Tag: politics

Letters and Politics in Late Antiquity

Discussing the role of letters in late antique Roman politics (4th to 6th century AD): how did various late antique actors and interest groups use letters to try and influence decision making processes on all levels?

Letters played a prominent role in the functioning of social and political life in the late Roman Empire. News and information were often communicated by letter, and imperial and ecclesiastical decisions were in many cases negotiated and communicated via letters, which could even carry the force of law. As a result, letters are an invaluable source for research on late antique politics, yielding insight not just into decisions, but also into decision making processes. From this point of view, letters disclose the functioning of late Roman politics as a dynamic practice of negotiation and diplomacy. The thousands of letters that have been preserved from these centuries show late antique correspondents using the genre of the letter for recommending, arguing, defining, ordering, requesting, debating, and lobbying, in an attempt to influence decision making processes to their own advantage, as well as for authoritatively communicating decisions and laws.

The aim of this workshop is to shed new light on the important but underinvestigated role of letters in late antique Roman politics: what was the role of letters in late antique elite networks, the imperial bureaucracy and ecclesiastical controversies? What were the functions of different letter types, including letters of recommendation, petitions to the Emperor and the imperial legislative letters? How was authority created through (authentic or forged) letters in the context of legal procedures and theological controversy? What was the role of letter carriers, the cursus publicus, and letter collections in this political use of letters?

Possible research questions include, but are not limited to, the following:

Letters in imperial decision-making
– What role did correspondence play in the decision making processes of the imperial bureaucracy?
– To what extent were letters processed differently by the imperial administration than petitions?
– When, why and how did the Emperor write letters as a form of legislation?
– How did imperial legislative letters differ from other imperial as well as from elite correspondence?
– What role did letters play in the administrative practice of the imperial bureaucracy?

Lower level politics
– Who wrote letters trying to influence political decisions in the late Roman Empire and why did they do this?
– Who received letters and what kind of request did these letters entail?
– What reactions did such letters elicit?

Letters and authority
– How did letters obtain (legislative) authority?
– How did letters function as evidence (e.g. in court or during Church councils)?
– What role did letters play in ecclesiastical decision-making processes?
– How were late antique letters reused in later ecclesiastical or political disputes?

Elite networks
– What was the function of letters within late antique social networks?
– How did elite members use their correspondence networks for lobbying?
– What was the role of rhetoric and self-presentation in letters?
– Which political purposes were present in which letter types (e.g. letters of recommendation, intercession, petitions, legislative letters)?

Letters and letter collections as political instruments
– How did the practicalities of correspondence (e.g. letter carriers and the cursus publicus) influence late antique decision making processes?
– How did letters relate to oral communication and diplomacy?
– How did the Roman elite cope with the forgery of letters in their decision making processes?
– How were letters and letter collections in late Antiquity used for political purposes?
– What functions did letters have in the context of their collections?

Prof. dr. Lieve Van Hoof
Marijke Kooijman
Matthijs Zoeter

Confirmed speakers:
Prof. Dr Dr Dr Peter Riedlberger (keynote), Prof. Dr Klaas Bentein, Prof. Dr Philippe Blaudeau, Prof. Dr Michael Grünbart, Marijke Kooijman, MA LLB, Prof. Dr Angela Pabst, Dr Fabian Schulz, Dr Rens Tacoma, Prof. Dr Lieve Van Hoof, Matthijs Zoeter, MA,

Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity 13

The Society for Late Antiquity is pleased to announce the thirteenth biennial meeting of Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity, to be held at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. Specialists in art and archeology, literature and philology, history and religious studies, working on topics from the 3rd to the 8th century CE, will present a series of papers examining the impact of disasters on late-antique communities, including their susceptibility to disaster, the means by which they coped, and factors that increased resilience and facilitated recovery from disasters. In order to foster the thematic breadth and interdisciplinary perspective for which Shifting Frontiers is well-known, the papers will consider the full range of traumatic events, and also long-term processes, that could distress communities: economic, environmental, political and religious. The aim of this conference is to move beyond the descriptive and stimulate analytical and theoretical approaches to understanding how distressed communities behaved in the short and long term. Local communities developed daily and seasonal rhythms to mitigate vulnerabilities and fragility. The dread of disaster shaped the late-antique psyche and, in some ways, the cultural landscape of communities. And disasters of various kinds had a wide range of impacts, depending upon severity and the nature of communal resilience. Therefore, presentations will query the extent to which the economic, cultural, political or religious resources of communities (or their lack) determined levels of susceptibility, impact, response or resilience. To what extent do late-antique sources acknowledge vulnerability and fragility? What mechanisms created durability and resilience? What were the emotional and intellectual responses to disaster? Does an awareness of the psychological impact of fragility and disaster alter our interpretation of various forms of evidence in Late Antiquity?

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