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23.06.02 Brélaz/Rose (eds.), Civic Identity and Civic Participation in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

23.06.02 Brélaz/Rose (eds.), Civic Identity and Civic Participation in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

This is an important book that returns to a number of questions fundamental to the history of civic identity, which Cédric Brélaz and Els Rose set out clearly in the introduction: What remained of civic organization from the fourth century onwards and what place did the people have in the cities? In a context marked by the restriction of local autonomy, the development of social inequalities, and Christianization, what forms did the expression of belonging to a community take? Finally, what was the awareness of the Roman heritage in the transformations between the fourth and seventh centuries? These questions are old, but the authors of the volume renew them in a notable way: many of them underline on the one hand the permanence of local patriotism, and on the other hand the transformation of the form of popular participation with the development of acclamations or of the practice of citizenship. Two conclusions are also clear: the civic model, or at least reference to it, remained well beyond the fourth century, but in the fifth century a new world started emerging under the influence of Christianity. The quality of the volume lies in the fact that the contributors have responded in a precise, detailed, and sometimes “microscopic” manner, as Claudia Rapp rightly says in her afterword, by calling on a large number of sources, historiographical, epigraphic, legal, and jurisprudential.

The book presents a great coherence, even if certain questions are not treated with all the breadth that one would expect. This concerns the civic vocabulary itself. For example, only one article, that of Michael Kulikowski, specifically questions the persistence of Roman titles of cities, and very few, the meaning ofpopulus or suffragium, when they refer to the popular consensus. Also, the substitution of acclamations for the institutional participation of the people is not sufficiently conceptualized. Certainly, there has always been a difference in nature between the vote in the assembly and the demonstration; one gives a procedural legitimacy, the other makes the people visible. Both are imperfect because the representation of the people is ideally plural, as we can see from the republican era. But what happens when acclamation remains the only expression of the people? Is this a sign of a disintegration of the civic model or the continuity of the same system with another form? Also, many articles focus on the elites, but only Avshalom Laniado asks what qualified them as such and whether they constitute a coherent group. Finally, as far as identity is concerned, I would have appreciated a more precise study of the non-civic levels of belonging (college, neighborhood, etc.). This would have made it possible to better question the distinction between civic and public--the notion of public space being hardly discussed in these articles. These criticisms do not detract from the pleasure of reading this comparative book. And this book will undoubtedly mark the field.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first part, Clifford Ando and Cédric Brélaz summarize the forms of civic participation and identity under the High Empire, one for the western part and the other for the Greek part, both reminding us of the need of a local affiliation for Roman citizens, as Yan Thomas had already shown for post-Social-War Italy. Ando also insists on the influence of imperial action in local life and invites us not to overestimate the participation of the people in the local cities. In the last part of the article, he presents a very original reflection on the financial resources that the cities could draw from the “marginals” (alien residents, freedmen, inhabitants of cities or villages placed under their dependence). Brélaz shows that Greek democracies did not all become oligarchies under Roman rule. The participation of the people is obvious there, but under new forms: social pressure on civic benefactors, and especially acclamations. He also notes that the term demokratia rarely appears--except in the free cities which seem to have preserved a greater sense of autonomy. The civic spirit thus remained very important in this part of the Empire until the third century.

The second part of the book is devoted to civic identity and popular participation in late antiquity. Following his idea of a Byzantine Republic, Anthony Kaldellis explains that Constantinople was, between the fourth and the sixth centuries, a real city, endowed with a civic identity. The people participated in political life, but through demonstrations or acclamations, not through elections. However, according to Kaldellis, these demonstrations were not mere violence; part of the political game, they made or defeated the rulers, even the emperor (100). Kaldellis is right to imply that voting does not make democracy: but can we go as far as presenting as a general truth that “crucially, citizen-power is more effective when it operates outside the limited formal institutions of governance (namely elections)” (97)? In any case, according to him, this is “how it worked in Constantinople” (97). Inspired by a comparison with the political role of demonstrations in our so-called liberal democracies, Kaldellis poses three problems that do not really find responses: 1. Who is part of the active “people”? 2. In what domain were these people really active, and with what regularity? 3. How were the demonstrators described in the sources? Were they seen as a demos?

In his chapter “Social Status and Civic Participation in Early Byzantine Cities,” Laniado explains that early Byzantine cities did not lose their legal status: the emperors continued to take an interest in the activity of the municipal councillors (whose milieu, however, remained heterogeneous and went beyond the decurions alone) (119). In addition, the emperors called for the voluntary participation of the notables and put pressure on them to get involved, as shown by the laws of the fifth and sixth centuries (128). Conversely, the participation of non-notables in the affairs of the city was never encouraged (132-135).

The acclamations of the people in the election of bishops in Africa are of interest for Julio Cesar Magalhães de Oliveira. He notes, first of all, that elections are still attested for local magistrates (the sources speak of populi suffragiis nominatio--but one may wonder what suffragium really meant at the time) and that the participation of the people was also manifested by acclamation. He then suggests that these two modes of action were transposed into the church. Acclamation is presented as a form of negotiation between the people and the elites, not as a direct participation in the decision--which obviously reflects a change of perspective.

Comparing Rome and Milan in the fourth century, Pierfrancesco Porena shows that in spite of the provincialization of Italy, civic identity always prevails, either in the competition between the cities, or inside the city where the amor patriae concerns, in a classic way, the local fatherland (176-177). Civic participation is revealed especially in the inscriptions in honor of city patrons: it is expressed in the formula universus populus censimus, and also in the recording, in archived documents, of the acclamations of the people and the curia--“a lost word of sounds” (180). The author notes, however, a change between fifth and sixth centuries with the passage from euergetism to Christian charity, in a context of crisis and Christianization (183).

Michael Kulikowski, discussing Late Roman and Visigothic Spain, notes the continuity of the titles of the cities until the fifth century, but questions the continuity of the civic regime itself. He observes the abandonment of a large number of sites between 400 and 580, a phenomenon that developed with the weakening of Roman structures and the multiplication of barbarian migrations (Alans, Vandals, Suevi). Analysis of codes, formulas, and canons also shows that the vocabulary changed at this time. In the Gothic kingdom of Leovigild, for example, one no longer referred to the cities, but to the king and his officers, to the relations between the royal and ecclesiastical jurisdictions (206); one no longer spoke of populus but of gens (207); and the patrons became bishops and saints.

The third part of the volume is devoted to the reformulations of civic identity and popular participation from late antiquity. Based on the Heidelberg Epigraphical Database and the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss-Slaby, Ralph Mathisen’s article shows that, at this time, individuals displayed not only civic, but also provincial, regional, or ethnic identities, sometimes all at once, and that this is a sign of mobility. But the small percentage that these inscriptions represent in the whole corpus leads him to think that “this might be evidence of a relatively small amount of mobility” (241). This is a rather hasty conclusion. First, the people who identified themselves in this way were certainly those who were still far from their homeland at the time of their death; second, these displays are only one of the many signs of mobility; and third, this phenomenon of the accumulation of identities is not specific to late antiquity but is attested already in the second century.

Peter van Nuffelen’s article focuses on the conceptualization of popular participation in Christian sources. According to him, in Late Antiquity, “a group of individuals becomes the ‘people’ when it enters into a relationship with a superior” (253), be it a monarch, a bishop or a magistrate. From this social conception, the author concludes that one should not oppose participation and acclamation, nor look for who is hidden behind the people, nor how many people: the notion of people is “socially open-ended” (259); and, despite the absence of institutions for popular participation, acclamation could be effective and efficient. His conclusion: we cannot study this period with the same categories as previous periods. However, the author does not show how this relational conception of the people and the leader emerged. Undoubtedly, the idea that “a leader is a leader only if he is just” undoubtedly has a long tradition, but the conception according to which the people exist only through the leader does not belong at all to civic culture, where the people are thought of as independent of the leaders and even legitimizing them, at least theoretically.

Els Rose, in a rather classical way, studies the “Christianization of the Roman vocabulary,” in particular from the sermons of Caesarius, a preacher in Arles in the first half of the sixth century. In these texts, in which the Christian community is described in the terms of a civic community, the Christian appears as a stranger (peregrinus) here on earth, making his way (via) to the Christian patria. His participation in the Christian city is based on new values: caritas (which made an individual a co-civis of the angels), the liturgy, the cult of the saints, and spiritual reading.

Stefen Esders and Helmut Reimitz study the gradual transformation of late antique identities in the Merovingian world: if at the time of Clovis the kingdom was a patchwork of communities with different legal traditions of which the king was the arbiter, everything changed in the seventh century. Putting the reorganization of the kingdom (c. 613) in relation with the Bavarian law-code, the forms of the Merovingian Marculf-collection, and the Chronicle of Fredegar, the authors show the emergence of a regime of territoriality, where each one has his place whatever his ethnicity, if he was born on the spot; only the immigrants (advenae) benefited from a regime of personality. If this evolution was well known, as is also confirmed by the lex Riparia (here dated 633-34 [312-14]), the authors interestingly underline its effect on the integration of the newcomers’ children, who, born on the spot, were able to acquire a local identity. A detailed analysis is dedicated to the disappearance of the notion of civis and to the evolution of the word advena, which ended up designating, like incola, the foreign resident.

The fourth part of the book is devoted to the early Middle Ages. Matthieu Tillier reminds us of the conceptual gap that exists between the Roman world and the Islam of the first three centuries of the Hegira, where identity was only tribal; and he shows that the expression of local identity only appeared when the individual was far from home, in a foreign position. From the ninth century onwards (third century of the Hegira), however, geographical (that is to say urban) references became more numerous (341). This can be explained by the expansion of the empire and regional rivalries, the increase in the number of conversions which made tribal identification less relevant, and the development of the biographical genre which emphasized familial genealogies. Tillier adds another explanation, based on the evolution of elite participation in local life. In the early centuries of Islam, the central government recognized an important role for local elites to play in managing their affairs. While no system of permanent representation was in place (no senate, no assembly) (348; 353), temporary forms did exist, for example, delegations to the caliph. These were not supposed to report the vox populi as such, but undoubtedly appeared to be sent “on behalf of a group” (349). But these delegations disappeared at the beginning of the ninth century, when these elites lost their local power. It is exactly at this point that the expression of local identity began to develop. “The loss of control over local affairs to the benefit of strangers,” writes Tillier, “was probably responsible for such an ‘identity’-based reaction” (356). The relationship between participation and identity was in a way reversed…

The following articles, those of Marco Mostert and Gianmarco De Angelis, deal with the cities of the Western early Middle Ages, before the great communal period. Mostert emphasizes the difficulty of analyzing the identity of German cities, insofar as they did not form very unified entities and were based on many exclusions. What can be described is the display of a Christian identity through the existence of monasteries, collegiate churches, the presence of saints, and the assistance to the poor and to some foreigners. It was only in the eleventh century, as the bishops gradually lost their power, that the towns began to demand new rights for their communes. It remains to be seen how the transformation was carried out and which subset of the elite carried this project.

De Angelis, finally, takes up the well-known themes of the vitality of Italian cities, reflected in the involvement of the elites and communities, their capacity to interact with institutions and powers at all levels. It is from these interactions that a civic ideology emerged--what Chris Wickam called “cityness” --based on a shared sense of belonging to a unitary space, defined by symbolic elements such as a wall and by political participation. One would have liked to have a more precise description of this question of participation in order to better understand the return of the Roman vocabulary, the notion of populus or res publica in particular.

The volume concludes with an afterword by Claudia Rapp, who rightly emphasizes the refusal, in this volume, of any teleological approach, the new importance given to movements of opinion and popular agitation, the reformulation of belonging under the influence of Christianity, and the significance of all these questions for our own time.

Table of Contents:

C. Brélaz and E. Rose, Introduction

Part I: Local Communities, Citizenship and Civic Participation in the Early Roman Empire (First-Third Century CE)

C. Ando: “Local Citizenship and Civic Participation in the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire”

C. Brélaz, “Democracy, Citizenship and Patriotism: Civic Practices and Discourses in the Greek Cities under Roman Rule”

Part II: Local Identities, Civic Government and Popular Participation in Late Antiquity

A. Kaldellis, “Civic Identity and Civic Participation in Constantinople”

A. Laniado, “Social Status and Civic Participation in Early Byzantine Cities”

J. C. Magalhães de Oliveira, “Informal Expressions of Popular Will in Late Roman Africa”

P. Porena, “Urban Identities in Late Roman Italy”

M. Kulikowski, “Cities and Civic Identities in Late Roman and Visigothic Spain”

Part III: Rephrasing Citizenship

R. Mathisen, “Personal Identity in the Later Roman Empire”

P. Van Nuffelen, “A Relationship of Justice: Becoming the People in Late Antiquity”

E. Rose, “Reconfiguring Civic Identity and Civic Participation in a Christianizing World: The Case of Sixth-Century Arles”

S. Esders and H. Reimitz, “Legalizing Ethnicity: The Remaking of Citizenship in Post-Roman Gaul (Sixth-Seventh Century)”

Part IV: Expressions of Civic Identity in Early Middle Ages

M. Tillier, “Urban Population in Early Islam: Self-identification and Collective Representation”

M. Mostert, “Urban Culture in the Early Medieval West: The Case of the Episcopal Towns in the German Kingdom”

G. De Angelis, “Elites and Urban Communities in Early Medieval Italy: Identities, Political Initiatives and Ways of (Self-)Representation”

C. Rapp, “Citizenship and Contexts of Belonging: A Postscript”