Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius

Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius

Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius

Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius


The division of the late Roman Empire into two theoretically cooperating parts by the brothers Valentinian and Valens in 364 deeply influenced many aspects of government in each of the divisions. Although the imperial policies during this well-documented and formative period are generally understood to have been driven by the religious and ideological aims of the emperors, R. Malcolm Errington argues that the emperors were actually much more pragmatic in their decision making than has previously been assumed.

The division of responsibilities between the emperors inevitably encouraged separate developments and allowed locally varying and often changing imperial attitudes toward different forms of religious belief. Errington demonstrates that the main stimulus for action in this period nearly always came from below the level of the imperial government, and not from an imperial initiative. Extending the theory of Fergus Millar into the later empire, Errington argues that the emperors were fundamentally reactive to regionally supplied information, as Millar has asserted was the case for the High Empire. Thus, despite significant structural changes, the empire remained broadly traditional in its operations.


This small book has been long in the making. Since the Magnum Opus of A. H. M. Jones appeared in 1964, late antiquity in general has experienced a boom in historical activity, but relatively little further attention has been directed to the functioning of the state, perhaps on the assumption that Jones had said it all. For his generation, he had. More recent historical work on the law codes, however, suggests that a new approach to the extant legislation might offer a more realistic view of the apparently monolithic structure of the later Roman state in traditional historical accounts. Also, a more critical approach to the function of imperial panegyric has opened new ways of looking at the imperial governmental apparatus. In this book I have tried to draw attention to some central areas where a fresh handling of important sources seems to offer the prospect of fruitful results.

I am grateful to students in a series of Marburg seminars, where the ideas worked out in this book were first tried out; those ideas were then further developed in detail in articles published in Chiron and Klio. I have not attempted to give an exhaustive coverage of all aspects of the late Roman state—that would doubtless have taken me another twenty years—and, given the huge amount of international academic production, I imagine I have missed important contributions to the subjects I have covered. I apologize to their authors. There are also many other areas illuminated by the extant legislation where a critical approach might be equally fruitful: the forthcoming Marburg doctoral dissertation of Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner on aspects of the legislation of Valentinian I will treat some of these and show the kind of thing that remains to be done.

I wish to thank all who have tolerated my obsession with the later fourth century over the past twenty years, but in particular Hans-Ulrich Wiemer, whose own work grew along with my own and who in frequent discussions listened to raw ideas and at a later stage read a version of the . . .

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