The Soldier’s Life: Roman Masculinity and the Manliness of War

Like my favourite Roman historian, Ammianus, I have served in the military. Indeed, the events surrounding 9/11/ and the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq provided me with the original impetus for trying to understand how a demilitarised segment of a population could embrace militarism and men’s martial virtues as a type of hyper-manliness. Living in the United States in this period, I found myself bombarded on a nearly daily basis by a myriad of visual and literary images promoting the soldier’s life as the epitome of the manly life. Even more interesting to me, were the various ways non-soldiers both publicly admired and sought to connect themselves with the martial legacy of the state and the manly identity of its soldiers. The image of a President, who had avoided fighting in Vietnam as a youth, draping himself in manly martial imagery made me ponder the ways similarly non-martial emperors from the Later Roman Empire may have promoted their own martial and masculine ideology. In the highly patriotic world of post 9/11 America, the field of battle seemed to provide a realm where soldiers—who hailed largely from the less privileged classes—could establish a raw manliness superior to that of powerful executives, politicians, famous actors, and professional athletes. While I understood the danger of making anachronistic comparisons between a modern state like the United States and an ancient one like the early Byzantine, it made me consider the ways and some of the reasons why civilian members of a population could, not just admire, but seem to share in a “group” masculinity shaped by the exploits of a relatively small percentage of men.

What follows is the introduction to a manuscript I am writing at the moment on Late Roman masculinity. It is based on my 2012 University of Queensland dissertation. Two articles based on this work will be appearing early 2014.  Feel free to comment.

The ancient Romans admired the characteristics that they believed allowed them to establish hegemony over their rivals. It comes as little surprise then that the hyper-masculine qualities of the Roman soldier became the hyper-masculine standard by which many Roman men measured their own manliness. Indeed, like many cultures that rose to prominence primarily through military aggression, images of the soldier’s life and the ideal manly life were often the same. Perusing the literary and visual sources from any period of Roman history draws attention to the importance of this connection, as well as an acceptance of the idea of a common Roman military ethos by which all citizens could bask in the glory of its armies.

Throughout its long history, the state’s expansion and survival had depended on its men’s ability to dominate the multiplicity of ethnic groups that lived along its borders. For Roman intellectuals, like the classical poet Vergil (70 BCE – 19 BCE), Rome’s rise had depended upon its men’s superior military virtus.[1] We find this militaristic ideology expressed in a famous passage from the poet’s Aeneid, “Remember Rome, these are your skills: to rule over peoples, to impose morality, to spare your subjects and to war against the proud.”[2] During the era of the Roman Republic, legendary generals like Gaius Marius (157-86 BCE) and Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE) had faced and defeated large forces of foreign peoples. In the first and second centuries CE, the Roman emperors had consolidated these earlier military victories. The Late Roman historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, described this era as a time when the state had entered its “manhood” and “won laurels of victory in every part of the globe.”[3] The third and fourth centuries CE saw an upsurge of attacks along the Empire’s boundaries; yet Roman military might had overcome even these threats.[4] Like many earlier Roman intellectuals, Ammianus and his peers seemed convinced that these numerous victories over enemy forces had occurred, not only because they had better equipment and tactics, but, in Myles McDonnell’s words, “because they were better men.”[5]

As we will see in this chapter, and those that follow, the majority of Romans in the Late Roman and the early Byzantine Empire followed these convictions. Christians and non-Christians admired the attributes that they believed distinguished the typical Roman soldier from his civilian and foreign counterparts—physical and spiritual strength, courage, prudence, discipline, self-mastery, unselfishness, and camaraderie. The chapter focuses on the continuing relevance of these “martial” virtues in Roman conceptualisations and representations of heroic manliness. Certainly many intellectuals in the Later Empire agreed with the time-honoured consensus that Roman pre-eminence had been achieved because its early citizens had avoided the “life of effeminacy” [vita mollitia][6] brought on by wealth and the sedentary life and “fought in fierce wars” which allowed them to “overcome all obstacles by their manliness [virtute].”[7] This linking of Roman greatness with the special martial virtues of its men is not surprising, considering that few other cultures have ever sent such a large percentage of their citizens to war.[8] Yet, the Roman state of the fifth and sixth centuries had developed into an entity far different to that of the Late Republican hero, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (235–183 BC), or the Principate of Augustus (ruled 27 BCE-14 CE). One area of change had been a notable decline in the participation in warfare by the Roman upper classes, as well as an increased reliance upon non-Roman soldiers within the ranks and in the highest echelons of military command.[9]


The Manliness of War

(Plate 4)


In the era of the Republic, the nobility had served as both political and military leaders. To be seen as “real” men, even the most affluent members of the aristocracy had needed to prove their virility on the battlefield. Provincial governors until the third century CE were typically men from the aristocracy who functioned as both civilian administrators and garrison commanders.[10] It is no coincidence then that in this era a Roman man’s identity remained tightly entwined with the notion that “precarious manhood” was best demonstrated and won on the battlefield. As one recent study on Roman masculinity avers, serving the state as a soldier “was the only way many Roman males could lay claim to being a man.”[11] According to one ancient Roman historian, this egalitarian martial ethic represented the determining factor in their defeat of rivals more dependent on mercenaries such as the Carthaginians.[12] In many of the ancient sources, the lives of warrior-aristocrats like Scipio stood as examples of righteous and manly Roman behaviour at its apex.[13] This association of the manliness of its elites with the establishment and maintenance of Rome’s imperium helps us to appreciate why Roman intellectuals, like the Stoic Seneca (ca. 4 BCE–65 CE), argued that there was no virtue or manliness if an enemy were lacking.[14]

In the second and the third centuries, however, Roman men’s military roles were being redefined. What scholars call the crisis of the third century played a part in this transformation. The twofold threats of external invasions and crippling civil wars ignited by rival claimants to the purple, challenged the Empire’s military capabilities and created the necessity for reform.[15] Establishing control over the frequently rebellious Roman forces throughout the Empire represented a key step in quashing this chaos. Those in power entrusted the defence of the state to a professional army of mixed descent that fought its battles mostly on the Empire’s outer fringes.[16] The imperial authorities also sought to curtail the threat presented by mutinous regional military commanders. The Emperor Diocletian (ruled 284-305), carved the provinces into smaller more manageable administrative units and increased the number of imperial leaders, first to two then to four. In a further effort to curb the threat of usurpation and create a more effective fighting force, the “senatorial amateurs”, who had often used their military commissions merely as an obligatory step in their political careers, were no longer required to fulfil their military duties.[17] In a law probably enacted during Diocletian’s reign, serving in the army became hereditary, and the sons of soldiers and veterans were obligated to follow their fathers’ example.[18] Although not strictly enforced, another law created in 364 forbade all Roman civilians the use of weapons.[19]

Though men from the upper classes continued to serve as officers and provide a vital reserve of civil and military leadership upon whom the government could call in time of crisis, many of the increasingly wealthy aristocrats chose instead to pursue comfortable lives in one of the Empire’s major cities or on their provincial estates.[20] In the fourth century, the roles of “elite” citizens in the military decreased even further, and to meet its recruitment needs the army, at times, depended on the enrolment of foreign troops.[21]

One should not forget, however, that non-Roman mercenaries had long played an important part in the Roman armies.[22] Moreover, as several recent studies on the Late Roman army have warned, we should not take the concepts of “demilitarisation” of the Roman citizenry or the “barbarisation” of the Late Roman army too far. While it is notoriously difficult to determine with any certainty either the size of the Late Roman/ early Byzantine army or the percentage of Romans serving compared to non-Romans—particularly within the non-officer corps—the foreign component was never as high as some historians suggest. The majority of soldiers throughout the Byzantine period were Roman.[23] Using the most recent statistical analysis, A. D. Lee proposes that the non-Roman component in the Eastern Roman army in positions of command held steady at “less than a third” during the fourth and the fifth centuries.  After the fifth century, the foreign component of the Byzantine army declined to perhaps a fifth of the overall total. So too is it vital to remember that units such as the 8th Squadron of Vandals, that in the early part of the fourth century had originally comprised almost entirely of “Vandals”, by the fifth century were made up primarily of Roman provincials.[24]

The older assumption that military service had become increasingly unpopular amongst fourth-century Roman men from all classes has been challenged recently as well.[25] Revisionist scholars propose that desertion by Roman soldiers in the fourth and fifth centuries was no greater than that of earlier periods.[26] Moreover, as will be discussed in greater depth in chapter four, the close relatives of the reigning emperors in this period frequently held high-ranking military positions.[27] So too, as Michael Whitby has shown so clearly, the Late Roman army relied heavily on conscripts from the traditional recruiting grounds found in the rural and upland areas within the Empire. [28] Indeed, the army continued to offer citizens from more humble backgrounds an attractive career opportunity. To use the phrase of A. D. Lee, “there were genuine material benefits to be gained from military service.”[29]  The threat of usurpation from charismatic military men draped in manly martial virtues remained one of the greatest threats to any reigning emperor. Yet by the 430’s Roman generals, both Roman and non-Roman had become fully integrated into Roman society in both halves of the Empire.[30] Certainly, the intrigues of Roman and non-Roman military men like Boniface, Aetius, and Ricimer in the West, and Aspar and the two Theoderics in the East, dominated fifth-century politics.

To be sure, some urbanised elites perceived these citizen soldiers to be little better than barbarians and as potential threats to the “civilised” parts of the Empire. One fourth-century critic of the senatorial elites even tells us that some members of the nobility had rejected military service as “a squalid occupation unfitting for a free man.”[31] Most scholars of the Late Roman army agree, however, that this reluctance to serve had more to do with practical reasons, such as dislike of distant postings, dissatisfaction with the Late Roman government and reluctance on the part of landowners to give up tenants, than with “an extreme loathing or fear of military service on the part of the Roman citizenry.”[32]

It is true, as well, that from the reign of Arcadius (ruled 395-408) emperors had ceased to lead the army into battle personally. In the words of Walter Kaegi, “Some had made a gesture of departing to campaign, but they had not really led the armies in the field.”[33] Yet emperors without military backgrounds represented the exception not the rule throughout the period covered in this study. Marcian (ruled 450-457), Leo I (ruled 457-474,) Zeno (ruled 474-5, 476-91), Basiliscus (ruled 475/6), Justin I (ruled 518-27), Tiberius II (ruled 574-82), Maurice (ruled 582-602), and Phocas (ruled 602-10) had all begun their careers as soldiers. One may attribute this tendency to avoid campaigning to a number of interrelated factors, including these emperors’ age when they attained the purple, internal politics, and the stark lessons learned in the wake of the deaths of the fourth-century emperors Julian and Valens on campaign. [34] For the reasons given above, we should not see the trend of emperors avoiding combat during their reign as evidence of a larger imperial and/or societal rejection of the traditional reverence for the emperor as an ideal military man.

A number of men from the Late Roman upper classes, undoubtedly, cultivated a more genteel lifestyle than their war-like ancestors from the Republic did. With the defence of the Empire firmly in the hands of a mostly effective regular army, the men of the fourth and fifth-century landowning classes often appeared, in the words of A.H.M. Jones, “blissfully unaware of the dangers that threatened the Empire.”[35] Some gender scholars submit that development like these helped to transform the notion that Roman men, regardless of social status, needed to prove their heroic qualities by serving as idealised warrior-elites.[36] From at least the first century CE, public displays of martial courage as a primary means of attaining a masculine identity had been complimented by alternative strategies of manliness based on non-martial pursuits. During the early years of the Principate, Stoic and Christian intellectuals had popularised codes of masculinity centred on self-control and a mastery over one’s passions such as anger and lust.[37] To be seen as a “true” man, one did not necessarily need to prove his courage and manliness in times of war, but could earn a masculine identity through private and public displays of self-control, endurance, and courage by fighting internalised “battles” with his body and emotions.[38] As Catherine Edwards puts it, “The Stoic wise man turned his body into a battlefield on which he might show his virtus, prove himself a vir fortis.”[39]

Moreover, as the influential works of Maud Gleason have claimed, “the immense security of Pax Romana” allowed many educated elites from the privileged classes the time to undertake more “civilised” modes of male self-fashioning based upon the rhetorical skills that they increasingly utilised in the political and legal rivalries that filled their days. Public speaking and face-to-face verbal confrontations with political rivals provided an alternative means for privileged Roman men to display their verbal dexterity, as well as their manliness.[40]As Gleason puts it, “Rhetoric was callisthenics of manhood.” During these often-tense verbal confrontations, a man would be constantly judged not just by his “mastery of words”, but also on his ability to use the correct manly voice, keep hold of his emotions, and thus maintain the proper facial expressions and gestures. She continues by suggesting that from the second to the fifth century CE, “displays of paideia in public served to distinguish authentic members of the elite from other members of society, the gap between the educated and the uneducated came to be seen as no way arbitrary but the result of a nearly biological superiority.”[41] Somewhat more controversial is her proposal that the Roman elites had rejected athletics and warfare as an essential aspect of hegemonic masculine ideology. She writes:

Perhaps physical strength once had been the definitive criterion of masculine excellence on the semi-legendary playing fields of Ilion and Latium, but by Hellenistic and Roman times the sedentary elite of the ancient city had turned away from warfare and gymnastics as definitive agnostic activities, firmly redrawing the defining lines of competitive space so as to exclude those without wealth, education, or leisure.[42]

Social historians have argued, developments like these “could not help but have serious consequences for men’s identity.”[43] Yet, as even one advocate of Gleason’s thesis acknowledges, this reshaping of masculine self-fashioning, and seeming rejection of martial virtues as a key aspect of Roman manliness, “may be less an indication of the luxury of the secure than an instance of making a virtue out of necessity.”[44] The remainder of this chapter examines some of these shifts and reflects on how they influenced the customary Roman belief in the integral relationship between physical prowess in battle and standards of manliness. Arguing against the standard view in gender studies, however, it suggests that despite these changes, and the adoption of these alternative strategies of masculinity, many Roman writers in the early Byzantine period continued to link notions of heroic manliness with the traditional ideals of manly virtue found in both visual and textual representations of the soldier’s life. Let us turn to expressions of this view at the opening of the crucial fifth century.

Rome’s Masculine Imperium

(plate 5)

In the early years of the fifth century, a Roman or non-Roman man spending any time in one of the many major or minor cities scattered throughout the Western and Eastern halves of the Empire, would have quite literally found himself surrounded by visual reminders of what one modern scholar calls Rome’s masculine imperium.[45] Across its vast expanse, a remarkable homogeneity of material culture bound the state’s disparate cities.[46] A zealous militarism certainly represented a common theme in any city’s expression of its Romanitas.[47] Strolling along the colonnaded streets, or wandering through any of the many public areas that helped to define these population centres, one would have been constantly confronted by the Romans’ adulation of their military legacy as well as their continuing admiration of their soldiers’ martial virtues. One sixth-century source tells us that the city of Rome alone had 3,785 bronze statues of emperors and famous military commanders.[48] If only on a subconscious level, the marble and bronze statuary of bellicose-looking Roman emperors and other famous military heroes—living and dead—that adorned the cities, would have spoken clearly to both literates and illiterates about the integral relationship between the well-being of the local community and the militarism of its central leadership.[49]

In the Empire’s larger population centres, this message took on even more blatant forms. Funded by the substantial wealth of the imperial family and the upper crust of the aristocracy, magnificent state monuments designed to express current ideologies decorated the Empire’s larger cities.[50] A variety of artistic mediums expressed the idea found in one sixth-century Eastern Roman historian that for Rome “to triumph forever over our enemies is our birthright and ancestral privilege.”[51] Intricately carved marble reliefs on exterior walls, columns, and other memorials spoke to this faith by providing the onlooker with a continuous pictorial narrative of Roman victories over “barbarian” enemies.[52] Mosaics and paintings often complemented these sculpted forms, as the one in Milan described to us by the fifth-century Eastern Roman historian Priscus, showing Roman emperors “sitting upon golden thrones surrounded by dead barbarians at their feet.”[53] We see in fact from other ancient sources that commissioning these visual monuments for public consumption served as one of the first steps an emperor took after a military triumph.[54]

Even the coins that one carried on their person to perform the simplest of transactions spoke to the Romans’ sense of superiority over their foes, and served as well as a means of highlighting the integral link between the manly valour of the emperor and his soldiers in the establishment and maintenance of this dominion. On the obverse of a coin, for instance, a fearsome headshot of the emperor often in military garb served as a customary design, while on the reverse, a favourite motif in the Later Empire was the representation of the emperor or his soldiers armed to the hilt standing over cowering barbarian captives with captions like: “The glory of the Romans [Gloria Romano rum]”, or “The return of happy times [Fel Temp Reparatio].”[55] Behind all of this imagery, we can observe a long-held conviction held by many Greek and Roman intellectuals that history represented a process whereby the manly conquered the unmanly (plate 3 & 5).[56]

Such assertions represent more than the anachronistic whims of modern scholars interested in uncovering ancient masculinities. Another Eastern Roman historian, writing in the early years of the fifth century, informs us that imperial image-makers created these art forms with the express intent of impressing upon their visual audience the “manliness of the emperor and the might of his soldiers [ἀνδρεíαν μὲν γὰρ βασιλέως ἢ ῥώμην στρατιωτῶν].”[57] In a centralised governmental system like that found in the Later Roman Empire, imperial propaganda provided the emperors and their backers with a powerful tool to publicise their authority and manipulate popular opinion across the expanse of Empire.[58] The classically educated elites, who represented an essential audience for these media campaigns, would have understood the social significance of the ideology, and in particular, the militaristic symbolism intrinsic to these art forms. Though living in increasingly independent halves of the Empire, these men, to borrow the words of Jacqueline Long, identified “with the name of Rome and Roman traditions completely.”[59] Raised in educational systems based on a steady diet of classical Latin authors, such as Sallust, Seneca the younger, and Vergil in the West and Greek authors like Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides in the East, the literate classes in both halves of the Empire remained intimately aware of the time-honoured idealisation of the military ethic as an essential aspect of both masculine ideology and Rome’s right to imperium.[60]






The Emperor as an Exemplar of Martial Manliness

(Plate 6)

The idea of the emperor as the embodiment of Roman martial prowess and idealised manliness in the Later Empire was ubiquitous.[61] The links between masculinity, military virtues, and the emperors’ divine right to rule were never far beneath the surface of this imagery (e.g. plate 1, 2, 6).[62] By concentrating notions of heroic masculinity into the figure of the emperor, imperial ideology created a portrait of the ideal emperor as a model of “true” manliness for all aspiring men to emulate.[63] This paradigm reflected the increasing domination of state ideology by the imperial family and its direct supporters, and it helps to highlight the growing autocratic power of the Later Roman emperors. Though far from a move towards the “Oriental despotism” argued for in the older historiographical tradition, the reigns of Diocletian and his successors certainly witnessed the growth of a more elaborate court ceremonial, along with an increased promotion of the emperor in literary and visual portrayals as an authority reliant predominantly upon divine assistance (at first that of pagan divinities, and then the Christian God) for his authority (plate 2 & 6).[64]

The lives of the emperors definitely serve as the focal point in many of the written sources that have come down to us from the Later Empire. A wide range of literary genres, including history, poetry, panegyric, biography, invective, and satire, utilised the lives of past and present emperors as didactic tools for their audiences.[65] “Good” emperors, such as Trajan (ruled 97-117) and Marcus Aurelius (ruled 161-180), served as prime examples of virtue and masculinity, while “bad” emperors like Nero (ruled 54-68) and Domitian (81-96), illustrated  the  Greco-Roman belief in the connection between vice and unmanliness.[66] We find in the texts at our disposal that the deeply rooted Hellenic virtues of courage in battle, justice in politics and calm majesty in the face of defeat helped to define notions of ideal rulership.[67] For our Eastern authors, these qualities remained closely aligned to the four cardinal virtues: φρόνησις (prudence), δικαιοσύνη (justice), σωφροσύνη (temperance), and ἀνδρεία (manliness or courage), that served as vital components of the principle term for “goodness” and ideal manly behaviour in ancient Greek, ἀρετή. [68] Following concepts found in Plato’s descriptions of the ideal philosopher-king, a model Late Roman emperor needed to be both a φιλόλογος (lover of reason) and a φιλοπόλεμος (lover of war).[69] Efficiently juxtaposing these expected political and military virtues allowed the emperor to become an exemplar of not only ideal rulership, but of supreme manly conduct as well.[70]

The flowery prose of the panegyrists, who flourished in this age, publicised the “excellence” of their targeted emperor by relating to their audience the leader’s adherence to these dual themes. As one Late Roman writer tells us, panegyrists sought to mould an image of the reigning emperor in a similar way to the artist who sculpted a beautiful statue.[71] As in the visual ideology of sculpture, in this medium image meant everything. Since the authors of these speeches generally sought to present an idealised image of the reigning emperor, concrete facts seldom got in the way. Like the variety of solid materials available to the sculpture, a long list of established virtues acted as the moral substance out of which an author moulded his portrait.[72] “Courage”, in many of these representations, made up one of the foremost characteristics for an emperor to display, and according to one prominent fourth-century practitioner, the one virtue that served as a true “mark of royalty.”[73] As an imperial virtue in the fourth and early fifth centuries, this “courage” (in Latin expressed as fortitudo or virtus, and in Greek usually as ἀνδρεία) usually refers to behaviour in battle.[74] Courage in war differed from the “courage of spirit” (animi fortitudo) displayed by Hellenic philosophers or the “soldiers of Christ” (militia Christi) who were being popularised by the Christian and non-Christian intellectuals of the age.[75] This promotion of physical courage typified the traditional view that an emperor’s bravery was less metaphorical, and thus needed to be applied in wartime to prove his ability to perform his primary role as the protector of the Roman realm.

Two early fourth-century panegyrics composed by anonymous authors in praise of the Emperor Constantine I (ruled 306-337) provide us with vivid example of these views. In the first, from 310, the author compliments Constantine for taking on the rigors of the soldier’s life. He wrote:

Fortune has placed you above all checks to the acquisition of glory, you wished to advance by serving as a soldier, and by confronting the dangers of war and by engaging the enemy even in single combat you have made yourself more notable among the nations, since you cannot become more noble.[76]

“For it is a wonderful thing, beneficent gods, a heavenly miracle”, the author continued, “to have as Emperor a youth whose courage [fortitudo], which is even now very great, nonetheless is still increasing, and whose eyes flash and whose awe-inspiring yet agreeable majesty dazzles us at the same time as it invites our gaze.”[77]

Another panegyric in 313 continued the personification of Constantine as an emblem of Roman victory and hyper-manliness, exalting, “Every kind of war, weapon, and enemy yields to you alone, the memorials of manliness [virtutum] preserved in writing from the memory of every age yield to you as well.”[78] Although these authors purposefully created cartoon-like descriptions of Constantine, they emphasise for us how standards of model leadership and manliness in the Later Empire remained closely bound to conventional notions of martial prowess and a continued adulation of the soldier’s life.

We find further examples of these militaristic themes in the imperial biographies that thrived in this period. Several of these ancient studies, which one modern critic has labelled “mythhistoria” have come down to us.[79] Though of minimal historical worth, these portraits of the emperors provide us with essential insight into the types of behaviours that the Roman authors of the period considered worthy of praise or condemnation. In works such as the Historia Augusta, probably composed by an anonymous author in the last quarter of the fourth century (while pretending to be six different authors writing in the late third and early fourth centuries), and the Liber de caesaribus written by the Roman aristocrat Sextus Aurelius Victor (ca. 320-ca. 390), the supreme virtues of particular rulers could be contrasted to the supreme vice of others.[80] Similar to the depictions of celebrities found in modern gossip magazines, these commentaries on the emperors remained less concerned with providing accurate accounts of these men’s lives than with looking back on these rulers, and by way of an array of titillating anecdotes “making moral judgments on them.”[81]

Military virtues in these sources too represented a prerequisite for any “good” and manly emperor to demonstrate, whilst their authors perceived a disinclination to fight as a typical trait of “bad” and unmanly rulers.[82] Praise of one’s military prowess did not necessarily need to correspond to actual deeds on the battlefield. The Historia Augusta, for instance, described the mediocre Emperor Claudius II’s (ruled 268-270) rather tepid military record as comparable to the triumphant Roman generals of the past, lauding the emperor for displaying “the ‘valour’ [virtus] of Trajan, the ‘righteousness’ [pietas] of Antoninus, the ‘self-restraint’ [moderatio] of Augustus.”[83]

Although more constrained by the tenets of their genre to provide their readers with accurate accounts of both men’s characters and events, the more sophisticated histories of this era tended as well to concentrate on the deeds and the moral fibre of the emperors.[84] The classicising historians assumed that “great” men made history, and that a leader’s manly or unmanly conduct often determined the well-being of the Empire.[85] It is therefore not surprising to find that these writers, who focused on great wars and the personalities of a few major characters as the primary shapers of events, paid so much attention to the moral and martial qualities of the emperor in their accounts. A passage from Eunapius’ Universal History provides us with evidence of this tendency in the Later Empire:

It was clear to all that if the Roman state rejected luxury [τρυφῂν] and embraced war, it would conquer and enslave all the world. But God has set a deadly trait in human nature, like the poisonous gall in a lobster or thorns on a rose. For in high authority he has implanted love of pleasure [τὴν ἡδονὴν] and ease [ῥαθυμíαν], with the result that, while they have all the means with which to unite mankind into one polity, our Emperors in their concern for the transient turn to pleasure [τò ήδὺ] while neither pursuing nor showing interest in the immortality which is brought by glory [τῆς δόξης].[86]

We can see from the excerpt above that the conservative historian believed that “soft” and unmanly Roman emperors who had abandoned their martial role threatened the survival of the state. This equation of the military life with idealised manliness and the state’s well-being on the one hand, and civilised luxury with effeminacy and decline on the other hand, represented a standard theme in the Greco-Roman literary tradition.[87]

For modern critics, the Later Roman writers’ reliance on well-trodden virtues and vices hinders our ability to explore the “real” personalities of these men in any great depth.[88] Although it is true that these ancient authors remained somewhat constrained by both the limitations their genres and their intense focus on literary style, their use of these stock behaviours to describe the character of the emperor represents more than just an example of these authors blurring the lines between literature and history by relying on empty rhetoric procured haphazardly from their classical models. It is always vital to keep in mind that rhetoric frequently functioned for these early Byzantine historians as a way to comment on current events.[89] As Alan Cameron points out in his study of imperial society at the turn of the fifth century, the notion of an emperor actively avoiding a life of luxury and taking on the rigors of the martial life held a particular appeal for those intellectuals writing during the reigns of Theodosius I’s’ heirs, Arcadius and Honorius—emperors who had largely eschewed their expected roles in state and military affairs.[90]

As we will see in the chapters to come, this negative attitude towards “unwarlike” emperors and their closest advisors is common in the literary sources from the Later and the early Byzantine Empire. Part of this disdain seems to reflect the upper classes’ frustration at being cut off progressively from access to the emperor’s confidence and political power. One recent study on ancient Roman masculinity even claims that the “minor political role” that the men from the aristocracy had in the Later Empire played an essential part in the reshaping of these men’s masculine identity, and the creation of a “new” Christian masculine ideal.[91]

Though one should remain sceptical of such sweeping generalisations, without a doubt, many Late Roman authors, who largely hailed from the aristocracy and bureaucracy, appeared uncomfortable with the growing autocracy of the Later Empire.[92] This stance is not startling, considering that the classical texts that made up much of the foundation of these men’s early education stressed the importance of free will for men seeking to achieve “true” manliness.[93] These established ideals preached that “manly freedom and nobility” depended upon a man’s propensity to challenge and reject despotic rule.[94] The Eastern Roman historians in their works adhered to the traditional Hellenistic distrust of despotism, and tended to link servility to effeminacy.[95] With these thoughts in mind, let us conclude this chapter by briefly examining how the growing dominance of the emperor and his supporters influenced the masculine identity of those within the ruling hierarchy, as well as the Roman nobility, who as we have seen were playing less significant roles within the military and administrative branches of the Later Roman government.


Military Aristocracy

(Plate 7)

Scholars have long understood that the Later Empire experienced the growing accumulation of political power into the hands of the imperial family and their allies, Roman and non-Roman.[96] This process, which one historian labels the “personalization of late Roman politics” led to the breakdown of the three-tiered system of Roman society that had allowed the leisured classes to coexist “with a professional class of officials and solders whose primary purpose was to maintain the smooth working and safety of the Empire.”[97] The internal court politics discussed earlier in this chapter played a part in these developments. Threatened by their rivals from within the Roman aristocracy, emperors in this period increased their independent authority by taking steps to protect themselves by gathering at the higher levels of public service a cadre of relatives, foreign mercenaries, and eunuchs who frequently owed their survival to the ruling regime.[98] As a reward for their loyalty, the emperor regularly appointed many of these “new men” into the rapidly expanded fourth-century senatorial orders in Rome and Constantinople.[99]

These measures meant that many Romans from the nobility became more isolated from intimate contact with the emperor and the upper echelons of imperial service. Throughout the fourth and fifth centuries, eunuchs, monks, non-Roman generals, and the emperors’ female relatives took on positions of influence held traditionally by these men.[100] Although the upper-crust of Roman society continued to be esteemed for its noble heritage, vast wealth, and refined lifestyle, members of the leisured class like the Roman senator Symmachus (ca. 340 – ca. 405), became increasingly cut off from taking an active role in the administration and the day-to-day decision-making that shaped the policy of the Empire. Those in power increasingly assigned these important political roles to those within the imperial inner-circle, men who hailed from the military and the increasingly powerful Christian Church.[101]

By accumulating such power into his hands, the emperor, along with members of his family and the Roman army under his control, increasingly monopolised military glory and martial excellence, while the increasingly demilitarised land owning classes focused on more intellectual forms of men’s self-fashioning.[102] As stressed earlier, however, the separation of the upper classes from the highest levels of military service and the corridors of political power was never complete.[103] The careers of military men who hailed from the upper classes like the Eastern Roman generals Sebastianus and Victor in the latter half of the fourth century, and fifth-century Western Roman generals such as Aëtius and Boniface, stand as reminders that men from the Late Roman aristocracy continued to hold positions of authority within the civil and military administration of the Later Empire.[104] Nevertheless, the rise of a long series of emperors in the fourth and fifth centuries who owed their elevation to military or dynastic connections, and not to their rapport with the aristocracy, helped to create an inner circle of ruling elites dependent upon their own interpersonal relationships for their positions of power.[105] The growing dominance of these alliances also contributed to the formation in this era of what some specialists call a “separate military aristocracy”, based not so much on ethnicity or class, but on ties of loyalty and good old-fashioned martial virtues.[106] This new hierarchy welcomed successful barbarians, who had commonly risen from within the ranks of the army.[107]

Of course, like most “barbarians” in the Later Empire, these men remained far removed from the fur-clad wild marauders portrayed frequently in the ancient and modern historiographical tradition. Barbarian elites serving in the Late Roman army often dressed in contemporary Roman fashions and possessed magnificent villas decorated with the latest mosaic floors and furnishings.[108] As one study on the Late Roman army puts it, “the Germans who attained positions of authority in the army and the civilian office were more Roman than the Romans, attuned to Roman civilisation and attuned to Roman life.”[109]

These men too could hope to attain marriage alliances with the imperial family and foreign dynasties, and if they could not aspire to become emperors themselves, they could dream to have their sons become contenders for the purple.[110] By 399, in fact, all three Eastern magistri militum (top-level commanders) were Goths—Alaric, Gainas, and Fravitta—while in the West, the son of a Roman mother and a Vandal father, Stilicho, served as the commander-in-chief of the Western army, and as guardian and the true power behind the titular Western emperor, Honorius. Even though, early in the fifth century, the ruling classes in the Eastern half of the Empire took steps to curb this dependence on these foreigners by curtailing the power of the military and reducing the size of the force, throughout the fifth century, foreigners continued to hold important civil and military positions within both the Eastern and Western administrations.[111] Certainly, the Roman and non-Roman associates of this “military aristocracy” represent the primary players and representatives of ideal manly conduct in the secular texts that have survived from the early Byzantine period.

Though the sources from this era maintained a generally hostile attitude towards the foreigners in the imperial service,[112] it is important to remember that it usually only took a “barbarian” two generations to become “Roman.”[113] A “heroic man” [ἀνὴρ ἡρωϊκός] in this age could be either a “native” or a “barbarian” serving in the Western or Eastern Roman armies.[114] There seems to be a contradiction between the xenophobia we find in some of the Late Roman sources, and the reality of increased accommodation. On this paradox, Walter Goffart comments:

Hostility to barbarians was built into the language; almost by definition, barbarians stood for what imperial citizens shunned. But literature does not directly mirror everyday reality. Sheer aversion was not a practical attitude in an age of rapid social and cultural change. The admission of elite barbarians into the Roman military elite was an established fact in the third century and only increased as time went on.[115]

To be sure, the boundaries between Roman and foreigner had always been surmountable. In contrast to the Greeks, the Romans’ multiracial Empire, along with their tradition of inclusion, had contributed to a somewhat more nuanced notion of foreigners’ “otherness.” From the era of the Republic, the growth of Rome had depended upon its soldier’s ability to conquer foreign lands and make Romans out of barbarians.[116] Although one should not discount all the negative attitudes towards foreigners in the Roman service, visions of a “pure” Roman state like those found in Synesius and Eunapius appear to be based on traditional prejudicial attitudes of the upper classes, particular political crises, and rhetorical practices, as much as a conviction that all of these foreigners needed to be eliminated from the armies. In reality, even a staunch critic of foreigners, like Eunapius, could praise a “barbarian” such as Fravitta for his martial virtues, “proper” religious views, and proven loyalty to the Roman state.[117] Undeniably, in the aftermath of the disastrous military defeat at Adrianople in 378, that saw the near annihilation of the Eastern Roman army and the death of the Eastern Emperor Valens, those in power realised that the security of the state depended on the institution of a more conciliatory policy towards foreign peoples than former emperors had had the luxury to employ.[118]

One finds, as well, that even conservative intellectuals in the fourth and fifth centuries supported the separation of the civilian and military branches of the imperial administration.[119] In his famous debate with a “Greek” expatriate who had joined the Huns, the fifth-century diplomat and historian, Priscus of Panium, countered the former citizen’s claim that the Roman state had fallen into decline because of its citizens’ rejection of their martial legacy. The Greek explained that, because of his wealth, after his capture when the Huns sacked his polis he was allowed to prove his worth in combat, and, having proven his “valour” [ἀριστεύσαντα], was granted his freedom. The Huns accepted him as an “elite” person and permitted him to marry and to have a family. The Greek then contrasts the choice he had under the Huns with what he saw as the plight of many Roman men within the Late Empire. Like earlier Roman historians, the Greek hinted that many Roman men had been enervated by their inability to protect themselves and the Empire from both internal and external threats. He blamed the Eastern Empire’s current troubles (early in the 440s) on the emperors’ ban on men carrying weapons and therefore allowing a professional army to fight for the Romans’ freedom:

But amongst the Romans, since on account of their tyrants not all men carry weapons, they place their hope of safety in others and are thus easily destroyed in war. Moreover, those who do use arms are endangered still more by the cowardice [κακὶα] of their generals, who are unable to sustain a war.[120]

In response, Priscus supported the status quo by extolling the benefits of a division of labour within the Empire. In his mind, the “wise and good men” of the Roman polity had “ordained that some should be guardians of the laws and that others should attend to weaponry and undergo military training, with their sole object that they be ready for battle and go out confidently to war as if some familiar exercise.” Stressing his primary point that not all Roman men needed to prove their prowess on the battlefield, Priscus surmised that battles were best left in the hands of those trained to fight. Priscus, in fact, criticised the Huns for forcing an “inexperienced man” to fight in battle, claiming, “The Romans are wont to treat even their household slaves better.”[121] The dialogue ends with the weeping Greek agreeing, “The laws were fair and the Roman Polity was good, but that the authorities were ruining it by not taking the same thought for it as those of old.”[122]

Though some scholars question the historical accuracy of this exchange, it provides us with further evidence that Romans from the educated classes had come to terms with having an army made up of Romans and non-Romans. This sentiment, however, does not suggest that men like Priscus rejected the importance of martial virtues for both the well-being of the Empire and the shaping of heroic codes of manliness. The opposite actually seems true. Throughout the fragments that survive, Priscus expressed his admiration of the courage and manliness of soldiers who stood up to barbarians like the Huns. He goes to great lengths, in fact, to contrast those he considered effeminate appeasers, with the courageous, and manly conduct of those who faced the Huns in diplomacy and in battle with traditional Roman élan.[123]

We may also question the argument made by one recent study on Late Roman masculinity that the barbarisation of the Late Roman army led to its decreased efficiency and reliability.[124] The non-Romans who served within the Late Roman armies did so, on the whole, with remarkable loyalty and reliability, even when fighting peoples from their own ethnic grouping. As A.H.M. Jones noted nearly half a century ago, this dependability is not surprising considering their high level of assimilation to Roman ideals, and the reality that the multiplicity of ethnic groups who served in the Roman forces shared little sense of tribal loyalty.[125]

Finally, we must reject the idea proposed by Mathew Kuefler that Late Roman men saw the disasters of the fifth century as evidence that the barbarian enemies who threatened the Empire had become better soldiers, or as Kuefler puts it, “manlier than the Romans.”[126] Depictions of  the Later Empire like those found in Kuefler bring to mind the image of cowed unmanly Roman aristocrats handing over their lands to “magnificently armoured barbarians” that so angers scholars like Walter Goffart. As Goffart reminds us, “The ‘fall’ of the West Roman Empire is not now (perhaps not ever) envisioned as a military defeat by brave barbarians of enervated troops that had lost the will to fight.”[127]

Most scholarship on the Late Roman army agree with this assessment, contending that when properly led, the Eastern and the Western Roman armies continued to maintain a distinct advantage in direct confrontations with their foreign enemies.[128] Ancient and modern historians have observed that, with few notable exceptions, the supposed “martial spirit” and superior manliness of the foreign barbarians proved “no match for the disciplined military face of Rome.”[129] Some Late Romans could dismiss even the supposed physical advantage that these barbarian soldiers held over their Roman counterparts as insignificant.[130] In his discussion on the Goths who settled within the Empire, Eunapius claimed that many Romans mocked them because of “their physique, which was excessively tall, too heavy for their feet to bear and pinched at the waists like the insects Aristotle describes.”[131]

Laudatory accounts of military men certainly fill the pages of the secular sources that have survived from this age.[132]Much of the early Byzantine literature that survives from the fourth to the sixth centuries articulates long-held notions of heroism and masculinity, whereby Roman military men like the Late fourth-century general Sebastianus and the sixth-century commander Belisarius represented true exemplars of Roman virtue and manliness. So while the Christianisation of the Roman Empire remains arguably the most important event in Late Antiquity, it is a mistake to conclude its establishment led to the immediate decline of traditional notions of masculinity based, in part, on martial virtues and the xenophobic belief in the right for Roman masculine dominion over non-Romans. Contrary to the arguments made by some recent social historians, most Roman men in the early Byzantine Empire did not have the luxury or the desire to contemplate whether Christians fighting spiritual battles or aristocratic intellectuals were more courageous or “manlier” than actual Roman soldiers fighting in the “real” world. In fact, despite the military challenges faced by the Eastern Roman army throughout the early Byzantine period, and the disappearance of the Western army in the fifth century, many Byzantines continued to believe in the superior manliness and courage of their soldiers.[133] We can therefore question one recent scholar’s assertion that, along with the emperor, “the holy man and the bishop were the most powerful and evocative figures in Late Antiquity.”[134] As scholars like Warren Treadgold have suggested, sentiments like the one expressed in the preceding passage are not surprising considering that many recent studies on the period tend to rely heavily on Christian panegyrics and hagiographies for their conclusions, while largely ignoring ancient secular texts that offer a far more jaded view of monks, bishops, and holy men.[135]

Though I would not go as far as Treadgold in rejecting the relevance of these Christian “heroes” for contributing to our understanding of early Byzantine society and its diverse constructions of masculinity, it is vital to balance these often hagiographical Christian accounts with the more customary attitudes we find in the secular, and indeed some Christian sources, praising military virtues as an essential aspect of Roman heroic manliness. It was, in fact, the Eastern Roman intellectuals’ ability to continue to communicate long-established martial ideals as a key barometer of ideal manly conduct that helped to maintain a continuing sense of Romanitas throughout the Byzantine era. Empire itself was based on traditional themes like these.




  1. Late fifth or early sixth-century Barberini ivory (Louvre, Paris, France)

depicting a triumphant Roman emperor on horseback with a captive in tow.

The emperor is probably Justinian, though Zeno and Anastasius I are

possibilities as well. The horse rears over the female personification of earth,

whilst Winged Victory crowns the emperor. Beneath the rider, barbarians

cower. On the side panels, soldiers carry miniature victories.

  1. Fourth-century silver plate (Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia) depicting

the Emperor Constantius II. In the military scene, the emperor

is mounted and wielding a lance. He is being crowned by Winged Victory.

  1. Roman coin of the Emperor Constantine I issued in 320. Obverse:

CONSTA-NTINVS AVG, Helmeted cuirassed bust right.
Reverse: VIRTVS-EXERCIT, Two captives seated below vexillum
inscribed VOT / XX.

4.   The third-century Grande Ludovisi sarcophagus (CE 251/252) in Rome’s

Museo Nazionale Romano, Palazzo Altemps.

5.   Emperor Julian Bronze AE4 15mm (2.58 grams) Struck circa 356-361 A.D. at the mint of Thessalonica Reference: RIC VIII DN CL IVLIANVS NOB CAES, bare-headed, draped, cuirassed bust right  FEL TEMP-REPARATIO (“The return of happy times”), soldier standing left, spearing fallen horseman who is bare-headed, reaching backwards. Left field: M  Mintmark: SMT.

6.    Probus diptych (Acosta Cathedral, Italy) depicting the Emperor Honorius

in full military regalia. It probably commemorates a Roman victory over the

Goths in 406. Decked out in ornate armour and the emperor holds a labarum in his right hand,    which proclaims, “In the name of Christ, may you always be victorious (IN NOMINE XRI VINCAS SEMPER)”.

7.   Ivory diptych of the Western Generalissimo Stilicho with his wife Serena and son        Eucherius (ca. 395 from Monza Cathedral).


[1] S.J. Harrison, Vergil: Aeneid 10 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), introduction, 22.

[2] Vergil, Aeneid 6.851-53 (my trans.): “Romane, memento (hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem, parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.” McDonnell (Roman Manliness, 152-3) and Williams (Roman Homosexuality, 135) discuss the martial and masculine aspects of this passage.

[3] Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae (trans. John C. Rolfe, LCL, 3 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935-39, reprint 2000]) 14.6.3: “in iuvenem erectus et virum, ex omni plaga quam orbis ambit immensus, reportavit laureas et triumphos.” Relying on literary precedents, in this passage (14.6.3-5) Ammianus compared the history of the city of Rome to a human life, infancy, childhood, adulthood, and old age. Cf. the early fourth-century Christian theologian Lactantius’ (Divine Institutes 7.15.14-16), following Seneca, comparison of Roman secular history with the stages of a human life, from infancy to old age.

[4] Ammianus, Res gestae 31.5.11-17.

[5] McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 3, commenting on the intimate relationship between masculinity and virtus in Republican Rome, Myles McDonnell concludes, “Virtus is the special inheritance of the Roman people, and it was by this virtus, this ‘manliness,’ that Roman supremacy had been built.” See too Williams (Roman Homosexuality, 127) on the etymological connection between virtus and “manliness.”

[6] Ammianus, Res gestae 31.5.14 (my trans.).

[7] Ammianus, Res gestae 14.6.10. I have added a “their” and replaced the translator Rolfe’s “valour” for virtute with “manliness.”  Cf. Herodian, BH 2.2.4-6; Ambrose, Ep. 73.7; Theophylact Simocatta, History 2.14.6

[8] On this connection as a common theme in Roman literature, see Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 135-37. For the large percentage of Roman citizens serving within the armies of the Republic and the Early Empire, see Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 31-35.

[9] For the importance of non-Roman as both soldiers and officers in the Later Roman army:  Pat Southern and Karen Ramsey Dixon, The Late Roman Army (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 48-50, 67-73, J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops: Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 20-21. We do find, however, in the sixth-century Eastern Roman army a shift back to a force made up of predominantly citizen soldiers. For this development, see A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 670, John Teale, “The Barbarians in Justinian’s Armies”, Speculum 40 (1965): 294-322.

[10] Walter Goffart, Barbarian Tides: the Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 190.

[11] McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 10-11.

[12] Polybius, Histories (trans. Mortimer Chambers [New York: Twayne, 1966]) 6.52.

[13] See, e.g. Polybius, Histories 31.25, Cicero, De officiis (trans. Walter Miller, LCL, 29 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1913-39, reprint 2005]) 3.1.4. For Scipio as a prime example of aristocratic excellence and martial manliness, see Arthur M. Eckstein, Moral Vision in the Histories of Polybius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 28-30, 79-82.

[14] Seneca, De providentia (trans. John W. Basore, LCL, 3 vols. [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928-35, reprint 2000]) 2.4, 2.7, 4.16.

[15] For the combined military threat presented in the third century by a resurgent Persia in the East and the multiplicity of ethnic groupings along the Rhine and the Danube, see Stephen Williams, Diocletian and the Roman Recovery (London: Routledge, 1997), 25-35.

 [16]A full discussion of this process is found in H. Devijver, “Les milices équestres et la hiérarchie militaire,” in La hiérarchie (Rangordnung) de l’armée romaine sous le haut-empire, ed. Y. Le Bohec (Paris, 1995), 175-91.

[17] Stephen Williams and Gerard Friell, Theodosius: The Empire at Bay (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 81, 100.

[18] Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 67.

[19] Codex Theodosianus 15.15.

[20] Williams and Friell, Empire at Bay, 25.

[21]Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops, 7, 248.  For the difficulty of determining whether these “barbarian” soldiers had been granted Roman citizenship, see Ralph Mathisen, “Peregrini, Barbari, and Cives Romani: Concepts of Citizenship and the Legal Identity of Barbarians in the Later Roman Empire”, American Historical Review 3 (2006): 1011-40.

[22] A thorough description of the recruitment of both Roman and non-Roman soldiers in the Late Roman army from the fourth to the sixth centuries is found in Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 67-75. Some of these more traditional views on recruitment have been recently challenged. See, e.g. Michael Whitby, “Emperors and Armies”, in Approaching Late Antiquity: The Transformation from Early to Late Empire, ed. Simon Swain and Mark Edwards (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 166-73; A. D. Lee, War in Late Antiquity, A Social History (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), 79-85.

[23] Whitby, “Emperors and Armies”, 167. Estimates vary on the numbers in the Late Roman and early Byzantine army. Lee (War in Late Antiquity, 76-7) suggests 500,000 as the total for the combined forces of the fourth-century army and 300,000 for the sixth-century Byzantine army.

[24] Lee, War in Late Antiquity, 84-5.

[25] For the “problem” of desertion in the Late Roman army, see Ramsay MacMullen, Corruption and the Decline of Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 52-55.

[26]See, e.g. Williams and Friell, Empire at Bay, 211, Lee, War in Late Antiquity, 82-83.

[27] For instance, the future emperor Basiliscus, the brother of the empress Aelia Verina, led the disastrous campaign against the Vandals in 468. Three of the emperor Anastasius’ nephews, Hypatius, Pompey, and Probus, were important military figures during the first quarter of the sixth century.


[28] Whitby, “Emperors and Armies”,166.

[29] Lee, War in Late Antiquity, 82.

[30]  Brian Croke, ” Dynasty and Ethnicity: Emperor Leo and the Eclipse of Aspar“, Chiron 35 (2005),153.

[31] Claudius Mamertinus, Gratiarum actio suo Juliano imperatori (ed. D. Lassandro [Turin: Pavaria, 1992]; trans. Samuel Lieu [Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1986]) 20.1:  “Militiae labor a nobilissimo quoque pro sordido et inliberali reiciebatur.”

[32] Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 68. Cf. Jones, Later Roman Empire, 1062. Contra Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 40.

[33] Walter Kaegi, Heraclius: Emperor of Byzantium (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 68-69. In 611, the emperor Heraclius (ruled 610-42) broke with this precedent by leading the military campaign against the Persians.

[34] Lee, War in Late Antiquity, 35.

[35] Jones, Later Roman Empire, 1062.

[36] For the upward social mobility military service continued to offer Late Roman men from the lower classes, Jones, Later Roman Empire, 550-51.

[37] For the similarities and subtle, yet important differences, between Stoic and Christian ideals of renunciation and self-control, see Brown, Body and Society, esp. 30-31, 178-80.

[38] Coleen Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 24-31.

[39] Catherine Edwards, “The Suffering Body: Philosophy and Pain in Seneca’s Letters”, in Constructions of the Classical Body, ed. James Porter (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 262.

[40] Gleason, Making Men.  For advocates of Gleason’s thesis: Carlin Barton, The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans: The Gladiator and the Monster (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), Virginia Burrus, Begotten Not Made: Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), Joy Connolly, “Like the Labors of Heracles: Andreia and Paideia in Greek Culture Under Rome”, in Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity, ed. Ralph Rosen and Ineke Sluiter (Boston: Brill, 2003).

[41] Gleason, Making Men, 22-3.

[42] Gleason, Making Men, 17.

[43] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 39. Cf. Gleason, Making Men, 14, Burrus, Begotten Not Made, 19-22, 180, McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 384-89.

[44] Burrus, Begotten Not Made, 21.

[45] Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 135.

[46] Jones, Later Roman Empire, 1015; see also, Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of a Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 77-78.

[47] For the centrality of military success to the ideology of the fifth-century Christian Roman Empire, see Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 41-42.

[48] Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor, Chronicle (trans. Robert R. Phoenix and Cornelia B. Horn, TTH 55 [Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011]) 10.16.

[49] For a recent study on the use and meaning of sculpture in the city of Rome, see Joseph Geiger, The First Hall of Fame: A Study of the Statues in the Forum Augustum. Mnemosyne Supplementa 295.   (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008). On the prevalence of imperial statues in promoting the military function of the Emperor as the leader of the army, Jas Elsner, Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art From the Pagan World to Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), esp. 54-57. For the illiteracy of the majority of the Late Roman population, see Treadgold, Byzantine Historians, 351.

[50] Heather, Fall of the Roman Empire, 38-39.

[51] Agathias, Agathiae Myrinaei Historiarum (ed. Rudolf Keydell [Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1967] trans.  Joseph D. Frendo [New York: de Gruyter, 1975]) 2.12.2.

[52] Glenys Davies, “Greek and Roman Sculpture”, in The Oxford Companion to Classical History, ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 651-52.

[53] Priscus, frag. 22.3 (ed. and trans. R.C. Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire: Eunapius, Olympiodorus, Priscus, and Malchus, vol. 2 [Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1983]). Cf. Procopius, Buildings 1.10.10-20.

[54] Herodian, BH 3.9.12. For a lucid account of this visual ideology, see Mathew Canepa, Two Eyes of the Earth: Art and Ritual of Kingship Between Rome and Sasanian Iran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).

[55] An excellent introduction and catalogue of imperial coinage issued from 27 BCE to 498 CE is found in David van Meter, Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins: A Complete Guide to the History, Types and Values of Roman Imperial Coinage (Utica, N.Y.: Laurion Press, 1991).

[56] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 49.

[57] Eunapius, frag. 68. I have changed the translator Blockley’s “courage” for ἀνδρείον to “manliness.”

[58] Peter Heather and David Moncur, Politics, Philosophy and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius, TTH 36 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), 35-37.

[59] Jacqueline Long, Claudian’s ‘In Eutropium’ Or, How , When and Why to Slander a Eunuch (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 217.

[60] For the familiarity of the Byzantine elites with these classical sources, see Treadgold, Byzantine Historians, 1-2, 68-9.  As Treadgold points out (Byzantine Historians, 372-75) we have more surviving Byzantine manuscripts of Thucydides’ history (97)—a good guide to ancient popularity—than the most popular early Byzantine classicising historian, Procopius’ Wars (54), or Greek versions of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (24).

[61] For the use of this iconography as an essential component of imperial propaganda in the Later Empire, Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory: Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity, Byzantium and the Early Medieval West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), esp. chaps 1-3.

[62] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 26.

[63] Conway, Behold the Man, 39.

[64] A thorough examination of the increased authority wielded by emperors in the fourth and fifth centuries Empire may be found in Sarah MacCormack, “The World of the Panegyrists,” in Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), esp.187-218.

[65] On the role of  these literary genres in the Later Empire, see Tomas Hägg and Philip Rousseau, ed. Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

[66] Colleen Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 24.

[67] Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, 221.

[68] See, e.g. Menander, Second Treatise 373, “ἀρεταὶ δὲ τέσσαρές εἱσιν, ἀνδρεία, δικαιοσύνη, σωϕροσύνη, φρόνησις.” For the adoption of this Hellenic model into Roman intellectual culture, see McDonnell, Roman Manliness, 149. Cicero translated these four principle virtues into Latin as, temperantia, prudentia, iustitia, and fortitudo, Cicero, De officiis 1.5.15. Late Antique examples for the continuity of this concept include: Ammianus, Res gestae 22.4, and Ambrose, De officiis (ed. and trans. Ivor J. Davidson [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001]) 1.24.115.

[69] For these two traits as essential qualities for a model Late Roman emperor to display, see Themistius, Or. 4.54a. On Plato’s depiction in the Republic of the idealised philosopher-king: Plato, Republic 521d, 525b, 543a. For the influence of the Republic on Late Roman and early Byzantine intellectuals, see Kaldellis, Procopius, 106-17.

[70] For the Roman emperors as the personification of Roman manliness, see Montserrat, “Reading Gender”, 153-182, Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 26-29, Conway, Behold the Man, 45-47.

[71] Synesius, On Kingship 14 (trans. Augustine Fitzgerald [London: Humphrey Milford, 1930]).

[72] Carlos Norena, “The Ethics of Autocracy in the Roman World”, in A Companion to Greek and Roman Thought, ed. Ryan K. Balot (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 273.

[73] Themistius, Or. 1.5c (trans. Heather and Moncur). See too, Ambrose De officiis 1.33.175, where he wrote that “courage [fortitudo] belongs on a higher scale than the other virtues.”

[74] Norena, “Ethics of Autocracy”, 275.

[75] Like the Stoics, many Christian theologians placed spiritual courage on a higher plane than physical bravery. Christian intellectuals such as Ambrose in De officiis 1.129 (trans. Davidson), however, found it important to point out in their writings the value of the physical courage (fortitudo) that led “people to protect the country in time of war.” The contrast between “physical courage” and “spiritual courage” is discussed in some detail by Ambrose, De officiis 1.34.193-96.

[76] Panegyric of Constantine 6, in “In Praise of the Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini”, (ed. and trans. C.E.V. Nixon and Barbara Saylor Rodgers [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994]) 3.3.

[77] Panegyric of Constantine 6, 17.1-2.

[78] Panegyric of Constantine 12, 24.3 (trans. Nixon and Rodgers; I have changed “valor” for virtutum to “manliness”).

[79] Ronald Syme, “The Composition of the Historia Augusta: Recent Theories”, JRS 62 (1972): 123.

[80] For the debate surrounding the date of the publication of the Historia Augusta, see Cameron, Last Pagans, 743-82.

[81] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 27.

[82] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 26-29.

[83] HA, Claudius II (ed. and trans. David Magie, LCL, 3 vols.  [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921-32]) 2.3.

[84] For an ancient discussion of these restrictions, see Agathias, Histories preface, 1-21.

[85] For this emphasis in the classicising historians: Kenneth Sacks, “The Meaning of Eunapius’ History”, History and Theory 25 (Feb, 1986): 52-67, David Rohrabacher, Historians of Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 2002), 70, Kaldellis, Procopius, 20, Treadgold, Byzantine Historians, 21.

[86] Eunapius, frag. 55.5-10. (trans. Blockley).

[87] Williams, Roman Homosexuality, 139.

[88] This is a criticism made of Procopius by Averil Cameron, Procopius and the Sixth Century (London: Duckworth, 1985), 148-49.

[89] Anthony Kaldellis, who criticises postmodernist attempts to see all Roman historical writing as “fundamentally a form of fiction”, makes this point in Kaldellis, Procopius of Caesarea, 6-16.

[90] Alan Cameron, Jacqueline Long, and Lee Sherry, Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 4.

[91] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 49-69.

[92] Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 137.

[93] E.g., Herodotus, Histories 7.107, Plato, Republic 579a.

[94] Kaldellis, Procopius, 142.

[95] For the use of these topoi in Eunapius: Sacks, “Eunapius’ History”, 63; and for Procopius, see Kaldellis, Procopius, 145.

[96] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 194-95, 234-35.

[97] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 234.

[98] Eunuchs and “barbarians” in positions of prominence were particularly vulnerable to execution during political crises or regime changes. For the expendability of eunuchs, see Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves, 176-96, and for the vulnerability of senior “barbarian” military commanders, Williams and Friell, Empire at Bay, 148.

[99] A thorough discussion of the expansion of the senatorial orders in the West and the East is found in Jones, Later Roman Empire, 523-62.

[100] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 50-55.

[101] For example, when discussing Symmachus’ famous dispute with the bishop Ambrose over the removal of the Altar of Victory from Rome, Peter Heather (Politics and Philosophy, 35) suggests that the real decision making occurred behind the scenes, a place from which these pagan aristocrats found themselves increasingly cut off.

[102] An excellent discussion on  the Roman nobility of the Late Roman era cultivating less martial pursuits is found in  S.J.B. Barnish, “Transformation and Survival in the Western Senatorial Aristocracy, c. A.D. 400-700”, Papers of the British School at Rome 56 (1988): 120-55.

[103] On the continuing power wielded by the Eastern aristocracy, see Brown, Power and Persuasion, 3-34, and for the West: John Mathews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court, A.D. 364-425 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975, 1-3, 30, 50. Cf. the remarks of Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 50.

[104] For a list of Later Roman officeholders from the aristocracy, as well as a discussion of their participation in the civilian and military administration in the fourth century, Timothy Barnes, The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), esp. 49-102, Ramsey MacMullen, Corruption and Decline of Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), Appendix A.

[105] For the connections between the imperial family and these military strongmen, see Mathews, Western Aristocracies, 32-55, 88-100, and John Michael O’Flynn, Generalissimos of the Western Roman Empire (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983).

[106] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 191. In his account of the rise of a military aristocracy, Goffart relies heavily on the work of Alexander Demandt, “The Osmosis of Late Roman and Germanic Aristocracies”, in Das Reich und die Barbaren, ed. E. Chrysos and A. Swartz (Vienna: Böhlau, 1989), 75-86.

[107] Patrick Amory, People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 27.

[108] Late Romans too began to embrace “barbarian” modes of dress. For the merging of Roman and “barbarian” customs during the Later Empire, see Mary Harlow, “Clothes Maketh the Man: Power Dressing and Elite Masculinity in the Later Roman World,” in Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300-900, ed. Leslie Brubaker and Julia Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 44-69.

[109] Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 50.

[110]These alliances were also open to foreign leaders. For some examples from the Later Empire,  see Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 195-96.

[111] On these reforms, see Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops, 248. Note, however, some convincing insights and criticisms made by Walter Goffart (Barbarian Tides, 299, n. 72) rejecting Liebeschuetz’s contention that the Eastern Empire survived because of these reforms and that the Western Empire declined because of its continued reliance on non-Roman military generalissimos. As Goffart points out, we must remember that the Alanic general Aspar and his family played dominant roles during the reigns of Theodosius II, Marcian and Leo I. So too did the fifth-century army in the West depend heavily on Roman military commanders such as Castinus, Felix, Boniface, and Aëtius.

[112] For the general hostility of the majority of Romans towards the appointment of these non-Romans to positions of high command, see Alan Cameron, Claudian: Poetry and Propaganda at the Court of Honorius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970), 371.

[113] A point made in Kaldellis, Hellenism, 77.

[114] See, e.g. Olympiodorus, frag. 40.

[115] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 192.

[116] For a  selection of essays on Greek attitudes towards barbarians, from the classical period to the later Middle Ages, Thomas Harrison, ed. Greeks and Barbarians (New York: Routledge, 2002).Romans, like the Augustan geographer, Strabo (63/64 BC – ca. AD 24), stressed that barbarism was an escapable condition. In his writings (e.g., Geography, 2.5.26, 3.38) he showed that by bringing good government and civilisation to barbarian peoples, Roman imperialism could overcome some of the environmental and social factors that had contributed to these non-Roman peoples’ “savage” personalities. For these views in Strabo’s writings, see Michael Maas, “Strabo and Procopius”, in From Rome to Constantinople: Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, ed. Hagit Amirav and Bas ter Haar Romney (Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 71-75.

[117] Eunapius, frag. 69.2. Fravitta’s support of Hellenic religious practices for Eunapius showed his “Roman-ness,” whilst the dispatching of his fellow Goth, Gainas, proved his loyalty. Cf. a similar view of Fravitta by the largely anti-barbarian ecclesiastical historian Socrates (HE 6.1).

[118] For the political reasoning behind Theodosius I’s policy of “appeasement” towards the Goths and other foreign peoples after 378, see Williams and Friell, Empire at Bay, 23-35.

[119] Ammianus, Res gestae 21.16.3.

[120] Full debate in Priscus, frag. 11.2.405-510

[121] This is a reference to the traditional Roman prohibition on slaves joining the army, a ban that was only ignored in dire circumstances.

[122] Priscus, frag. 11.2.405-53. In what remains of his reply, Priscus failed to dispute the Greek’s accusations concerning the cowardice and unwarlike qualities of Theodosius II and his generals, suggesting he agreed that the current political turmoil was due to these men’s poor military record, rather than an indication of larger failure of the Roman military and political system.

[123] For the cowardice and the unmanliness of Theodosius II and his generals: Priscus, frag. 1.3, 3.3.10-15.  For the martial qualities of the emperor Marcian, Eastern Roman soldiers, the Asimuntians, and Attila:  Priscus, frag. 5.18-20, 9.3. 40-80.

[124] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 43-49.

[125] For these points: Jones, Later Roman Empire, 621-622, Southern and Dixon, Late Roman Army, 50, 69-71.

[126] Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 48.

[127] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 28.

[128] Southern and Dixon, Later Roman Army, 177; see also Heather, Fall of the Roman Empire, 446, who argues that  the dual problems of the Hunnic invasions combined with political infighting in the fifth-century Western Empire led to a perfect storm of calamity, whereby “the barbarian peoples had just enough military might to carve out their enclaves.”

[129] Goffart, Barbarian Tides, 25.

[130] On the perceived superior physicality of the barbarians in comparison to the Romans, see Kuefler, Manly Eunuch, 49. With the large percentage of non-Roman soldiers and mercenaries in the Late and Eastern Roman army, one might interpret this contrast as another rhetorical commonplace.

[131]Eunapius, frag. 37.

[132] The fifth-century historian Socrates (HE 5.25.11-12.), for instance, expressed his belief in the superiority of the “native” Roman soldiers in Theodosius I’s army in comparison to those Roman and enemy troops he considered barbarians.

[133] In doing so, I align myself with recent scholarship refuting Gleason’s assertion that Roman elites  had abandoned physical prowess centred on ἀνδρεία in battle as “a major source of masculine identity.” See, e.g. Onno van Nijf, “Athletics, Andreia, and the Askesis-Culture”, in Andreia: Studies in Manliness and Courage in Classical Antiquity, ed. Ralph Rosen and Ineke Sluiter (Boston: Brill, 2003), 263-86.

[134] Claudia Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 3.

[135] Treadgold, Byzantine Historians, preface, 8-9. For similar attitudes, see Kaldellis, Procopius, 1-60, Ward-Perkins, Fall, 1-12.


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