Stefanie Kennell

title.none: Amory, People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554 (Kennell)

identifier.other: baj9928.9805.011 98.05.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stefanie Kennell,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Amory, Patrick. People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp.. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-57151-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.05.11

Amory, Patrick. People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp.. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-521-57151-0.

Reviewed by:

Stefanie Kennell

People and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy, 489-554 is the still-bulky (introduction, eight chapters, conclusion, five appendices) revised version of Patrick Amory's 1994 Cambridge thesis, supervised by Rosamond McKitterick. Under the Ostrogothic kings from Theoderic to Teia, Italy sat uneasily on the cusp between Graeco-Roman antiquity and the Middle Ages, so the manner in which its two peoples, the Romans and the Goths, distinguished themselves and were differentiated culturally and politically is of interest both to students of the Roman and Byzantine empires and to medievalists concerned with the seeds of ethnic and national identity in Europe. Desiring to make us aware of the deleterious effects of received stereotypical interpretations of the past, People and Identity (henceforth People and Identity) raises a great many fashionable questions, including "And how did people called "Goth" feel?" (175). Its central thesis is that the label "(Ostro-)Goth" represents a conscious political and geographical construct created by the Romans and the "Goths" themselves rather than a natural cultural, linguistically unified entity. Amory tries to make his point by exposing the development and deployment of what he terms "ethnographic ideologies" in the late antique Mediterranean. Beginning with an attempt to revise (or at least cleanse) our conceptual vocabulary, he proceeds through the literature on ancient ethnography and early medieval ethnogenesis to a consideration of the "ideologies" employed by Gothic rulers, the different roles that cultural background, language, profession, place of residence, political allegiance, and religious affiliation played in defining "identity," ethnic or otherwise. Each chapter has its own conclusion, as does the book as a whole, which actually ends in a rambling 139-page "Prosopographical Appendix," an extended commentary on how Amory identifies Goths. What does People and Identity manage to prove? Although Amory attempts to redefine our vocabulary for late antiquity as a series of technical terms by supplying a glossary for words like "ideology" (defined as "articulated systems of thought about the ideal community, propagated by powerful individuals and institutions", xiv) and inviting readers to imagine "Goths" and "Romans" with inverted commas around them, the Goths and Romans of traditional scholarly nomenclature are still around once the book gets going. That the ethnic identity of Theoderic's Goths was in large measure a conscious "ideological" construct rather than an anthropologically verifiable "belief in a shared ancestry and a shared past, with consequent common cultural traits and political goals" (xiv), is less controversial than Amory would have us believe, given the fluidity of mobile barbarian agglomerations and the shifting nomenclature of the sources. Even in the Roman Empire at its height, ethnicity for those considered members of the Graeco-Roman insider group was often a conscious cultural construct, with "cultural traits and political goals" (xiv, "ethnicity" defined) more the cause than the consequence of willed cohesion. Throughout People and Identity, Amory uses commonplaces from ancient ethnography and geography as his touchstones while seeking to apply definitions abstracted from anthropological and sociological literature. He concludes, "For fifth- and sixth-century Mediterranean men and women, classical education and its associated ethnographic categories was only one element of a common culture that included a vast diversity of ways of behaving." (316). With this declaration, Amory signs off, having added nothing to his original intellectual baggage. In place of traditional stereotypes, a troop of inappropriate current notions rises up unchallenged. In today's world, we try to use inclusive language, but how many Mediterranean women enjoyed a "classical education," especially after the rise of Christianity? How many people at any period in antiquity actually lived their lives according to "ethnographic categories?" Was ancient Mediterranean "common culture" a thing wholly separate from "classical education?" The social world of twentieth-century North America and Europe may boast "a vast diversity of ways of behaving;" the same, though, can hardly be said of traditional societies, to which Amory's "common culture" is supposed to belong. Historical research can indeed gain new insights by borrowing analytical structures from the social sciences (as Amory himself avers, 18), but it can only do so when both the terms of analysis and the character of the subject to be analyzed are fully understood. It is all very well to ask sociological questions of the inhabitants of sixth-century Italy, but given the non-statistical evidence for that place and time, we cannot expect twentieth-century answers. What we can expect to find is that most people were motivated more by considerations of basic survival than of ideological correctness and ethnic purity. The case of the soldier Gundila, whose change of religious affiliation failed to help recover property lost during the Gothic Wars, would have brought this message home had Amory presented and developed the documentation more cogently (149-52, 321-25). Instead, more space, both in the text and in the footnotes, is spent presenting and disputing with the secondary literature than with the common sources from which all theories have been constructed. For instance, when Amory addresses the literature on region and profession as they relate to barbarian groups and the Roman army, Amory simply pits one scholar against another (33 and n. 79). Likewise, his treatment of the Edictum Theoderici could have illuminated that text's problems and implications as a policy document (78-82) but too much of the argumentation is tucked away in footnotes of excessive length and complexity, including one (n. 188) with a missing cross-reference. A fairly high degree of philological (and indeed rhetorical) competence is required for those who wish to rewrite the history of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. The myriad of literary and non-literary texts available to us still lack standard translations, and even when such exist, they must be checked and rechecked to validate a particular interpretation. When Amory comes to grips with the documentary evidence underpinning his views, his Latin (and Greek) are not equal to the task. Examples from his work with Cassiodorus and Ennodius must stand for the quality of the entire book (other readers will note difficulties with Procopius). Some of Amory's readings of Cassiodorus may seem merely clumsy; his pages are clogged with great untranslated lumps of Latin (e.g. 52, 53, 55, 65, 68). Amory finds that "ideological inconsistency" in the Variae from 507/511 results from modulations of civilitas rhetoric to suit different addressees (59-62). Little does he realize that the rhetorically adept Cassiodorus was just doing his job. At least one, though, is pernicious. In the title of Chapter 2, "The Ravenna Government and Ethnographic Ideology: From Civilitas to Bellicositas", Amory coins new terminology without actually grasping its implications. He presents bellicositas as a counterpart to civilitas, that great buzzword of Theoderic's regime (43), without alerting unwary readers to the fact that it is his own invention, used neither by Cassiodorus nor by Ennodius (cf. 162). Amory's use of Ennodius is marked by naivety and incompetence. At the end of Chapter 1, evaluating the likelihood that the "Gothic" army had enough womenfolk to maintain its identity, he argues against Delbrueck's belief that the existence of families indicated ethnic cohesion because he thinks only Procopius mentions it (fifty years later: n.108). His omission of Ennodius, Pan. Theod. 26-27, is inexcusable. Yet in Chapter 4, Amory gives a positive assessment of the Pan. Theod. based on little or no evidence (113-117). He states moreover that the work, which was "written for the government" and "represented his own views" (113 and n. 22), contains "several themes from Cassiodoran rhetoric" (114), a chronologically improbable claim. A more profound ignorance of Latin emerges in Amory's disquisition on Ennodian civilitas (116). We are told "the word derives from cives and civilis" ("by way of" is more apposite), how Quintilian used civilitas (irrelevant because the three occurrences in the Inst. differ from Ennodius' and Cassiodorus' use), that "the Institutes formed the end of a gentleman's rhetorical training" (not corroborated by his reference, Riche, Education and Culture 6, 40), and that because "Ennodius adverted to Quintilian in a dictio on law," he was familiar with that author's works. This reviewer would certainly like to think so, but that item (op. 363 = Dict.21), a controversia on the same theme as the pseudo-Quintilianic Decl. Maj. 5, Aeger redemptus, proves nothing of the sort. Each canonical division of Ennodius' speech has its own title, so the first part, spelling out the legal premise, is labelled THEMA. LEX.. In taking the theme of the whole dictio as "law," Amory misconstrues the Latin here, which is characteristic of all controversiae. After this, Amory cites Ennodius' letter to Liberius commending the latter's handling of the Gothic settlement (op. 447) as an instance of Ennodius telling government operatives "what they want to hear" (117); three years after the Panegyric, Ennodius had other priorities, as Amory ought to know. Amory's findings on the Vita Epifani (118-19, cf. 201-202) are equally unsatisfactory. He finds the work territorially more restricted than those of the classical geographers (it's a saint's life, not Strabo!) and to privilege "Catholic" and "Roman" over Graeculus (in a speech attributed to Ligurian nobles). The pages on Eugippius' Vita Severini (120-21) are no better. Unlike Ennodius, Amory notes, Eugippius conveys a strong sense that the Empire has ended; anyone from the Empire's periphery, whether Noricum or north of the Humber, undoubtedly shared this feeling. Amory also finds it curious that Eugippius' text identifies "Romans" with "inhabitants of cities," apparently forgetting the connection between "Roman civilization" and urban life a mere five pages after his civilitas effusion. People and Identity's failings are not limited to philological and historical issues. Also faulty is the handling of matters ecclesiastical, primarily in Chapter 6 (also scattered about the book: cf. 144, 153-59). Historical background, theological niceties, and the social implications of confessional authority all fare badly. Amory's analysis of the behavior of the Apostolic See and its partisans from Gelasius to Gregory the Great is largely unconscious of its fifth-century antecedents; Pietri (Roma Christiana) is absent from the bibliography, as is Wojtowytsch (Papsttum und Konzile von den Anfangen bis zum Leo I). The passing references to the Theopaschite alternative compared to Arianism (215 [not 205, as the index says] and n. 96, 222; cf. Moorhead, Theoderic 206-207), make it clear Amory does not grasp what Chalcedon meant to the Papacy, Christologically or ideologically. Exposure to chancery practice and the principles of generic composition, which extend even to legal documents in all their repetitiveness, would have tempered his views of the correspondence of Cassiodorus, "the fanatically pro-Symmachan" Ennodius (204), and various Popes (e.g. Hormisdas, 206-213; Vigilius, 226-34), as well as the Italian papyri. Without a working knowledge of the duties incumbent upon various levels of the clerical hierarchy, Amory is driven to ask, vis-a-vis the formulaic subscriptions of the legal papyri, "But why a deacon? Is this a piece of Gothic church tradition in Italy that has otherwise missed us?" (254). These documents concern property, for which deacons were generally responsible; sectarian or "ethnic" considerations are irrelevant. Appendix 4, "Dress, hairstyle and military customs", which confronts some of the hoariest of Germanic cliches, is noteworthy for its mistreatment of both visual and textual evidence. Amory declares that "specious 'Gothic' cultural traits" (338) such as beards, military dress, long hair, and assorted army customs were common to the sixth-century military and thus had no power to earmark anyone as a "Goth." The "Roman" and "Gothic" characteristics he dismisses, however, are derived from only a smattering of often misinterpreted evidence. Given Theoderic's leading role in the construction and projection of the "ideology" of "Gothic identity," the want of comprehensive, up-to-date scholarship on the iconography of Italy's first Ostrogothic king and his family severely reduces the value of Amory's exercise, which consists mainly of semidigested references to Delbrueck, Deichmann, and Wolfram (cf. 347 n. 57). That some Romans wore beards does not force us to conclude that Goths were clean-shaven, nor do Procopius' words "they used to call this 'the Hunnic fashion'" mean that barbarian hairstyles had shed their foreign connotations by his time (339-341). Amory alludes disjointedly to imperial legislation against Romans wearing big cloaks with pins (no trousers, no references), then tries to argue against Delbrueck's and Wolfram's views on "Phrygian caps" without understanding what the words pilos/pilleus mean (341- 42). He denies the eagle brooches usually associated with Goths possess any distinctively "Germanic" character because eagles had long been a feature of Roman iconography, obtusely omitting to notice that Roman eagles were never stylized in this fashion (343-44). Sidonius' testimony that Burgundians applied butter as Brylcreem (mis-cited: 344 n. 42) is dismissed as a classicizing "satirical" turn concealing the existence and proper use of soap. Another paragraph about hairstyles refers negligently to Pliny, Dio Chrysostom, and Jordanes on capillati and pilleati; through a careless paraphrase of Wolfram, the latter is erroneously said to mean "curly-haired" (345-46) although Getica 71-72 clearly distinguishes between "cap-wearers" and "the hairy-headed". Given its self-proclaimed topicality, People and Identity's lack of cultural sensitivity is remarkable. "Goth and Roman" are glossed (xv) as "ideologically loaded terms . . . . In order to avoid circular argumentation, the groups commonly referred to in scholarly literature as Goths and Romans in Italy are called 'the settlers' or 'the followers of Theoderic,' and the 'Italians,' 'natives,' or 'indigenous population,' respectively" (196, n. 2 is equally oblivious to implications of both Goths as "settlers" and living "indigenous" populations). Despite invoking Bosnia, Rwanda, and Cape Cod (the Mashpee), underpinned by massive footnotes, the highlight of the book turns out to be a quotation written in 1943 by the great Byzantinist Norman Baynes on the subject of race (15). In his conclusion, Amory is firmly oblivious to religion as a determining factor in real-life "ethnic identity," adducing the contemporary situation of Croatia (Krajina) to show "the hopelessness of selecting ethnicity as an explanation of group behavior in sixth-century Italy" (317) without noticing sectarian allegiance is what effectively distinguishes Serb from Croat. At bottom, People and Identity's problem is too many pages of text, too little new to say. Momentary flashes of unsubstantiated insight disappear amid billowy belaborings of the obvious, so that Amory can state, "Theoderic had always found it easy to be ruthless" (69). The same may be said of any number of Roman emperors; his "ethnicity" cannot be held responsible. Boethius is "accused of political treason" (217); was there another sort? With all the people Amory thanks in the preface for reading part or all of the original manuscript, it is a pity no one caught whopping errors like Proba becoming Boethius' sister (125), the summary redating of the pontificates of Hormisdas and John I (214; 220 baldly refers to "the pope's murder" despite the presence of Noble, "Theodoric and the Papacy," in the bibliography), an edict of Justinian condemning a heretic named "Nestor" (222), and Theoderic becoming consul four years later than usual (456). Judicious pruning, particularly of the footnotes, and cultivation of the central argument could have yielded a shapelier, more compelling book of perhaps 250 pages. In its present state (editorial oversights: 201, 211; German, Greek errors: 505, 507, 510), People and Identity does not deserve its imposing price tag.