The Outward Civility of the Christian Court and the Roman Senate

Valentinian I became emperor in 364 C.E. and ruled in the west from his capital Milan while his brother and coemperor Valens ruled the east from his capital Constantinople. These emperors were military men and their courts were filled with a large professional class of bureaucrats who were ambitious and socially mobile. Their military character contrasted sharply with the Roman senatorial class. Although politically marginalized, Roman aristocrats enjoyed the leisure, wealth, and education reserved exclusively for their class. And the Roman senate still retained important ceremonial functions. Thus, in 367 C.E., a representative of the senate was summoned to the court to deliver a laudatio, "speech of praise," for Valentinian's quinquennalia, the celebration of his first five-years of rule.

The young noble Roman senator Quintus Aurelius Symmachus journeyed from Rome to the court in Trier to deliver the laudatio on behalf of the Roman senate. This was an important commission and reflected Sym-machus's outstanding rhetorical skills as well as his tact: he was entrusted with the serious duty of forging diplomatic relations between the Roman senate and the imperial court. He also delivered from the senate the customary aurum oblaticium, "payment in gold," which the senate collected as a gesture of support for an emperor's fiscal agenda. In all, Symmachus was in Trier for a year. His time at court was so successful that he was invited by Valentinian to compose a second panegyric in honor of his third consulship in 370 C.E. Despite the exchange of goodwill between Symmachus and Valentinian, however, there were conflicts between the Christian court and the powerful and propertied Roman senators. Specifically, Valentinian's religious superstitions caused him to attack certain pagan religious practices.

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