Day 91 – Ken here (F)
(DEF v.2, ch.17, pp.600-610)
I’m starting a little earlier – and trying not to write for hours and hours – although once you get into the research (like looking up ancient sources, or figuring out what ancient prices mean in current dollars), it’s hard not to pursue a thought to its logical conclusion. But I digress…
We finish up today with Gibbon’s description of Constantinople, and start an overview of later (300’s, 400’s) Roman imperial government offices/structures.
City Description (cont)
Privileges of City of Constantinople – Egypt supplies the free wheat for the city (just as North Africa/Carthage/Sicily supplied the free wheat for Rome) – public council = Senate, = Colony of City of Rome (highest civic status) (within a few decades, Constantinople will be a twin of Rome, co-equal, and no longer a colony) – pretty good for a brand-new town
Dedication of Constantinople – (begun-330, finished-334) named NEW ROME, it became known as Constantinopolis (Constantine’s City) – each year on the dedication day the reigning emperor performed a ceremony saluting Constantine
Sources for government structure: the Theodosian Code, the Notitia Dignitatum (see below)
Hierarchy of State – emperor is now divine (your Gravity, your Sincerity, your Sublime and Wonderful Magnitude (I like that one!))
4 (soon to be 5 with Fame-Inflation) Orders of People (in order of importance – from highest to lowest): The Illustir (Illustrious), The Specatabiles (Respectable), The Clarissimi (Honorable), and the People-of-no-consequence-who-are-worthless (read: you and me). With the emperors granting the Clarissimi (lowest order of fame and power) more and more, each order bumped up the next in Fame-Inflation, and finally a new order (in a hundred years or so) will be created called The Gloriosi -to be superior to the (now deflated/degraded) Illustri – NOTE: the top 4 orders = the new aristocracy, and the some-people-are-more-equal-than-others section of society (see: Animal Farm)
Officials – Consuls: no longer elected, created by emperor, purely honorific title, required only an OUTRAGEOUS party at the beginning of their term – thence they were encouraged to retire to their estates to enjoy their lofty status in peace and quiet
Officials/Nations – Patricians: NOT a “race within a race/caste” anymore, = honorable title only given for the lifetime of the recipient – in effect, the END of the cultural/social “knowledge” of the ancient world within Mediterranean culture – the Roman clan distinction survives only as a name (see also: Fustel De Coulanges)
Offices – Praetorian Prefects: from Severus to Diocletian, Praetorian Prefects (once only the head of the household guard of the emperors) become the first man in the empire, second only to the emperor. Constantine in essence abolishes this office and SEPARATES THE CIVIL from the MILITARY (key Constantine policy) by making 4 Prefects, each a CIVIL kind of governor over a collection of provinces
Animal Farm by George Orwell - 1st edition book cover - Some animals are more equal than others - the creation of the nobler orders (Illustri, Gloriosi, etc) in Roman society solidified the 2-tier system of justice and society in the later Roman empire - not everyone was a citizen, some were more citizens than others - faint beginnings of feudalism here...
Note: On How the Road to Hell gets Paved with Good Intentions
Separate Military from Civilian government(still a key policy of most Western nations – incl. the U.S.)
Make the Military/Civilian “parts” as small as possible, put a lot of hierarchy in place (bureaucracy) in between the emperor and the actual citizens or soldiers, so that it was as difficult as possible to form a rebellion (it required more and more people to be in on the coup, which made it less and less likely to succeed without being intercepted/stopped before it’s completion)
Remembering that we just got out of the most civil-war-filled century in Roman history (the 200’s, early 300’s), it’s logical that Constantine (who CERTAINLY knew himself how to civil-war it to the top) would solidify governmental changes to make sure that it was very difficult for generals/sons of emperors to make war against HIM. So… the policies of Constantine/Diocletian:
All very good policies -and ones which worked – civil war declined in empire – but the price was ruinous taxation to support the mega-bureaucracy, and an inability to act fast and coordinate attacks on barbarians when invasions occurred. The result? Barbarians eventually overwhelmed a more and more ineffectual military, and the citizen-serfs GLADLY became barbarian subjects when their taxes decreased by 90% under the new barbarian regimes.
Rome was an unloved, un-mourned mistress by the man-in-the-street after her fall. Wait till we get to the Reconquest of Italy (circa mid 500’s) under Justinian (emperor in the East) – how the populace LAMENTED the incredible arrogance, ruthlessness, and efficiency of the imperial tax collectors after nearly a century of peace under the German Ostrogoths. The new Imperials RUINED Italy.
Notitia Dignitatum - bureaucrats painted the shield decorations of each legion so they could remember them during an audit - these are the Praesentalis group
Note on Sources – the Laws and Hierarchies
the Theodosian Code (promulgated 438 – 100 years after our time now), which is a digest of the state of Roman Imperial Law at the time it was published – which includes duties, responsibilities, names, processes, etc relating to the internal workings of the government, but mostly a preservation of (what was considered relevant) imperial letters, laws, rescripts, opinions, regulations, etc for the last 400 years. It was written in the declining years of the West (the western section of the empire was at the point of being run by puppet emperors under German warlords circa 430’s, and will fall completely in 30 years to become a German kingdom). The complete text is online (in Latin) here.
the Notitia Dignitatum (circa 420 for the West, 400 for the East) is a list of officials (a hierarchy) of the empire drawn up for the imperial government as a reference work!. It’s amazing we have a copy of this – our current copy descends from only one copy extant around 1520 (itself a copy from the 800’s) which was lost, but before being lost was copied again multiple times – talk about luck! Because of this we have a broad overview, down to minuscule detail of the bureaucracy/military/civil officials of Constantine’s time (and hopefully for the next century or so). A Latin version (with illustrations) here – check out the useful late Roman pictures of the Great Candlestick and Wagon of the Imperial Treasurer – among many others – very interesting.
Where do we get all this information on officials and government posts? Gibbon will rely upon 2 major sources:
These are some of the workhorses of Late Antique Roman historians when writing about society, culture, and everyday life – as they inadvertently reveal to our eyes 1.500 years later, what may have been going through these Late Roman minds when problems like barbarians, hyper-inflation, and constant imperial civil war where the problems of the ONE state controlling the entire Mediterranean basin. A different time, and because it is so different, very important to us to understand ourselves and what humans are capable of/liable to in a world-state.
Notitia Dignitatum - bureaucrats sketches of legion's insignia - to tell them apart in an audit - these are the foot-soldiers - PEDITUM - note the first recorded instance of the YIN-YANG symbol on a shield in the center of this page of the Notitia
Constantinople Stolen Art Department: The Long Tale of the Serpent Column
This per Wiki:
“The Serpent Column (Turkish, Yılanlı Sütun) — also known as the Serpentine Column, Delphi Tripod or Plataean Tripod — is an ancient bronze column at the Hippodrome of Constantinople (known as Atmeydanı “Horse Square” in the Ottoman period) in what is now Istanbul, Turkey. It is part of an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod, originally in Delphi and relocated to Constantinople by Constantine I the Great in 324. The serpent heads of the 8-meter high column remained intact until the end of the 17th century (one is on display at the nearby Istanbul Archaeology Museums).
The Serpentine Column has one of the longest literary histories of any object surviving from Greek and Roman antiquity — its provenance is not in doubt and it is at least 2,487 years old. Together with its original golden tripod and bowl (both long missing), it constituted a trophy, or offering, dedicated to Apollo at Delphi. This offering was made in the spring of 478 BC, several months after the defeat of the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea (August, 479 BC) by those Greek city-states in alliance against the Persian invasion of mainland Greece (see Greco-Persian Wars). Among the writers who allude to the Column in the ancient literature are Herodotus, Thucydides, Demosthenes, Diodorus Siculus, Pausanias the traveller, Cornelius Nepos and Plutarch.The removal of the column by the Emperor Constantine to his new capital, Constantinople, is described by Edward Gibbon, citing the testimony of the Byzantine historians Zosimus, Eusebius, Socrates, and Sozomenus.”
NOTE: For an excellent 3D reconstruction online of the city of Constantinople as of 1200 AD see Byzantium1200.com – it really is spectacular and a tremendous amount of work has gone into it.
Serpent Column today (2007) - standing in Hippodrome - approximately 2,500 years old - with inscriptions (and saber cuts) still visible
Snake Column - Head of the serpent found later - with lower jaw missing - Gibbon relates (2000 pages from now) how the Turkish conqueror of Constantinople in 1453 lopped off the lower jaw of one of the 3 serpents on the day the city fell - could this be that serpent head?
Snake Column - Ottoman miniature from the Surname-i Vehbi - in a celebration at the Hippodrome in 1582 - 130 years after the falling of the City of Constantinople - Note - the heads are all still attached - and one jaw seems to be missing
Snake Column - This is the stolen column - stolen by Constantine - to adorn his new Hippodrome in Constantinople he just built -reconstruction in Hippodrome - from the 3D Byzantium1200 Project (source: Byzantium1200.com) - Note: the obelisk in the background - its still there - see the 1st photograph of the Snake Column above
Snake Column - reconstruction as at Delphi in 470's BCE - it was an offering of thanks for the Greeks' victory at Plataea over the Persians - note: the golden tripod at the top - from the 3D Byzantium1200 Project (source: Byzantium1200.com)