- Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity ed. by Christopher Kelly
Christopher Kelly, Ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xv + 324.
This selection of papers continues the trend in late antique studies to rehabilitate our assessment of the previously unappreciated Theodosius II, the achievements of whose long reign—if recognised at all—were always overshadowed by the dynamic rule of his grandfather, Theodosius I. A distinguished line-up of scholars gathered in Cambridge in 2011 to reconsider the first half of the fifth century at a conference entitled Theodosius II and the making of late antiquity. The current book presents ten of the papers delivered there, the key points of which are woven together in Kelly’s introduction, which offers an outline for the period and an overarching view of the reign.
The conference papers fall into three main sections: Arcana Imperii, Past and Present, and Pius Princeps (designated Parts II-IV). Jill Harries (“Men without Women: Theodosius’ Consistory and the Business of Government”), Doug Lee (“Theodosius and his Generals”), and Thomas Graumann (“Theodosius II and the Politics of the First Council of Ephesus”) all seek to investigate the personal input of Theodosius in these various spheres of rule (governance, the military, and the ecclesiastical), as opposed to the control exercised by the mechanical structures of the imperial court. The results are varied. Harries reduces the role of the Emperor’s sister, which had been privileged by Kenneth Holum (Theodosian Empresses ), but recognises the robustness of the Consistory in the face of Theodosius’ “disinclination for active leadership”. Lee suggests that Theodosius’ good fortune in not facing any serious military coups, despite his own rather unmilitary lifestyle, was due to judiciously filling the generalships with the unorthodox, religious outsiders whose accession to the imperial throne would be unacceptable to the Constantinopolitan populace. In his examination of three documents issued by Theodosius before the 431 Council of Ephesus, Graumann attempts to tease out the effectiveness of the emperor’s personal contribution: the letters are all about procedure rather than imperial doctrinal conviction, a far cry from the moment (referred to by Kelly 8) when Theodosius reacted adversely to a point made by one of Cyril’s advocates (“our pious emperor was so vexed that he shook his purple robe and stepped back because of the magnitude of the blasphemy”). Still, as Graumann astutely notes, active imperial involvement in ecclesiastical matters does not guarantee a unification of the eastern sees, let alone appeasement of the Church of Rome (witness the disharmony caused by the efforts of Anastasius, Justinian, [End Page 445] and later emperors). The final chapter in the Arcana Imperii section takes a different approach. Peter Van Nuffelen (“Olympiodorus of Thebes and Eastern Triumphalism”) pursues a revision-ist approach to the fragmentary history of this western diplomat, historian, and pagan. He argues that Olympiodorus’s particular presentation of western affairs was deliberately designed to portray the successes of the eastern empire; the very instability of the West, the disarray of the imperial family, and the dangerous barbarian threat throws into sharp relief the stability of the imperial court and the security of the eastern borders. By implication then, Theodosius benefits from this positive view of the East though how far the emperor himself can reasonably take credit is another matter.
The three chapters of the Past and Present section consider the notions of good governance and unification of empire achieved through the media of culture, education, and literature. Giusto Traina (“Mapping the World Under Theodosius II”) explores the interest of Theodosius in maps, perhaps significant at a time when the unity of the East and West was at the forefront of political concern, and the traditional boundaries of the western empire were under threat. But, as we know, doctrinal disunity could be just as much a threat as political and military disunity, so Richard Flower (“‘The Insanity of Heretics must be Restrained’: Heresiology in the Theodosian Code”) examines CTh 16.5.65 de Haereticis (428), a law which sought to weigh up the relative wickedness...