BMCR 2021.03.53

Leadership, ideology and crowds in the Roman Empire of the fourth century AD

, , Leadership, ideology and crowds in the Roman Empire of the fourth century AD. Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und Epigraphische Studien (HABES), Band 62. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2020. Pp. 200. ISBN 9783515124041. €44,00.

[The Table of contents is listed below.]

This volume presents the results of “Medial (re)presentations-various messages: leadership, ideology and crowds in the Roman Empire of the 4th century AD,” a conference held at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in February 2015. It addresses the idea that the use of ideology as a way to create lasting social bonds and manipulate urban crowds was a part of the shift in the nature of governmental power and leadership in the fourth century. Arguing that leadership cannot function effectively without the general acceptance of those being led, the editors also follow the recent historiographic trend of explicit bottom-up approaches to balance the top-down approach used by most studies of leadership.

The nascent institutionalization of the Christian church over the course of the fourth century meant that Roman emperors faced a burgeoning ecclesiastical administration that enjoyed imperial sponsorship, but did not necessarily feel compelled to bow to imperial power. Indeed, the latter part of the century is marked by recurring episcopal intransigence and attempts to replace the power structures that accompanied the Roman civic religion with Christian power structures. The editors have demonstrated the differences that emerged between the leadership styles of entrenched, institutional power and burgeoning religious institutions as monotheism changed both the nature and the locus of religious power. This volume follows the historiographic trend toward longitudinal studies of the fourth and early fifth centuries, though it makes an important contribution by arguing throughout that the imperial and ecclesiastical administrations converged into interdependence rather than diverged into belligerence as we find so often in late antique historiography. As several contributions note, this interdependence is undoubtedly related to the synergy of the episcopal model of personal, stationary, and local power with the imperial model of distant, itinerant, and universal power.

The volume is organized chronologically, but every contribution is connected to at least one other by similar medial focus, conceptual basis, or cast of characters. As an organizing principle, chronology gives the volume structure and is one way that the editors establish the longitudinal nature of leadership. Medial foci, from tetrarchic architecture to episcopal panegyrics, are a second important organizing principle that demonstrates the changing usages of ancient source materials, especially in noncontiguous essays like those of Adrastos Omissi and Carmen Cvetković about orators and panegyrics.

The following brief descriptions of the essays are grouped by conceptual similarity rather than by the volume’s internal arrangement.

Verena Jaeschke and Erika Manders use material evidence to examine the ways in which emperors conveyed and legitimized imperial power. Jaeschke examines the architecture of the principal tetrarchic residences, focused especially on the connection between palace and circus, and argues that the pattern of buildings and architectural embellishments communicated visually the new paradigms of tetrarchic rule while establishing a common pattern that modern scholars can use to distinguish principle and secondary residences. Manders examines coins minted in Nicomedia, Antioch, and Alexandria bearing images of local deities that are generally acknowledged as the last purely civic coins in the Empire. Because these coins were issued during the persecution of Maximinus Daia (r. 305-313), scholars have traditionally interpreted the civic deities as an anti-Christian message, but Manders argues that the images on these coins fit a broader pattern of medial discourse that make a connection to the persecutions “implausible” (49).

Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto (in the volume’s lone non-English chapter) and John Curran examine legal sources as they relate to power and leadership. In a close reading of the Theodosian Code, Herrmann-Otto analyzes moralizing elements in the social legislation of the emperor Constantine I (r. 305-337) to determine how legal decrees were promulgated among the citizens of Rome and Constantinople, while also arguing that those moralizing elements allowed Constantine and his successors to extend the reach of legal imperial power more broadly into quotidian life. Curran’s contribution is extensively and self-consciously historiographical. He analyzes legal terminology to show how ideology incited hostility against the Jewish community while Christian bishops sought to blatantly force rank-and-file Christians into churches, even as they felt anxiety about the close religious contact between the Christian and Jewish communities. He closes his essay by arguing that the Patriarch of the Jews should be seen as a “grand patronal figure” (92) rather than as the constitutional figure constructed by modern historiography.

Martijn Icks and Meaghan McEvoy use literary sources to examine the closely-related topics of visibility and accessibility. While orations to emperors have been mined extensively for their details (and the veracity of those details have been closely analyzed), Icks instead analyzes the rhetoric of elite Romans in the mid- and late-fourth century to discern the expectation of imperial orators for the personal appearances and meaningful visibility of emperors at public events. In a micro-level study, McEvoy analyzes the accessibility of the emperor Arcadius (r. 386-408), who has long been understood only as a princeps clausus. She does not argue that Arcadius was a gifted leader, which the evidence would obviously not bear out. Instead, she suggests, in opposition to the established historiography, that he was not simply a palace-bound emperor. While it is true that Arcadius rarely left the city of Constantinople, he and his family appeared frequently at events within the city, which reinforced his family’s dynastic legitimacy among the people of Constantinople and prompted a smooth transfer of power upon his death in 408.

Gerda de Kleijn, Marianne Sághy, and Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira examine leadership using modern theoretical models, especially sociological ones, and focus closely on crowds. De Kleijn and Sághy both provide close analyses of individual leaders, emperor Constantius II (r. 337-361) and pope Damasus I (r. 366-384), respectively. De Kleijn focuses on transactional and transformational theories of leadership to evaluate personal and positional styles of leadership in the reign of Constantius, and demonstrates how aspects of leadership studies can “standardize” categories of evaluation across different ancient genres and authors. Sághy examines the bishop as a new type of public leader in the fourth century, applying crowd theory to the way that Damasus created the cult of the martyrs in order to exercise leadership over the Christians of Rome. By focusing on the martyrs, Damasus was able to quickly divert the public memory of the violence of the double election of 366. De Oliveira provides a macro-level, bottom-up analysis of leadership, analyzing the ways in which episcopal leadership in Roman North Africa could either mobilize crowds of their followers or calm those crowds in order to prevent violence. Arguing that previous scholarship has attributed crowd motives to plausible, but overly superficial, causes, he argues that such concepts as the “dynamics of contention” (153) and collective action can help scholars understand why crowds either mobilized or allowed themselves to be mobilized.

Adrastos Omissi and Carmen Cvetković examine orators, both imperial and episcopal. Omissi focuses on the identities and motivations of panegyrical orators, arguing that orators praised imperial leadership to help local communities and while perhaps also securing imperial employment for themselves, which also had the effect of publicly affirming the mercy of the emperor. Cvetkovic’s essay about Niceta of Remesiana examines episcopal orations, as Paulinus of Nola always described Niceta in “highly praising terms” (139) and constructed a panegyric that depicts Niceta as an ideal episcopal leader while allowing scholars to determine that he was also a capable ecclesiastical politician in real life.

Overall, this is an excellent volume that makes important contributions in arguing that leadership in the fourth century was an on-going negotiation between leaders and those being led, and that crowds have agency independent of their organizers.

Table of Contents

Jan Willem Drivjers, Erika Manders, and Daniëlle Slootjes, “Introduction,” 9-18
Verena Jaeschke, “Architecture and Power: Defining Tetrarchic Imperial Residences,” 19-34
Adrastos Omissi, “Rhetoric and Power: How Imperial Panegyric Allowed Civilian Elites to Access Power in the Fourth Century,” 35-48
Erika Manders, “Coins against Christianity? Maximinus’ ‘Persecution Issues’ in Context,” 49-60
Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto, “Moral und Rhetorik im Codex Theodosianus: Konstantins Strategien zur Beeinflussung der römischen Bevölkerung,” 61-80
John Curran, “‘His blood be upon us’: Protecting the Jews in Late Antiquity,” 81-98
Gerda de Kleijn, “Imperial Leadership: Constantius II,” 99-116
Marianne Sághy, “Damascus and the Charioteers: Crowds, Leadership and Media in Late Antique Rome,” 117-134
Carmen Angela Cvetković, “Venerabili episcopo atque doctissimo Nicetae: Niceta of Remesiana and Episcopal Leadership in Fourth Century Illyricum,” 135-150
Julio Cesar Magalhes de Oliveira, “Controllers of Crowds? Popular Mobilization and Episcopal Leadership in Late Roman North Africa,” 151-162
Martijn Icks, “Keeping Up Appearances: Evaluations of Imperial (In)Visibility in Late Antiquity,” 163-180
Meaghan McEvoy, “An Imperial Jellyfish? The Emperor Arcadius and Imperial Leadership in the Late Fourth Century AD,” 181-197