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From the Greek meaning “to venture” or “to expose one's self,” the name denotes members of a brotherhood which in the early church, first at Alexandria and then at Constantinople, nursed the sick and buried the dead. They risked their lives in their exposure to contagious diseases, and probably originated during an epidemic. They were also a kind of bodyguard for the bishop. Their number was never large: the Codex Theodosianus (416) restricted the enrollment to 500 in Alexandria, with a later increase to 600, while in Constantinople their number was reduced from 1,100 to 950, according to the Codex Justinianus. Chosen by the bishop and under his control, they probably had neither orders nor vows, although they were listed among the clergy and enjoyed those privileges. Their presence at public gatherings or in theaters was legally forbidden, but they did take part in public life. It appears they are not mentioned after Justinian's time.

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