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Governare e riformare l’impero al momento della sua divisione : Oriente, Occidente, Illirico

 | 
Umberto Roberto
, 
Laura Mecella

Parte Prima - Il governo dell’impero nel V secolo

Developments in the governance of late antique cities

Fiona Haarer

Texte intégral

Introduction : The nature of the problem

  • 1 It is not possible now to give a full list of the vast literature on this topic. Below is a select (...)
  • 2 On the terminology, Haldon 1985, p. 76-77.
  • 3 See, for example, Liebeschuetz et al. in Lavan 2001.

1The narrative of the change from the classical polis to the Islamic town or medieval city has become one of the key debates in Late Antiquity. There is now an overwhelming number of publications exploring every facet of this development, including questions of timing, the reasons behind the change, and explanations for it1. The crucial issue – whether the changes within the cities might be labelled decline, transition or transformation, or developments – has propelled the narrative of the city into the centre of the larger debate concerning the decline and fall of the Roman Empire2. While it is undoubtedly true that the evidence from the city is part of this debate, it has left it open to emotive treatments about decline. These tend to focus on a bigger assumed picture (which can easily become outdated with the discovery of new archaeological or papyrological finds) rather than a detailed examination of what was actually happening in the cities and countryside3.

  • 4 Poulter 2007, p. 1-49, esp. 23-25 challenges the view of continued prosperity in the east, even in (...)
  • 5 For a different approach, see Alston 2009-2010 who takes as his starting point the rich urban cult (...)

2The main problems which are disputed are the speed and timing of change in cities, and it is not difficult to pick out iconic examples of cities which either declined at an early date or flourished into the late sixth century or beyond4. In this paper, I will focus mostly on the cities of the eastern empire and how well they survived up to the end of the sixth century, so I will not be concerned with the period post Persian invasions and Arab conquests ; although the debate which considers the long durée of late antiquity nowadays often strays well past that date5

  • 6 The writings of Liebeschuetz favouring a narrative of decline have dominated the debate for the la (...)
  • 7 See, for example, the different approach of Burns - Eadie 2001, p. XIV who suggest that while some (...)
  • 8 Whittow 1990, p. 3. The significant date, following a military argument, would be 602. 
  • 9 For example, Jones 1964, II, p. 760 distinguishes between the council which now played an insignif (...)
  • 10 Gascou 1985  ; see the discussion below.
  • 11 Decker 2009, p. 27 : «Rather than a dilapidated group of impoverished eastern provinces falling to (...)

3Research to date has examined the extent to which the late antique city adhered to the defining attributes of the classical polis, identified as : governance (the predominance of the local élite of propertied families, the bouleutic or curial order, who sat on the town councils) ; the close relationship between the built-up urban centre and surrounding rural area, linked by the curial class who used the wealth from their lands for the benefit of the city ; and the physical appearance of the city : the theatre, baths, public fountains, temples, well-paved streets laid out on a grid plan, all often paid for by the curial class whose munificence was celebrated in inscriptions. If another governing structure replaced the local curiales and the tenets of Christianity (private charity and church building) replaced some of the traditional expressions of classical culture (public benefactions and monumental secular architecture), should we ascribe these changes to a narrative of decline or to the natural continuing evolution of the city?6 There are now alternative views to the proposition of Jones and Liebeschuetz that the demise of institutions such as the curia inevitably led to the decline of urban prosperity and the weakening of civic life, and the subsequent fall of the city to the Persians and Arabs7. This view was challenged by Whittow when he argued that the decline of the curiales was merely an « institutional rearrangement » and that « if the focus is shifted away from the history of institutions, the continuous history of the late Roman urban élite right through to the early seventh century and beyond is revealed »8. However, Whittow himself has been challenged by others who also support an argument of continuity but wish to argue for the ongoing presence of curiales in cities for longer than Whittow allows9. Picking up on another strand of the argument, there is some agreement, following Gascou’s important study on oikoi, that the great landowners took over many of the administrative tasks previously carried out by the curiales. However, there are different views as to whether the imperial government had intervened to create this structure to benefit its own administration and obliged the landowners to carry out these tasks, or whether the landowners had organized themselves voluntarily, and if the latter, whether the imperial government was grateful or felt threatened10. And finally, to the numerous studies focused on the cities themselves, we can now add to the debate a number of works devoted to understanding the late antique countryside. Recent advances in the archaeological studies of rural areas indicate growth in the number and size of rural settlements and suggest a more upbeat picture of the vibrancy of the land which supported the urban centres11

4In this paper, I examine some of the key issues : the rule of the cities by curia, the aims and achievements of the emperors, Anastasius and Justinian in their legislative programmes, and finally the nature of post-curial government. As the role of the curiales has been central to the debate, it is with a consideration of the history and development of the curia that I shall begin.

History of the Curia

  • 12 On the introduction of the boule in Egypt, Bowman 1971, chapter 1, Bowman - Rathbone 1992, Bagnall (...)

5Although familiar ground, it is worth reprising the main points of how the late antique city was governed. Since their conquest of the eastern Mediterranean, the Romans had governed through the medium of town councils (known as the boule in Greek, curia in Latin) made up of the existing local landowning élites. These councillors (bouleutai or curiales) became responsible for the collection of taxes (crucial for the imperial government) and the general upkeep of the city. As it happened, the latter task became not so much a chore but a matter of pride as curial families competed both within their city and with other neighbouring cities to erect the grandest theatres, baths, temples and monumental arches, commemorating their achievements with inscriptions. Government by town council arrived in Egypt rather later than the rest of the eastern empire. It was in AD 200/1 when Septimius Severus allowed the city élites to form councils with responsibility for urban administration, including taxation, military supplies and the internal administration of the city. The new magisterial class of councillors quickly followed in the tradition of competitive expenditure in the provision of games, building programmes and the corn dole, and increased their sphere of authority outside the city to the rest of the nome12

  • 13 Alston 2001, p. 249-259  ; Bowman 1971, p. 123  ; Bagnall 1993, p. 56ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 178f.  (...)
  • 14 Lands and taxes were confiscated probably first by Constantius, restored by Julian, but confiscate (...)
  • 15 On the options open to the curiales and legislation, Jones 1940, p. 192ff.  ; Laniado, 2002, p. 3- (...)

6However, before they could become as firmly established as their counterparts in other parts of the empire, the problems of the third century (especially acute in Egypt) swiftly made the office more of a burden than a privilege throughout the empire13. The reasons why the curiales wished to abandon their traditional urban responsibilities following the disruptions of the third century are not disputed : soaring inflation meant that the revenue from their endowments, on which they had previously relied, was devalued. In turn, cities which had depended on the financial support of the curiales lost their economic autonomy and began to look to central government for additional funds, which responded by confiscating civic lands and taxes to cover local expenses14. The curiales rapidly found their prestige dwindling, while their assigned duties for both empire and city remained, and they naturally looked for ways to free themselves of their responsibilities. Many of them were able to take advantage of new prestigious opportunities created by the growing involvement of central government in provincial administration, as well as the establishment of the new senate at Constantinople15

  • 16 Lib., Or. XLVII and XLVIII.
  • 17 Lib., Or. XLVIII, 4.
  • 18 As Delmaire 1996, p. 60-66 notes, successive emperors tried to curb corruption : an exactor was ap (...)
  • 19 Liebeschuetz 1972, p. 101-105.

7By the fourth century, it appears that the curiales were under extreme financial pressure, as amply attested in the writings of Libanius16. In Oration XLVIII, he notes that the membership of the curia in Antioch had dropped from six hundred to sixty by the 380s17 and despite his own personal views on the significance of curial government, his depiction of the selfishness and incompetence of the local élite makes it easy to understand why the imperial government wished to strengthen its control, channelling more direct rule though the provincial governors18. Even in the fourth century, it seems that the town councils wielded little absolute power and, although building work may have been carried out by curiales, it was at the instigation of the governors19. There is certainly little evidence to suggest that the change of city governance from curiales to provincial governors, along with the others who filled the vacuum (landowners and the clergy), caused any interruption to the provision of services in the city, at least to start with. I will pick up on the role of landowners later when considering the significance of the great estates (oikoi) in local governance ; and the increasing importance of the bishop is also clear, especially from the reign of Anastasius (also discussed below). 

Changes in the Curia

  • 20 Bowman 1971, chapter 3.
  • 21 On the exactor and later developments, Jones 1940, p. 152. 
  • 22 Alston 2001, p. 278, Bagnall 1993, p. 60.
  • 23 Alston 2001, p. 280.
  • 24 Alston 2001, p. 277-281.

8In response to the changing role of the local town council, and the ability of the curiales to perform their duties, many of the old ranks and positions were discontinued or evolved to include different tasks. In Egypt, the changes were readily apparent from the very beginning of the fourth century. The prytanis (chair of the council) continued through the fourth century, though his role was reduced20. The old divisions of the nomes into districts known as toparchies ended in c. 307/8 and were replaced by pagi, administered by the praepositi pagi and the strategos (previously in charge of the nome) was replaced by the exactor21. In 302, the office of the logistes was introduced. Equivalent to the Greek curator civitatis, his purview extended to magisterial nominations, public order, agricultural management and taxation, urban finances, food supply and entertainment ; his post obviously encompassed duties previously carried out by other magistrates22. From the 320s, evidence for the ekdikos begins to appear in our sources. It is not clear how the duties of the ekdikos differed from the sundikos whose remit had certainly included judicial matters amongst other duties ; but after 339, it appears that the ekdikos replaced the sundikos. The ekdikos is mostly closely associated with the Latin defensor civitatis, on which see further below23. From the 340s, the office of the riparius is also found in our sources. The riparii were responsible for security, especially in matters to do with taxation. By the sixth century in Egypt, the pagarch, logistes, ekdikos and riparius had become the major office-holders24

  • 25 Bowman 1971, p. 121-127 who concludes that actual power was in the hands of a few who were answera (...)
  • 26 Alston 2001, p. 281.

9The detail of these changes in office-holding in Egypt in the fourth century is interesting for a number of reasons. First, all these new posts were probably financed by the imperial government and although, in theory, they were all imperial appointments, in practice, the office-holders were locals from the curial order. This must have had the effect of extending the influence of the local élite. Second, these reforms meant that offices were held for longer periods of time and were limited in number leading to the concentration of power in a small body within the curial class25. Given that the argument for decline in the sixth century often rests on the issue of the concentration of power among a few of the wealthiest landowners and that changes to the nature of the magistrates led to a decline in urban infrastructure, it is instructive to note that this evolution in offices and titles was already taking place in the fourth century and led to no such decline26.

  • 27 Laniado 2002, p. 33.
  • 28 For studies on the defensor civitatis, Rees 1952, Frakes 2001. See also Justinian’s Novel 15 (disc (...)

10Other changes following a similar pattern of the consolidation of duties into a smaller number of more powerful offices are well documented empire-wide. For example, the rank of curator civitatis, known from the reign of Trajan (98-117), like its counterpart, the logistes, evolved to encompass many general municipal tasks also carried out by the curiales. In the fourth and fifth centuries, many curatores were also curiales, but in the sixth century, this was not the case27. There were also new posts, such as the defensor civitatis, first introduced in the Theodosian Code in 368 to secure justice for the poor. However, this was another role which changed over time as later emperors added other duties to the original remit, even concerning tax collection, thus creating a potential conflict of interests28

  • 29 See Roueché 1979 for her discussion of the statue and epigram honouring Flavius Palmatus, erected (...)
  • 30 Justinian’s Novel 160 (undated) was drafted in response to an appeal from Aristocrates, another pa (...)
  • 31 See Feissel 1987, p. 220 for a comparison with other civic posts.

11Another new post was the pater civitatis (πατὴρ τῆς πόλεως). The date of the introduction of this post is uncertain, but it is mentioned in Cod. Just. 10, 44, 3 (465) in a law of Leo I who allowed cities to offer the title to those who had discharged their duties as a decurion, if they wished it. During the reign of Zeno, the pater seems to have been given responsibility for the administration of the city revenues, and in the sixth century, the role seems to have included responsibility for the civic revenues, gaming and protecting the rights of children. The title has been found in inscriptions associated with public works dated either by the pater, or also by the provincial governor, suggesting that more than one source of revenue had been drawn on. The sites where these inscription have been found include Aphrodisias29, Miletus, Smyrna, Attalia, Side, Tarsus, Caesarea (Palestine), Sepphoris and Jerusalem. It had been proposed by Jones that the titles pater and curator referred to the same position, and that one of these officials was present in every city. However, Roueché argued that the epigraphic evidence suggests that not all cities had a pater, and that such an official was only needed in a city which still collected a substantial income from its own possessions ; such cities were therefore able to maintain greater independence from both the imperial government (via the provincial governors) and the Church. This explanation certainly fits well with cities such as Aphrodisias and Caesarea which were known for their continuing traditionalism and prosperity30. The last point to note about the patres here is that they were chosen not by the curia, but by the curiales, landowners, bishop and clergy31. The landowners and clergy were mentioned above as filling the vacuum in local governance created by the so-called « flight of the curiales », and this grouping will be discussed further below. 

  • 32 Roueché 1998, p. 31-36.
  • 33 Zach. 17 (trans. Roueché 1989, pp. 89-90). PLRE II, Asclepiodotus 2, p. 160-161.
  • 34 Roueché 1989, p. 69, 106-107  ; Ead. 1998, p. 35.

12Alongside these new civic offices, it was naturally to the provincial governors that much of the curial power devolved, and they began to boast of their imperial rather than civic honours32. In Aphrodisias, in the late fifth century, a certain Asclepiodotus was described as a man « who at that time took pride in the honours and dignities with which the emperor was loading him, and was a leader in the βουλή of Aphrodisias»33. However, although we are apt to draw a distinction between the local curiales and governors imposed by the central government, in reality the divisions between the two strands of administration must have been rather more blurred. In the late fifth and sixth centuries, two governors with the epithet agonothetai had obviously organized local contests, a task which previously would have been carried out by a decurion ; in fact, one of these governors was himself a local citizen34

Continuity in the Curia

  • 35 Johnson - West 1946, p. 103, Jones 1940, p. 192, Haas 1997, p. 52-53 on Cod. Theod. 12, 1, 191 (43 (...)
  • 36 Holum 1996, p. 618-619, 629ff., Laniado 2002, p. 75-87.

13Despite its own role in diminishing the role of the curia, the central government still supported curial administration of provincial towns, as evidenced by the mass of legislation passed aimed at binding the curiales to their traditional duties. The Twelfth Book of the Theodosian Code contains one hundred and ninety two constitutions under de decurionibus, attempting to keep the curiales in their place and halt their movement to superior positions in Constantinople35. This policy continued as far as the sixth century and there is plenty of evidence from Justinian’s legislative programme that he continued to try to maintain the curia ; his laws assume that cities continued to spend money on their own municipal purposes36. Lingering examples of traditional building works by curiales remain : an inscription from Bostra in 490/1 reads :

  • 37 «Under the most magnificent count Hesychius, governor and advocate, the government house was built (...)

ἐπὶ τοῦ μεγάλοπρ(επεστάτου) κόμ(ητος) Ἡσυχίου ἡγε<η>μόνος κα̣[ὶ] σ̣̣χ̣ο̣(λαστικοῦ) ἐ̣κ̣τ̣ί̣σ̣θ̣η̣ ἀ̣πὸ θ̣ε̣μ̣ε̣λ̣ί̣ων̣ τὸ ἡγ̣ε̣ι̣μ̣[ο]ν̣ι̣κ̣ὸ̣ν̣ π̣ρ̣α̣ι̣τ̣ώ̣|[ριον], κόμιτος Παύλου λαμπρ(οτάτου) καὶ πολιτευομ̣[ένου] ἐπιμελουμένου ἐν ἰνδικτ(ιῶνος) ιγ’, ἔτους τπε’37

  • 38 Geremek 1990  ; Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 389-408  ; Sarris 2006, p. 156-157.
  • 39 Geremek 1990, p. 48. The debate over whether the terms βουλευτής and πολιτευόμενος are synonymous (...)

14Attestations to the boule (curia) and bouleutai (curiales), still collecting taxes and carrying out civic duties, continue in the Egyptian papyri throughout the sixth and seventh centuries38. The seventh-century Hermopolis fiscal code records payments made δ(ιὰ) τῆς βουλ[ῆ]ς Ἀντινόο[υ39.

15So far, three points are clear. The so-called « flight of the curiales », shuffling of duties and invention of new offices, was well under way at an early stage suggesting that there is no simple correlation between the decline of the town council in the fourth century and the decline of the city in the sixth. The later period saw several systems of local governance operating in tandem : wealthy curiales continued to play a prominent role alongside the provincial governor and we have seen hints of the growing importance of the bishop and wealthy land owners. Lastly, there was no clear cut division between these various officials : imperial appointments were not always external but were often local men, but this tendency merely helped to consolidate power within an increasingly small body of men at the very top of the curia. We turn now to examine how these developments played out in the legislation of Anastasius and Justinian.

Anastasius’ reforms for provincial cities

  • 40 The office of vindex is mentioned only in later laws : for example, Edict XIII, Novels 38 (536) an (...)

16The idea that the imperial government had lost faith in the city councils (leading to an inevitable decline in the quality of urban life in the provinces) is based on an erroneous understanding of evidence from the reign of Anastasius. One of this emperor’s most controversial policies was the introduction of the vindices (the officials responsible for the fisc) by his praetorian prefect, Marinus. Our evidence about this reform comes not from any laws40, but from the writings of John Lydus, Malalas and Evagrius who suggest that these new officials, who were appointed by the praetorian prefect but could bid for office, replaced the curiales in all cities. The relevant extracts are as follows :

  • 41 « Now, when [Marinus], as Syrian and knavish, as is usually the case, had taken over the taxes, he (...)
  • 42 « [Marinus] dismissed all members of the city councils and in their place created the vindices, as (...)
  • 43 « He also removed the collection of taxes from local councillors and appointed the so-called vindi (...)

ἐκλαβὼν τοίνυν Σύρος ἀνὴρ καὶ πονηρὸς ὡς ἐπιεικὲς τοὺς φόρους, τὰ μὲν βουλευτήρια πασῶν παρέλυσε τῶν πόλεων, ἀπεμπολῶν τοὺς ὑπηκόους παντί, ὡς ἔτυχεν, εἰ μόνον αὐτῷ τὸ πλέον ὑπόσχοιτο, καὶ ἀντὶ τῶν ἀπέκαθεν στηριζόντων τὰ προστάγματα βουλευτῶν προχειρίζεται τοὺς λεγομένους βίνδικας (<οὕτως γὰρ ἔθος> Ἰταλοῖος <νεμέτορας> θεῶν ἀποκαλεῖν), οἳ παραλαβόντες τοὺς συντελεῖς οὐδὲν πολεμίων ἧσσον τὰς πόλεις διέθηκαν41.
ὅστις τοὺς πολιτευομένους ἅπαντας ἐπῆρε τῆς βουλῆς, καὶ ἐποίησεν ἀντ᾽ αὐτῶν τοὺς λεγομένους βίνδικας εἰς πᾶσαν πόλιν τῆς Ῥωμανίας42
περιεῖλεν δὲ καὶ τὴν τῶν φόρων εἴσπραξιν ἐκ τῶν βουλευτηρίων, τοὺς καλουμένους βίνδικας ἐφ᾽ ἑκαστῃ πόλει προβαλλόμενους, εἰσηγήσει φασὶ Μαρίνου τοῦ Σύρου τὴν κορυφαίαν διέποντος τῶν ἀρχῶν, ὃν οἱ πάλαι ὕπαρχον τῆς αὐλῆς ἐκάλουν. Ὅθεν κατὰ πολὺ οἵ τε φόροι διερρύησαν τὰ ἄνθη τῶν πόλεων διέπεσεν. Ἐν τοῖς λευκώμασι γὰρ τῶν πόλεων οἱ εὐπατρίδι πρόσθεν ἀνεγράφοντο, ἑκάστης πόλεως τοὺς ἐν τοῖς βουλευτηρίοις ἀντὶ συγκλήτου τινὸς ἐχούσης τε καὶ ὁργιζομένης43.  

  • 44 Claude 1969, p. 108-114 argued for the temporary abolition of the curia in the time of Anastasius, (...)
  • 45 Liebeschuetz 1973, esp. p. 45 sees close connections between the two reforms and credits Anastasiu (...)
  • 46 Johnson - West 1946, p. 324-325  ; Liebeschuetz 1973, p. 39f. and 1974, p. 164f.
  • 47 Johnson - West 1946, p. 323 note that the vindex does not appear in the papyri of this period and (...)
  • 48 Liebeschuetz 1973, p. 45-46 suggests that if there was an attempt to make the pagarchy part of the (...)
  • 49 Delmaire 1996, p. 66 points out the inherent contradiction in the picture presented by John and ot (...)

17These passages suggest that the reform was wide-ranging, both geographically and politically, and was extremely detrimental to local curial government44. However, it is worth remembering in the first instance that since Evagrius and John were both traditionalists and John himself had a personal dislike of Marinus, they are hardly the most reliable of sources. As to what we know about how the office of vindex operated, there is very little evidence and it has been suggested that the pagarchy might provide useful comparative evidence45. As noted earlier, pagarchs were known in Egypt from the beginning of the fourth century and by the sixth century, the pagarch had become the chief administrative officer whose main duty was the supervision of the collection of taxes. In this sense, he perhaps replaced the office of exactor to which there are few references in this period46. Similarly, as there is no evidence for personnel attached to the office of the vindex, the collection of taxes must have continued to be borne by the curia as a whole. It is also significant that vindices are attested in Alexandria, Antioch, Anazarbus and Tripolis. Justinian’s Edict XIII mentions both the pagarch and vindex so it is possible that they denote alternative but parallel forms of administration47. Given that there is evidence for vindices in only the four cities cited above, it is clear that uniformity in tax collection was no longer maintained, making it perfectly possible that the pagarchy could be one of the alternatives. Both offices seem to have been appointed by the praetorian prefect, although the pagarch (and possibly the vindex) was a local appointment and the office was independent of the provincial governor ; perhaps indicative of Anastasius’ policy of reversing the decline in civic self-determination48. Taking all the evidence into consideration, it does not appear that Anastasius’ vindices were responsible singlehandedly for any widespread weakening of the curia49

  • 50 Laniado 2002, p. 37-38. 
  • 51 Loseby 2009, p. 146f. also suggests that the informal nexus of local leaders, the bishop and great (...)
  • 52 Cod. Just. 1, 55, 11. Jones 1940, p. 209. On Eustathius, PLRE II, Eustathius 11. On Anastasius and (...)
  • 53 Novel 3. There is a lacuna in the text so it is not possible to be entirely certain that the crite (...)
  • 54 Laniado 2002, p. 38-39, Laniado 2006.

18In this spirit, Anastasius passed another four laws and two edicts in which he tried to limit opportunities for immunity50. However, he was also concerned to promote greater efficiency even if that meant by-passing the curial order and sanctioning what in any case may already have been the practice ; that is, effective government carried out by a group of local leaders, bishop and landowners51. In 505, he addressed a law to his praetorian prefect of the East, Eustathius, legislating that defensores should be chosen by bishops, clergy, honorati (ex-officials of senatorial rank), the possessores (great landowners) and the curiales, and stipulating that the office holder should be orthodox52. The innovatory nature of this law in the early sixth century has been confused by a law of 409 (Cod. Just. 1, 55, 8), passed by Honorius which entrusted the appointment of the defensor to this same group and also decreed that the defensor should be orthodox. It has been suggested, however, that the editors of the Codex, influenced by Anastasius’ law, altered the wording of Honorius’ decree. Indeed, it would be surprising for the bishop and clergy to be involved and for the criterion of orthodoxy to be introduced at such an early date. A later law passed in 458 by Majorian records a change to the electoral body but appears to ignore the criterion of orthodoxy53 ; if the legislation of Honorius was passed as it now survives, Majorian’s law is difficult to explain54

  • 55 Loseby 2009, p. 147ff. focuses on the effects of the twin changes of Christianisation and fortific (...)
  • 56 Cod. Just. 1, 4, 17 (= Cod. Just. 10, 27, 3).
  • 57 MAMA III, 197A, Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 55-56.

19It is especially from the reign of Anastasius that the bishop becomes much more important55. The first legal references date from 491/505 concerning the election of the sitones (responsible for the grain supply)56. This shift in balance is borne out by a fragmentary inscription from Corycus in Cilicia I, dated 500/510 which carries a request from the bishop, clergy and notables, both landowners and inhabitants (lines 5-8), that elections should not be fixed in advance. These are, of course, the very categories to which Anastasius entrusted the election of the defensor except the inscription does not record the curia57

Justinian’s reforms for provincial cities

  • 58 Sarris 2006, p. 208-217 on Justinian’s legislation.

20The legislation of Justinian shows a continuation of the trend developed under Anastasius : a concern not to abandon the curia (or at any rate the curiales who continued to carry out the duties), at the same time as recognising that a certain reconfiguration of local governance had taken place and that a new landowning aristocracy and the Church now fulfilled many of the leading positions in provincial cities. As the greatest concern of the imperial government (and certainly of Justinian) was the efficient running of the provinces to ensure the timely collection of taxes, the new system, as long as it worked effectively, was not necessarily a disadvantage58. However, Justinian’s reforms, far more than those of Anastasius (or perhaps it is just because we have more evidence), seem driven by political and ideological concerns. The rhetoric of the laws and the slant of our historical sources help to obscure the actual state of the governance and prosperity of provincial cities in the sixth century.

  • 59 Novel 38, 3. Laniado 2002, p. 58-62 suggests that Justinian’s efforts in safeguarding the property (...)

21Justinian’s apparent concern to see the continuation of the curia is voiced in the preface to Novel 38 (536), where it was defined as a « senate » of « men of noble rank » instituted « by means of which the public business could be regularly conducted ». It was noted that the curiales had flourished as long as there were enough of them to shoulder the burden of finance and administration between them, but some had discovered ways of removing themselves from the register (album curiae) and now there were too few, and with reduced resources at their disposal. In this Edict, Justinian tried to stop the upward mobility of the curiales, no longer excusing new imperial senators or those with an honorary office, but only patricians, consuls and the highest prefectures and military commands59.

22Several of Justinian’s laws mention civic resources : these would be the revenues from remaining civic estates, from land forfeited by decurions who had deserted their post, and from traditional voluntary donations. These resources continued to be spent on municipal activities and duties, such as aqueducts, baths, harbours, fortifications, bridges and roads, even if the priority now lay with repairing existing structures rather than erecting new ones ; and the purchase of corn. However, it is notable that the laws no longer mention games which were transferred to imperial revenues, although the Apions and other great estates might make contributions. 

  • 60 Cod. Just. 1, 4, 26.
  • 61 Cod. Just. 10, 30, 4. Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 391-392.

23The major change from earlier times was that civic resources were now designated for specific purposes ; the curia was no longer authorized to draw up its own budget. Furthermore, the management of the works would have been administered by individuals appointed by the bishop and notables60. As we have seen, there is plenty of evidence for tax-collecting officials, often still referred to as « decurions », in the legislation of this period, suggesting that the curiales continued to perform an essential function in the running, but not the governing, of the city. It is likely that, instead of competing with each other, they now carried out duties assigned to them ; personal civic expenditure was no longer demanded, although it may still have been encouraged. Those who did volunteer did so on the understanding that further contributions would not be expected from themselves or of their children (thus dismantling the idea of hereditary duty expected from the curial order)61

  • 62 The Paraphrasis Theophili was a gloss on Justinian’s Institutes, dated to the 540s  ; cf. Laniado (...)

24So, the role of the curiales in tax collection and municipal expenditure lessened, while their input in the inspection of municipal finance disappeared ; and we can compare Cod. Just. 11, 32, 3, 2 (469), noting curial involvement, with Cod. Just. 1, 4, 26 (530) in which the inspection is entrusted to the bishop and especially the notables sent by the emperor. Bishops also now acted as municipal ambassadors and curiales were no longer involved in judicial matters nor, for instance, in the election of the Chairs of Rhetoric. The Paraphrasis Theophili defines the curia, citing tax collection last in the list of duties after the maintenance of horses in the hippodrome62. Interestingly, of course, the element of responsibility in tax collection had been gradually eroded from as early as the 360s by, for example, the appointment of the exactores ; so again this was not a new development in the sixth century which might be held accountable for any decline in the fortunes of the provincial city. Like the contradiction of the censure of Anastasius’ action in appointing vindices, the role of the curiales in tax collection was quite marginal by the sixth century, yet still desertion from the curia was considered a great risk, as can be seen by the volume of Justinian’s legislation.

  • 63 Novel 30, 5, 1.
  • 64 18 May, 535 : Pisidia (24), Lycaonia (25), Thrace (26) and Isauria (27)  ; 16 July, 536 : Helenopo (...)
  • 65 Stein 1949, II, p. 446-483.
  • 66 It has been suggested that the use of antiquarian language was to mask Justinian’s innovations, al (...)

25  Since the curiales were no longer in a position to govern effectively, Justinian also had to focus on strengthening those who could and he did not hesitate to introduce innovations to help the smooth-running of the provinces, where necessary. At the same time as he was passing Novel 38 commenting on the decline of the curia, he passed a series of laws in which he sought to restructure the administration of the provinces, the main aim being to stamp out the abuses of the « mighty » in tax evasion, the seizure of property and keeping bands of armed thugs. His dissatisfaction at the corruption of the élite in Cappadocia, for example, was said to make him go red with anger (ἐρυθριῶμεν εἰπεῖν μεθ’ ὅσης ἀλῶνται τῆς ἀτοπίας)63Novel 8 (17 April, 535) applied to all provinces and prohibited the sale of provincial governorships. A number of laws for specific provinces followed64. These laws are notable for their references to the greatness of Rome’s past and the reinstatement of Latin titles, despite the fact the laws were, of course, written in Greek. Improving the prestige of provincial governors was Justinian’s means of aligning the provinces more closely with the central government and thus improving their administration, especially of justice65. It is therefore suggested that Tribonian’s use of antiquarian language was designed to remind Justinian’s provincial subjects of the kind of control the Romans were perceived as having previously exercised66.


  • 67 This clause is also in Novels 28, 5 and 29, 4. 
  • 68 Edict II and X where the Church is also guilty of this practice.

26Eliminating corruption is certainly the theme of Novel 17, passed in 535. Provincial governors were to seek from tax collectors details of the landholdings and tax payers so that the amount of tax due might be compared with the amount of tax received. If the tax collectors did not provide these figures, they were to be punished by having their hands cut off. Curiales were not to take advantage of any confusion in the sale of an estate to illegally seize the property. Landowners who erected signs claiming ownership over the estates and factories of others were to have their own property seized67. Provincials were banned from bearing arms and maintaining armed retainers. In two of his Edicts, Justinian legislates to prevent the granting of licences of fiscal exemption as it was often the case that the tax collectors continued to collect the tax and keep it for themselves68.

27Our major source for provincial reform is Edict XIII. Here again, Justinian complains about the disorganized and corrupt condition of finances, this time with reference to Egypt, stating that the collection of tax was a source of profit to the pagarchs, curiales, collectors and even the prefects :

  • 69 « […] the tax payer insisted absolutely that everything had been exacted in its entirety, but the (...)

ἀλλ’ οἱ μὲν συντελεῖς καθάπαξ ἰσχυρίζοντο πάντα εἰς ὁλόκληρον ἀπαιτεῖσθαι, οἱ παγάρχοι δὲ καὶ οἱ πολιτευόμενοι καὶ οἱ πράκτορες τῶν δημοσίων καὶ διαφερόντως <οἱ> κατὰ καιρὸν ἄρχοντες οὕτω τὸ πρᾶγμα μέχρι νῦν διετίθεσαν, ὡς μηδενὶ δύνασθαι γενέσθαι γνώριμον, αὐτοῖς δὲ μόνοις ἐπικερδές69

  • 70 Sarris 2006, p. 212-213.
  • 71 Banaji 2001, p. 100.

28Justinian therefore sought to reorganize the administration, giving the augustal prefect control over Alexandria and the two Egypts, and making the dux of the two Thebaids equal in status to him. The salaries of both were increased to encourage greater loyalty to the emperor. Meanwhile, the military and civil officia beneath them were merged to produce greater co-operation and efficiency. Justinian repeated the curtailment of licences of fiscal exemption, and had a warning for all those involved in the collection and payment of taxes : tax collectors and their heirs carried full responsibility to make good the shortfall for any taxes they failed to collect ; soldiers who failed to carry out their duties were to be sent to the northern frontier or face capital punishment ; tax payers who did not pay were threatened with exile and the confiscation of their property70. Pagarchs were also targeted : incompetent pagarchs would have their family estates confiscated and Justinian asserted imperial control over their appointment and dismissal71.

  • 72 Johnson - West 1946, p. 104-105.
  • 73 Liebeshuetz 1996, p. 390.
  • 74 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 390-391.

29The Edict is also interesting for the details it provides about the budget for Alexandria. Potamon, the vindex appointed by Anastasius, had drawn up a budget regulating how the proceeds of the export duty should be divided up. The figures are as follows : four hundred and ninety two solidi for the public baths, four hundred and eighteen solidi for the anticantharus (we are not certain what this was) and five hundred and fifty eight and a half solidi for the transportation of grain. Over time, some of the exporters of pottery and other goods had managed to arrange for their exports to be exempt from duty, thus reducing the amount of income. Justinian restored the income, and was able to finance the increased stipend of the prefect and dux. The baths, anticantharus and transport of the corn supply were to be financed from other funds detailed in an appended schedule which is no longer extant. In addition, the politeuomenoi had to contribute one hundred solidi, seemingly for the horse races in the hippodrome, and the prefect had to offer three hundred and twenty solidi for the thirty-five horses he provided for the races, presumably from imperial revenues. From the evidence available, it appears that Alexandria relied mostly on funding from the imperial government72. As we saw above, it is also clear that there were a number of sources of revenues which were assigned specifically to a range of expenses73. Imperial taxes were collected and handed over to the city, presumably directly to the relevant officials. The tax collectors were allowed to keep a fraction of the revenue they had collected, but were forbidden to keep any of the city’s share. Justinian tried to ensure that once it had been handed over to be spent by the civic functionaries, there should be no interference from the provincial governors or representatives of the central finance departments74.

  • 75 Rees 1953-1954, p. 94. Jones 1940, p. 209 suggests that this had been done by Anastasius but the c (...)

30Novel 128, 16 (545) is yet another prescription from Justinian for running a provincial city : the bishop, leading citizens and landowners were to have responsibility for the nomination of the pater, the sitones, defensor, and other administrators75. The law also sought to protect the funds of the city from taxation. Neither the tax collectors, landowners nor the governor and his officium were to interfere with this money. Annual accounts were to be presented and examined at the end of the year by the bishop and a panel of five proteuontes.

  • 76 Jones 1940, p. 209  ; Rees 1952, p. 92-93.
  • 77 Saradi-Mendelovici 1988, p. 276ff.

31Other laws saw Justinian tinkering with the nature of the various civic offices. In his Novel 15 (535), he turned his attention to the role of the defensor. He increased his powers in civic administration, making him head of the municipal government with power to pass verdicts and impose penalties in minor criminal cases. He was still ranked beneath the bishops and clergy and the term of office was limited to two years ; and important citizens became liable in rotation. In these reforms, Justinian was undoubtedly seeking to make the office more efficient and responsible, but in so doing he altered the fundamental nature of the office. Now paid by an honorarium levied from the very tax payers whose interests he had been designed to protect, there was now a significant conflict of interest, and his power to pass judgement in legal cases again went against the spirit of « defending » the people, as originally conceived by Valentinian76. In this respect, it was the bishops who took over the role of championing the cause of the poor77.

  • 78 Claude 1969, p. 113-114.
  • 79 Laniado 2002, p. 58ff. He sees the scarcity and unequal distribution of the sources as a significa (...)
  • 80 Procop., Anec. 19, 1  ; Lyd., Mag. III, 57 and III, 62  ; Agath. V, 14  ; Evagr., H.E. IV, 30  ; c (...)
  • 81 Sarris 2006, p. 1-9, 149.

32It has been argued that this detailed attention to the governance of provincial cities suggests that Justinian was seeking to restore the curia78. However, it is more likely that, like his predecessors, Justinian wished to maintain the staff and property of the curia (the instrument of imperial tax collection and administration), and that although the curiales no longer constituted the local aristocracy, they were nevertheless relatively wealthy and enjoyed high social standing79. At the beginning of this section, I suggested that ideology and politics also played a role. The rhetoric of the legislation which portrayed the emperor as protecting the rights of his people against the corruption and avarice of the élite (including the tax collectors) is naturally contradicted by the hostile contemporary sources. Among these, Procopius’ Anecdota is an obvious source, but the zeal and brutality of Justinian’s tax collectors is also clear from the writings of John Lydus, Agathias and Evagrius80. It is suggested that we place far more importance on this struggle between the imperial authorities and the aristocracy for the wealth from the land. The relationship between the public and private hold over land is at the centre of a long-running debate which stems from the rise of the provincial aristocracy and the great estates (the oikoi, in Egypt). Was the central government undermined by the growth of great estates ; were the great estates undermined by the central government (the view of Procopius and John Lydus) ; or was there co-operation between the two, fostered by Constantinople?81 Before we focus on these questions, I begin first by looking at the evolution and identity of the new élite. 

A new provincial aristocracy

  • 82 Banaji 2001, p. 216.
  • 83 Banaji 2001, p. 213-221.

33It is clear that the municipal élite who had been the dominant landowners in the fourth century were replaced by major new groups. But what were the origins of these groups? Where did they come from? The lack of evidence means that it is very difficult to trace continuity, either in office-holding or landholding, between generations of the same family, whether of imperial, senatorial or provincial status. It is likely that the emergence of the new aristocracy followed from two developments. First, a divergence within the curial order between the ordinary members and a small group of the very wealthy and powerful who were able to manage the increased burden between them, continuing to fund lucrative building projects, overseeing the collection of taxes to the disadvantage of their less powerful colleagues and, most significantly, claiming their estates when they failed to deliver ; so adding to their own already large landholdings. Second, the imperial administrators accumulated land and became the new aristocracy « economically powerful and socially dominant »82. Whatever the origins of the new aristocracy, it is clear that its members (from the provincial governor himself to middle and lower level bureaucratic officials) took over positions in the city administration and also became the local landowners. It has been suggested that the curiales, who might have simply acquired more land as necessary to offset increased civic demands, found it more difficult after 360 when new legislation altered the pattern of landownership. For Egypt, evidence from the papyri corroborates the evidence from the legal texts : the land around Hermopolis was almost exclusively controlled by the municipal élite up to the mid fourth century ; thereafter, veterans, soldiers and lower bureaucrats account for almost half the landlords. By the sixth century, the pattern had changed again to include middle level bureaucrats who employed local managers. By the seventh century, however, a yet more drastic change had taken place : almost all these categories of landowner had been replaced by a small number of very powerful landowners, namely the very highest level of imperial administrator and institutions such as the Church and monasteries83

  • 84 Decker 2009 follows Banaji in his view on the sequence of the establishment of the gold coinage, t (...)

34It is interesting that neither Banaji nor Laniado who consider this new aristocracy from different angles see any decline in the countryside or in the governance of the local cities. Indeed, Banaji suggests that the economic conditions of the late empire were revolutionized by the establishment of gold as a stable high-value coinage. The new aristocracy, benefiting both from the expansion of the imperial governing class in the fourth century and from the stability of the gold solidus, supplanted the old curial order as the ruling class and also became businesslike landowners. Banaji argues that, in turn, these new wealthy landowners, taking a direct interest in the cultivation of their estates, invested money in their estates, especially in irrigation, which led to an expansion of the rural economy84.

  • 85 Laniado 2002, chapter 8, for example, p. 180-184 the discussion on possessores. Once almost synony (...)

35For his part, Laniado argues that the new aristocracy (the notables) succeeded in governing and administering the cities after the heyday of the curia, and that the evolution of municipal terminology masks change and development rather than decline85. He suggests a model for how a successful post-curial government of a provincial city might have worked. A group of ten or twenty principales, proteuontes, protoi predominated and the curia was replaced by a council of notables, although there is little evidence of this body as an institution. This Council would have included the surviving leading elements of the curia and the highest levels of non-curial officials. Along with the bishop, it would have been responsible for the inspection of municipal finances, the nomination of magistrates, the assigning of munera, episcopal elections and negotiations with hostile forces. Many of the munera which had proved so burdensome began to disappear (for example, those relating to imperial and pagan cult) and others (sending ambassadors) were taken over by the Church. More than anything, Laniado argues for continuity within the evolution of municipal aristocracy, at least at a social level. Landownership prevailed as the key access to wealth and high positions in local government. 

The Rise of the Great Estates

36A close inspection of the operations of the great estates in Egypt may allow us to get a clearer impression of both the landowners’ own ambitions and the imperial government’s expectations. Undoubtedly, the rise of the great estate and landowner, for which we have most of our evidence from the documentary papyri of Egypt, had a great impact on the local governance of cities. Evaluations of this phenomenon have been complicated by misunderstandings over the evolution of the process, the effect on the peasantry, the view of the imperial government, and a view that this change necessarily led to decline. Those who wish to argue that there was continued economic prosperity in the late antique world have often been forced to argue away or minimise the concept of change here when it may be that change, in fact, fostered greater prosperity. 

  • 86 On the rise of the great estates, Sarris 2006, p. 177ff. On the use of the term oikos in relation (...)
  • 87 See Sarris 2006, p. 137-139 summarising the work of Carrié on this development.
  • 88 As argued by Bell 1917, p. 103  ; contra, for example, Johnson - West 1949, Rouillard 1953, MacCou (...)
  • 89 Sarris 2006, p. 140.
  • 90 Gascou 1985.
  • 91 Banaji 2001, p. 89-90.
  • 92 Hardy 1931. Benaji 2001, p. 89ff. does not see any weakening of central authority in the sixth cen (...)

37The emergence of the great estates or oikoi, where the landowner and his representatives collected the taxes in place of local municipal officers, is another change which began in the third century, in this case resulting from concerns of Diocletian to limit the unpredictability of the land tax86. To ensure regular payments and to maximise land productivity by ensuring a stable workforce, peasants (coloni adscripticii) were now tied to the land and the landowner was responsible for collecting the taxes of those registered under him87. Early research which assumed this resulted in a worsening of conditions for the peasantry and a general economic decline in Egypt has been shown to be misguided88. For us, however, of greatest interest is the relationship of the great landowners to the curiales. Clearly, the former saw tax collection as a beneficial enterprise. An imperial constitution from 409 (Cod. Theod. 11, 22, 4) records the instance where a number of landowners refused to allow the imperial tax collectors onto their estates but had collected the taxes themselves ; this was described as a right – a ius « vulgo autopractorium vocatur », which was obtainable by imperial decree. This right was given more frequently during the fifth century : in 429, for example, it was extended to all landowners in Africa89. Gascou took this argument further, suggesting that all the fiscal and liturgical duties which had previously been undertaken by the curia were subsequently undertaken by the great estates of the aristocracy (and Church)90. Hardy had argued similarly that the new landed aristocracy « established wide-ranging fiscal autonomy through the autopract exemption of their own estates and pagarchic control over the taxation of the residual rural territories »91. He concluded that this was evidence for a total breakdown of provincial government and the weakening of central government92. However, Gascou, arguing that the great estates became semi-public institutions responsible for the collection of not just the taxes from their own tenants but more widely, concluded that this aggrandizement of the great landowners was assisted by the imperial government who allocated to them further public, imperial and municipal property. The great estates were united into collectives of « contributors » (syntelestai) and the various responsibilities were divided between households. 

  • 93 For example, Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 182ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 155  ; Mazza 2001, p. 105 and Banaji (...)
  • 94 Sarris 2006, p. 149ff. 
  • 95 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 395-396  ; Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 182-183  ; contra Gascou 1985, p. 49-51.
  • 96 See also Sarris 2006, p. 159-162 on the use of vocabulary.

38The exact implications of Gascou’s theory of « fiscal participation » have been analysed in detail93. Sarris argues that the evidence regarding the adscription of the state workforce and the associated phenomenon of autopragia do not suggest that the great estates were semi-public94. Liebeschuetz sees no evidence for the systematic privileging of selected estates which would then mediate between the tax payer and the government to simplify administration95. He therefore disagrees with Gascou’s suggestion that a collector (συντελεστής) was the technical term for a member of a consortium of landowners responsible for the taxes of a city or village, or that there is any specialised vocabulary to support the suggestion of a deliberative government policy96. On the contrary, he suggests that the system was far more irregular and unsatisfactory from an imperial point of view. 

  • 97 On the House of Timagenes, see Tuck 2011, p. 291-292.

39However, it is true that there are numerous examples from the papyri demonstrating the long-term involvement of the great estates in carrying out civic duties or a munus once associated with the curiales. The Houses of Theon and Timagenes held the office of exactor civitatis in Oxyrhynchus with responsibility for registering change of landownership, and therefore taxation, not just in Oxyrhynchus but further afield, including Nessana and Petra. The earliest example dates from 432 and references to the House of Timagenes continue up to the late sixth century when this oikos had other or additional munera97. Interestingly, although these munera were assigned to this oikos, others might actually carry out the work :

  • 98 PSI Congr. XVII, 29, 3-5 (432)  ; SB XII, 11079 : « To Flavius Apion the most famous and most magn (...)

Φλ(αουίῳ) Ἀπίωνι [τῷ πανευφ]ήμῳ καὶ ὑπερφυεστάτῳ
ἀπὸ ὑπάτων [ὀρδιν(αρίων) καὶ] πατρικ(ίῳ) γεουχοῦντι κ̣α̣ἰ̣
ἐνταῦθα τῇ [Νέᾳ Ἰουστίν]ου πόλε̣ι̣ λ̣α̣χό̣ν̣τ̣ι̣ τ̣ὴ̣ν̣
πατρερίαν κ̣α̣ἰ̣ [προεδρίαν] καὶ λογιστε̣ί̣α̣ν̣ ἐ̣π̣ὶ̣ τῆς εὐτ̣υ̣χ̣(οῦς)
πέμπτης [ἰνδ(ικτίονος) ὑπὲρ] οἴκου τοῦ τῆς περιβλέ(πτου)
μνήμης [Τιμαγέν]ους ὑπὲρ ὀνόματος
Θεοδοσ [c? δι]ὰ σο(ῦ) Θεοδώρο(υ) τοῦ αἰδεσ(ίμου)
διαδόχ[ου Αὐρήλιο]ς̣ Πετρώνιος στιπποχειρ(ιστὴς)98

  • 99 Tuck 2011, p. 298-299.

40The epithet « exactoria » refers to the office of the exactor and was most prominent in the fourth century. By the fifth and sixth centuries, his role had been taken over by the pagarch (see above) but there is no reason why the clerical office of the exactor should not have continued to function, keeping the land register up to date. The Houses of Timagenes and Theon seem to have taken permanent responsibility for the staffing of these offices99.

  • 100 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 401-402  ; Tuck 2011, p. 299-300.

41The House of Timagenes also had responsibility over a long period of time for the main civic offices of the prytaneis / proedria (Chair of the Council), logistes / curator and pater. The papyri attest examples in 458, 553 when it was held by the patrician lady, Gabrielia, and 571 when held by the head of the House of the Apions100. Where a woman could hold office, this suggests that the duties were mainly the provision of finance, rather than active leadership. In 584, the office of pater and stratelates were handled by the patrician, Theophasia, and her two daughters who had inherited the positions from their father, Strategius (possibly of the House of the Apions).

  • 101 For references, see Mazza 2011, p. 270ff., and Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 400-401  ; Tuck 2011, p. 300.

42The pagarch himself (with his own office staff) may have been provided by a different house to the Houses of Timagenes and Theon who had responsibility for the exactoria. We have details of aristocratic landowners from Antaeopolis Iulianus, who held the office alone, and sometimes with other landowners, such as Kemetes, Euthyrius and Patricias whose duties were performed for her by Menas, her dioketas, and a pagarch himself101. The pagarchy of Arsinoe and also Oxyrhynchus was frequently held by the head of the House of the Apions. As they often resided at Constantinople, the duties must have been carried out by representatives.

  • 102 See the discussion by Tuck 2011, p. 296-297 on the imperial and private post services.
  • 103 P. Oxy. 140 (550) and P. Oxy. 138 (610/11) with Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 399-400.
  • 104 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 401.

43The House of the Apions was also involved in the running of the cursus publicus or cursus velox, the imperial post service102. Two papyri reveal details of contracts of service between the Apions and individuals, including the director of the imperial post at Oxyrhynchus103. Another duty undertaken by the estate owners was the rota of riparii (police officers). We have evidence of the « riparii of the House of Theon » over one hundred and five years, ending in 562/3, although again some of these riparii were provided by the Apions. Other Houses were responsible for shorter periods of time, perhaps depending on their wealth. And it is possible that a competent riparius might have carried on, financed by another house104.

  • 105 Tuck 2011, p. 302-304.
  • 106 Mazza 2011, p. 278.
  • 107 On the Apions, see Alston 2001, p. 108-109, 313-314  ; Mazza 2011, p. 278  ; Sarris 2006, p. 17-24 (...)

44From the above evidence, it is observable that there are a number of similarities between the oikia and the curial families105. Both paid for civic and imperial services out of their own property. Although there was no obligation for an individual to hold a series of curial offices, particular duties were attached to particular houses for an indefinite length of time. As a result, the same mix of landholding, wealth, rights and duties, high municipal offices, and the exercise of power and influence, whether in the same proportions or gained by the same method, were true for both curiales and the oikoi. Much is sometimes made of the fall in civic euergetism, evidenced, for example, by the drop in traditional monumental buildings and a feeling that the great estates outside the city showed no interest in city life. Yet the evidence from the papyri shows two phenomena. First, the rich transferred some of their civic euergetism to churches, oratories, chapels, monasteries and hospitals on their own estates. They gave regular amounts of wheat and money to religious institutions of the village and epoikia connected with their estates, and were involved with the maintenance and restoration of the architectural structures106. Second, the Apions, at least, were not so remote from city life. We have already seen from the papyri that they held a number of offices, such as the pagarchy and the pater. Their palace was situated just outside Oxyrhynchus and connected by a stairway to the hippodrome. They financed the circus factions and chariot races, and had a private seat in the hippodrome107. In financing the public baths, the Apions enjoyed the same popularity as curiales would have done four centuries earlier when again the provision of urban services was not a burden. 

  • 108 Laniado 2002, p. 214  ; Mazza 2011, p. 283.

45It is clear that, along with straightforward tax collection, the owners of great estates undertook other duties familiar from curial government including the management of municipal finances, assigning of munera and the nomination of officials. They were also involved with episcopal elections and local foreign policy, such as the organisation of ransom and the sending of hostages. Obviously, other traditional duties, such as those relating to imperial or pagan cult were no longer applicable, and others, such as the despatch of ambassadors, were dealt with by the Church. But there is certainly still evidence of involvement in and concern for civic affairs, and « the entrepreneurial and the cultural role of the oikoi within the cities […] » is well attested in the documentary papyri108.

  • 109 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 405 suggests that they volunteered in order to wield power, undermining the (...)
  • 110 Sarris 2006, p. 159, 175-176 argues that the state tried to harness the ambitions and authority of (...)
  • 111 The legislation of Anastasius and Justinian which maintains the notion of an institutional body, h (...)

46This suggests to me that the new élite were keen to take on many of the curial duties109. As for the imperial government’s strategy and view, it is not necessary to go as far as Gascou to say that the oikoi were deliberately built into long-term arrangements by the imperial government to ensure the functioning of civic administration110. The legislation of Anastasius and Justinian suggests that, while the imperial government was keen to benefit from the efficient collection of taxes by the great landowners (however this was carried out), they did not wish this system to entirely supplant civic structures in the provinces. Rather, they preferred to keep the great landowners within the system, as it were. During the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, heads of the powerful aristocratic houses were enrolled into the senatorial order of Constantinople in which all but the highest rank, the illustres, remained liable for curial responsibilities. And in practice, they were also part of the body of « notables » comprising the bishop, clergy, and holders of senatorial office which we see in the legislation of the fifth and sixth centuries111

  • 112 Laniado 2002, p. 71, 103-104  ; Sarris 2006, p. 157  ; Tuck 2011, p. 287-288.
  • 113 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 404.
  • 114 In coming to any conclusions there are a number of serious caveats : it is not possible to know to (...)

47One solution is to conclude that the two systems, the notables (a continuation of the curia) and the great landowners worked in tandem112. Concentration on the great estates as promoted by Gascou has perhaps encouraged the belief that Councils completely ceased to exist. Liebeschuetz points out that, although the great landowners held offices and performed munera, there is less evidence that they were involved in making decisions and enforcing them113. The pagarchate was certainly an executive office : its holder incurred personal liability for taxes it failed to collect and it had coercive power. However, that still leaves a gap in leadership, co-ordination and long-term planning which would before have been carried out by a council of notables114

A Footnote from Petra

  • 115 Fiema 2001, p. 111-131.

48Evidence from the Petra papyri appears to corroborate the picture suggested above which is otherwise only discoverable from the Egyptian papyri. Serious political and economic decline occurred relatively early in Petra following the 363 earthquake but an archive of carbonized Greek documents, the largest corpus of written sources found in Jordan, discovered in the magnificently decorated church complex, offer a window onto the governance structures of the sixth century. The papyri belong to an extended family and concern transactions of real estate, mortgages, loans, dispute settlements, tax receipts, inheritance and marriage contracts from 528 (or possibly 513) to 592. There is no mention of the curia (boule), though politeuomenoi do feature. However, most of the officials appear to belong to the upper class possessores, suggesting a situation not dissimilar to Egypt where the oikoi dominated, rather than imperial administration. Also noteworthy is the dominant role of the church : bishops, archdeacons and presbyters frequently appear in the documents and settlements out of court were sealed by oaths in church. Private Christian charity is evident by frequent references in wills to donations to religious institutions, but a desire for ostentatious display continued, though with regard to church construction rather than secular buildings115.

The Flourishing of the Past : the inscriptions of Scythopolis

  • 116 For a positive picture, see Holum 2005.
  • 117 Barnish 1989, p. 390ff.  ; Roueché 1979.
  • 118 See, for example, Tsafrir and Forester 1997 and Di Segni 1999b. 

49Another way to measure the continuing importance of the concept of the urban centre is the study of the physical appearance of cities and the continuation of classical features. Enthusiasm for urban traditions, especially in the form of architectural patronage by local citizens, continued and even increased during the fifth and sixth centuries in many parts of the east116. Even if the benefactors prided themselves on imperial, rather than civic, honours, their desire to commemorate their benefaction displays a desire to carry on past traditions117. One of the key examples is Scythopolis, the metropolis of the newly founded province of Palaestina Secunda at the beginning of the fifth century. Excavations reveal an expansion of the city in the first half of the sixth century when the city was at its greatest, accommodating between thirty and thirty-eight thousand inhabitants, making it the largest city in Palestine after Caesarea and Jerusalem. It flourished particularly during the reigns of Anastasius and Justin and the boom in building activity is documented in numerous building inscriptions118. These begin to fall off during the reign of Justinian, perhaps due to instability caused by the various revolts of the Samaritans and possibly the effects of the plague of 542. The city wall was repaired in the 520s financed by imperial munificence at the request of Flavius Arsenius in the time of the governor, Flavius Anastasius, as we know from a series of inscriptions :

  • 119 SEG VIII, 34-35. « With a grant made by the imperial liberty at the request of the most glorious F (...)

+ Ἐκ τῆς δοθείσης θίας | φιλοτιμίας, κατὰ αἴτησιν Φλ(αουίου) Ἀρσενίου τοῦ ἐνδοξ(οτάτου), | τὸ πᾶν ἔργον τοῦ τίχους | ἀνενεώθη ἐν χρ(όνοις) Φλ(αουίου) Λέοντος | τοῦ μεγαλοπρ(επεστάτου) ἄρχ(οντος), ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) α’ (or δ’)119

  • 120 See Procop., Anec. 17, 3-19 on Arsenius.

50Flavius Arsenius belonged to a leading Scythopolitan family well known from inscriptions and literary sources though, as a Samaritan, not well liked. He was a member of the Constantinopolitan senate and seems to have used his influence with Justinian and Theodora to arrange for repairs to the wall120. His father, Silvanus, had been responsible for repaving one of the city centre streets (subsequently known as Silvanus Street) which led to the Silvanus Basilica, built in 500/1 (or 515/6) with a grant from Anastasius obtained by Silvanus and his brother Sallustius. Two inscriptions, one in hexameter verse, one prose, commemorate the construction :

+ Μέλλεν ἐμὲ προθέλυμνον ἐπὶ χθόνα | διανερύσσαι
πουλὺς πανδαμάτωρ πόλιο[ς] χρόνος ἄψοφος ἕρπων·
Σιλβανὸς [δέ με στῆσε] | πόνων ἐγκύμονι τέχνῃ
ὄλβῳ Ἀνασ[τασίου τε,] πολυκτεάνου βασιλῆ[ος].


  • 121 « Venerable time, the all-subduer, silently creeping, was going to drag me down to earth from the (...)

+ Ἐκ δωρ<ε>ᾶς Φλ(αουίου) Ἀναστασίου
αὐτοκράτ(ορος) Αὐγούστ(ου) ἡ βασιλικὴ
μετὰ τῆς στέγης καὶ τῆς κερα-
μώσεως ἐγένετο διὰ Σαλλουστίου
καὶ Σιλουανοῦ σχο(λαστικῶν) ἀδελφῶν
παίδων Ἀρσενίου σχο(λαστικοῦ) Σκυθοπολιτῶν
ἐν ἰνδ(ικτιῶνι) θ’ ἐν χρ(όνοις) Ἐντριχίου μεγαλο-
πρεπεστάτου ἄρχοντος121

51Another area of building work was the modification of Palladius street and the construction of the so-called sigma, a semi-circular plaza paved with colourful mosaics, and surrounded by shops and offices with decorated apses. Two identical inscriptions on limestone blocks, carefully engraved with crosses, decorative elements and Christian symbols tell us that the work was carried out in 506/7 by Theosebius, governor of Palaestina Secunda, under the supervision of Silvinus :

  • 122 « Good luck! Theosebius, son of Theosebius, of the city of Amisos in the province of Hellenopontus (...)

+ haedera Α + Εὐτυχῶς + Ω +
θεσσέβιος υἱὸς Θεσσεβίου
πόλεως Ἀμίσου ἐπαρχίας
Ἑλενοπόντου, ἄρχ(ων) Παλαιστ(ίνης) (δευτέρας),
ἐκ θεμελίων ἔκτισεν τόδε
τὸ σίγμα ἔτους οφ’, ἰνδ(ικτιῶνος) ιε’ προ-
νοησαμένου Σιλβίνου Μαρίνου
+ λ(αμπροτάτου) κόμ(ητος) καὶ πρῶτου122

52The same Silvinus was also responsible for work carried out on a section of the road in the south quarter from the city centre to the amphitheatre which was repaved and new water pipes were laid next to the amphitheatre’s northeastern corner. Two inscriptions commemorate this work :

+ Ἀρχὴ ἔργου
θαυμαστοῦ
Φλ(αουίου) Ὀρέστου
μεγαλοπρ(επεστάτου) ἄρχ(οντος).


  • 123 « Starting point of the wondrous work of Flavius Orestes, the most magnificent governor »  ; trans (...)

Ἐπὶ Φλ(αουίου) Ὀρέστου μεγαλοπρ(επεστάτου)
κόμ(ητος) καὶ ἄρχ(οντος) τὸ περιβοητὸν ἔργον
τῆς πλακώσεως μετὰ κ(αὶ) τοῦ νέου
ὑδρίου ἐγένετο, προνοησαμένου
Σιλβίνου Μαρίνου λ(αμπροτάτου) κόμ(ητος)
κ(αὶ) πρώτ(ου) ἐν ἰνδ(ικτιῶνι) ιε’
ἔτ(ους) επφ’123

  • 124 Di Segni 1999a, p. 634-635.

53Lastly, the western bathhouse (to the west of Palladius Street) was developed, each stage documented by stone and mosaic inscriptions which mention, among others, « the most magnificent comes and governor Severus Alexander », Flavius Megalas « most magnificent archon », Flavius Leo, another « most magnificent archon », and Flavius Theodorus, « most magnificent comes and consularis »124

54It is evident from this epigraphic corpus that there are certain differences from earlier inscriptions. Much of the work has been carried out by the provincial governors, rather than by curiales. Almost all private donations were to the church, monasteries or synagogues, rather than for civic buildings or institutions. One possible exception is that in 534/5 by Flavius Nysius (or Anysius) who paid for the portico of the western bathhouse, « without using public money ». However, Silvanus and Sallustius merely managed to obtain the donation from Anastasius in the same way that Arsenius organised the grant for rebuilding the city walls. While we have just seen evidence of a boom in building activity, the appearance of the centre must have changed significantly with the abandonment and decay of temples and statues of the gods ; the new building projects were undoubtedly inferior in the quality of their architecture and ornamentation ; and although in the city centre an attempt was made to adhere to the straightness and width of the Roman streets, in the suburbs the strict grid plan was abandoned. These are certainly all examples of change in the classical polis, but in Scythopolis, they do not necessarily amount to a decline. At a time when it had lost its formal planning and monumental architecture, evidence for commercial prosperity and social activity continues, and the many inscriptions demonstrate the desire to commemorate contributions to the city of whatever form, showing above all, the continuation of at least the perception of the importance of urban life. 

Conclusion

  • 125 Menander Rhetor, ed. and trans. D. A. Russell and N. G. Wilson, Oxford, 1981, p. XI, XXIV-XXV.
  • 126 Procop., Aed. IV, 1, 17-27  ; Holum 2005, p. 89-90. 
  • 127 MacCoull 1988, p. 49.
  • 128 It was still considered meritorious to found a city, and emperors from Diocletian to Justinian con (...)

55The importance of the perception of continuing urban traditions carries over into the literary evidence. In his de Aedificiis, Procopius appears to be carrying out the advice of Menander the Rhetor written over two hundred years before in how to praise a city125. What was important to a classical city : the porticoes, streets, sewers, markets, theatres, aqueducts and baths appear to remain central, even if churches, imperial palaces and fortifications are also now important. But to what extent is Procopius merely producing a rhetorical topos of the ideal city? It has been pointed out that his description of Justiniana Prima (Justinian’s birthplace) is somewhat optimistic126. Contemporary with Procopius, but geographically distant, the same accusations have been levelled at Dioscorus of Aphrodito : in his panegyric to Colluthus, he mentions the boule and prytanis. Is this merely an example of the classicizing language of the intellectual Dioscorus, or can this reference be taken as evidence for the functioning of a town council in sixth century Antinoe127? We know now that town councils did not continue to function as they had and nor did the emperors, such as Anastasius and Justinian, seek unrealistically to prolong their life. Change in the curia had started in the fourth century following the problems of the third, and cannot be wholly responsible for a « decline » in the sixth or seventh centuries. Other evolving systems of governance, led by the notables and the great landowners, came into being and eventually took over from the old curia. And as we have seen from the inscriptions of Scythopolis and the Egyptian papyri, euergetism continued in many ways128.

56The discussion above has focused on all the changes taking place in the governance and organisation of late Roman cities and estates, but it seems clear that these changes do not by themselves imply that the cities were less flourishing than before. However, their governance was transformed, and it was different people holding different offices who looked after the condition of their cities. 


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Worp 1999 = K. A. Worp, Bouleutai and Politeuomenoi in Later Byzantine Egypt Again, in Chronique d’Égypte, 74, 1999, p. 124-132.

Notes

1 It is not possible now to give a full list of the vast literature on this topic. Below is a selection of the seminal and most recent publications : Alston 2002, Barnish 1989, Broglio - Ward-Perkins 1999, Burns - Eadie 2001, Christie - Loseby 1996, Claude 1966, Jones 1940, p. 192-210, Jones 1964, II, p. 712-766, Laniado 2002, Lepelley 1996, Liebeschuetz 1972, Liebeschuetz 2001, Rich 1992, Saradi-Mendelovici 1988, Nijf - Alston 2011, and Whittow 1990.

2 On the terminology, Haldon 1985, p. 76-77.

3 See, for example, Liebeschuetz et al. in Lavan 2001.

4 Poulter 2007, p. 1-49, esp. 23-25 challenges the view of continued prosperity in the east, even in cities such as Ephesus and Aphrodisias and argues that the picture in the east is not so different from the Balkans where it is certainly far easier to argue for an abrupt end to Roman administration. 

5 For a different approach, see Alston 2009-2010 who takes as his starting point the rich urban culture of Bilad al-Sham (Jerash-Gerasa) in the seventh century and works backwards from here. 

6 The writings of Liebeschuetz favouring a narrative of decline have dominated the debate for the last forty years. In his seminal book (2001) 415, he concludes : «The story of the city in Late Antiquity involves the end of a political tradition, the end of a pattern of urban design related to the political tradition, the end of a particular ideal of what makes for the good life, the end of a secular ideal of education, and in many cases the shrinkage of population. All this happened within a context of the collapsing structures of an empire and of the associated economic system. It abundantly merits to be described as decline». Lavan 2003 comments that a fondness for the structures of municipal life (such as committees and elections) and a fear of the Church’s interference in secular matters, sentiments shared by the fourth-century Libanius and nineteenth and twentieth-century historians, have coloured the debate (for example, Saradi-Mendelovici 1988 who argues that the different priorities and ideals of the Christians resulted in the failure of the classical city). Lavan argues for the re-ordering of society (the same tasks continued to be carried out, if by different people) rather than a collapse, akin to Whittow’s institutional re-arrangement, referred to below. Alston 2009-2010, p. 40ff. argues that if the cities are considered as economic centres rather than political and cultural institutions, and if non-élite led economic structures are taken into account, then a more positive view of the late antique and early Islamic world emerges.

7 See, for example, the different approach of Burns - Eadie 2001, p. XIV who suggest that while some priorities may change, in essence «the city remained at the conceptual core of Roman society». The wealthy, as always, seek greater prominence in the community, whether this be via the town council (as in the early empire) or via imperial office (as in the later period).  Wickham 1984, p. 14-15 argues that although civic office had lost its attraction, the city as an institution remained strong.

8 Whittow 1990, p. 3. The significant date, following a military argument, would be 602. 

9 For example, Jones 1964, II, p. 760 distinguishes between the council which now played an insignificant role in the governance of the city, and the curial order itself : «decurions still did their share in collecting the imperial revenues». See also Holum 1996.

10 Gascou 1985  ; see the discussion below.

11 Decker 2009, p. 27 : «Rather than a dilapidated group of impoverished eastern provinces falling to the Muslim conquerors, one may reasonably suppose that rural prosperity continued in many areas well into the sixth century, and perhaps into the seventh century and later». See also, for example, the studies on rural areas in Burns - Eadie 2001 and especially the work of Banaji 2001.

12 On the introduction of the boule in Egypt, Bowman 1971, chapter 1, Bowman - Rathbone 1992, Bagnall 1993, p. 55ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 178.

13 Alston 2001, p. 249-259  ; Bowman 1971, p. 123  ; Bagnall 1993, p. 56ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 178f. Alston 2001, p. 259 sees the problem at this stage, at least in Egypt, as not one inflicted by the imperial government either in imposing direct rule through centrally appointed officials or raising taxes, but resulting from the over competitive ambitions of the civic élite who found that their wealth was not sufficient to support the expenses called for by the city itself.

14 Lands and taxes were confiscated probably first by Constantius, restored by Julian, but confiscated again by Valens. However, in 374, he agreed to return one third of their revenues to the cities, in order for them to maintain essential services, including keeping the walls in good repair. See further, Jones 1940, p. 149ff.  ; Jones 1964, p. 732-734.

15 On the options open to the curiales and legislation, Jones 1940, p. 192ff.  ; Laniado, 2002, p. 3-26  ; on how the curiales sought to secure immunity or to manipulate their inferiors on the Council, Loseby 2009, p. 145f.  ; on the emergence of the new senatorial aristocracy, Sarris 2006, p. 181ff.  ; Whittow 1990, p. 9-10. 

16 Lib., Or. XLVII and XLVIII.

17 Lib., Or. XLVIII, 4.

18 As Delmaire 1996, p. 60-66 notes, successive emperors tried to curb corruption : an exactor was appointed to curb the excesses of the curiales  ; a compulsor was appointed in turn to oversee the exactor (Majorian, Novels 2 and 7). Defensores and patres were also introduced to help ensure justice.  The creation of the post of vindex was Anastasius’ attempt to implement an efficient and fair system (see further below). 

19 Liebeschuetz 1972, p. 101-105.

20 Bowman 1971, chapter 3.

21 On the exactor and later developments, Jones 1940, p. 152. 

22 Alston 2001, p. 278, Bagnall 1993, p. 60.

23 Alston 2001, p. 280.

24 Alston 2001, p. 277-281.

25 Bowman 1971, p. 121-127 who concludes that actual power was in the hands of a few who were answerable to central government, while the remaining members of the council continued to carry out their duties but had no responsibility. Bagnall 1993, p. 61 (followed by Sarris 2006, p. 179) identifies an inner group (the propoliteuomenoi) who from the fourth century exercised increasing authority over their fellow town councillors.

26 Alston 2001, p. 281.

27 Laniado 2002, p. 33.

28 For studies on the defensor civitatis, Rees 1952, Frakes 2001. See also Justinian’s Novel 15 (discussed below).

29 See Roueché 1979 for her discussion of the statue and epigram honouring Flavius Palmatus, erected by Flavius Athenaeus, the πατὴρ τῆς πόλεως.

30 Justinian’s Novel 160 (undated) was drafted in response to an appeal from Aristocrates, another pater of Aphrodisias, over the management of large legacies which had been left to the city. It is clear that the tradition of public benefactions by individuals continued here well into the sixth century  ; cf. Roueché 1979, p. 182.

31 See Feissel 1987, p. 220 for a comparison with other civic posts.

32 Roueché 1998, p. 31-36.

33 Zach. 17 (trans. Roueché 1989, pp. 89-90). PLRE II, Asclepiodotus 2, p. 160-161.

34 Roueché 1989, p. 69, 106-107  ; Ead. 1998, p. 35.

35 Johnson - West 1946, p. 103, Jones 1940, p. 192, Haas 1997, p. 52-53 on Cod. Theod. 12, 1, 191 (436) concerning the length of service, Laniado 2002, p. 19-22, Loseby 2009, p. 144-145.

36 Holum 1996, p. 618-619, 629ff., Laniado 2002, p. 75-87.

37 «Under the most magnificent count Hesychius, governor and advocate, the government house was built from the foundations under the supervision of the clarissimus count and decurion Paul»  ; IGLS XIII/1 9123.

38 Geremek 1990  ; Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 389-408  ; Sarris 2006, p. 156-157.

39 Geremek 1990, p. 48. The debate over whether the terms βουλευτής and πολιτευόμενος are synonymous has somewhat complicated the argument as to the extent to which town councillors continued to operate : see Bowman 1971, 31  ; Laniado 1997  ; Worp 1999  ; Banaji 2001, p. 115. In Bagnall’s view (1993, p. 61) it is the lack of evidence that masks the activity of the Council up to the seventh century.

40 The office of vindex is mentioned only in later laws : for example, Edict XIII, Novels 38 (536) and 128 (545)  ; cf. Laniado 2002, p. 29-33. 

41 « Now, when [Marinus], as Syrian and knavish, as is usually the case, had taken over the taxes, he undid the curial councils of all the cities, selling off the subjects to anyone, as it chanced, provided only that the latter promised him the greater amount, and, in place of the municipal councillors, who from the first had been fixing the tax requisitions, he appointed the so-called vindices (for thus the Italians are accustomed to call the ‘avengers of the gods’), who, when they had gotten control of the contributors, treated the cities as nothing less than enemies ». Lyd., Mag. III, 49 (trans. Bandy).

42 « [Marinus] dismissed all members of the city councils and in their place created the vindices, as they were known, in each city of the Roman state ». Malalas 400 (trans. Jeffreys - Jeffreys - Scott).

43 « He also removed the collection of taxes from local councillors and appointed the so-called vindices over each city, at the suggestion, they say, of Marinus the Syrian who exercised the highest of offices which men of old called the prefect of the palace. As a result of this the revenues were greatly reduced and the flower of the cities lapsed : for in former times the nobility were inscribed in the cities’ albums, since each city regarded and defined those in the councils as a sort of senate ». Evagr., H.E. III, 42 (trans. Whitby).

44 Claude 1969, p. 108-114 argued for the temporary abolition of the curia in the time of Anastasius, after which Justinian attempted to revive them. Chrysos 1971 argued that the councils were not dissolved but merely enfeebled by Marinus’ action in giving the task of tax collection to the vindices.  De Ste Croix 1981, p. 473 commented that in the reign of Anastasius « the city Councils ceased to matter very much in the local decision-making process, and perhaps even to meet ».  Whittow 1990, p. 12 suggested that the curia simply withered away to become an institution without content  ; cf. Haarer 2006, p. 207-210. 

45 Liebeschuetz 1973, esp. p. 45 sees close connections between the two reforms and credits Anastasius with both.  On the pagarchy, see also Rouillard 1928, p. 52-62.

46 Johnson - West 1946, p. 324-325  ; Liebeschuetz 1973, p. 39f. and 1974, p. 164f.

47 Johnson - West 1946, p. 323 note that the vindex does not appear in the papyri of this period and assume that the other cities of the Nile valley were administered differently.

48 Liebeschuetz 1973, p. 45-46 suggests that if there was an attempt to make the pagarchy part of the curial order as, for example, the exactor had been, this attempt failed. At Oxyrhynchus, the Apion family filled the office for several generations, backed by a huge clerical department and strong military support  ; in this case, the pagarchy must have been stronger than any representatives of either the curial order or imperial government. 

49 Delmaire 1996, p. 66 points out the inherent contradiction in the picture presented by John and others : on the one hand, the curiales were keen to escape their tax collecting duties  ; on the other, Anastasius is accused of ruining the curial order by removing their responsibility for tax collection.

50 Laniado 2002, p. 37-38. 

51 Loseby 2009, p. 146f. also suggests that the informal nexus of local leaders, the bishop and great landowners which had evolved to fill the gaps in local governance, was formalised by Anastasius and Justinian. Holum 1996 argues that this group which effectively was carrying out the duties of the curia would itself meet as a Council.  He sees it as an expansion of the curia to include the powerful city dwellers, the bishop and wealthy landowners, as opposed to a replacement of the curia, as argued by Claude 1969, p. 114.

52 Cod. Just. 1, 55, 11. Jones 1940, p. 209. On Eustathius, PLRE II, Eustathius 11. On Anastasius and the defensor, see Rees 1952, p. 91.

53 Novel 3. There is a lacuna in the text so it is not possible to be entirely certain that the criterion of orthodoxy was not included. Interestingly, in his Novel 7 (458), Majorian describes the decurions as the « sinews of the state and the vital organs of the cities »  ; Loseby 2009, p. 147.

54 Laniado 2002, p. 38-39, Laniado 2006.

55 Loseby 2009, p. 147ff. focuses on the effects of the twin changes of Christianisation and fortification on the late antique city.

56 Cod. Just. 1, 4, 17 (= Cod. Just. 10, 27, 3).

57 MAMA III, 197A, Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 55-56.

58 Sarris 2006, p. 208-217 on Justinian’s legislation.

59 Novel 38, 3. Laniado 2002, p. 58-62 suggests that Justinian’s efforts in safeguarding the property of the curiales were more successful than attempts to tie the curiales to their status as desertion to monasteries, bishoprics and priesthoods was difficult to monitor and the Church offered protection to the curiales.

60 Cod. Just. 1, 4, 26.

61 Cod. Just. 10, 30, 4. Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 391-392.

62 The Paraphrasis Theophili was a gloss on Justinian’s Institutes, dated to the 540s  ; cf. Laniado 2002, p. 89-91.

63 Novel 30, 5, 1.

64 18 May, 535 : Pisidia (24), Lycaonia (25), Thrace (26) and Isauria (27)  ; 16 July, 536 : Helenopontus (28) and Paphlagonia (29)  ; 18 March, 536 : Cappadocia (30) and Armenia (31)  ; 27 May, 536 : Arabia (102) and Palestine (103).

65 Stein 1949, II, p. 446-483.

66 It has been suggested that the use of antiquarian language was to mask Justinian’s innovations, although many of these laws were rather confirming practices or arrangements which were already established. For full discussion, Roueché 1998, p. 85ff.

67 This clause is also in Novels 28, 5 and 29, 4. 

68 Edict II and X where the Church is also guilty of this practice.

69 « […] the tax payer insisted absolutely that everything had been exacted in its entirety, but the pagarchs and curiales and collectors of the public taxes and the various governors at the time used to so administer the business hitherto that it was impossible for anyone to become at all acquainted [with its workings] and they alone profited ». Edict XIII, proemium 13-15  ; trans. Sarris 2006, p. 3. See also Rouillard 1928, p. 16- 25, 169-171 on the crisis of 536-538 and the promulgation of Edict XIII.

70 Sarris 2006, p. 212-213.

71 Banaji 2001, p. 100.

72 Johnson - West 1946, p. 104-105.

73 Liebeshuetz 1996, p. 390.

74 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 390-391.

75 Rees 1953-1954, p. 94. Jones 1940, p. 209 suggests that this had been done by Anastasius but the constitution is not preserved.

76 Jones 1940, p. 209  ; Rees 1952, p. 92-93.

77 Saradi-Mendelovici 1988, p. 276ff.

78 Claude 1969, p. 113-114.

79 Laniado 2002, p. 58ff. He sees the scarcity and unequal distribution of the sources as a significant part of the problem : disappearance of evidence does not necessarily mean the disappearance of the institution itself  ; contra Whittow 1990. See Laniado 2002, p. 75-87 appendix, for a list of the latest dates for the mention of curia  ; for example, Tyre in 553, Bostra 555/6 and Gortyn 668. There are later attestations in Egypt and Italy, up to Leo VI’s Novel 46 which spelt out the end of municipal curia.

80 Procop., Anec. 19, 1  ; Lyd., Mag. III, 57 and III, 62  ; Agath. V, 14  ; Evagr., H.E. IV, 30  ; cf. Sarris 2006, p. 4ff.

81 Sarris 2006, p. 1-9, 149.

82 Banaji 2001, p. 216.

83 Banaji 2001, p. 213-221.

84 Decker 2009 follows Banaji in his view on the sequence of the establishment of the gold coinage, the generation of wealth and the rise of the new aristocracy, leading to the overall prosperity of the late antique countryside  ; contra Kehoe 2003. He agrees that a new office-holding bureaucratic élite, including civil and military officials who received their salaries in gold, came to dominate the top jobs, but he argues that they grew richer at the expense of the curial class and the peasantry. He therefore thinks that Banaji’s picture is too optimistic and that far from being of wider benefit, the new system led to a much narrower distribution of wealth. 

85 Laniado 2002, chapter 8, for example, p. 180-184 the discussion on possessores. Once almost synonymous with the term curiales, these terms were later used for moderate and great landowners  ; these were clearly the curiales’ successors at a social, if not institutional, level. 

86 On the rise of the great estates, Sarris 2006, p. 177ff. On the use of the term oikos in relation to the great estates, see Mazza 2011, p. 264ff.  ; Tuck 2011, p. 288ff.

87 See Sarris 2006, p. 137-139 summarising the work of Carrié on this development.

88 As argued by Bell 1917, p. 103  ; contra, for example, Johnson - West 1949, Rouillard 1953, MacCoull 1988, Keenan 1993, and Sarris 2006, p. 132-137.

89 Sarris 2006, p. 140.

90 Gascou 1985.

91 Banaji 2001, p. 89-90.

92 Hardy 1931. Benaji 2001, p. 89ff. does not see any weakening of central authority in the sixth century.

93 For example, Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 182ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 155  ; Mazza 2001, p. 105 and Banaji 2001, p. 93.

94 Sarris 2006, p. 149ff. 

95 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 395-396  ; Liebeschuetz 2001, p. 182-183  ; contra Gascou 1985, p. 49-51.

96 See also Sarris 2006, p. 159-162 on the use of vocabulary.

97 On the House of Timagenes, see Tuck 2011, p. 291-292.

98 PSI Congr. XVII, 29, 3-5 (432)  ; SB XII, 11079 : « To Flavius Apion the most famous and most magnificent ex consul ordinarius and patricius, large landowner also here in the New City of Justin (i.e. Oxyrhynchus), who is bearing the charges of pater civitatis, president of the curia and exactor civitatis for the fortunate fifth indication for the house of Timagenes of spectabilis memory, for the name of Theodos […] through you Theodorus, honest substitutus, I Aurelius Petronius agent of the tow merchants […] », trans. Mazza 2011, p. 273  ; P. Oxy. 3583 (date 444), P. Warren 3 (500), P. Oxy. 1887 (538) all referring to the House of Timagenes  ; P. Oxy. 126 (572) referring to the staff of the tax office provided by the House of Theon, with Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 398.

99 Tuck 2011, p. 298-299.

100 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 401-402  ; Tuck 2011, p. 299-300.

101 For references, see Mazza 2011, p. 270ff., and Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 400-401  ; Tuck 2011, p. 300.

102 See the discussion by Tuck 2011, p. 296-297 on the imperial and private post services.

103 P. Oxy. 140 (550) and P. Oxy. 138 (610/11) with Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 399-400.

104 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 401.

105 Tuck 2011, p. 302-304.

106 Mazza 2011, p. 278.

107 On the Apions, see Alston 2001, p. 108-109, 313-314  ; Mazza 2011, p. 278  ; Sarris 2006, p. 17-24, 78-80 on their wider fiscal responsibilities.

108 Laniado 2002, p. 214  ; Mazza 2011, p. 283.

109 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 405 suggests that they volunteered in order to wield power, undermining the curial system. Haldon 1985 and 1990, chapter 3, with the addendum, 459-461 argues that the wealthy landowners were no longer interested in using the surplus for the benefit of their cities, but to obtain titles and influence at Constantinople, and that the state was interested only in caring for buildings which were useful (i.e. defences) and ensuring tax collection (via the landowners). These two developments culminated in the near eclipse of urban life seen in the seventh and eighth centuries.  This theory is difficult to maintain against the evidence of imperial legislation which shows continued concern for urban life, and against the papyrological evidence showing the continued interest of the great landowners in city life, such as the Apions in Egypt, or in other parts of the eastern empire throughout the sixth century (cf. Holum 2005, p. 100-102).

110 Sarris 2006, p. 159, 175-176 argues that the state tried to harness the ambitions and authority of the élite and concludes that rather than the great estates becoming semi-public, the state was becoming semi-private.

111 The legislation of Anastasius and Justinian which maintains the notion of an institutional body, however loosely defined, of which the great landowners form a part : Cod. Just. 1, 4, 19 = 1, 55, 11  ; Laniado 2002, p. 38. For discussion on the similarities in the nature of this new grouping and the old curia, see Holum 1996, p. 619ff.  ; Sarris 2006, p. 158.  Liebeschuetz 1996, warns that this is perhaps the impression that Justinian wished to achieve, rather than what the actual position was. See also Mazza 2011 on this leading group.

112 Laniado 2002, p. 71, 103-104  ; Sarris 2006, p. 157  ; Tuck 2011, p. 287-288.

113 Liebeschuetz 1996, p. 404.

114 In coming to any conclusions there are a number of serious caveats : it is not possible to know to what extent we can apply the evidence from Egypt to other provinces of the eastern empire  ; pagarchs, for example, are known only in Egypt, and our information about the operation of the great estates and civic duties comes only from the papyri and not from the extant legislation.

115 Fiema 2001, p. 111-131.

116 For a positive picture, see Holum 2005.

117 Barnish 1989, p. 390ff.  ; Roueché 1979.

118 See, for example, Tsafrir and Forester 1997 and Di Segni 1999b. 

119 SEG VIII, 34-35. « With a grant made by the imperial liberty at the request of the most glorious Fl. Arsenius, the whole fabric of the city wall was renovated, in the time of Fl. Leon, the most distinguished governor in the third indiction », trans. Di Segni 1999a, p. 635.

120 See Procop., Anec. 17, 3-19 on Arsenius.

121 « Venerable time, the all-subduer, silently creeping, was going to drag me down to earth from the foundations : but Silvanus raised me with full labours and with the riches of Anastasius, the wealthy king »  ; Di Segni 1999a, p. 638. « From a grant of emperor Flavius Anastasius Augustus the basilica was built, together with the roof and roof-tiles, through the brothers Sallustius and Silvanus, Scythopolitan lawyers, sons of Arsenius the lawyer, in the 9th indiction, at the time of the most magnificent governor Entrichius »  ; trans. Di Segni 1999a, p. 639 and Tsafrir - Forester 1997, p. 124. 

122 « Good luck! Theosebius, son of Theosebius, of the city of Amisos in the province of Hellenopontus, governor of Palaestina Secunda, built this sigma from the foundations in the year 570, indiction 15, under the supervision of Silvinus son of Marinus, clarissimus comes and principalis »  ; trans. Di Segni 1999a, p. 636. 

123 « Starting point of the wondrous work of Flavius Orestes, the most magnificent governor »  ; trans. Di Segni 1999a, p. 637. « In the days of Flavius Orestes, the most magnificent comes and governor, the celebrated work of the pavement together with the new water channel was carried out, under the care of Silvinus son of Marinus, the most distinguished count and principalis, in the 15th indiction, year 585 »  ; trans. Di Segni 1999a, p. 637.

124 Di Segni 1999a, p. 634-635.

125 Menander Rhetor, ed. and trans. D. A. Russell and N. G. Wilson, Oxford, 1981, p. XI, XXIV-XXV.

126 Procop., Aed. IV, 1, 17-27  ; Holum 2005, p. 89-90. 

127 MacCoull 1988, p. 49.

128 It was still considered meritorious to found a city, and emperors from Diocletian to Justinian continued to build new cities and name them after themselves  ; cf.  Jones 1940, p. 86ff. 

Auteur

King's College London - fiona.haarer@kcl.ac.uk

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