a bishop conferred the same honour and dignity as holding a high office in the imperial administration.7

The transformation of the classical city is one of the great themes of the later Roman empire. Most cities survived, and so did their local notables. In the East, although municipal councils largely disappeared after the fifth century, decurions continued to perform municipal and imperial duties. In the West decurions still collected taxes in some of the barbarian kingdoms. Despite these outward indications of continuity, the political utility and the ideological significance of cities were quite different. Their political affairs were increasingly dominated by provincial governors in the Eastern empire, by royal magistrates in the Western barbarian kingdoms, and, everywhere, by the most prominent of the local landowners. Once cities became dependent on the public resources of state officials and the private generosity of wealthy local patrons, they had lost much of the autonomy that had made them so useful to the administration of the Roman empire.

The rise of bishops hence cannot be separated from this fundamental transformation of classical cities, even ifthe exact nature of this interaction is difficult to determine. If this decline was due to the political decisions that siphoned resources from cities and provided local notables with alternative careers in the imperial administration, then bishops benefited from the failure of cities. In that case Diocletian and his fellow pagan emperors who instigated these administrative reforms deserve some (unwitting) credit for assisting in the rise of episcopal leadership. But if imperial patronage had made Christianity so attractive that increasingly more citizens, especially notables, were prepared to abandon their municipal responsibilities in favour of ecclesiastical service, then the rise of Christianity was a stimulus for the erosion of cities. In that case Constantine and subsequent Christian emperors deserve some (equally unwitting) blame for undermining the cities that were so important to successful imperial administration. Whichever was the catalyst or the consequence, the rise of bishops and the transformation of classical cities during late antiquity were complementary processes.8

Bishops and clerics were, above all, motivatedby their spiritual commitment. Even Augustine, perhaps the greatest thinker of the era, was sensitive enough to wear a tunic a woman had woven for her deceased brother simply because he knew it would be a comfort to her. But in the course of living out their devotion clerics were also able to enhance their own local prestige and authority. For

7 Paulinus ofNola, Carmina 21.458-9. Hilary ofArles, Sermo de vita Honorati 4.

8 J. H. W G. Liebeschuetz, Decline and fall, 138: 'The "rise of the bishop" was... the obverse of the decline of civic political institutions, and classical political culture.'

0 0

Post a comment