Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, C. 300-600 C.E

Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, C. 300-600 C.E

Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, C. 300-600 C.E

Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, C. 300-600 C.E


In a distant corner of the late antique world, along the Atlantic river valleys of western Iberia, local elite populations lived through the ebb and flow of empire and kingdoms as historical agents with their own social strategies. Contrary to earlier historiographical accounts, these aristocrats were not oppressed by a centralized Roman empire or its successor kingdoms; nor was there an inherent conflict between central states and local elites. Instead, Damián Fernández argues, there was an interdependency of state and local aristocracies. The upper classes embraced state projects to assert their ascendancy within their communities. By doing so, they enacted statehood at the local level, bringing state presence to the remotest corners of Iberia, both under Roman rule and during the later Suevic and Visigothic kingdoms.

Aristocrats and Statehood in Western Iberia, 300-600 C.E. combines archaeological and literary sources to reconstruct the history of late antique Iberian aristocracies, facilitating the study of a social class that has proved elusive when approached through the lens of a single type of evidence. This is the first study of Iberian elites that covers both the late Roman and the post-Roman periods in similar depth, and the chronological approach allows for a new perspective on social agency of late antique nobility. While the end of the Roman empire changed the political, economic, and social strategies of local aristocrats, the book also demonstrates a considerable degree of continuity that lasted until the late sixth century.


This book is about statehood in the westernmost corner of the late antique world. It is neither about late antique state institutions nor about state ideology in late antiquity. Both institutions and ideology play an important role in this book, but its focus lies elsewhere. in the following chapters I will describe the enactment of social power in late antique Western Iberia. I will explain how a class of men (and occasionally women) created, embodied, and reproduced state-sanctioned power in Western Iberia. Simply put, this book will study aristocracy and aristocrats.

I will trace the history of Western Iberian aristocracies in late antiquity, covering the period between the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian (284–305) and the rule of the Visigoth Reccared (586–601). This book will show how being part of the social elite consisted in enacting statehood at the local level and, hence, pursuing state-sanctioned power. Likewise, conspicuous aristocratic consumption and personal tastes were more than the product of in de pen dent cultural developments. Rather, they bespoke efforts to manifest membership in the ruling class of a polity and reveal the competition for power within this class. the ebb and flow of state projects in this remote corner of the late antique world did not result only from events outside of the region. They also, and perhaps predominantly, flowed from the efforts of local individuals to assert their social dominance. Thus this book will emphasize aristocratic agency in the reproduction of state power.

The dramatic dearth of textual evidence poses a serious challenge to the historical reconstruction of Iberian aristocracies. From this perspective, late antique aristocrats in the Iberian Peninsula were an invisible class. Only in a handful of documents do we hear echoes of voices from the dominant social group during the three centuries covered in this book. Not only are aristocracies difficult to trace; the reconstruction of almost every aspect of the social . . .

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