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  • Ethnos et droit dans le monde proto-byzantin, Ve-VIe siècle: Fédérés, paysans et provinciaux à la lumière d’une scholie juridique de l’époque de Justinien by Avshalom Laniado
  • Florin Curta
Ethnos et droit dans le monde proto-byzantin, Ve-VIe siècle: Fédérés, paysans et provinciaux à la lumière d’une scholie juridique de l’époque de Justinien
Avshalom Laniado
Geneva: Droz, 2015. Pp. ix + 341. ISBN: 978–2-600–01379–6

Laniado’s monograph is a well-written, argument-driven analysis of a sixth-century scholion on a fragment of Papinian preserved in the Pandects (XXII 3.1) dealing with the burden of proof. In this exquisite study of late antique administrative, military, and social history Laniado demonstrates that to the unknown scholiast (possibly the antecessor Stephanos), ethnos was a pretext for a legal discussion about privilege. This book also underscores the fact that ethnos appears only in civil law and in no other kind of law, unlike genos, which appears in both ius commune and ius privatum. This is a timely analysis of a term, which, ever since Homer, was used to refer to any class of beings of a common origin or condition.

The subtitle of the book describes the three examples that served the scholiast—most likely a professor of law in Constantinople in the early 540s—to explain the relation between ethnos and the burden of proof, an issue rarely discussed in Roman or Byzantine law. The discussion revolves around three examples of privileged (or underprivileged) status, as well as on attempts either to usurp or to dissimulate it.

Chapter 2 deals with the status of phoideratoi, allies (symmachoi), whose “ancient” privileges required proof when someone tried to pass for a member of the group (ethnos). The second example (chapter 3) deals with a farmer (georgos) who needs to prove that he actually belonged to the domain that he claimed to be his place of fiscal origo. Ethnos, in this case, is the group of individuals exempted from certain taxes because of their association with specific domains, rather than their affi liation with professional categories (e.g., farmers). The third example (chapter 4) deals with two categories of low-ranking offi cials called Syropiastai (“hunters of Syrians”) and Aigyptopiastai (“hunters of Egyptians”). They were supposed to identify and “hunt” down Syrians and Egyptians coming to Constantinople. Both Syropiastai and Aigyptopiastai were under the quaesitor, an officer introduced by Justinian in 539 and charged with control of the migration of people from the provinces to Constantinople.

Laniado describes at length how the term phoideratoi, initially employed for the Goths allied with the Empire who were settled in the 370s in Thrace, came to refer to imperial troops. Until Justinian, phoideratoi enjoyed the privileged status of the regular troops of comitatenses, while at the same time they were regarded as foreigners. Procopius of Caesarea mentions Herules recruited on an “ethnic” basis into the imperial army (but neither as auxiliaries, nor in “ethnic” troops of symmachoi). In commenting upon that text, Laniado should have taken into account Alexander Sarantis, “The Justinianic Herules: from allied barbarians to Roman provincials,” in Neglected Barbarians, ed. F. Curta (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), 361–402. Phoideratoi enjoyed a number of privileges, such as tax exemptions which were not available to provincials. Like the comitatenses, they had the right to wear the belt (cingulum), of which [End Page 441] they could be deprived only as a disciplinary punishment.

One is almost tempted to link the phoideratoi with the remarkable archaeological record of the late fifth and early sixth century forts along the Lower Danube, particularly with certain classes of buckles and belt mounts highlighted in Aleksandăr Stanev, Elementi na germanskiia fibulen kostium na iug ot Dunav. Po arkheologicheski danni ot balkanskite provincii na Iztochnata Rimska Imperiia V-VI vek. (Sofia: Avangard print, 2012). It goes without saying that what now (wrongly) passes for ethnically specific artifacts may otherwise be a way to distinguish between regular troops and phoideratoi. Conversely, it would be a gross mistake to deny that the legal identity of the phoideratoi, otherwise derived from...


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