The history of interactions between Romans and barbarians

The second consideration brought to mind by the history of interactions between Romans and barbarians relates precisely to manpower. Ammianus Marcellinus diagnosed the empire’s reliance on Gothic arms as deriving from the unwillingness of citizens to bear the burden of military service them- selves.56 But the systems by which the legions were manned in the fourth and fi fth centuries had long roots in imperial politics, and their maintenance lay at the heart of the meaning and workings of the late Roman state.57 As regards the fi rst, it was the great achievement of Augustus to break, insofar as he was able, the ties of personal loyalty and fi nancial dependence that had bound legionaries to individual dynasts in the late Republic. Augustus thereby shored up a social consensus about the nature of public power, as about the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, that had nearly ruptured in the fall

52 See, e.g., Libanius, Or. 30.5. 53 See, e.g., Themistius, Or. 16.210a-213b; Baynes (1922), 207–217; Cameron, Long (1993). 54 Heather (1997b); Chrysos (1997); P. Brown (2003), 101–106. 55 Lenski (2002), 307–367. 56 Ammianus 19.11.7. 57 For what follows see Ando (2007a); also Wickham (2005), 56–62, 145; Haldon (1993).



44 Journal of Late Antiquity

of the Republic. But what his innovation produced was most pointedly not a return to some Republican status quo ante. The mechanism he developed— the institution of regular terms of service, and the use of taxes to pay both salaries and discharge bonuses—sundered more than the connection between commander and soldier. It also initiated a divorce between military service and the performance of citizenship, effectively transforming the soldiery into a servant of the state. This had further implications within a wider, imperial political culture, both early in the Principate, when most provincials were legal aliens, and later, as more and more and eventually all became citizens. In that broader perspective, the creation of a complex bureaucracy at the level of the central state, mediated at the local level by the multiple instruments of tax collection employed in the different provinces, nurtured a widespread understanding of the state as a depersonalized institution whose primary role was the cultivation of social order within the empire, and peace with the powers without. The complex system of transfer payments between center and periphery that enabled this system to work in turn relied on the relatively high levels of commerce and monetization that were themselves a product of Roman peace and imperial institutions.

But the instrumentalization of military force had further consequences, both greatly exacerbated by the development of this system within an empire, at the moment when its notionally democratic institutions failed. First, the end of democracy effectively disenfranchised the soldiers, as it did the citizens. Combined with the transformation worked by their newly salaried condition, this radically suppressed the army as an agent in politics. Second, even beyond the Roman citizen body, which once had been conceived at an ideological level as coterminous with its soldiery, the empire effectively brought to an end the nearly universal connection between political participation and military service that once obtained in the cities of the Mediterranean, both east and west. The long-term consequences of this revolution went farther and ran deeper than some mere continuity with the Roman habit of placing non-citizen auxiliaries in the front ranks, hoping to spare citizen blood.58 The evacuation of service and franchise from the components of citizenship fundamentally divided citi- zen and combatant, and made of the former a civilian and the latter a soldier; it thereby rendered violence and the purveyors of violence instruments of the state. Within that framework, it became possible to conceive of foreign recruits, serving under foreign commanders, not as the fodder but rather the princi- pal strength of a state whose function was precisely to funnel civilian money into military coffers. The disarming of the citizen thus began long before the Romans found themselves practicing law in an Ostrogothic kingdom.

58 Tacitus, Agr. 35.2.



ANDO ^ Decline, Fall, and Transformation 45

The third consideration follows upon the second, and concerns not so much manpower as money. Histories of Rome generally posit a transforma- tion in the size, organization and ambitions of Roman government under Dio- cletian and Constantine,59 which found signifi cant expression in the adoption of novel forms of ceremonial in court and kingdom. Already seventy years ago, Andreas Alföldi revealed this putative revolution in imperial deportment to be an historical fantasy, the product, among other things, of an historio- graphic tradition blind to incremental change and desirous of attributing sig- nifi cant change to singular historical actors.60 A similar revolution is taking place in understandings of ancient government, along at least two fronts rel- evant here. First, if we regard the function of the empire simply as effecting the transfer to the military of the civilian economy’s surplus wealth, then the reforms instituted by Diocletian and Constantine recede in importance. It is by no means clear that those reforms resulted in a higher incidence of taxa- tion; rather, they effected a shift in responsibility for the collection of revenue away from the institutions of local government to newly-prominent agents of the central power. Of far greater importance at all levels were the long-term consequences of Aurelian’s ill-conceived reform of the coinage, for it not only upended the effective if unintended role of the silver as a token coinage but also paved the way for Diocletian and Constantine’s elevation of gold coinage as the sole stable form of portable wealth. This produced a rapid shift in eco- nomic power away from local elites to the imperial governing class and com- menced a demonetization of small-scale economic exchange.61 Second, this shift in responsibility from local to imperial government appears to have an increasingly complicated and ancient history. The discovery and aggregation of evidence for offi ces, actions, and policies again and again reveals erstwhile ad hoc solutions to local contingencies to be more systematic, more rational, and more widely employed than once was understood.62

It would be easy to assign these developments a causal role in the col- lapse of Roman power in the west. The central government did face crises in manpower; the twin actions of warfare, which produced those crises, and the ceding of lands to largely autonomous peoples, conceived as a solution to the same, had the effect of removing both land and persons from the tax rolls, and

59 Jones (1964), 42–68, 97–110; Carrié, Rousselle (1999), 563–718; Lo Cascio (2005) 172–183. 60 Alföldi (1934); Idem (1935). 61 Banaji (2001); Potter (2004), 273–274, 392–395. For a rather different view, argued with great

sophistication, see Carrié (2005). 62 See, e.g., Rathbone (1993); Guerber (1997); Nelis-Clément (2001). See in general Nicolet (1996);

Burton (2002); Ando (2006a). Note, however, that the general tendency in studies of government in Late Antiquity displays an opposite inclination, against the abstraction of coherent systems from disparate evidence and the retrojection to ancient bureaucrats of rational and purposive institution- building: see, for example, Campbell (2005); Lo Cascio (2005), 131–136; Grey (2007).



46 Journal of Late Antiquity

the government’s reliance on an intrinsic-value coinage made it extraordinarily vulnerable to liquidity crises. All this was true. But in many respects, these developments also outlived that collapse, and contributed in signifi cant ways to the cultures and political economies of the successor states. This was so in part because the distinction between soldier and civilian drawn by Cassio- dorus closely resembled distinctions drawn in earlier ages by advocates of the admission and settlement of barbarian populations within the empire. They survived, too, in the limited but important effects manifested in post-Roman societies by Roman law—in the shape given to personal and commercial rela- tions by the on-going reception of a Roman law of persons and Roman systems of land tenure, and their frequent interconnection in public interest and public law on tax and levy. Along some spectrum of governmentality, one might say, those states existed on a continuum with deep roots in classical antiquity.


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