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

By Andrew Gillett | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
THE PROVINCIAL VIEW OF HYDATIUS

In 467, the Gothic army of Toulouse assembled before its new king Euric. The soldiers, fully armed, were watched by several envoys sent to Euric by Remismund, king of the Sueves in western Spain. Circumstances were tense, for the Sueves and the Goths were on the verge of conflict. As the assembly proceeded, the envoys witnessed a strange sight, which they took to be a portent. The metal blades of the Goths' weapons changed colour; the natural metallic hues drained away, replaced for a time by green, rose-red, saffron-yellow, or black.

This story is recorded by Hydatius of Lemica, a bishop of the western Spanish province of Gallaecia, towards the end of his continuation of the Chronicle of Eusebius and Jerome. It is fitting that the most picturesque incident in Hydatius' Chronicle concerns an embassy, for embassies are an important topic in his record.1 Late antique chronicles are generically brief, yet Hydatius gives considerable room to accounts of embassies. His presentation of events is unique; no other western narrative source gives such prominence to the actual mechanics of political communication. This apparently minor difference in content deserves to be recognised and underscored, for it is the key to gaining insights into the nature and conduct of fifth-century developments. Extensive patterns of communication, though characteristic of the time, would be barely discernible but

1 For editions, see ‘Note on Editions, Commentaries, and Translations’ below. The incident was one of three prodigies witnessed and reported by the Suevic envoys (Hyd., cc. 242–4 [238] at 243). Unlike the other two, it is not a common topos (Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann, Philologische Studien Zur Chronik des Hydatius von Chaves (Palingenesia 47; Stuttgart, 1994), 146). There is a near-contemporary comparandum: Procopius, Wars iv, 2.5–7 (the effect may be explicable by natural chemical change of the metals). Later writers exploited the ambiguity of the portents: Fredegar, Chron. II, 56 (portending Gothic defeat at the battle of Vouillé); Isidore, Hist. Goth., 34 (part of a generally encomiastic account of Euric). Jacek Banaszkiewicz, ‘Les hastes colorées des Wisigoths d'Euric (Idace c. 243)’, Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire 72.2 (1994), 225–40, strains the text to present a triumphalist view of Euric (for a more modest view of Euric at the time of his accession: Gillett, ‘The Accession of Euric’).

Important topic in Chron.: Muhlberger, Fifth-Century Chroniclers, 211; Suzanne Teillet, Des Goths à la nation gothique: les origines de l'idée de nation en Occident du Ve au VIIe siècle (Paris, 1984), 222–3; Burgess, ‘Hydatius’, 69–70.

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