no clothing and eating no cooked food. Although I have not myself seen any such, I have spoken with monks who know about them. They are to be found chiefly near the tip of the peninsula, on the wooded slopes above the Great Lavra and Kerasia. For a description of one such monk, see J. Valentin, The Monks of Mount Athos (London 1960), pp.36-38.”

“According to Cyril and other writers, the monks of the Judean Desert were almost entirely dependent on their surroundings for food. They cultivated extensive vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Irrigation of farming plots in the desert was provided by spring water when available, or by rainwater which they collected in immense rock-cut cisterns and reservoirs. However, they also utilized edible wild plants.
judean desert
In fact, one of the main sources of livelihood for the monks of the Judean Desert was the gathering of edible wild plants. The written sources mention four types of plants which were gathered systematically by the monks: salt bush, wild onion, caper and a plant termed manouthion – thumbling thistle. There are many accounts of the use of thumbling thistle as food. The plant is cut in mid-spring; its stalks are cut from the plants, peeled and their juicy inner section is eaten raw. The leaves of the plant are trimmed and used in the veins as vine leaves. Blossom globes are picked, trimmed and fried in spices with a delicacy of flavor resembling artichoke hearts. Surplus manouthia (plural of mamaouthion) were pickled and stored and the remainder of the plant dried and used as kindling.
The plant most commonly eaten by the hermits in isolated caves was melagria, identified as asphodel, a plant common in the Judean Desert, with edible tubers. When the asphodel plants were not available, the hermits ate wild onion, which were bitter and could be eaten if boiled. The Bedouin labeled the hermits, who subsisted on wild plants, as “Grazers”. A delicacy for the hermits was hearts of cane harvested during the winter months.
The monk’s ability to identify edible plants was apparently gained over their long years or residence in the desert. They are also likely to have received information from their neighbors, the villagers and shepherds who lived on the margins of the desert. To this day, wild plants are an important component of the diet of villagers in the Judean Hills.”
‘Living off the Land’ by Norman A. Rubin:
hermits cookbook
See also the section on “Grazing” in Andrew Jotischky “A Hermit’s Cookbook: Monks, Food and Fasting in the Middle Ages” [Continuum, London, 2011] pp.31-43

An approximation in modern times to the ancient Boskoi are those commonly known as “foragers”. See, for example,
Foraging is not confined to rural areas, and there is a specific approach known as “urban foraging”. See, for example, and
urban foraging
A number of web sites provide guidance on foraging: see, for example,
There are even such exotic sites as
This movement has led to the development of an application called, appropriately, Boskoi:
“Boskoi is an Android smartphone app and webdatabase that shows you where fruits, nuts, herbs, roots and other delights can be found.”
bosci app
“Starting in 2010 Boskoi was one of the first apps focused on nature and it works all over the world. Working closely with urban-biologists, botanists, cooks, nerds and enthusiastic citizens Boskoi collects the ancient skills and knowledge of foragers using contemporary technology. Mapping the edible landscape may improve or update our connection to the environments we live in and the other creatures that live there. Gradually the map makes visible an unseen wild infrastructure that is vital to the health of all of its inhabitants.
The amount of things you can find out there is amazing; if all edible plants were tagged the map itself would disappear behind all the entries. Tasting all these wild edibles makes you wonder why we’re sticking to the narrow and boring pallet of tastes available in supermarkets. Boskoi comes with a code of good-conduct and rare or protected species are not accepted.”
see also
Some Urban Foragers not only seek plant food, but discarded food and other goods. See, for example, See also and


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