The Roman empire in Late Antiquity (c. 300-600 A.D.) was long seen as an autocratic state where the emperor took all decisions. Recent studies have emphasized that many imperial laws were in fact responses to questions from below, and that their drafting and execution was handled by counsellors and bureaucrats. Yet the actual decision processes have not yet been studied: On the basis of which arguments were decisions taken? Who tried to influence official decisions, and what was the role of formal and informal networks? To what extent were such lobby activities effective? And how were they presented to the public by the different parties involved?
These questions are crucial for our understanding of the later Roman state and society: Was the empire an autocracy with power concentrated at court, or were there ‘outside’ influences? And what is the effect of possibilities to influence decisions on the social integration of different layers in society?
In order to answer these questions, the project uses council acts. Combining a report of what was said during the council with letters sent around before and after it, this source offers unique insight into late antique decision processes in their full extent. Focusing on the letters, which have thus far been neglected, this project studies the role of networking, persuasion, presentation and governance in decision making. In this way, council acts will allow a reassessment of the functioning of the later Roman empire.
This project is funded by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO).