Fractured church fractured empire

So much for the "theological narrative." As soon as we construct it, however, we stumble upon other developments that had an equally deep effect on Christian self-understanding. Our concern has to be, therefore, not with what lay behind religious controversy but with what accompanied it. Everything said so far draws us into a web of other developments - barbarian settlement in the West, for example, and associated challenges and opportunities (not least for bishops of Rome); the spectacular growth of Coptic and Syriac cultures in provinces soon to be subject to Islam; the enduring threat of Persia; and changes in the status ofemperors and the understanding ofempire (illustrated vividly by the high hopes and catastrophic failures of Justinian). The church was, in other words, fractured within a fractured empire. By 500, the old Roman hegemony - single in form, easily traversed, its frontiers merely the boundaries of current aspiration - had gone for ever. With its departure, a different dynamic began to affect the Roman world. Twofold in character, it created for Christianity a new arena within which to define itself and fulfill its purposes.

First, what Romans had previously considered "outside" or beyond themselves was now embedded within their world. Roman culture acquired as a result a richer tone. In the East, Copts and Syrians acclaimed new cultural heroes - Ephraim (d. c. 373) and Shenoute (d. c. 450). Egypt and Syria could no longer be regarded as backwaters or fringes, the haunts of peasant ignorance: an increasing level of literary and theoretical sophistication displayed and invigorated a confident self-identity. In the West, the settler kingdoms seemed to represent a greater inversion of tradition. The Vandal acquisition of North Africa (definitive by 439), the Frankish engulfing of Gaul (widespread by 511), the earlier establishment of a Visigothic kingdom in the same province (by 418, extending eventually into Spain), and of an Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy (by 493) have often been taken as emblems of destruction and discontinuity. Yet, the "kings" concerned - Gaiseric, Clovis, Alaric, and Theoderic - were Roman in their tastes and ambitions, eager to accept Romans as their colleagues: in

38 John of Ephesus, Historia ecclesiastica, 3.3.15, and following.

the words of Theoderic, "Every Goth with aspirations plays the Roman."39 Their novelty, therefore, needs to be carefully defined.

Second, the arrival of those adventurers at once followed and provoked a bewildering series of migrations, which transformed in turn the way in which imperial space was conceived. Modern examples of dismantled empires have accustomed us to the notion that old peripheries occupy traditional centers. The resulting mobility allows new and multiple assertions of identity, carried over long distances. Not surprisingly, the barbarian disturbance of the Roman Empire prompted fresh movement within it. Earlier imperial power had centered equally on a mobile emperor, and authority attached as much to persons as to places; but now, both Romans and barbarians were faced with more numerous epicenters of power. Travel between them accelerated. An eastern embassy to the Huns in the 440s encountered Roman traders and agents on the same road.40 In the Ostrogothic period, numerous Greek speakers traveled west to Italy and beyond, and numerous Latin speakers tasted "exile" in Constantinople: Dionysius Exiguus and Cassiodorus illustrate a broader trend.41 Churchmen were prominent as ambassadors, answering the basilike keleusis, the imperial summons to that service.42 Others were forced into exile by religious controversy, often accompanied by their followers. Pilgrimage, a prominent feature of late Roman devotion, not only peopled existing routes, but also transformed both the points of departure and return and the goals of religious fervor, whether close or distant.43 Along the same routes, saints' relics were increasingly transported, to bring objects of devotion closer to home and to enhance the religious standing of the churches and churchmen who sought them out.44

That constant movement, by both the intrusive and the itinerant, betokened instability. The new kingdoms, for example, were liable to collapses of their

39 "Romanus miser imitatur Gothum et utilis Gothus imitatur Romanum," in Anonymus Valesianus, pars posterior, 12 (61), 546.

40 Priscus, Fragmentum Historicorum Graecorum, 11.2.144-48, 313-55, 407-35; Blockley, Fragmentary Classicizing Historians, 252, 262-64, 266-68.

41 See Burns, History of the Ostrogoths; O'Donnell, Cassiodorus. Examples oflater easterners in the West: Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.26; Gregory the Great, Dialogues, 3.14.

42 Justinian, Corpus iuris civilis: Novellae 6.2 (535 CE), 40. See Lee, Information and Frontiers.

43 See Hunt, Holy Land Pilgrimage; Walker, Holy City, Holy Places; Wilken, Land Called Holy; Frankfurter, Pilgrimage and Holy Space.

44 Vignette: Life ofEugendus in Vies des pères duJura, 3.16 (155-56), ed. Martine 404-406, trans. Vivian 172-73. Other examples: Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.31; Epaone (517 CE), canon 25, Concilia GaRiae, 30. See Grabar, Martyrium; Brown, Cult of the Saints; Heinzelmann, Translationsberichte; Hayward and Howard-Johnston, Cult of the Saints. More generally: Burns and Edie, Urban Centers and Rural Contexts; Mills and Grafton, Conversion.

own, barbarian supplanting barbarian. Visigoths and Burgundians in Gaul were battered by both Huns in the fifth century and Franks in the early sixth; Vandals and Ostrogoths, finally destabilized by the armies of Justinian in the 530s and 550s respectively, had already antagonized one another and, in the case of the Ostrogoths, had faced strong pressure from the Franks. Lombards in the 560s simply filled a vacuum left by Justinian's limited victories. Relations with Persia were analogously labile, governed to some extent by events within Persia itself. An "endless peace" was declared in 532, but disrupted by two decades of intermittent warfare after 540. A "fifty-years peace," sealed in 562, was similarly annulled by a new phase of aggression at the end of the century, which resulted in the Persian occupation of much of the East, only brought to a close by the emperor Heraclius in 632.45 Over the same period, ominous new intrusions in the Balkans preoccupied Tiberius, Maurice, and Phocas (602-10), and adjustments of loyalty developed, as already mentioned, among Byzantium's Arab allies, not to the empire's advantage.

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