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“From ‘Romulus’ to Justinian patronage was a defining characteristic of what it meant to be Roman.” Far from disappearing in the late empire, patronage remained an essential tool for the recruitment of imperial administrators and happily coexisted (and, indeed, flourished) alongside the new system of the sale of offices. This has been argued by Peter Garnsey in this volume with special reference to socio-political advancement and the exercise of patronage in a legal context, and with the use in particular of letters of recommendation. My contribution will illustrate a related, but less studied aspect of patronage, namely, that concerning the activity of powerful patrons in arranging socially and economically advantageous matches on behalf of their protégés. The core evidence for my chapter is also provided by letters. In this respect, the letters of Symmachus are a treasure trove of first-hand information and a precious document of the continued importance of betrothal among the Roman upper classes in late antiquity. Furthermore, a comparison with the letters of Pliny and Augustine respectively will show the remarkable continuity of practices and ideals in both the arrangements of marriages and the exercise of this aspect of patronage.
The letters that I will discuss are best understood as a subgenre of the more familiar letter of recommendation, the epistula commendaticia, with which they share the same rhetorical strategies.
One had only to open the pages of Ammianus to see that this was a source for late Roman history that…was a wonderfully effective introduction to a new age, combining the unexpected features of this new age with a more or less traditional way of describing them. After the well-practiced regularities of early imperial history, what was striking about the later Roman empire was its richness and diversity, and its massive and varied documentation; and here was a writer prepared to address it in the familiar terms of the Classical historian.
The work of John Matthews can be described in much the same terms that he uses to introduce the historian Ammianus Marcellinus in the second edition of his book The Roman Empire of Ammianus. Across a long and distinguished career, Matthews has framed late antiquity in classical terms, but with an eye to bringing out the distinctive contours of the new age. Like Ammianus, Matthews never pretends that the structures and routines of the high empire survive unchanged into late antiquity. Yet, again like his most famous subject, Matthews also recognizes the advantages of using classical tools to draw upon the great range and relative abundance of sources available to reconstruct the history of the later empire.
An integrated collection of essays examining the politics, social networks, law, historiography, and literature of the later Roman world. The volume treats three central themes: the first section looks at political and social developments across the period and argues that, in spite of the stress placed upon traditional social structures, many elements of Roman life remained only slightly changed. The second section focuses upon biographical texts and shows how late-antique authors adapted traditional modes of discourse to new conditions. The final section explores the first years of the reign of Theodosius I and shows how he built upon historical foundations while unfurling new methods for utilising, presenting, and commemorating imperial power. These papers analyse specific events and local developments to highlight examples of both change and continuity in the Roman world from 284–450.