I: The Travels of Flavius Dionysius and the End of Armenia

From: 428 AD

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The Travels of Flavius Dionysius and the End of Armenia T  our journey, we go back to Antioch, the capital of Syria and the headquarters of the Roman army in the East. An imperial diplomatic delegation, escorted by an elite military unit, left the eastern gate of the city and moved towards the Persian Empire. At the same time, a group of Iranic plenipotentiaries left from Ctesiphon, the main residence of the Sassanian rulers. The two diplomatic missions were to meet at the border in a part of Mesopotamia. The Romans were led by Flavius Dionysius, a military man and native of Thrace, who at the time held the rank of supreme commander of the army for the entire sector of the eastern border (magister utriusque militiae per Orientem).1 Before leaving, Dionysius had started to suffer from facial paralysis. There was a great deal at stake for the general: any delay to his departure would have effectively been an insubordination, given that it could have compromised the mission. In order to get well quickly, he turned to one of the most revered clerics in Syria, a monk called Simeon but also known as the “Stylite” because of his particular form of asceticism: he lived day and night at the top of a high column (stỹlos in Greek).2 The pious official had therefore gone to Telanissos (Tell Neshin, today Qala‘at Sema‘ān), which was Simeon’s village. From the height of his column, the saint prayed for the general’s health, and the general was immediately cured (Syriac Life of Saint Simeon Stylites, ).3 Dionysius could then set off on his march without fearing the wrath of Theodosius II, the ruler of the eastern part of the Empire.  C H A P T E R I In the fifth century, there was no diplomatic corps in the modern sense,nor indeed was there any codified protocol.Given this lack of fixed rules, we cannot be sure of the composition of the Roman delegation.4 Diplomatic missions were organized on an ad hoc basis in accordance with instructions from above.They were usually made up of various imperial dignitaries, interpreters, a military escort (which transported not only the baggage but also the emperor’s gifts),5 often emissaries from the Church, and a few merchants who took advantage of the expedition to reach a destination which was normally forbidden.6 The outcome of the mission was entirely in the hands of its leader, who could be a high-ranking soldier, a nonmilitary official, or a churchman. The emperor chose his ambassadors on the basis of specific requirements: apart from the requisite diplomatic skills, they had to have demonstrated their honesty and incorruptibility, and they had to possess the necessary physical constitution to undertake such a journey, which was itself no mean task. An embassy to the Sassanians required even greater professional experience, because of the enormous importance attributed to pacts and agreement within the Persian religious system.7 The Syriac Life of Simeon Stylites is the only source for Dionysius’s mission, but does not specifically mention its date or purpose. However , other texts tell us that the general was on active duty in the East from  to . There is further evidence that allows us to date the mission to the year : according to Callinicus (Life of Saint Hypatius, , ), Dionysius was instructed to escort Nestorius from Antioch to Constantinople when the latter was appointed the capital’s bishop. Now, it is well known that Nestorius’s investiture on the episcopal throne of Constantinople took place on  April , and that he arrived in the city three months after the death of his predecessor, Sisinnius , which happened on  December  (Socrates, Ecclesiastic History , , ). The road from Antioch to Constantinople crossed Anatolia and the journey would have taken at least a month. If the situation on the frontier was not peaceful, the supreme commander of the eastern sector would not have been able to leave his theater of operations for such a long period. Dionysius must therefore have concluded his agreement with the Persians immediately before his journey to Constantinople , during the winter of /, and winter is the best time to travel across Mesopotamia. T H E T R A V E L S O F F L A V I U S D I O N Y S I U S  Negotiations entrusted to such a very high official could only have been...