Chapter 11. Engaging Cities
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Chapter 11  Engaging Cities Accessing Alternative Constantines An emperor’s relationship with his people was always discursive. To be sure, he generally had the upper hand in any dialogue, for by virtue of his vast administrative , military, and symbolic power, he could control access to governmental authority, to the enforcement of his writ, and to the downward flow of publicly generated information. Nevertheless, he could never firmly control reactions to his efforts to govern, nor predict public readings of the image of his imperial persona he strove to project. The slippage between his exertions and their efficacy as speech acts generated the need to adjust his actions to the responses of his people, just as his people constantly shifted their reactions to take account of his evolving expressions of power. This dynamic played itself out not just at the level of subject citizens but also at that of polities. Cities and towns had a sort of personality of their own that was defined by the traditions, the leadership, and the infrastructure each inherited and passed on from one generation to the next. To be sure, each community was complex and multiform, and all shifted and adapted their collective identity over time. But just as one personality differs from the next, so a city like Rome differed from Alexandria, or Athens, and a town like Orcistus from Nacoleia, or Aquileia, in ways that set each apart as a unique and definable space of collective identity. As a corollary to this principle, each city and town was bound to have its own reactions to the emperor, who, in his turn, was obliged to modulate his approach to any given polity in ways that, at least ideally, would foster harmony between ruler and subject along the horizons of their mutual expectations.1 In the sixth and seventh chapters we examined a group of cities whose expectations aligned well with the dominant reading of Constantine’s public message in the period after he began advertising his conversion to Christianity. In the twelfth, we will look at those places that self-consciously opposed Constantine’s message in ways that provoked violent reactions from the emperor. In this present chapter 210 Alternative Responses to Constantine we focus instead on those polities whose dealings with Constantine reflect a negotiated reading, neither entirely in line with what the emperor may have wished nor entirely in opposition to key messages he transmitted. As we reflect on their reactions, we will witness a dialogue with a ruler who could be engaged in ways much more reflexive of traditional religious norms than we might be led to expect by, for example, Constantine’s correspondence with ecclesiastics. We will see, in other words, a cluster of pagan Constantines, each conceptualized along locally conditioned parameters that reflect in part images projected by the emperor himself and in part the expectations and desires of the cities engaging with him. Theirs was neither the right reading of Constantine nor the wrong one, but simply an alternative Constantine, a Constantine that could be accommodated into the context of their own locally delimited understanding of proper rulership. Naturalizing the Emperor No city better epitomizes a general adherence to traditional religious principles in Late Antiquity than Athens.2 With its alluring reputation as a religious and cultural center, and its unprecedented status as a magnet for those seeking a traditional education, Athens stood for all that was great in the classical past, from its literature to its gods. Constantine gained control of Athens in the aftermath of his defeat of Licinius at Cibalae in 316 and thus in the period when his readiness to hem in pagan cult and practice had only begun to quicken. Yet far from punishing the city, he lavished it with emoluments. This we learn from no less jaundiced a critic than Constantine’s nephew Julian: Here it might be proper to mention Athens, the illustrious, seeing that during his whole life he honored her in word and deed. He who was emperor and lord of all did not disdain the title of General [stratēgos] of the Athenians, and when they gave him a statue with an inscription to that effect he felt more pride than if he had been awarded the highest honors. To repay Athens for this compliment, he bestowed on her annually a gift of many tens of thousands of bushels of wheat to enjoy, so that while she experienced plenty, he won applause and reverence from the best of...