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7-08-2015, 20:39

Constantinople and the west in the mid-sixth century

We may take the years on either side of 550 as constituting a high water mark of Byzantine influence in the west. Economic links between east and west were strengthened; the export of African pottery to the east, which had declined during the Vandal period, seems to have grown during the early period of Byzantine rule. Byzantine relations with the west were particularly in evidence in Ravenna, the capital of Italy, where Bishop Maximianus obtained from Justinian the title of archbishop and relics of St Andrew, a saint whose cult could be seen as constituting a possible rival to that of St Peter in Rome. It is possible that Maximianus’ splendid ivory throne, now to be seen in the Museo Arcivescovile in Ravenna, was made in Constantinople, and it was he who consecrated the church of San Vitale, with its glowing mosaics of Justinian and Theodora. Justinian failed to visit the west, but no one could doubt that the mosaics of San Vitale, whatever the precise liturgical significance of the scenes they portray, were powerful statements of imperial power in the conquered territories. Strange as it may seem, the clearest sign of the centrality of Byzantium in western affairs in the mid-sixth century is to be seen in Constantinople itself and in the variety of westerners, the influential, the ambitious and the captive, who were there. Liberius, whom Theoderic had successively appointed praetorian prefect of Italy and praetorian prefect of Gaul, had defected while on an embassy to Constantinople shortly before the Gothic war. He later participated in Byzantine campaigns in Italy and Spain, and returned to Italy, where he was buried at Rimini. During the war, and in particular after Totila’s capture of Rome in 546, many Roman aristocrats made their way to the royal city. These included Cassiodorus, formerly prominent in Theoderic’s administration, and the leader of the senate, Cethegus; in 554 Justinian gave senators permission to live in Constantinople. The Roman deacon Vigilius was on hand in Constantinople in 537, well placed to become pope when Silverius fell out of imperial favour; when Vigilius died in 555, his successor Pelagius was likewise there, standing in the wings. From the time of Vigilius, imperial confirmation of the election of a pope was needed before he could be consecrated; this accounts for the long intermissions between pontificates that characterised the following period of papal history. Pope Gregory the Great had served as papal legate in Constantinople (c. 579–c. 586) before being appointed as pope in 590. His two successors would likewise serve in this position before becoming pope. Clearly, after the conquest of Italy, a stint in Constantinople was a valuable item in the curriculum vitae of prospective popes.Maximianus was appointed to the see of Ravenna while at Constantinople in 546 and he was to travel there again, while in 552 the clergy of the province ofMilan asked a legate travelling to Constantinople to see what he could do to secure the return of bishop Datius; he had been absent from his see for fifteen or sixteen years, and in the royal city for much of the time. One of Gregory the Great’s acquaintances while he was in Constantinople, the Milanese deacon Constantius, was appointed bishop of his city in 593, while another, the Spaniard Leander, was to become bishop of Seville. In 551 Reparatus of Carthage and other African bishops were summoned to Constantinople; in the following year Justinian exiled Reparatus and replaced him, against the will of the clergy and people of Carthage, with Primosus, his former legate in Constantinople. Members of various Germanic royal families, such as the Ostrogoth Amalasuntha, were also on hand. An eye could be kept on their activities in the City, and they could be called into action as imperial needs required. No less striking is the centrality of Constantinople in the intellectual life of the west. A large volume of literature in Latin was produced there during, and immediately after, the reign of Justinian. It was in Constantinople that the Illyrian, Marcellinus, and the African, Victor of Tunnuna, wrote their chronicles; and although the chronicle of the Spanish Goth, John of Biclaro, was produced in Spain, he wrote it after spending some years in the City. It was in Constantinople that the Goth, Jordanes, wrote his histories of theRomans and theGoths. Cassiodorus worked on his Expositio psalmorum in the City, and it was there that the African, Junillus, wrote his introduction to the study of the Bible, while another African, Corippus, witnessed the accession of Justin II, which he described in a panegyric; and it was from Constantinople that various African theologians came to operate. Somewhat later, the future pope Gregory delivered there the talks which formed the basis of his massive Moralia in Job. Scholars have sometimes doubted Gregory’s assertion that he did not know Greek, on the basis that it would have been difficult for the representative of the pope to have functioned in Constantinople without knowing the language. However, given the flourishing and influential community of Latin-speakers there, Gregory may not have found a command of Greek necessary.

 

 

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