BMCR 2006.06.11

La Cappadoce (IVe-VIe Siècle): Une histoire provinciale de l’Empire romain d’Orient. Byzantina Sorbonensia 22

, La Cappadoce, IVe-VIe siècle : une histoire provinciale de l'empire romain d'orient. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2005. 1 online resource (496 pages) : maps.. €32.00.

“There remains Cappadocia,” wrote Stephen Mitchell in 1993, introducing his discussion of “Cappadocia: The Exception” in his chapter on city foundations and urban growth.1 Sophie Métivier’s (M’s) new book, a revision of her 2001 Sorbonne dissertation, teases out the administrative development of this exceptional province between the fourth and sixth centuries CE, arguing that its exceptional characteristics may have led, eventually, to its significantly reduced textual remains. While the book offers what a recent BMCR reviewer called “the exhaustingly exhaustive analysis one can expect of French doctorats d’état,”2 its detail on officials and bishops, its well-executed maps, and its translation of Justinian’s Novel 30, outlining Justinian’s administrative reform of Cappadocia, make it a welcome reference for scholars in classics, ancient history, and religious studies.

M’s Introduction reviews the sources on Cappadocian identity prior to the fourth century and introduces some of those she will use to explore the next two. Treated as a genos rather than a place, Cappadocians are widely dismissed as backwoods hicks, people without “culture.” Roman and hellenistic history on Cappadocia is thin; it is curiously absent from surviving chronicles or geographies, apart from Christian writers alluding to its biblical history. For Theodoret of Cyrrhus, for example, the LXX allophyloi included Cappadocians (p. 15), and both Philostorgius and Isidore of Pelusium link Cappadocia with both Mosoch, Noah’s grandson, and the biblical allophyloi (p. 16). Even after the province was subdivided, most sources retain the ancient perception of Cappadocia as a single pie regardless of how it is cut, and this unity may be part of the reason Cappadocia alone resisted the ninth-century administrative division into themes. Material vestiges are limited to a (very) few archaeological and epigraphical remains, and the writings of early Christians, notably the “Cappadocian Fathers” (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa), as well as Philostorgius, Procopius, Agathius, John Chrysostom, and their correspondents. M repeatedly cautions on the sources’ inadequacy at presenting a sufficiently broad view of Cappadocia at any fixed point in time. Despite the region’s attested opulence, many of the fine points of its economic history remain unknown. Given the sources and limits, the best we can do is track the dynamic record of its leaders: the overseers of the domus divina, governors, bishops, and emperors. Tracing names, titles and how they change, we may glimpse the function and dysfunction of the Roman state and the importance of political process in the Eastern Empire.

In Chapter 1, M begins by tracing the story of Cappadocia’s divisions into smaller provinces, Cappadocia Prima (C1), Cappadocia Secunda (C2), and the various Armenian permutations. She draws on the early fourth-century “List of Verona” ( Laterculus Veronensis), other conciliar bishop lists, legal codes, and church and military historians. She defends her use of Hierocles’ Synekdemos arguing, contra A.H.M. Jones, that it is not “manifestly defective”, i.e., anachronistically influenced by ecclesiastical lists, but is in fact consonant with the civic geography of Caesarea in the early sixth century. Its names and forms must be understood in the broader manuscript context; the history of the use of “Diocaesarea” is an instructive example. Here M considers every known city and its respective affiliation in the variously divided province(s).

Chapter 2 looks at the Roman administration of the province and provincials. Cappadocia had very few cities relative to other provinces (thus Mitchell’s “exception”). The emperors added a few more, promoting towns or villages to city status, with accompanying facilities and officials, but the total remained small, and statistics are hard to confirm. Zonaras says Tyana had 400,000 inhabitants in the third century, and several authors identify Caesarea as “very large” and “populous.” But the Cappadocian fathers, Chrysostom and Procopius, provide virtually all we know of topography and architecture. The curia of Caesarea appear to play an administrative rather than political role, even before the provincial division mandated their relocation (M suggests many might have quietly retired rather than move). So who led the political scene? M suggests a dynamic of ongoing tension, competitive disempowerment, and inequalities between provincial governors and other imperial representatives which eventually, she argues, the emperor used to his advantage in undermining the supposed hierarchies of provincial power. She details the shifts in the ranks of provincial governors across this period and the changes that may—despite vexing gaps—help us understand Justinian’s administrative reforms of the region, and especially those suggested in Novel 30, which M discusses at length across several chapters. Dated to 535-536, the document is purportedly written to augment Cappadocia’s “grandeur” by reforming existing injustices, promoting the governor of C1 to proconsul spectabilis, and abolishing several existing offices that had been exacting further taxes. Yet the legislation seems to have had little longterm effect, since in 548 the function of proconsul was suppressed at Cappadocia and nothing more is known of the region’s administrative system from the demise of John the Cappadocian to the rise of the thematic system. Between the fourth and sixth centuries the governor, whatever his status, has little presence in either fiscal or church records; we find him most often petitioned for various legal favors, or tax remission, and his intermediary role between city and curia seems to cause many of the conflicts. M argues that at Caesarea these tensions weakened his authority, creating dividing lines not between Christian and pagan, but between inhabitants and soldiers in Caesarea, on the one hand, and outside bishops or the governor himself, on the other, with bishops and governors in perpetual rivalry. A scapegoat governor allowed emperors the opportunity to step into the breach, and this may help to explain the curious reconciliation between Valens and Basil. By the fifth century, the governor of C1 is virtually eclipsed, so it is difficult to determine precisely what led to Novel 30, where he is implicitly condemned for his vices and failure to take responsibility (and the governor of C2 is not mentioned at all). M suggests that the problem may have been collusion with the landowners over taxes, the very issue Justinian attempts to disempower.

Chapter 3 discusses land ownership, particularly focusing on the domus divina per Cappadociam, vast tracts of imperial property that, with its comes domorum per Cappadociam, first mentioned in 379 (CTh VI.30.2=CJ XII.23.3), was another curiously singular concept in a presumably subdivided province. Cappadocia’s domus divina was subject to different administration and taxation than that applied to “free” land. It was also (until Justinian’s reforms) exempt from the provincial governor’s jurisdiction, and constantly at risk of illegal privatization by dishonest fiscal agents. This aspect too seems unsuccessfully reformed; an edict in 548 cites ongoing brigandage, and the Novel of Tiberius II, on the domus divinae and dated between 578 and 582, mentions neither count nor domus in Cappadocia. Were they lost or redefined in relation to the emperor’s personal property?

Chapter 4 explores the relational balances between the bishops of Cappadocia, the emperor, and the Constantinopolitan patriarchate. We know the bishops chiefly by their affiliation with specific cities, and indeed their jurisdiction seems largely limited to urban boundaries. The bishops themselves cite surviving pagans, Jews, Zoroastrians, and “heretics” located outside of their control, in the countryside. Against the oft-prevailing image of “Christian” Cappadocia as a womb (of sorts) for “orthodox” Christianity, M traces the many Arian and Monophysite loyalties that clearly had power in various circles. Philostorgius, an Arian historian from Cappadocia, hints that early bishops at Caesarea were Arian supporters, and we also know Asterius the “Sophist,” who was a subordinationist, and bishop Dianius’s support of Eusebius against Athanasius. Nicene loyalty may emerge only around 360; certainly the Cappadocian fathers are exceptional in their ability to simultaneously maintain imperial favor, support Nicene loyalties, and avoid exile. Only Gregory of Nyssa is expelled, and even then his brother conveniently cushions the political effects of this (temporary) slip.

But the relation between Cappadocian bishops and the patriarch of Constantinople is (after 381) another matter. The church in Cappadocia seems unaffected by the patriarchate until Gregory of Nazianzus asks his own successor, Nectarius, to help Bosporius, bishop of Colonea. This may be a rare example of irenic intervention. John Chrysostom is famously snubbed by Pharetrius while traveling through Caesarea to exile in 404. Firmus of Caesarea will support Cyril against Nestorius. And while the bishops of C2 generally toe the line with Constantinople, those of C1, even after they tacitly accept the decrees of Chalcedon, retain an apparent alliance with the bishop of Alexandria for some time. This raises the logical question: how important was the monophysite movement in the region? More than bishops let on, M suggests, although they yielded to the Chalcedonians (Severus called it defecting) to avoid inconvenient exile. Not until 536 does this acquiescence become overt opposition of the monophysite cause. The bishops of Cappadocia fully accepted the decrees of the fifth ecumenical council in 553.

Chapter 5 looks at the role of Cappadocian bishops in metropolitan government. Here M goes into great detail on Caesarea’s history of episcopal authority over Armenia, extending into the fifth century, again not without conflict.3 The relationship seems to end by 451, and indeed M suggests that the council of Chalcedon was a defining moment for many of the tensions she explores, particularly those between Caesarea and Tyana and relating to Pontus. But if 451 is a critical point for episcopal hierarchy, M follows Anna Crabbe in suggesting it may mark merely an endpoint to a shift that started at the council of Ephesus in 431. Cappadocian Caesarea retains its eminence over Tyana in the conciliar lists as late as 553, suggesting that eventual subordination to Constantinople did not deprive it of its ancient place of honor. M explores the development of new bishops in the region, the urban identity of most “orthodox” Cappadocian martyrs (except Mamas), the status and devolution of the chorepiscopate, and the power of heretical communities that continued virtually unchecked throughout the countryside. This tolerance for rural deviance was in part a logical consequence of Cappadocia being home to many imperial exiles: close enough to remain under the imperial thumb, but conveniently inconvenienced by famously bad weather, rough terrain, and that nasty, rustic Cappadocian character.

Chapter 6 cites the many witnesses to Cappadocian travelers and settlers outside Cappadocia. Most were students, teachers, apprentices, pilgrims, ascetics, or church or state employees; we find no Cappadocian merchants or artisans. The texts (however authentic) of Libanius and the Cappadocian fathers attest to the value for books and education among those who moved, and the expectation that Cappadocians abroad will bring honor to their patria. Few émigrés settle in Constantinople. Most are pilgrims and monks who go to Egypt, Judaea, Sinai, Cyprus, and beyond. Many coenobia include Cappadocians, often with Armenians, but widely intermingled with others as well. Cappadocian monks were rarely hermits; they might leave Cappadocian monasteries for the stricter ascesis of the Judeaen and Egyptian desert, but remain in communities. Theodore of Petra’s Life of Theodosius attests the importance of Basil’s Rules on Cappadocian monasticism beyond provincial borders. The turmoil of 451 on monastic communities everywhere may have created a rupture for Cappadocian monks, as it weakened the metropolitan seat at Caesarea at a time when we also find a rise in emigrants. Cappadocia’s slow bleeding of its monks into other regions may have played a part in the region’s marginalization despite its place, geographically, in the heart of the empire.

Chapter 7, on Cappadocia’s place in the empire, focuses on the imperial and military presence in the region. Many emperors lived in Cappadocia in the third century, but fourth-century writers seem little affected by imperial politics and dissidence; Gregory of Nazianzus’ condemnation of Julian seems implicitly to affirm Constantius’ presence, and he never mentions the usurper Procopius, whom Zosimus says was a rich landowner at Caesarea. Military presence offered some help against Isaurian raiders and Hun invasions, and Justinian’s financing of a new wall around Caesarea further supports its place in imperial defense. Novel 30 recognizes that military troops were provided to the proconsul, and by the 590s Cappadocia was a stake in the Persian conflict. Caesarea burned in 611. By the seventh and eight centuries, Cappadocia was a border province. The fact that it remained on the Byzantine side of the border may be thanks to its political impotence and its episcopal acquiescence to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

In her Conclusion, M reflects on the eclipse of this exceptional star into shadows of silence and a fading twilight. Does the silence reflect true marginalization, she asks, or just the lack of sources that might tell another story? She cautiously suspects true marginalization. Whatever it means, Cappadocia survives even as it is textually effaced from the history of the empire.

The book’s often repetitive application of the same data to a variety of relational structures does not make a fast or smooth read. An appendix listing the chronology of the bishops M traces so painstakingly would have helped, as would either a glossary or index of titles, not just proper names. M often follows the claim “we know little about (x)” with paragraphs or even pages of primary examples, and only once could this reviewer think of a text she had failed to mention.4 The footnotes betray at best a light revision from the 2001 dissertation; for example, she knows of Raymond Van Dam’s (then) forthcoming trilogy, but the bibliography reflects access to only the first volume.

Nonetheless, her treatment of Justinian’s reform document for Cappadocia is a felicitous advance from Peter Birks’ and Grant McLeod’s judgment in 1987 that “We need not spend time on the Novels.”5 And those of us who may occasionally be tempted to reduce Cappadocia into certain late fourth century images can welcome M’s book as an important study on a region—and perhaps a genos —characterized by a diversity of religious views and shifting loyalties.


1. Stephen Mitchell, Anatolia: Land, Men and Gods in Asia. Vol. 1. The Celts in Anatolia and the Impact of Roman Rule, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 97.

2. Johan Leemans, in his review of Lucy Grig’s Making Martyrs in Late Antiquity at BMCR 2006.02.47.

3. On which see also my article, “Rich City Burning: Social Welfare and Ecclesial Insecurity in Basil’s Mission to Armenia,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 12 (2004): 195-215.

4. On p. 172 she claims there are two references to Jews, and misses at least Gregory of Nyssa’s Encomium on Basil, 18.

5. Peter Birks and Grant McLeod, trans., Justinian’s Institutes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 9.