Monday, 8 April 2013

War in the Age of Justinian

At some point in the next year or two I'll submit a research proposal for the next large-scale project I'll entitle something to the effect of (the less than original), "War in the Age of Justinian".  The plan would be to make a book out of this, with an article or two (or more) spit out along the way.  To that end I've got a few reviews, papers, and so forth that address select aspects of such a project.

Today I re-read a draft of a paper (first written in 2008/2009), which might finally see the light of day later this year, on militarization and elites in the sixth century Roman Empire.  The paper is centred, in part, on Wilson's (2008), "Defining Military Culture", JMH 72, which aims to set out ways "to analyse the norms and values influencing the behaviour of soldiers in the past".  Along the way Wilson sets out five key elements for evaluating an army as an institution:  its mission, its relationship to the state and other institutions, its relationship to society, its internal structure, and its access to resources.  Are these reasonable criteria for evaluating the norms and values of sixth century Rome (Byzantium), at least with respect to war?

Its access to resources:  My aim in this project isn't to provide an overview of whom the Romans fought and when, but rather what impact war had on Justinian's empire, and the wider "age of Justinian", exemplified by Maas' Cambridge companion.  What impact did it have on imperial expenditure:  we know the reign started with a surplus (Haarer 2006), but that Justinian seems to have done a fine job of eliminating that surplus.

Along with the finances go the various physical structures.  Was Procopius right?  Did Justinian spend shitloads of money on upgrading and expanding the empire's physical military infrastructure?  If you lived on the eastern frontier would the world have seemed much more outwardly militarized than those living elsewhere?

Its relationship to the state and other institutions:  At the same time, we know that the second half of Justinian's reign was, for all intents and purposes, not like first.  We could say that Justinian's positivity gave way to pessimism.  What role did war play in this?

To what degree were the people of Constantinople and beyond thinking about war?  Were they more concerned with doctrinal disputes and chariot races than wars fought in far-flung frontiers, rather than in those rare instances when the capital (which is far better represented in the textual evidence than any other part of the empire) itself was threatened?  Along the same lines - did the church and/or the civilian government monopolize the state's attention at the expense of the soldiery?  Procopius alludes to this - though more with respect to Justinian - in the Secret History.

Relationship to society:  Of course, war has been seen as impetus for change in society at large.  With respect to military elites, and military careers for both high and low alike:  did the rise of the cavalry in late antiquity, particularly in the sixth century, come with a change in the empire's elite?  There are also all the regular people of the empire whose lives are poorly documented.  How might it have effected them?

Its mission and its internal structure (and society for that matter):   Horses are expensive, and if cavalry grew in popularity and more mounted troops were used, it's reasonable to suppose that more officers would be needed.  Is there any room for a rise or return of the equites?  Sarris (2006) has discussed, at least in part, the military's role in enforcing the collection of money by the state, at least in Egypt.  Though, we might well ask if this was any different from how things had always been done.

Luckily, the age of Justinian is well-documented, at least with respect to the textual evidence.  We also have some papyri (for the relationship with society, among other things), and there has even been some excavation of military sites, though not as much as one might like.  There are some useful inscriptions, and all that legal material.  In fact, it surprises me (though pleases me) that no one has done something quite like this before, at least to the best of my knowledge.  Hopefully no one beats me to the punch.

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