Modern scholarship has examined political violence in the Late Roman Empire (late fourth to early sixth centuries CE) primarily as the result of mass migration processes, or as the self-evident outcome of imperial disintegration in the western Mediterranean and its hinterland. Instead, this project investigates this era’s increase in murder (in sharp contrast to the late third and fourth centuries) in both western and eastern spheres of the Late Empire as an index for crises of imperial leadership structures and a competition for shrinking state resources. Preliminary research reveals that highranking officials who were the culprits or victims of assassination, defined here as ‘the murder of prominent individuals for political gain’, share something hitherto unnoticed: the role of bodyguards.
Approaching the problem through the lens of private military factions and allegiance networks, this project can fill a significant research lacuna on violence in this period, and contribute to our understanding of premodern state formation or contraction. Validation of the research hypothesis will have major implications for the genesis of Early
Medieval legal cultures of violence.