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

By Andrew Gillett | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
THE HERO AS ENVOY: SIDONIUS
APOLLINARIS' PANEGYRIC ON AVITUS

Will future races and peoples ever believe this?
— a Roman's letter annulled a barbarian's conquests.
Sidonius, Carm. vii, lines 310–111

The response of modern critics to Sidonius' rhetorical question has been remarkably positive. In 439, three years of hostilities between the Goths of Toulouse and the empire ended through the intercession of Eparchius Avitus, then praetorian prefect of Gaul, later, briefly, emperor of the western half of the empire. Where the army had failed, Avitus succeeded by exercising his personal influence over the court of Toulouse. This, at least, is the version given by Sidonius in his Panegyric, delivered sixteen years later to celebrate the imperial consulate of his father-in law, Avitus.

With some reservations, Sidonius' version of the events of 439 generally has been accepted — a small victory for a poem described as possessing ‘a very moderate portion either of genius or of truth’.2 This acceptance reflects less Sidonius' credibility than the rarity of well-informed testimony of the relations between the empire and the barbarian settlers in the West in the mid-fifth century. The Panegyric on Avitus is an almost unique portrait of contacts between the Gallic aristocracy and the Gothic monarchy of Toulouse. Most of the political elements active in Hydatius' Gallaecia are present: regional aristocracy, civil and military imperial officers in the provinces, barbarian rulers and army, and the western imperial court in Italy (but not the Church, which has no role to play in the genre

1 For editions, see ‘Note on Editions, Commentaries, and Translations' below. For Sidonius’ life: A. Klotz, ‘Sidonius i’, RE ii A. 2, 2230–8; Stevens, Sidonius; Harries, Sidonius; C. Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius: Brief, Buch I, ed. and trans. Helga Kohler (Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften n.s. 2, 96; Heidelberg, 1995), 3–6; see too F Prevol, ‘Deux fragments de l’ epitaphe de Sidoine Apollinaire découverts á Clermont-Ferrand', Antiquité Tardive 1 (1993), 223–9.

2 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. David Womersley, 3 vols. (London, 1994), 11, 368 (c. 36); cf. 363 n. 12. Acceptance: e.g. by Bury 1, 250; Stein 1, 324. Rejection of Sidonius' account: Michel Rouche, L'Aquitaine des Wisigoths aux Arabes, 418–781: naissance d'une region (Paris, 1979), 28 (concerning related events of 437); Harries, Sidonius, 68–9.

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