Politics, Philosophy, and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius

By Themistius; Peter Heather et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
PHILOSOPHER PREFECT:
THEMISTIUS ORATIONS 17 AND 34

For a few months in either winter/spring 383/4 or spring/summer 384, Themistius held formal administrative office for the first time in his life. The Emperor Theodosius appointed him urban prefect for the city of Constantinople.1 The post had been created in 359 by one of Themistius' former imperial patrons, Constantius II, as part of his expansion of the Senate of Constantinople (see Chapter 2). Since the city was now to have a senate on a par with that of Rome, it was decided that it should be run, like Rome, by an urban prefect, and no longer a pro-consular governor. The urban prefect was responsible for most aspects of administration andjustice within the city; among many other things, he presided formally over meetings of its senate.2 Themistius' tenure of office prompted a flurry of rhetorical activity on his own part, the orator producing three speeches in defence of his decision to accept the prefecture. Within a few days of his promotion, Themistius came to the senate to deliver a short speech on the subject, Oration 17, the first of those translated in this chapter. This was followed, while he was still in office by Oration 31.3 Oration 34,

1 That the tenure of office was brief is made clear by Or. 34.xi. Or. 31, given while The-
mistius was still in office, was delivered during in either January or Lent 384 (see note 3).
According to one's view on this, the prefecture would then be dated to winter/spring 383/4
(Scholze, 1911, 54–6; cf. Schneider, 1966, 44–54) or spring/summer 384 (Dagron, 1968,11-
12; Vanderspoel, 1995,206–10). Seeck, 1906, originally placed the prefecture in autumn 384,
on the basis of C. Th. 6.2.14, dated September 384, and ostensibly given to Themistius' pre-
decessor in office, Clearchus; but he later accepted (Seeck, 1919, 514) that there was prob-
ably a mistake in the date. Penella, 2000, 35, lays out the alternatives.

2 See generally, Dagron, 1974, chs 7 and 9, esp. 226–9, where he largely follows the ana-
lysis of the Roman urban prefecture made by Chastagnol, 1960, pt. 2, chs 3–6.

3 Vanderspoel, 1995, 209–10, argues that references to the 'holy month' involving legal
amnesties at Or. 31.352b mean Lent rather than January 384 (contra Scholze, 1911,57) since
Theodosius was in the process of transferring such matters from their traditional position at
the start of the Roman year to the run-up to Easter: C.Th. 9.35.4 (cf. 2.8.19). Or. 18 which
followed Or. 31 chronologically was given in the sixth year of Theodosius' reign (Jan. 384 to
Jan. 385: 217d) while Themistius was still in office, so this cannot have been Lent 385.

-285-

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