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CHAPTER 1 A PALIMPSEST In a.d. 431 a statue was erected in the Forum of Trajan in honor of an eminent Roman of the past, Virius Nicomachus Flavianus. The base of the statue has survived: it is about a meter and a half tall and threequarters of a meter wide, and although the back of the base has been cut away, more than half a meter of its depth is preserved. An inscription is carved on the front of the base, recessed within a frame. (For the history of the inscription, with detailed description and comments on the text, known as CIL 6.1783, see the Appendix.) The field of this text measures about a meter high by more than half a meter wide; it shows signs of an earlier erasure. The lettering is very worn and is now in places barely legible; it has formal affinities with bookhands of the period. The inscription contains lists of the offices held by Flavian and his son and an imperial letter, written to the Roman senate in the names of the emperors of the western and eastern halves of the empire, Valentinian III and Theodosius II. The prose style is typical of bureaucratic texts of the later Roman empire: effusive and convoluted. In its practices of orthography and abbreviation the letter is comparable to contemporary juristic texts. (See Illus. 1.) By this imperial letter Flavian was formally rehabilitated from a disgrace that he had incurred some forty years before, in the reign of Theodosius I. Flavian had suffered a damnatio memoriae: the record of his existence had been purged, statues and inscriptions destroyed; his family had not even been permitted to mourn him. The letter does not specify the reasons for his disgrace, but Flavian was prominent enough that we are well informed from other sources. He had been a leading figure in the usurpation of Eugenius in 394, a rebellion against imperial power that some ancient authors and modern scholars have preferred to see strictly in religious terms as the abortive ‘‘last revolt of paganism against Christianity.’’1 The translation and text follow; the translation below and on page 4, the text on pages 3 and 5. To Nicomachus Flavianus, consular of Sicily, vicar of Africa, quaestor at the court of the blessed Theodosius, twice praetorian prefect of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa, because of his worth and prestige in the senate and as a judge. The statue was restored in honor of his son, Nicomachus Flavianus , consular of Campania, proconsul of Asia, frequently urban prefect, incumbent praetorian prefect of Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. The emperors Flavius Theodosius and Flavius Placidus Valentinianus, ever August, greet their senate: To defend against the pitfalls of mankind’s lot the dignity of men renowned and eminent in the state2 when corrupted to some extent by interpolations3 and to recall the recollection of a deceased man to eternal fame may be regarded as a correction, so to speak,4 of his fate, which is considered as a preliminary judgment and the greatest supplement (?) of a man’s worth.5 Senators, on this noble and auspicious occasion you join us by recognizing at last that, whatever we accomplish in restoration of the glorious [?] and the most reverend remembrance we all cherish of the elder Flavian, we do honor to our blessed grandfather if we recall to the monuments and inscriptions of his worth the man whom our grandfather desired to survive for us and be spared for you—many of you remember his words before you—so that you may realize that whatever Flavian suffered from underhanded insinuations was far from the wish of that prince. It was the kindness that the emperor showered upon him and tendered even to his Annals6 (he wanted his quaestor and prefect to dedicate them to him) which excited the jealousy of scoundrels. Now if we have given sufficient evidence of our filial devotion, hear another reason: that we are fortified by your feelings for Flavian and by the judgments of all the provinces , for whose benefit the funds of the state still quite wealthy were either preserved or even increased, and produced such esteem with us as well, that what we do today, we know, has been in your hearts and minds and far from any interruption of intervening forgetfulness. For this very reason, senators, above all do you protect his memory no less than you do our persons, so that not undeservedly do...


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