Lecture 4 - The Later Roman Bureaucracy


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Lecture 4 on CLAH266: the Later Roman Empire module at the University of Liverpool.

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Lecture 4 - The Later Roman Bureaucracy

  1. 1. letter from the Roman governors chancery. AD 342Dr Jamie WoodCLAH266: Lecture 4
  2. 2.  To provide you with an overview of the workings of the late Roman state and some secondary scholarship on it To think about the relative benefits and drawbacks of the bureaucracy for the emperors (and the bureaucrats) To consider the impact of Christianity on this system
  3. 3.  Government and bureaucracy  Revisit earlier lectures  Some theories  How the system worked: benefits and drawbacks  Impact of Christianity  Economy Seminar: “Who you know or what you know? Getting a job in the later Roman Empire“
  4. 4.  Writing, like money, was a medium of exchange – in information and knowledge – which helped to unify Empire  Emergence of legal and documentary culture as Roman Empire expanded  Accompanying process of bureaucratization and professionalization ▪ Keith Hopkins (‘Conquest By Book’, in Beard et al. (eds.), Literacy in the Roman World, JRA Supplement 3; Ann Arbor, 1991)
  5. 5.  Small imperial administrative system of early empire  Importance of local elites buying into the system ▪ Civic system in earlier empire: cities administer themselves and the empire leaves them alone ▪ E.g. tax raising delegated to cities ▪ This is best way of extracting a surplus 2 interpretations:1. Bureaucracy as a tool of power that worked from top-down2. Responsive not a proactive system  Emperor ‘trapped’ in the system (F. Millar, The Emperor in the Roman World) Or is it both?
  6. 6.  Fixing of frontiers in first century CE creates permanent need to pay and supply armies  Taxation must be raised  Troops must be supplied ▪ Over time, complex systems of taxation, administration and requisition develop to support this Pivotal role of emperor at head of system (ultimate military commander and judge)  Bureacracy = Reinforces Imperial Power? Or not?
  7. 7.  Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius: some legal reforms; philosopher-emperors Septimius Severus: increasing professionalisation of the bureaucracy, esp. law (golden age of Roman jurisprudence); equestrians granted formerly senatorial roles Commodus and Elagabalus: criticised for ruling through favorites/ their family
  8. 8.  Governors and people in the provinces ask for advice/ rulings from the centre Petitions from cities/ individuals Embassies Imperial government responds to these requests Imperial rescripts Some of these were later collected into law codes Rescripts survive, whereas petitions often do not
  9. 9.  ‘It is customary for me, sir, to refer to you in all matters wherein I have a doubt. Who truly is better able to rule my hesitancy, or to instruct my ignorance? [...] Therefore I stopped the examination, and hastened to consult you. For it appears to me a proper matter for counsel, most greatly on account of the number of Medieval statue of Pliny the Younger on the façade of Cathedral of S. people endangered.’ Maria Maggiore in Como. (Pliny, Letters, 10.96)
  10. 10.  Recipients often not from high elite  Surviving examples mostly from provincials, especially from eastern empire  About 20% of the total were addressed to women  Even slaves and former slaves sent petitions and received answers Remember that they are not Inscription of rescript from proactive laws imposed from Constantine and his three sons top/centre but reactions to about regulations of Tuscany initiatives from below/periphery and Umbria, 333 CE, from Spello, Perugia
  11. 11.  Organisation  Chain of command linked civil administrators directly to emperor (via councils/ departments)  Increasing number of provinces (50 -> 100)  Each province has separate civil and military administration  Number of officials increased (15k -> 30k) – this is still ‘thin’ Professionalisation and specialisation  Entry qualifications enforced  Specific roles developed: a militia ▪ E.g. secret service ▪ E.g. scribes and scripts (later Roman cursive)  Development of elaborate systems of record keeping Reward and recognition  Promotion ladder established  Honours  Tax exemption
  12. 12. Constantinople, late 4th century : ‘From time immemorial a place has been allocated to him in the Hippodrome below the imperial box and southwards right down to the so-called Sling; and every matter since the reign of the emperor Valens [late 4th C] which has been dealt with in the greatest courts of justice (as they once were) is preserved here and is readily available to those who inquire – as if it had been dealt with only yesterday.’ (John Lydus, On magistrates, 3.19, written in 6th century)
  13. 13. Diocletian’sSpain, 290s
  14. 14.  Christopher Kelly (1994), ‘Late Roman Bureaucracy: Going through the files’, in A. Bowman and G. Woolf, eds., Literacy and power in the ancient world (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 161-176.  Discuss the reading with your neighbour  Agree on 3 key/ interesting/ questionable points about the reading that you are willing to share with the rest of the class  Be ready to share at least 1 of them
  15. 15.  Bureaucracy a tool of power that worked from top- down (in theory) Emperor dependent on the bureaucratic system  for collecting knowledge about the empire  for carrying out his orders  intermediaries are therefore vitally important But power of emperor not always in tune with needs of bureaucracy  tension between tendency of bureaucracy to rationalise and emperor’s autocratic power
  16. 16.  Expansion of bureaucracy does not necessarily increase power of the emperor if others can get control of it  E.g. Third Century ‘Crisis’ Who protects the ‘people’?  Emperor is meant to restrict the excesses of the bureaucracy Power of emperor not always in tune with needs of bureaucracy: tension between rationalisation and autocratic power
  17. 17.  A law is invalid if “a person claims that, as a result of our decision, he has obtained imperial letters of appointment and either the outer seal of the document or the writing inside confirms his claim.” Theodosian Code is a collection of over 2500 earlier laws made in 438
  18. 18.  3rd and esp. 4th C onwards: increasing tendency for empire to legislate on matters of religion Bureaucracy used to enact this  Decian Persecution of 250/1 CE  Diocletian’s law against the Manichees (and the Great Persecution) John Rylands Library, Greek Papyrus 12, certificate of Pagan Sacrifice, AD 250
  19. 19.  After conversion of Constantine in early 4th C; increasing  Patronage for the church  Role for bishops within their cities (displacing old elites, who had earlier been displaced by imperial bureaucrats)  Involvement of bishops as ▪ Judges in disputes within their cities (not just between Christians) ▪ As representatives and protectors of their cities to outside authorities (e.g. imperial government) ▪ Are they taking on roles formerly occupied by civic elites/ bureaucrats?
  20. 20.  Bishops often have legal/ administrative experience (e.g. Ambrose of Milan, formerly governor of Emilia- Liguria) Legalistic culture begins to infuse Christian discourse and practice of justice  see C. Humfress, Orthodoxy and the Courts in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 2007) The single most outstanding factor of change in the way elites handled justice and the way ordinary people experienced it was the rise in the person of the bishop as an official who bridged the theory and practice of justice  Kevin Uhalde, Expectations of Justice in the Age of Augustine (Philadelphia, 2007), p. 8
  21. 21.  A massive and contested area of research: what is significance of economic changes in the end of antiquity and birth of middle ages (in west and east)? Romans do not have ‘economic policies’ as we understand them  Currency manipulated for symbolic and political ends (e.g. to free up funds to pay for army)  Taxation system develops to pay for bureaucracy and army  Rapacity of imperial bureaucracy is a common theme in literature  Emperor Diocletian’s price edict: is this an economic or a moral measure?
  22. 22. 1. Bureaucracy vital in articulation of relations between imperial centre and provincial periphery  It is what makes the empire function by extracting a surplus to pay for the imperial superstructure (army, bureaucracy, imperial household)2. Bureaucracy is a tool for the imposition of imperial power  But emperor (and central government generally) require bureaucracy to gather information and carry out their wishes3. At the end of our period bishops come to play an increasingly important role in administration, esp. of law  But is this because of conversion to Christianity or demise of local civic elites? Or vice versa - which comes first?  Over time we see development of an increasingly complex system of church organisation: provinces – law – bureaucracy
  23. 23. 1. Take a look at the very useful summary on the late Roman economy here: http://isthmia.osu.edu/teg/50501/12.htm2. Read: Price, R. (2005), ‘In hoc signo vinces: the Original Context of the Vision of Constantine’, in K. Cooper and J. Gregory, eds., Signs, Wonders, Miracles: representations of divine power in the life of the church (Woodbridge), pp. 1-10. [uploaded to VITAL]