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428 AD

428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire

Giusto Traina
Translated by Allan Cameron
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    428 AD
    Book Description:

    This is a sweeping tour of the Mediterranean world from the Atlantic to Persia during the last half-century of the Roman Empire. By focusing on a single year not overshadowed by an epochal event,428 ADprovides a truly fresh look at a civilization in the midst of enormous change--as Christianity takes hold in rural areas across the empire, as western Roman provinces fall away from those in the Byzantine east, and as power shifts from Rome to Constantinople. Taking readers on a journey through the region, Giusto Traina describes the empires' people, places, and events in all their simultaneous richness and variety. The result is an original snapshot of a fraying Roman world on the edge of the medieval era. The result is an original snapshot of a fraying Roman world on the edge of the medieval era.

    Readers meet many important figures, including the Roman general Flavius Dionysius as he encounters a delegation from Persia after the Sassanids annex Armenia; the Christian ascetic Simeon Stylites as he stands and preaches atop his column near Antioch; the eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II as he prepares to commission his legal code; and Genseric as he is elected king of the Vandals and begins to turn his people into a formidable power. We are also introduced to Pulcheria, the powerful sister of Theodosius, and Galla Placidia, the queen mother of the western empire, as well as Augustine, Pope Celestine I, and nine-year-old Roman emperor Valentinian III.

    Full of telling details,428 ADillustrates the uneven march of history. As the west unravels, the east remains intact. As Christianity spreads, pagan ideas and schools persist. And, despite the presence of the forces that will eventually tear the classical world apart, Rome remains at the center, exerting a powerful unifying force over disparate peoples stretched across the Mediterranean.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3286-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

    (pp. xv-xx)

    This book will examine the events and microevents of a single year on a scale that will be as global as is possible. The chosen year is 428 AD.¹ This historiographical approach is not unheard of, but is unusual for ancient history. There have been individual or collective works devoted to epoch-making dates such as 1000 AD or 1492, or of national importance such as 1688 for England or 1947 for France.² However, there is a substantial difference between such works and this one, at least in terms of the great sweep of history: the year 428 is undoubtedly les...

  2. 1 The Travels of Flavius Dionysiusand the End of Armenia
    (pp. 1-6)

    To start our journey, we go back to Antioch, the capital of Syria and the headquarters of the Roman army in the East. An imperial diplomatic delegation, escorted by an elite military unit, left the eastern gate of the city and moved towards the Persian Empire. At the same time, a group of Iranic plenipotentiaries left from Ctesiphon, the main residence of the Sassanian rulers. The two diplomatic missions were to meet at the border in a part of Mesopotamia. The Romans were led by Flavius Dionysius, a military man and native of Thrace, who at the time held the...

  3. II The World of Nestorius: BISHOPS, MONKS, AND SARACENS
    (pp. 7-15)

    Having concluded his sensitive diplomatic mission, Flavius Dionysius returned to Antioch, but he did not stay there long. The general soon had to set off on his travels to carry out another important mission: to escort the Syrian cleric Nestorius from the monastery close to Antioch’s city gates, where he was the prior, to the capital Constantinople where he had just been elected bishop. The election of Nestorius was part of Theodosius II’s carefully worked-out plan: the emperor chose a prelate unconnected with the scheming that went on in Constantinople, because he wanted to bring a halt to the endless...

  4. III On the Pilgrim’s Road
    (pp. 17-25)

    The military unit required to escort Nestorius to Constantinople was organized in February and March. It was not prudent to travel by sea at this time of year, and Flavius Dionysius would have had no choice but to travel overland along a set route with post houses at regular intervals. This imperial service, which relied on carts and horses requisitioned from local communities, was only granted to senior officers and officials, but the privilege was often extended to the members of the clergy who were in the public eye.¹ The expedition would spend the night in amansio(a halting...

  5. IV The New Rome and Its Prince
    (pp. 27-40)

    On 10 April 428, the Tuesday after Palm Sunday, Nestorius was officially appointed bishop of Constantinople in one of those complex ceremonies that mixed Roman tradition with Christian symbolism, for which the Byzantine Empire became famous.¹ Theoretically, he was just a bishop like any other: at the time, those in charge of the capital’s diocese did not yet hold the title of “patriarch” or “archbishop.” Yet everyone knew that this episcopal throne had the same importance as Saint Peter’s in the West.² Founded by Constantine as the city that had to symbolize his radical overhaul of the empire, Constantinople was...

  6. V The Anatomy of an Empire
    (pp. 41-49)

    In 428, the empire was close to reunification. Three years earlier, Theodosius had sent an army to free the Empire of the West from the usurper John and place on the western throne little Valentinian III, the grandson of Th eodosius the Great and Theodosius II’s cousin. The emperor was only nine years old, but belonged to the Theodosian dynasty and could therefore rule legitimately, albeit under the control of court officials. His coronation, which took place in 426, marked the end of the crisis between the Eastern Empire and the Western Empire.¹ There was an air of renewal, now...

  7. VI From Ravenna to Nola: ITALY IN TRANSITION
    (pp. 51-61)

    In the system of power restored by Theodosius II, the Empire of the West was assigned to little Valentinian III. The emperor was still a child entrusted to the care of his tutor, one of those “child princes” that caused such outrage in senatorial circles.¹ But the world had changed, and traditional Roman values had been replaced by the “medieval” principle of dynastic legitimacy, which was in fact of eastern origin. The new emperor, who was anointed in 426, was the grandson of Theodosius the Great on his mother’s side, and was therefore a first cousin of the emperor of...

  8. VII Trial Runs for the Middle Ages
    (pp. 63-79)

    For the moment, Italy was not afraid of the barbarian menace, due to the rapprochement between Ravenna and Constantinople, and also the wisdom and competence of the determined and, it has to be said, utterly ruthless imperial generals. Not everyone, however, was willing to give them the recognition they deserved. First among these were the pompous and phlegmatic senators, whose feelings were ambivalent. The military men protected their lives and their property, but at the end of the day they were still coarse soldiers, often of barbarian origin. Moreover, the aristocrats were alarmed by the increasing influence of court officials....

  9. VIII Waiting for the Vandals
    (pp. 81-91)

    Aetius’s operations in 428 managed to regain ground in the Rhineland and on the Channel, but the far West remained in the hands of barbarians who had settled in the Iberian Peninsula twenty years earlier. Many of these events were recorded in the chronicle of the Galician Hydatius, which covered the years 379—469. Having spent his youth in the East, Hydatius became bishop of his native land, “Galicia, situated at the end of the world.”¹ The cleric was obsessed with chronology, which he used to justify his eschatological beliefs: basing himself on an apocryphal letter sent by the apostle...

  10. IX Pagans and Christians on the Nile
    (pp. 93-103)

    Egypt was the most populous territory in the entire Mediterranean. Because of the exceptional fertility of its soil, the Nile Valley provided most of the grain that was shipped to Constantinople.¹ For about half a century, the province had been enjoying a special degree of autonomy. Power was divided between a multitude of civil, military, and ecclesiastical officials. The governor of the diocese, called the “Augustan Prefect,” shared power with the military leaders each in charge of one of three areas: Thebais, Lower Egypt, and parts of the Libyan desert. Wars and invasions had strengthened the army’s role, and thus...

  11. X Easter in Jerusalem
    (pp. 105-115)

    The date for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival at the time, clearly had to be carefully calculated for each year, and in Egypt, the patriarch of Alexandria sent a letter as early as Epiphany to all the communities announcing the start of Lent and the date of Easter (Cassian,Conferences, 10, 2). This calculation was not at all easy, and gave rise to endless debate, which led to improvements in the calendar (in the East, it was finally settled under Justinian). In 428, the calculation was already established: Easter fell on the first Sunday after the full moon that followed...

  12. XI The Great King and the Seven Princesses
    (pp. 117-128)

    In spite of the now irreversible changes triggered by the migrations of peoples and political instability, there was still an entity that could be defi ned as “Rome,” which was acknowledged as such by its subjects and its enemies, and maintained its ancient authority over the Mediterranean world and, to a lesser extent, Europe too. But the Roman Empire was not the only empire. Beyond the Euphrates another sovereign, or rather the “King of Kings” (shāhanshāh), reigned over the great Sassanian Empire which extended as far as Central Asia.

    Direct contacts between the two empires were rare, but this did...

    (pp. 129-132)

    Our journey ends here. It is well known what would happen next. The western part of the Roman Empire survived for about a half century, and the new Rome would take on the mantle of the old one. We must, however, secure the image of 428 AD and its aftermath. The year 428 of the Common Era was of course also the year of the consuls Felix and Taurus and 1181 from the foundation of Rome (and we could go on, given that several calendars and chronological systems existed at the time).¹ We will restrict ourselves to recalling the fate...