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

By Andrew Gillett | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
NEGOTIUM AGENDUM

Vitigis, leader of the Goths, worsted in war [by Belisarius], sent two
envoys to Chosroes, the king of the Persians, to persuade him to march
against the Romans. In order that the real character of the embassy might
not be at once obvious, the men whom he sent were not Goths but priests
of Liguria who were attracted to this enterprise by rich gifts of money. One
of these men, who seemed to be the more worthy, undertook the embassy
assuming the pretended name of bishop, which did not belong to him at
all, while the other followed as his attendant… Vitigis also entrusted to
them a letter written to Chosroes and sent them off.

Procopius, Wars ii, 2.1–2; vi, 22.20. Cf. ii, 2.3–12, 14.11–12; vi,
22.17–25

The authors studied in previous chapters give some intimation of the constant activity and complexity of political communication throughout the late and post-imperial world. The interchange of communication between different levels of authority, using well-maintained traditions, continued to serve a central role in public administration as it had under the earlier empire. But, as Procopius' vignette demonstrates, political communication also shaped crucial political developments in the fifth and sixth centuries.

The role of two nameless members of the lower Italian clergy in triggering the conflict of 540–4 between the late antique 'super-powers' of the eastern Roman empire and Sassanian Persia dramatically illustrates the potential of late antique patterns of communication. Procopius' account of the prelude to renewed Roman—Persian conflict emphasises the flow of strategic information and diplomatic interchange throughout the Mediterranean, Iran, the Caucasus, and the Arabian peninsula.1 Persians, Armenians, and Italians are all alert to the progress of Justinian's

1 Procopius, Wars ii, 1–4, decribes communications between Persia and the Lakhmid Arabs, the Goths of Italy, and the Armenians; and Constantinopolitan embassies to the Lakhmids, the Utigur Huns, and Chosroes. For the context: Bury ii, 89–113; Stein ii, 485–92; Lee, Information and Frontiers, 111, 113; Ifran Shahîd, Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century 1 (Washington, DC, 1995), 209–18.

-220-

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