Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Justinian's Foreign Policy

This term, while continuing work large-scale Procopian things, I'm also leading a seminar on the Caesarean scholar himself, and we just held our discussion of the Persian Wars.  I re-read it again for the first time in a while, and with what could be called fresh(-ish) eyes a few things struck me, one of which was Justinian's policy in the east.

As many know, our principal source for these wars is Justinian, even if there are some other accounts out there, including those of Malalas, Pseudo-Joshua, and Pseduo-Zachariah, among others.  As many also know, the personality conspicuously absent from the narrative is Justinian.  Where Khusro gets personally involved in his own western wars - we find him at the front, yelling at his soldiers and  involved in negotaiations - Justinian remained in Constantinople.  Both Procopius and Agathias complained bitterly about his foreign policy, Procopius in the Secret History, Agathias in the Histories.  They, of course, weren't alone in this, and both ancients and moderns alike have found fault with the emperor, and not just for his military policy (tyranny, spending habits, etc.).  Upon further review, however, and in keeping with recent work by Greatrex (Histos article/s) and Stewart (various blogposts), I wonder whether these assessments aren't a little harsh, at least in part. 

The Justinian of the Secret History is all sorts of things, and I wonder if the figure that Procopius' writing conceals is a workaholic - the long nights, the lack of sleep, and so on all seem to suggest as much.  Given his foreign policy challenges, to say nothing of all the other problems Justinian faced (many of which, including the foreign policy stuff, were his own creation), to have any measure of success it seems likely thast he would have had to put in some serious hours.  The Romans were at war on at least four fronts, and I think if we bear that context in mind his decision to stay at home, and the varied approach that he took, seems to make a great deal of success.

Although Procopius himself provides all sorts of explanations for Belisarius' movements, the initial explanations, that is those offered in the Wars (and I'm assuming the relevants there were written first) to my mind make the most sense.  Belisarius starts off in the east.  We see something of his rise and the ranks and the successes he has.  Then he gets shipped out west, and to two different spots, before returning the east, and then back west, and so forth.  For much of that period Belisarius was the highest ranking of generals, or at least hte one whom Justinian held in the highest regard, even if his views changed depending on results.  Would it have been feasible for Justinian to have done all that travelling himself, or even sensible, especially if Justinain wasn't the most qualifed of generals?  Why go marching about, something which your immediate predecessors hadn't done, when you had perfectly capable and loyal generals at hand?  

Plus, with Justinian back in Constantinople, presumably with reasonable information at hand about the situation on the various fronts, it would be much easier for him to deploy whatever resources he had at his disposal.  Justinian seemed willing to use a number of approaches to Persian aggression.  At times he sent in the troops.  Some of these came from newly conquered territories/defeated peoples, though it's likely there was a sizeable body of men already available for military action in the east in the various fortifications and cities.  At times he decided to pay off the Persians to prevent them from causing (more) harm. 

Just a few generals comments - with maybe more to come - but at least with respect to affairs in the east, Justinian's approach was, I think, sensible, and even practical (if I ignore the complications caused by his decision to go to war in the west, admittedly).

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