Monasticism (Greek: mónos - alone, lonely) is a religious form of community life based on a religious rule in the name of worship, striving for perfection and practicing virtues. An inseparable element of monasticism is asceticism. The fact that this phenomenon occurs in nearly all organized religions is virtually unique in anthropology.
Apart from Christian monasticism, the most famous and extensive phenomenon of this type is Buddhist monasticism, which developed in India, Central Asia, China, and Japan.
In classical Mediterranean culture, this phenomenon was almost completely absent.
There were a few philosophical schools postulating a common life for adepts, but they were not strictly religiously motivated.
The exception was ancient Rome, where there was a college of six Vestals: priestesses of the goddess Vesta who lived a common life and were responsible for maintaining the eternal fire in the temple of this goddess, as well as for the periodic ritual cleansing of the city.
There were also two known monastic communities in the ancient Jewish world: therapists and Essenes.
Philo of Alexandria writes about therapists in the work De vita contemplativa (before 10 B.C. - after 40 A.D.), and describes this community of men and women as admittedly non-ascetic, but maintaining strict discipline and fasting, as well as practicing prayer and reading scriptures.
The aim of the therapists was not to live in repentance and mortification, but in silence and seclusion from the city’s noise, enabling contemplation and devotion to God. They lived separately in small houses, divided into two parts: one for prayer and one for sleep. They obeyed the Mosaic Law, prayed twice a day, meditated on the Law, kept the Sabbath, and celebrated jubilees every fifty days, where they prayed together, dined, and danced.
The Essenes (ca. 152 B.C.-70 A.D.) was a group which was separated from the temple cult.
They were characterized by their avoidance of contact with the Temple. They were concentrated in closed communities, sharing one property. They practiced celibacy and obeyed the Mosaic Law, especially in regards to ritual purity, the Sabbath, and prayer.
They lived in a hierarchical community with complete obedience to their superiors.
They also studied and rewrote saint books. These, after their discovery in 1947 A.D. and years of painstaking work of conservators, became an invaluable source of knowledge for historians, especially biblical scholars.