Anthony Kaldellis

title.none: Maas, ed, The Age of Justinian (Anthony Kaldellis)

identifier.other: baj9928.0601.025 06.01.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Anthony Kaldellis, Ohio State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Maas, Michael, ed. The Cambridge Companion to The Age of Justinian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xxxvi, 626. $75.00 0-521-81746-3. ISBN: $34.99 0-521-52071-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.01.25

Maas, Michael, ed. The Cambridge Companion to The Age of Justinian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xxxvi, 626. $75.00 0-521-81746-3. ISBN: $34.99 0-521-52071-1.

Reviewed by:

Anthony Kaldellis
Ohio State University

This volume CCAJ contains nineteen introductory essays written by experts in the major fields of research relating to the Age of Justinian (518-565 A.D.). Its editor, a skilled interpreter of cultural change in sixth-century Constantinople, notes in the introduction (ch. 1) that this Age has been overshadowed by the fall of the western empire in the fifth century and the rise of Islam in the seventh (5). So far it has been served by monographs (esp. by J. B. Bury; E. Stein; J. Barker; J. Moorhead; J. A. S. Evans; M. Meier; and O. Mazal), and a collection of papers (The Sixth Century: End or Beginning?, Brisbane, 1996) meant to stimulate but not comprehensively cover the period or introduce it. The obvious competitor is v. 14 of the new Cambridge Ancient History, which is longer but covers more ground (425-600 A.D. and the West), and contains narratives and thematic analysis. The CCAJ, by contrast, does not include a narrative. The reign is briefly outlined in the introduction (5-9), as are later the wars in the west (462-466) and with Persia (479-482, 486-490). If assigned in a course, then, it must be supplemented with a narrative, but the chapters on Christology (ch. 9), the anti-Chalcedonian Church (ch. 10), and emperors and popes (ch. 11), are essentially narratives. In sum, the CCAJ offers a thematic exposition more focused on the Age of Justinian than one can piece together from the later chapters of the CAH, though it lacks the latter's useful regional surveys.The focus is on the eastern, soon-to-be Byzantine, empire under Justinian, with emphasis on what Greek, Latin, and archaeological sources tell us. Egypt hardly appears, Syria intermittently, non-classical literary sources very rarely. Given the omission of narrative, Belisarius and the Nika riots are missing (at 71-72 the factions are discussed as causing disturbances, but what they were is not explained). Some chapters begin directly with 518 (or 527) A.D., while others include background. The topics covered are: economy and administration; Constantinople; cities; war; plague; law; ideology; Christological controversy; the anti-Chalcedonian Church; emperors and popes; piety; philosophy; art and architecture; literature; Jews; gender; barbarian kingdoms; the East; and the background to Islam. The only misnamed chapter is 10: "Society and Community in the Christian East" is really "The Emergence of an anti-Chalcedonian Church" (cf. 241). There is almost no overlap among the chapters, a sign of effective editorial control. Only pp. 198-202 (ideology) repeat parts of ch. 7 (law). Chs. 9 (Christological controversy) and 10 (anti-Chalcedonians) complement each other nicely.The flip side of this division of labor is fragmentation. The contributions do not work together to present a coherent picture and there are no common themes running through the book. In his introduction, Maas announces the theme of "change" (5), but this is too vague. He also suggests the strength of empire and the transition to Byzantium (3-4), but these are not taken up later. Justinian's ideology, proposed as another possible common theme (4), is discussed only in chapters that bear directly on it (especially ch. 8). One of the contributions (ch. 9) even seems to undercut it, by arguing that Justinian "was not concerned about the theological issues per se" but was only interested in brokering deals (228). Other proposed themes are the capital and Justinian himself (21), but the former is taken up only in the relevant chapter (ch. 3) while the latter is oddly absent from the CCAJ. This volume is not the place to learn what kind of man or ruler Justinian was (cf. 503: he was "excessively pragmatic").Whom does the CCAJ address? We can rule out the ends of the spectrum, the general public (including undergraduate students) and specialists on the period. The prose is too often academic (e.g., 102-103: "public buildings. . . created performance space in which citizen behavior, whether ritualized in processions. . . or during less scripted social interaction. . ., communicated urban values," etc.). Also, readers must already be familiar with late antiquity to follow the presentation, otherwise they will be dropped in media res. Ch. 9 (Christology) is over half background, but one still needs to know about theological controversies to understand that background. The paradox is heightened in ch. 2, which presents basic information about the ancient economy using a language that can be understood only by those who already know that information (e.g., 37: "Disruption of one area would thus affect comparable exchange zones in terms of reduction of supply or market demand," etc.). How many readers will know what an "emphyteutic lease" is (40)?As for specialists (of whom, admittedly, there are very few), there is hardly anything new for them. The only exception is ch. 6 (plague), which argues a point of biology. P. Horden admirably makes the science accessible, but admits that "nothing turns on the outcome of the debate" (151). Most of the chapter has nothing to do with the sixth-century plague (as opposed to its later counterparts). Only three pages discuss its effects (153-156). Oddly, the plague is absent from other chapters as well. Horden claims (153) that only one other chapter (ch. 2) includes it "as an ingredient in major change," but all I could find there was one half-sentence mention that it occurred (54), with no discussion (cf. Maas' similarly unfounded claim at 24 n. 18 about the plague in ch. 2).In short, the CCAJ is most useful for graduate students and scholars in related fields who want to know what is currently being said about the sixth century. No doubt it will serve their needs. Each contribution succinctly presents the basics and summarizes the latest research. Some are excellent introductions, e.g., chs. 7 (C. Humfress on law); 8 (C. Pazdernik on ideology); and 19 (G. Greatrex on the East). In clear prose not laden with abstractions, they lucidly present the basic background and concepts, cite illustrative sources, and balance theory and reality. Ch. 3 (B. Croke on Constantinople) is an evocative reconstruction of people, places, and events, hinting at the riches that may one day make a fascinating monograph. Ch. 12 (D. Krueger on piety) ably discusses the subtle changes that occurred in the theory and practice of Christian religious worship, highlighting a new interest in the Biblical narrative and the increasing tactile materiality of popular piety.Other contributors were set impossible tasks, notably chs. 13 (philosophy) and 15 (literature). Both fields are too vast and underdeveloped to be summarized in twenty pages, so the contributors focus on the social aspects, largely leaving out what the ancient authors themselves had to say. In twenty years, it might be possible to have a separate Companion for that. The Age of Justinian, after all, produced innovative writers who revived and perfected old genres and even invented new ones, including political and ecclesiastical histories and chronicles; antiquarianism and legal scholarship; epigrams, kontakia, and Latin epic; panegyrics in prose and verse; diplomatic and ethnographic memoirs; medical encyclopedias and scientific treatises; philosophical dialogues and commentaries; hagiography, hymnography, and theology, in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic. The CCAJ downplays this amazing production and does not attempt to explain it. No contribution engages in close readings of individual texts.The crucial challenge of this Age, however, is that its texts cannot be avoided, notably those by Procopius, which dominate the notes of almost half the chapters. Now, one of the editor's guidelines was apparently that the CCAJ present material without hinting at scholarly disagreement (there are few exceptions, e.g., 109 on the notables--briefly--and ch. 20 on the background to Islam). Unanimity prevails: all is well in Maas' view of the Age. But the problems of literary interpretation will have to be faced eventually, especially regarding Procopius. It has long been recognized that traditional readings were inadequate, even before my too recent Procopius of Caesarea: Tyranny, History, and Philosophy and the End of Antiquity (Philadelphia, 2004). The CCAJ offers no statement regarding its Main Source. The Secret History was hardly a "private joke" nor should we view it as "art for art's sake" just because it did not have a patron (386)--here the priorities of the social historian override the concerns of the ancient author. Was Procopius a product of his age, conforming to the imperialism, religion, superstition, shallow learning, and misogyny of his "Age," or was he instead a dissident against those things, enabled by his classical paideia to think and to say what few others could or would?Ch. 17 (gender) is probably the only one that engages with Procopius' outlook (or an aspect of it) and is picked on here because of this singular merit. L. Brubaker receives high marks for avoiding the word misogyny and the trap that has snared her predecessors, namely of assuming that Procopius' hatred of Theodora proves his misogyny (434-436). But note that all three passages that she cites to prove that he conformed to an elite masculine model in fact reveal--and are cited because they reveal--that he "inverted Byzantine gender stereotypes" (430). Procopius is full of "transgression," but he receives no credit from the modern gender analyst for this. No degree of "inversion" can shake the paradigm of the elitist male author "troubled by" or "hostile to" women in power. But when we are told that Procopius was typical of his class, we wonder: did Roman men regularly practice gender inversions in their thinking? If so, why is this not a major part of the analysis? In reality, Procopius was exceptional in this regard (as in so many others).Scholars who work on gender are apparently the only ones who still feel that they must defend the legitimacy of their work (428-429; likewise D. Smythe in the Palgrave Advances in Byzantine History, 2005, 158 ff.). Why is this? It would help, in winning over whatever opposition remains, to avoid statements such as that "sixth-century social practice determined that fighting was an appropriate attribute of masculinity, not of femininity" (427), which makes it seem as though the author is writing from an alternate reality. It is unfair to accuse Procopius of not mentioning Theodora enough in the Wars because he "considered war to be a masculine rather than a feminine arena" (431). War was and still is a masculine arena; Procopius was being true to his subject. In the end, the field's importance is best established by solid results, such as Brubaker's insightful suspicion that Procopius' references to women reflect his anxiety about what was happening to Roman men (e.g., 442, 444) and do not stem from an interest in women as such. The preoccupation with women has so far led to a misunderstanding of Procopius' crucial evidence for gender attitudes and, I would add, political debate (for more, see my Procopius, 129-131, 142-150).Introductions are certainly necessary, but Companions can just as easily stir debate as present a solid, closed front. The intended audience of this volume might perhaps benefit more from a set of "position papers" debating controversial points head-on than from the artificial consensus of the CCAJ. Why the outburst of writing in that Age, and did it have anything to do with Justinian's regime? How did Hellenic, Roman, local, Biblical, pagan, and Christian pasts and models compete and fuse, and what institutions did they seek to dominate? Why the rush to codify knowledge (cf. 18-20, 520- 521)? How should we understand sixth-century classicism? Are our texts just "sources" or did their authors have individual objectives? Was this as monolithic a Christian empire as many believe? What were the extent and concerns of political dissidence? How influential was Justinian's own reactionary ideology in the long run? (Many view it as the basic mentality of later Byzantines.) Why was Justinian either hated or forgotten by later Byzantines? He claimed to be promoting the welfare of his subjects: how did he do, overall? How should we understand the non- Graeco-Roman elements of his empire and how much cultural space did they occupy? (Cf. ch. 16: N. de Lange on Jews.) Was being a Roman only a matter of being subject to the emperor or was it something deeper that cut across cultural and even religious divisions? The CCAJ touches on these questions barely or not at all, but a book that addressed them directly, even from competing perspectives, would spark debate and renew interest in the field (cf. the extraordinary success of A. Momigliano, ed., The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century, Oxford, 1970).In this volume, Maas' team summarize the state of the field fairly well. It's in what they don't say that we may one day discover a different Age of Justinian.