Introduction

From: 428 AD

colophon
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• INTRODUCTION • T  will examine the events and microevents of a single year on a scale that will be as global as is possible. The chosen year is  .1 This historiographical approach is not unheard of, but is unusual for ancient history. There have been individual or collective works devoted to epoch-making dates such as   or , or of national importance such as  for England or  for France.2 However, there is a substantial difference between such works and this one, at least in terms of the great sweep of history: the year  is undoubtedly less significant . One could with good reason ask, why choose such an apparently unexceptional year, when we could have chosen a much more evocative one, like  when Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Rome, or the fateful , when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus and brought about the end of the Western Roman Empire?3 The year   was in fact chosen on the basis of fairly “marginal” factors, in which serendipity played its role. We started by researching the year’s most politically significant event: the end of the Kingdom of Armenia.4 The initial intent was to determine the reasons for and the effects of the deposition of Artashes IV, the last Armenian king, and above all to understand why this event is only discussed in the local tradition , in spite of its international significance. As the research progressed , I became aware of a concatenation of events involving persons and realities that were considered to be separate in traditional studies, but which actually constituted elements of a complex and delicately balanced geopolitical reality. I then decided to investigate the situation in the Western Roman Empire, and this revealed something quite surprising: even when the empire had entered a period of terminal decline, its structures continued to guarantee a degree of cohesion between East and West, and to interact with the Church’s almost parallel campaign against pagans, Jews, and heretics. Distant events, such as Flavius Aetius’s campaign against the Franks, or Gaiseric’s accession to the Vandal throne, can be better explained if you also take into account the situation in the East. Besides, it was around  that the question of imperial unity was once again on the agenda in both its parts. The “empire without end” was now just a distant memory, and some important political and religious decisions had to be taken. Of course, the separation of the East and the West was not up for discussion. Theodosius II, emperor of the East, could be considered the first “Byzantine” emperor.5 However, the Roman Empire was still presented as a unitary structure in the language of propaganda and official documents,6 and most importantly, there was a momentary halt to the process by which the two parts of the empire had been drifting apart—a process that had been exacerbated by political disagreement during the thirty-year period between  and .7 In the second quarter of the fifth century, a return to the degree of unity that existed long before was not simply a utopian idea fed by propaganda and wishful thinking on the part of legislators. The empire was no longer simply restricting itself to the struggle for survival, but was also developing new forms of power. As Santo Mazzarino observed over sixty years ago, it was following the death of Theodosius I that “the foundations were laid for a new world, which some four centuries later would prove to be highly efficient in its new organization and in meeting new cultural and economic needs.”8 Although the documentation is limited, it is clear that a transition was taking place, and that it was closely connected to the process of Christianization , which radically altered the prerogatives of power.9 The unity of the Mediterranean world was indeed more precarious than during the high pomp of the imperial age, but it had not entirely faded away. Nevertheless the changes were considerable and often traumatic. In many areas, there was a fall in population accompanied by centrifugal forces of various kinds, such as the emergence of local differences, which became typical of the culture of Late Antiquity. In spite of everything, then, the machinery of empire continued to work, and the perception of a “broken history,”however appealing, cannot be applied to the many features and facets of a complex reality.10 As is well known, historians are not in agreement on the manner in which the transformation...


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