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Online Mini-conference 'Political Culture from Late Antiquity to the post-classical Greek City and back again'

Wednesday 10 June 2020
Online (details follow)

Online mini-conference hosted by Leiden University, The Netherlands, on the occasion of the publication of L.E. Tacoma, Roman Political Culture. Seven Studies of the Senate and City Councils of Italy from the First to the Sixth Century A.D. (Oxford 2020).

Organized in collaboration with the Oikos Cities and Settlements-network about the political culture of the Roman World. 

Registration is free; please register by sending an e-mail to the student assistant of the Ancient History Department of the Institute for History of Leiden University, The Netherlands: Hilke Hoogenboom. Upon registration you will receive a link to Kaltura Live Room; it is not necessary to download software. 


14:00 L.E. Tacoma, ‘The Doors of S. Giovanni in Laterano’

This introductory lecture will offer a discussion of the concept of political culture
and its possibilities for the study of ancient political systems that followed the
demise of classical Greek democracy and the Roman Republic. I will argue that the
political cultures of the Hellenistic, Roman, and Late Antique period share a
number of structural features that remained remarkably stable over time, despite
significant societal changes. The fact that traditional political institutions like city
councils and the Roman senate kept functioning for centuries without having much
power to influence decision-making must imply that their function had become
social rather than political: they offered elites a stage to affirm and negotiate their
place in society and to dramatize the tensions inherent in a society under single

14:15 J. Barreveld, ‘Reges and Gentes: dual states in the post-Roman West (c. 400-600 A.D.)’

During the fifth century A.D., the Western Roman Empire fragmented into a variety
of successor states. These polities were often ruled by 'kings' (reges) who portrayed
themselves as ruling over multiple peoples (gentes), both 'Roman' and 'barbarian'.
How are we to understand the relationship between communities and rulership? In
this presentation, I will discuss the concept of 'dual state' in the context of three
post-Roman ‘kings’: Masuna and the Moors of Mauretania, Theoderic and the
Goths in Italy, and, finally, Childeric and the Franks of northern Gaul.

14:40 break (10 min)

14:50 K. Tengeler, ‘Polemics in Subtlety. Roman Political Culture in Mamertinus' Panegyric on Julian the Apostate’

After the sudden death of Constantius II, his rebellious nephew Julian enters
Constantinople claiming the imperial title. However, the mostly Christian Senate
distrusted his philosophical thoughts and pagan beliefs. In this tenuous situation
Mamertinus is promoted to consul and tasked to compose a panegyric on the new
emperor. He has to choose his words carefully to serve the interests of Julian, the
Senate, and himself, while upholding the rules of the genre. How Mamertinus walks
this thin line between dangerous and meaningless, gives us insight in the claims on
Roman cultural heritage laid by Christians and pagans in a world in

15:15 M. Kooijman, ‘Legislators or Lobby Fodder? The Normative Meaning of Interaction in the Letter Collections of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451)’

In the fifth century AD, the Roman Emperor communicated mostly through letters.
Modern scholars tend to regard only imperial letters meeting specific formal
criteria as Roman law. But how did these letters function in their own time? What
was a letter, what was a law, and what did it mean if a letter became a law? This
presentation explores three cases of late-antique imperial correspondence. Firstly,
it compares the pre-conciliar letters of Emperor Marcian with his Novellae.
Whereas the former were not explicitly laws, the latter were included in a sixthcentury
codification of Roman law, the Breviarium Alarici. It is the similarities
between the two that can broaden our understanding of written imperial
imperatives. Secondly, in order to put Marcian’s letters into perspective, I will
analyze the Collectio Sirmondiana, a rare example of late-antique Roman law in its
original epistolary form. Finally, these case studies will lead to the conclusion that
Marcian, although applying terms from the juridical jargon to his pre-conciliar
letters, formally accepted the independent power of the Christian Church. His
letters to Pope Leo and the council bishops at Chalcedon (AD 451) did not claim
the same monarchical power as the legislative epistles of Marcian and his

15:40 break (10 min)

15:50 O.M. van Nijf, ‘Festivals, benefactors, and the political culture in the Greek city’

Greek cities of the Hellenistic and Roman cities had a strong festival culture.
Festivals with athletic, equestrian and musical competitions flourished as never
before, often paid by wealthy benefactors. Such festivals were much more than
popular entertainments: they offered a complex social, cultural and political
experience that played a major role in defining the social and political relations. In
this paper we shall explore some of the ways in which festivals were part of the
political culture in the post-classical polis with a special focus on the role of the

16:30 L.E. Tacoma, ‘Closing the Doors again’

In these concluding remarks, the question will be addressed how we should
understand changes in political culture. The late antique cases show the successful
appropriation and adaptation of political discourse and behaviour by new groups
in Late Antiquity. In this way, a classical model of political culture could remain the
major point of reference even when the urban elites, cities, the festivals, and the
traditional political institutions on which this political culture were based faded
into the background.

16:45 general discussion

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