Envoys and Political Communication in the Late Antique West, 411-533

By Andrew Gillett | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This study sprang from several coincidences. I chanced to read Hydatius, Priscus, and Senarius' Epitaph (tucked away in the indexes of Mommsen's edition of Cassiodorus) at much the same time, and was struck not only by the importance of ‘diplomacy’ to all three texts, but also by the fact that while diplomatic communication was a prominent feature in modern literature on the Byzantine East, it was not much evident in studies of the early medieval West. At much the same time, we were all wakened each morning by radio news of the ‘shuttle diplomacy’ preceding the Gulf War of January-February 1991. These tense events suggested parallels with the repeated embassies in Hydatius, and with Senarius' boast of visiting eastern and western capitals twice within one year; more significantly, they focused the mind on the interconnectedness of communication and warfare. Some time later I began to research ‘diplomacy in the West’, but soon became convinced that the fragmentary nature of the sources precluded any meaningful ‘diplomatic history’ of the period, if the purpose of such a history was to gain insight into what our sources call the arcana and secreta of the imperial and royal courts. The most expansive sources tend to describe the policy intentions of the centres of power at best superficially and very rarely with any real claim to insider knowledge; what they are interested in is the importance of embassies to the careers of envoys themselves, or to their local communities. Fergus Millar's elucidating articles on the ‘internal diplomacy’ of Roman imperial administration, however, struck me as providing the proper context for understanding ‘diplomatic’ activity in the period of the empire's break-up: not as a primitive forebear of European international statecraft, but as the continued practice of communications between different levels of authority in the classical world. This study, then, focusses on the activity, not the issues, of ‘diplomacy’. The nature of the sources also dictated the methodology used in the main chapters, which foregrounds the interaction of sources, their genre, and their historical setting.

I owe many thanks to instructors and friends. Not unusually, this book descends from a doctoral dissertation, presented in 1994 at the Centre

-ix-

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