Asia Minor in the Long Sixth Century
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Asia Minor in the Long Sixth Century

Current Research and Future Directions

Ine Jacobs, Hugh Elton, Ine Jacobs, Hugh Elton

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eBook - ePub

Asia Minor in the Long Sixth Century

Current Research and Future Directions

Ine Jacobs, Hugh Elton, Ine Jacobs, Hugh Elton

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About This Book

Asia Minor is considered to have been a fairly prosperous region in Late Antiquity. It was rarely disturbed by external invasions and remained largely untouched by the continuous Roman-Persian conflict until very late in the period, was apparently well connected to the flourishing Mediterranean economy and, as the region closest to Constantinople, is assumed to have played an important part in the provisioning of the imperial capital and the imperial armies. When exactly this prosperity came to an end – the late sixth century, the early, middle or even later seventh century – remains a matter of debate. Likewise, the impact of factors such as the dust veil event of 536, the impact of the bubonic plague that made its first appearance in AD 541/542, the costs and consequences of Justinian's wars, the Persian attacks of the early seventh century and, eventually the Arab incursions of around the middle of the seventh century, remains controversial. The more general living conditions in both cities and countryside have long been neglected. The majority of the population, however, did not live in urban but in rural contexts. Yet the countryside only found its proper place in regional overviews in the last two decades, thanks to an increasing number of regional surveys in combination with a more refined pottery chronology. Our growing understanding of networks of villages and hamlets is very likely to influence the appreciation of the last decades of Late Antiquity drastically. Indeed, it would seem that the sixth century in particular is characterized not only by a ruralization of cities, but also by the extension and flourishing of villages in Asia Minor, the Roman Near East, and Egypt.This volume's series of themes include the physical development of large and small settlements, their financial situation, and the proportion of public and private investment. Imperial, provincial, and local initiatives in city and countryside are compared and the main motivations examined, including civic or personal pride, military incentives, and religious stimuli. The evidence presented will be used to form opinions on the impact of the plague on living circumstances in the sixth century and to evaluate the significance of the Justinianic period.

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Information

Publisher
Oxbow Books
Year
2018
ISBN
9781789250084

1

Introduction

Hugh Elton and Ine Jacobs

There’s a lot to say about Asia Minor in the long sixth century. The definitions of time and space, which at first seem so clear, can usefully be clarified. What we call Asia Minor is not quite contiguous with the modern nation-state of Turkey. Northwest of Istanbul, Thrace is usually considered part of the Balkans by scholars, even though it was administered by the same Praetorian Prefect who controlled the rest of Asia Minor and is part of modern Turkey. In the southeast, Antioch and its surrounding area is also part of modern Turkey, but is typically treated by scholars as part of Syria rather than Asia Minor. Here, modern practice matches Roman administrative boundaries. In the sixth century, the Praetorian Prefect of the East, whose office was based in Constantinople, controlled four major administrative units, the dioceses of Thracia, Asiana, Pontica, and Oriens. Leaving Thrace to one side, the three dioceses in Asia Minor might be broadly considered as Asiana: the heavily Hellenised and urbanised parts; Pontica: the poorly developed northeast; and Oriens: Greater Syria and Mesopotamia. Whether we should expect all three areas to be similar is a question that is worth pursuing (Terpoy). The majority of our case studies come from Asiana (Böhlendorf-Arslan, Crow, Jacobs, Jeffery, Uytterhoeven, Wilson), Doonan and Intagliata deal with settlements in Pontica and some of the other contributions range more widely across diocesan boundaries (Commito, Elton, Rizos, Terpoy) (Fig. 1.1).
Definitions of time are equally problematic. The long century is a useful conceptual sleight of hand to evade the artificial ‘boxing’ of the past into centuries. Several authors make good use of this to compare their analyses with the seventh century, when first Persian and then Arab raids ravaged Asia Minor, urban systems collapsed, and rural productive strategies changed widely. But even here, we need to be aware of the teleological issues with our analyses, i.e. assuming that the changes we can see relate somehow to the transformation between these phases of history (see also Grig and Kelly 2012, 25–26). The contributors pay less attention in general to events before 500, perhaps because Anastasius’ coinage reforms often make it easy to distinguish between fifth and sixth century excavation deposits. On the whole, the period between the Theodosian dynasty and Anastasius is little commented on in modern scholarship.
image
Fig. 1.1: Map showing sites of importance in the sixth century.
In this brief introduction, we attempt to draw attention to points of interactions between our papers as well as to some areas that, inevitably in such a volume, have not been covered. Within the sixth century, the emperor Justinian is a constant presence (Doonan, Wilson). This is partly a reflection of the length of his reign, at 38 years one of the longest of a Roman emperor, but it also reflects the preservation of a large number of his laws in the form of the Novels, which often provide useful information (Sarris and Miller 2018). Whether Justinian legislated to a significantly greater degree than other earlier or later emperors in the sixth century is a good question. But the law-making Justinian is very different from the Justinian who was often at war (Heather 2018), reconquering Africa and Italy, defending the Balkans and the eastern frontier (Intagliata), or who was involved in theological disputes, even imprisoning the Pope and hosting an ecclesiastical council in Constantinople in 553. Other parts of Justinian’s life also evade our contributions, for example the massacre of 532 known as the Nika Riot, or his visit to the Church of St Michael at Germia in Galatia Salutaris in 563 (Greatrex 1997; Niewöhner 2017, 342–48). Nor was Justinian the only emperor to visit Asia Minor in the long sixth century. Zeno and Leontius were in Isauria in the 470s and 480s (Elton) and Heraclius was in Cappadocia and Cilicia in the 610s. This is not a long list of imperial visits, but the sixth century seems little different from other centuries of Roman rule.
Similarly attracting little attention from our contributors were the opportunities and burdens the Empire placed on the population of Asia Minor. Men from this region often joined the imperial service, probably the most famous being John the Cappadocian, Justinian’s Praetorian Prefect of the East for nine years (532–541). Also well-known are the architects of Hagia Sophia, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. And before they became emperor, both Zeno (from Rusumblada in Isauria) and Mauricius (from Arabissus in Armenia Secunda) had worked as Roman soldiers. Indeed, the Roman Empire recruited large numbers of soldiers from Asia Minor, like the newly recruited regiment of Isaurians or Lycaonians that performed poorly at the Battle of Callinicum in 531 (Elton 2000). Recruitment is well attested in written sources, but changing epigraphic habits mean that we are less informed about military career patterns than we are in the first to third centuries AD.
Other Romans from Asia Minor joined the Church in this period. One of Anastasius’ Patriarchs of Antioch, Severus, originally came from Sozopolis in Pisidia. He lived in Constantinople between 508 and 511, where he was often consulted by other bishops. We thus hear of visits by three Isaurian bishops, John of Claudiopolis, Sergius of Philadelphia, and Asterius of Celenderis. Indeed, there were so many visiting bishops in Constantinople that a floating advisory council to the patriarch existed, known as the Home Synod. The twin urban foci of Antioch and Constantinople attracted travellers of many sorts, not just bishops. But the structure of the Empire moved officials around Asia Minor as well as through it. One example is the church synod held at Mopsuestia in 550, attended by the eight bishops of Cilicia Secunda, but also by the comes domesticorum Marthanes, sent by Justinian to ensure the right results were reached (Dagron 1980; Wickham 1995).
The state itself was developing in the sixth century. Latin had been widely used in imperial administration in the fifth century, but by the sixth century was becoming rare. Laws that in the early fifth century had been issued in Latin were now often also issued in Greek. Thus at Casae in Pamphylia, an inscription was erected in Greek containing an imperial letter from Zeno and another of a magister officiorum, similar to a long document at Perge including letters from Anastasius and from the magister militum (Feissel 2012; Onur 2017). Justinian reorganised a number of the provinces in the sixth century (Karantabias 2015), while Anastasius created a new civic official, the vindex (Chauvot 1987). Bishops became more and more involved in urban administration, now being regularly involved with city councils (Whittow 1990, 20–29; Laniado 2002, 211–14) and even receiving orders from the emperor (Feissel and Kaygusuz 1985).
For much of ancient history, natural events take a back seat to human actions, though there are occasional moments like the Plague in Athens at the start of the Peloponnesian War or the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 that capture the attention of historians. In the sixth century, there are two great natural events, the Dark Event of 536 in which there was reduced sunlight for a year and the Justinianic Plague of 542, as well as numerous earthquakes (Commito, Elton). For some scholars, these events are pivotal in the events leading to the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire. Recently, climate change has been added to the list of factors leading to the collapse.
The significance of these natural factors has recently been strongly argued by Harper (2018). His account places great stress on the plague as savaging not just the major cities, but also having a major impact in the countryside. This account denies the Romans agency over their futures and instead makes them victims of their environment. The debates over this book are only just beginning as we write this introduction, but the impact of the plague has long been controversial (Elton). Nor is Harper’s interpretative framework accepted by all scholars (Haldon et al. 2018). Much depends on the nature of the archaeological record and, in particular, the ability to date what we excavate (below).
As several of the papers in this volume make clear, ongoing programmes of research find plentiful evidence for the sixth century. The widespread representation of this period suggests that earlier, and perhaps less careful excavations, may have missed some evidence. The oldest archaeological missions in Asia Minor paid little attention to the late antique period and removed many pertinent remains in order to uncover the more impressive structures of Classical Antiquity. Although this situation has greatly improved – there now is an overall awareness that life in the region continued without much interruption at least into the seventh century and that this period is worth studying – the sixth century is not generally considered to have been the most vibrant part of Late Antiquity.
Part of this prejudice may be a consequence of the fact that the urban centres of Asia Minor are hardly mentioned in the rich textual corpus of the period. For instance, Procopius in his Buildings focuses primarily on Justinian’s projects in the imperial capital of Constantinople (Crow), and for the rest of Asia Minor mentions only Justinian’s construction of St John’s at Ephesus (Procopius, Aedificia 5.1.4–6) and fortifications along the eastern frontier in Pontos, Lazica and Armenia (Intagliata). The under-representation of the sixth century in archaeological overviews is certainly also the result of the (apparent) scarcity of large new construction projects – with the exception of church buildings – which still tend to be equated to prosperity. For this reason, the sixth century has been called a period of economic recession and even rapid decline, preceding the even poorer and worse understood seventh and eight centuries (Potter 2011, 253). In other words, the sixth century has fallen victim to teleological thinking.
However, many of the contributions in this volume argue for a lively and prosperous long sixth century, in urban centres (Böhlendorf-Arslan, Commito, Jacobs, Jeffery, Uytterhoeven, Wilson) as well as in the countryside (Elton, Jeffery, Rizos, Terpoy, Uytterhoeven). It has become clear that the prosperity of cities cannot be equated with the number of buildings constructed anew. Most monuments underwent decorative, structural and technical alterations of variable importance during their lifespan. Identifying and dating such later changes is extremely difficult. Because of the nature of the interventions, they can seldom be connected to stratigraphic deposition of sediments and can often only be dated relatively, sometimes stylistically, or not at all. Such interventions were often humble in character, which may explain why they were not noticed by excavators or did not make it into publications. Many activities, such as day-to-day maintenance of bath buildings or passive preservation of statuary, have left no material traces at all. However, these smaller interventions, together with the lack of evidence for abandonment and decay, led to the altered image of the sixth century presented also here. The resulting array of evidence does not tell a single story. The sixth-century settlement of Assos (Böhlendorf-Arslan) was of a very different character than Aphrodisias (Wilson) or Sagalassos (Jacobs forthcoming). Yet, as a number of authors in this volume argue, many cities took great care to preserve their surroundings and their citizens held on to urban life even into the seventh century.
Our view of the period has also been altered drastically because we have extended our traditional focus on urban centres to the settlement patterns of the countryside (Greatrex 2018). In the provinces belonging to the diocese of the Oriens, rural continuity and prosperity throughout the sixth, into the seventh and sometimes eighth century has been studied for much longer, as it was expressed in stone architecture and mosaics. More recently, the networks of villages, hamlets and the occasional villa in southern Turkey have been studied (Eichner 2011; Elton, Uytterhoeven), whereas regions that did not have the same tradition of stone-built architecture overall have been given somewhat less attention and research is still catching up (Doonan, Terpoy). Here as well, though, there is tantalising evidence for continuing wealth even when contemporary conditions in neighbouring urban centres were changing (Commito, Jeffery, Uytterhoeven).
Yet, several factors continue to hamper our understanding of the sixth century. Dating remains problematic, especially at sites that did not import or produce their own line of red-slipped table wares. Inscriptions are rarely of much help. The habit of erecting inscriptions varied greatly over time and over space, but it was certainly less common in the sixth century than in the second (Destephen forthcoming). Sixth-century inscriptions are also concentrated in fewer settlements than before. Most of them were important urban centres (e.g. Ephesus, Aphrodisias, Side and Corycus), whereas smaller cities and almost all of the countryside seems to have turned into an epigraphic wasteland. The smaller number of inscriptions of the sixth century generally give less information than their imperial predecessors (Destephen forthcoming). By contrast, the amount of seemingly less formal texts, ‘graffiti’, scratched into stone or painted onto plaster, seems to have increased, but they have only very recently drawn scholarly attention (Wilson) and are very difficult to date. Their greater number at this period may be illusory too, since earlier graffiti have often been covered, lost, or not recorded. As several of the papers show (Doonan, Terpoy, Uytterhoeven), such...

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