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Saturday, 13 November 2010

Goths and Romans

This is the text, more or less as given, of my paper at the '410 AD, The Sack of Rome' conference in Rome (described in the post below).  The 'and' in the title, should be italicised... :

***

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…
Alaric’s sack of Rome was always going to cause shock waves across the Empire, and thus in our evidence. The first sack of the city by people claiming – or called by – a non-Roman ethnic name for almost exactly 800 years would have been reason enough, but this attack took place against a backdrop of heated controversy and debate.
It was the epoch of belief; it was the epoch of incredulity…
In 410, the emperors had been Christian for less than a century; fewer than twenty years previously, the current Emperor’s father had outlawed non-Christian religious practice; this was the height of the very generation in which the senatorial nobility forsook its ancestral gods for the new religion and, during Alaric’s sieges, leading officials had partaken of – now illegal – pagan rites in an attempt to stave off the city’s capture.
We had everything before us; we had nothing before us; we were all going direct to heaven; we were all going direct the other way
That the first sack for eight centuries should occur against this background was always going to heighten and refract the polemic and apologetic that was bound to have happened anyway.

Not only that, but the sack took place amidst controversy about the place of barbarians inside the Roman Empire. Alaric and his men were no invading horde from barbaricum, like Radagaisus’ Goths defeated four years earlier. That would have been bad enough. These barbarians were very much within the Roman Empire and its structures. As Orosius said, Alaric was a ‘king of the Goths and a count of the Romans’. Since the end of the Gothic crisis in 382 the Roman army had recruited large numbers of Goths, so that whole units, armies even, could be referred to as ‘the Goths’. In some ways this was not new practice, but it had novel and distinctive features and its scale was, as far as we can tell, unprecedented. Around 400, Synesius of Cyrene had delivered an impassioned rant about the perils of placing these ‘wolves’ among the sheep dogs and a massacre of Goths in Constantinople occurred not long afterwards. More recently still, Stilicho’s downfall had brought forth all the usual anti-barbarian rhetoric and led to the massacre of the wives and children of those of Radagaisus’ force who had been enrolled into the army. The soldiers themselves, unsurprisingly, took themselves off to join Alaric, present in Italy precisely on the instructions of the executed barbarian public enemy.

The sack of 410 might have been less violent than many other episodes in the city’s history, such as Maxentius’ unleashing of the garrison on the rioting citizens about a century earlier; one can propose that if the impression we gain from the sources is correct – a hazardous assumption given their apologetic nature – Alaric’s capture of the city resembles a heavy-handed occupation more than a full-blooded sack, such as Rome endured in 455 or 1527 (the last being the only one of the three meaningfully attributable to 'Germans'). Nevertheless it is important to remember that in August 410 the Romans endured three days of brutality that none of us would want to experience. That said, one can be forgiven for supposing that, in the context just outlined, the sack would have generated this sort of impassioned literary outpouring even if the violence had amounted merely to a couple of bloody noses and a black eye.

I will position the sack of Rome within a different narrative from those usually given: especially the teleological, triumphant story of the Goths’ heroic march from the Balkans to their eventual kingdom in Aquitaine, sometimes seen as the realisation of a long-standing desire. I see the tale in more ironic terms, as one whose eventual outcome was very much not the one intended, either by the Goths or by the Romans. Alaric’s Goths are indeed ‘Goths and Romans’, not striving to create something entirely new, but to ensure their acquisition of something more traditional, within established political structures. Their precise nature, however, the political and geographical situation within which they found themselves and the demands of centuries-old Roman political ideology and vocabulary constantly worked upon them (although it need not have done) to produce a situation always in flux, and results that were quite unexpected and indeed un-looked-for. This story, at some levels, is a simple twist on the old narrative but in its details is quite different; the 410 sack of Rome continues to represent the closing of a chapter, but in a rather different way.

It behoves us then to look more closely at these Goths. Michael Kulikowski asked whether the contrast between Nation and Army is a necessary one; it is difficult to explain very much, very convincingly, by taking one or other option in the form usually presented. The evidence is unsatisfactory, but so is the 'nation or army' question. I find the idea of the nation – the people on the move – unconvincing on methodological and evidential grounds, and the extreme version of the argument, that this was a coherent people with a single set of aims, to found a kingdom, finds its principal attraction in the fact that it is impossible even to parody (believe me; I’ve tried). By contrast the notion of the Goths as army, and more so the notion as the Goths as simple Roman army, has great difficulty in explaining anything.

The mistake, as in the debate over whether the people are Goths or Romans, is to see a question of essence where there is only one of existence. The fate of conglomerations of historical actors is not determined by their essence but by ‘contingency, singularity [and] risk’, to take a phrase from Roland Barthes, occurring in chaotic constellation and kaleidoscopic sequence. ‘Every thought launches a throw of the dice’, as Stéphane Mallarmé wrote. The same is true for every speech and gesture. By neglecting this, the usual emplotments of Gothic history err by making historical actors into a bizarre form of the Lacanian ‘figure presumed to…’, refracting and veiling any encounter with the historical Real. I will try and steer a perilous course between these alternatives.


The cookhouse of the 8th Hussars in the Crimea (1854/55),
by Roger Fenton: not a migration of people, in spite of the
presence of (A) a wagon, and (B) a woman.
 Over the past twenty years, the ‘People on the Move’ interpretation has sometimes been thought proven by references to Gothic wagon trains and to Gothic women and children, references evidently considered to render the case closed. They do not. Indeed, on any close inspection, this is a silly argument. No matter that the references to Alaric’s wagon trains and those to Gothic women and children rarely coincide. The important points are that all armies have wagon trains and, more importantly, that up to the later nineteenth century at least the presence – not the absence – of women and children with armies is actually the norm; you don’t even need to leave the late Roman period to see that. The presence of Gothic women and children means nothing in deciding whether the Goths were a people or an army and we should draw a veil of charity over this whole sorry argument.

The notion that Alaric’s followers were a ‘people on the move’ is further questioned by the sheer proliferation of groups of Goths within the Empire after the solution of the Gothic crisis in 381-2, which belies any claim to see Alaric’s group as the Goths. Traditionally Alaric’s force was a direct descendant of the Gothic or Tervingian ‘people’ settled as a quasi-autonomous group with – allegedly – its own laws and leaders. Hardly any aspect of this construct finds clear support in the data. I am not even convinced that the so-called Treaty of 382 even took place – certainly not in the form we have been expected to believe, since Theodor Mommsen’s day. The counter-argument cannot be proven either but I would maintain that is a simpler, more economical explanation of the evidence we have, requiring fewer presuppositions and less (indeed no) teleology.

Nonetheless, at no point can we deny that Alaric’s troops were Goths. Indeed it seems to me to be impossible to understand the course of development of Alaric’s forces without appreciating that this really was the factor that impinged most upon them, even if possibly more from the outside than the inside.

It is unlikely that the number of men killed in the disaster at Adrianople topped 5% of the total Roman army so it is no real surprise that the Empire was able to grind the Goths down. Adrianople’s significance lay in who died: the best units of the eastern field army. That the Romans were unable to win via a dramatic victory in the field, that it took so long to make a new, effective field army, says volumes about the quality of the late imperial military. That it needed many years to rebuild an effective army and that such time was never found in the West after 394 is key to understanding fifth-century western political history. It is no surprise that in Adrianople’s aftermath the East turned to hiring experienced barbarian troops to forge a new cutting edge for its armed forces. Given the enduring situation beyond the Danube, the fact that the bulk of such troops should have been Goths is no more astonishing. The form that such Gothic formations took was novel if not, in itself, unprecedented, but none of this implies a necessary, direct continuity between the Goths settled – in whatever form – after 382 and Alaric’s followers. Undoubtedly some of his men were warriors who had fought in the Balkans between 376 and 382, though by 410, thirty years on, I doubt there were many. Most, I suspect, were like (I assume) Alaric, only adolescents or teenagers when they crossed the Danube but some, I imagine, were born inside the Empire. Growing up there, their social formation would have been moulded by the society and culture of the imperial Balkans rather than the forests and plains of Gothia. How many had provincial Roman mothers? We don’t know, but it has a bearing on exactly what it meant to be a ‘Goth’. Incidentally, in seeing Alaric as ‘a Goth and a Roman’ It is interesting that the story Claudian had heard about Alaric was that he had been born on an island in the Danube: born, as it were, in the Romano-Gothic frontier. Maybe he was, of course, but even if not it seems to me to be interesting and apt propaganda for him to have put out, for Roman audiences and for Gothic.

All the more in that what the historiographical concentration on direct socio-political continuity between Fritigern’s Tervingi and Alaric’s Goths – at best an unproven continuity – obscures is the possibility (the probability I would say) that large numbers of the Goths in Alaric’s and the other Gothic units proliferating in the Empire were recruited not from Goths settled after the crisis of 376-82 but directly in trans-Danubian Gothia. Alaric’s reinforcement by the former Goths of Radagaisus only underlines this. Constant infusions of trans-Danubian Goths might have gone some way to counteract the gradual ‘Romanisation’ of Goths from within the imperial borders but the circumstances of their recruitment modify traditional ideas. Such infusions also seem a more plausible mechanism than internal reproduction for the maintenance of the numbers of Gothic troops. This line supports the argument, on which most commentators seem agreed to some extent, that - like Gaïnas’, like Fravitta’s, like Sarus’, like Tribigild’s - Alaric’s Goths were formed on Roman soil. The old names Tervingi and Greuthungi disappear. Goths are, now, just Goths. Even the term Vesi, presumably the root of the Byzantine compound ‘Visigoth’, is first attested in the Notitia Dignitatum.

Consideration of the Gothic forces requires us to discuss the term foederati. In the early fifth century, federates were not merely regular soldiers; Zosimus consistently distinguishes barbaroi from stratoitai. Yet, in the Strategikon of c.600 the foederati are simply an élite cavalry unit. A half-century or so earlier, Procopius said that in the old days foederati had been people serving the Empire on equal terms but now they were just members of the foederati units. When this change took place is unclear, but a passage in Olympiodorus of Thebes is interesting. Talking of bucellarii and foederati during Honorius’ reign he says that these were now formed of men of all nations, evidently including Romans. So, even by the second decade of the fifth century the foederati, whatever they had been, were a mix. Sources agree in using technical regular army terms for Gothic units and their commanders. The development of the foederati between c.400 and c.600, in my reading, resembles that of some of the auxilia palatina: regiments originally composed of barbarians but whose élite status soon made them attractive to recruits of all sorts.

Nonetheless, if the foederati were on the road to becoming an élite corps of regular horse, no one knew that in 410; that road had a long way to run. More significantly, their ethnicity, however defined and created, was shared with their commander, adding a new, strong bond to the already, famously, close links between Roman generals and their troops. Fifth-century generals – federate generals especially – increasingly behave as condottieri, their troops their stock-in-trade. In first decade of the fifth century there were further reasons why these bonds were so close. With the political debate mentioned earlier, with the backlash against barbarian mercenaries, for a commander like Alaric to give up his command was to invite his own demise. One only had to think back as far as Stilicho to see that, or further back only to the fates of Fravitta and Mascazel. The troops themselves needed only remind themselves of what happened to the families of Stilicho’s Gothic recruits, let alone the massacre of Gaïnas’ troops in Constantinople in 400. The Roman army had barbarised, it had adopted a self-consciously barbarian identity in the fourth century, but the foederati, at this stage at least, were something slightly – but importantly – different. There were good reasons why Alaric, Gaïnas and the rest – Stilicho even – could not be just ordinary Roman officers.

However loyal they might have been, the problem with foederati was that centuries of anti-Barbarian rhetoric could be deployed against them whenever they found themselves on the wrong side of whichever faction controlled the court. Those who opposed a reliance on Gothic troops (normally civilians it has to be said) made full use of such vocabulary and this rhetoric was capable, as it always had been, of being turned to very un-rhetorical, bloody ends. In the period’s factional politics, such troops were only too likely to find themselves in the political cold as indeed Alaric and his men did, frequently. Fravitta found to his cost that you didn’t even need to be on the wrong or even the losing side…

That Alaric and his army were firmly ensconced within the established frameworks of Roman politics is made clear by the events of 409, when the Roman senate, no less, joined Alaric in raising the usurper Priscus Attalus. It is impossible to know who the driving force was in this agreement but we should not automatically assume that it was Alaric. Eastern Roman historians tended to blame the senate, as something of a Leitmotif of their account of what went wrong in the fifth-century West, though they too might be arguing back from later events. Whatever the case, the senatorial-Gothic alliance is difficult to accommodate within the old narratives of kingdom foundation. So is Alaric’s unceremonious dumping of Attalus and attempt to come to terms with Honorius in 410.

Alaric never demanded a kingdom or recognition as a king. Indeed our sources rarely call Alaric a king. The titles he demands are Roman. Thomas Burns’ argument that Alaric only styled himself king when in rebellion, when without formal Roman office, has much going for it even if, inevitably, it cannot be proven. It might have been more plausible still had Burns not wanted to accommodate Alaric’s Goths simply within the regular Roman military framework. I suggest that the title rex fits the command of foederati particularly well. 'King' may not often have been used as a formal Roman title, but the Romans were accustomed to federate kings. Alaric was not often referred to as a king but Athanaric always was (sometimes to his displeasure) and he signed more than one foedus with the Empire. Alaric’s foederati were a somewhat different, new sort of foederati but the vocabulary used to describe them paired well with his employment of the term rex. And he was not alone in this. Sarus too (we assume it is Sarus) is described as having at some point been a rex and, like Alaric, Sarus and his smaller Gothic group had a tendency to slip into and out of legitimacy. When looking for a term that conferred legitimacy within and yet simultaneously without Roman politics, the title king was apt.

Alaric did not want a kingdom: he wanted a formal command and a fixed base, wherein his troops could draw pay and supplies within the imperial system. The new elements within the system made the linkage of army and general closer and a wise commander could not separate his own objectives from those of his troops. The desire to keep them together also seems to spring quite naturally from this situation. But it was not new, as Constantius II and Julian could have told Alaric fifty years earlier. From this sort of situation and its dynamics it is not difficult to see how the territorial kingdom could evolve, without evoking any of the usual teleologies, unfounded assumptions about long-term ethnic traditions, binary ethnic polarities, unchanging ethnic identities and so on.

But kingdoms are for losers. Counter-factual arguments are fruitless but I suspect that had Alaric got what he wanted and lived longer, there might very well have been no Gothic kingdom. His kingship is born out of opposition. Indeed, throughout the fifth century, the lesson repeated over and over is that a kingdom is the default option, faute de mieux; the preferred outcome is always power at the centre, controlling court and Empire (or what remains of it), without regnal title. If that cannot be achieved, one falls back on the kingdom. The importance of Alaric is that he had become, and died as, king of the Goths. His career and the options he took may well have set the precedent which others followed (and even this was developing precedents set by Bauto and Stilicho). Not only that, the emerging patterns of military command, that his career exemplifies, were followed by Roman as well as non-Roman, federate generals, with forces regarded very much as personal fiefdoms.  (It might be that the reason why Roman commanders do not take the title king is that they do not command foederati; the one who did - Aegidius - apparently did style himself king when he was in rebellion.)

So much for Alaric. What of Honorius: usually condemned as a fainéant? Modern historians have even described him as a child-emperor at points when he was in fact in his early adulthood; such is his reputation. And yet, the reason Alaric died as king of the Goths, rather than fading away as an old soldier within court politics, like Bauto, the reason why Athaulf succeeded to the Gothic command as king – in opposition - and took the title 'king' for longer, so that it had by 420 become a fairly standard element of the political furniture, even if a formal kingdom hadn’t, the reason why Athaulf’s army gelled further as ‘the Goths’ even as its actual Gothic component must have weakened, is that Honorius refused to accept him. He steadfastly rejected anything to do with the rebel Goth. This stubbornness should be given the importance it deserves. In important ways it gave birth to much of the political landscape of the fifth century, and not just to the sack of Rome.

410 AD The Sack of Rome, Conference 4-6 Nov. 2010 (in which I visit the Eternal City and find that some elements of the historiographical landscape are equally, well, eternal)

The absence of distinctive Gothic costume
and material culture graphically explained
Last week I went to Rome for the conference '410 AD The Sack of Rome', organised by the Deutsches Archaeologisches Institut, Rome, and by Philipp von Rummel and Carlos Machado in particular.  Nothing so fries your brain as a quadrilingual conference, especially when your grasp of one of the languages involved (Italian in my case) is pretty slender.  That said, it was a very successful conference and the published proceedings should make a very valuable volume for scholars interested in the subject.  Sadly I fear it won't reach far outside that audience, but such is always the way of these things. 

Here is a brief account of what went on, insofar as I understood it...

The Papers
Thursday 4 November: After the usual preliminaries by the Great and Good, Philipp von Rummel got things under way with a brief but perceptive overview of the problems involved in studying the sack of Rome as an archaeological problem.  Difficulties of precise dating loom large of course but so too does knowing how a sack would manifest itself in the archaeological record, and indeed of knowing what exactly the 'sack' itself comprised of.  After this, Christoph Riedwig described the conference held at the Swiss Institute on 'The Sack of Rome, 410, and the revival of the eternal city', which had a rather more textual and 'history of ideas' focus than the present conference, meaning that the two complemented each other quite well.

After these preliminaries, Arnaldo Marcone gave a lengthy run-down of the symbolic importance of Rome in imperial sources from the Battle of Adrianople onwards and then, more interestingly, Carlos Machado spoke on 'The Roman Aristocracy Before and after the Sack'.  What Machado showed quite graphically was a dramatic shrinking of horizons in the interests and indeed the geographical make-up of the Roman senatorial aristocracy after 410.  He also, very interestingly, pointed up the factional divides within the senate and highlighted their absolutely central involvement in the events of 408-410, making clear the complicity of some of the most powerful noble families in events such as the raising up of the usurper Attalus.  What I thought was interesting, from a personal point of view, was just how little connection there was between the Roman aristocracy (in its composition and in the areas it served in) and Gaul (especially) and Spain.  Links with North Africa were extensive, perhaps unsurprisingly, but so too were links with the East.

After coffee it was the turn of the revisionist 'terrible twins', which is to say Michael Kulikowski and me.  I spoke on the subject of 'Goths and Romans'.  I'll post the whole text anon.  For now, suffice it to say that most of it was a distillation of the relevant bits of Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West but with some revisions and developments.  These can be summarised thus:
1: The Gothicness of Alaric's forces may have stemmed largely from continued widespread recruitment north of the Danube, rather than from Goths settled in the Empire after 376
2: The nature of the foederati was new but not unprecedented but in the precise circumstances of the period 395-410 (the heated - and sometimes bloody - debate on the presence of barbarian troops inside the Empire) meant a closer bond between commander and soldiers
3: The title rex has a more specific resonance and particular appropriateness to a commander of foederati in rebellion
4: Kingdoms, far from being an objective, are the default option if nothing better can be obtained.  'Kingdoms are for losers'
5: Honorius' role is much more decisive than people give it credit for being

Michael's paper likewise drew on his body of work to critique the notions of barbarian migration, especially in its recent manifestations, and to show (in similar but far from identical ways to my paper) how the specific circumstances of the period led to a tense and dangerous focus on the commanders of armies of barbarian recruits and their relationships with the court.  Michael built on this a discussion of the traditional Roman means of defending Italy and how these were quite irrelevant to the situation in 408-10.  He then used post-colonial theory to reconstruct Alaric's career in terms of a subaltern mimicking of the dominant culture but one where sudden changes in the situation and the lack of precedent for his position meant that in some points of crisis, unable to obtain what he wanted from the inside, he had to fall back on 'playing the part' assigned to him within the ideological order - that of rampaging barbarian - and to attacking the system from the outside, with dramatic results.  I hope this is not too crude a synopsis.  It was very interesting and I agreed with most of it, even if I had some problems with some elements (I think that Michael would probably say the same about my paper).

Claire Sotinel finished the session with a paper which was in its way every bit as revisionist as the other two, perhaps more so, but rather more subtly.  The paper - Quelles fortifications pour defendre la ville? De l'inefficacite des murailles de Rome devant la menace militaire - began with a detailed consideration of the epigraphic evidence for the heightening and strengthening of the Aurelianic Walls in the first decade of the 5th century and found it wanting - quite convincingly.  She then moved on, in a way that fit quite well with Michael Kulikowski's paper, to argue that in most regards the Romans had very little idea of quite what to do about defending Rome, as discussions of the subject focused almost exclusively on ideological issues (that is the Emperor as the bulwark of Rome) or religious ones (that Rome was to be defended by prayer). 

The session after lunch began with a lengthy discussion - a catalogue - of the descriptions of the sack of Rome to be found in contemporary and near-contemporary sources, by Ralph Mathisen.  This pointed up some interesting contradictions and correspondences.  Overall one could get the impression that most writers did not rate the sack as a matter of great destruction, and that references to fire and sword were comparatively rare.  As Orosius said seven years later, to go to Rome and talk to Romans 'nowadays' you could be forgiven for thinking that it had never happened, were it not for a few charred ruins here and there.  I think it is easy to make too much of this statement in playing down the violence of 410 but what Ralph's survey made very clear was  that it was not easy to get a very coherent picture of Alaric's sack from the contemporary sources.  Mischa Meier followed this up with a very long paper on Orosius' observations on Alaric and the sack of Rome, but I am afraid that he spoke quickly and quietly and the room was very hot so that I have to admit that I didn't get a very clear idea of his argument.

The day's final session was on the monumental centre of the city and began with a very interesting (if evidently controversial) paper by Johannes Lipps on the forum Romanum, which argued that the oft-cited evidence of the sack of 410 was nothing of the sort and that the destruction and rebuilding that took place on the site was to be seen in a much broader context and over a longer time-span.  The paper in the forum of Caesar by Roberto Meneghini et al. tended to back this up by showing that there were changes on the fora but ones related to changes in use.  Interestingly these seemed to focus on the use of the space for manufacturing or inductrial processes - a development that can be paralleled on Roman public buildings from the later fourth century onwards right across the western Empire, from as far away as Britain.  Similarly, data from Trastevere and the Campus Martius while showing evidence of change, provided little by way of any sort of confirmation or illustration of the events of 410.

Friday 5 November: Friday's morning session very much continued the theme of Thursday afternoon, with papers on the Caelian Hill and on the Aventine which tended further to underline the absence of clear evidence for the sack itself.  Nonetheless what could not be avoided was the fact that Rome itself was very much in the process of transformation, with areas of former habitation being deserted or turned over to new purposes.  Inevitably, though, the archaeological data could not pin this down to being the result of specific events (whether of 410 or 455 [the Vandal sack] or whatever) or more simply the manifestation of a longer process with quite separate causes.  Simon Malmberg, rounded the session off with a very interesting paper on the Esquiline which, rather than looking at issues of physical destruction and violence saw rather the development of a monumental centre, again as a long process from the middle of the 4th century up to the end of the 6th, and dwelt on issues of psychological violence - in this case the building, renaming, dedication and re-dedication of churches in the course of theological controversy (controversy that, it has to be said, had more than its fair share of physical violence in its wake).

After coffee we heard about the excavation of a building in Trastevere, near Sta Maria, which underlined further the theme of change, abandonment, desertion but little by way of deliberate Gothic destruction.  (By this stage more than one person had posed the question of what one would expect.)  Clementina Panella, one of the big names of Roman archaeology, delivered a very long paper on 410 in the context of material culture.  It was long, delivered very quietly, off microphone (quite apart from being in Italian), and with PowerPoint slides whose labels were way to small to read, so I haven't got a clue what she was talking about.  From a personal point of view, the one thing I did pick up was (again) the lack of contacts between Rome and Gaul (this time as reflected in pottery finds) or even Spain, compared with those with Africa (unsurprisingly) or the Eastern Mediterranean.  Finally, Alessia Rovelli discussed the coin evidence to show that the inhabitants of Rome were making up for the inability of the imperial mints to provide the city with enough coin by minting their own copies. [If you compare this response with that in Britain at precisely the same time, you will gain a very clear index of the difference in the nature of the crisis.]

Lunch was followed by a paper on the Esquiline Treasure by Francois Baratte, which cast pretty convincing doubt on whether the treasure was indeed a treasure or whether it was buried in 410 and - for me -  a more interesting piece by Roberto Meneghini on the effects of the events of 408-10 on the city population which made very interesting (if inevitably unprovable) points about the demographic consequences of cutting off the grain supply, in terms of starvation and disease.  Using largely nineteenth-century comparative data he painted a pretty bleak picture of what the events might have meant for the population of Rome.  I found this very valuable as a counterpoint to the facts that the written sources are very vague and equivocal about the severity of the sack, and that the excavated data, left to themselves, would not show that a sack of any sort had happened.  What Meneghini was talking about would leave little by way of archaeological evidence but would still amount to a grim period.  For issues of the ethics of history, I thought this was well worth considering.  The final paper, by Riccardo Santangeli Valenziani, on the events of 410 in the archaeological record could, by popular consent (among historians), have replaced all the preceding archaeological discussions, as it summed up very clearly the overall state of play.  (That said, I suspect that the archaeologists would say that all the historical papers could have been replaced by Ralph's.  But then the archaeologists didn't really attend anything that wasn't archaeological, or by Italian archaeologists.  The way the room emptied by 1/4 to 1/3 whenever a paper on history and/or not in Italian was scheduled was pretty depressing, although it it did at least cheer me to think that other people were as bad as the British in this regard.)

The second half of the afternoon was a long one.  It kicked off with Franz Alto Bauer on buildings and donations, which made a very fascinating comparison of wealth expressed in terms of buildings and wealth in terms of the furnishings of buildings to conclude that wealth in terms of property was expressed far more in terms of the latter than the former.  This left us to reflect interestingly once again on what sorts of material cultural evidence we might expect from 410 and what the implications might be of the different reflections that we might see.  Paolo Liverano spoke about Alaric on the Lateran and the Esquiline, which went pretty well with the overall theme.  Straight on from there (and by this time we were over-running...) into a session on the impact which began with Michele Renee Salzman speaking on the church's use of the events of 410, or rather their memory, within internal Roman politics, ecclesiastical and otherwise.  This was largely on the basis of the sermons of Leo I 'the Great'.  Christine Delaplace spoke on Gothic strategy, stressing the importance of ever-changing contexts and present demands rather than long-term grand strategy.  She felt that Constantius III wanted to bring the limes back to the Loire.  I'm not sure about this, as a plan, although it might work well enough as a temporary strategy.  I think it works better for the 440s and Aetius, although even then I would see it in terms of a short-term strategy than a long-term plan.  I don't think the Romans ever decided definitively to abandon any part of the Empire.  Finally Elio Lo Cascio went through various means of attempting to calculate the population of Rome in antiquity.  I'm not sure what conclusion he came to, though he has apparently published this in many places.  By this time the horrible, hot, over-crowded room had taken its toll and I was practically poking myself in the face to stay awake.

Saturday 6 November: Sadly my insomnia kicked in big time on the night of Friday/Saturday so that I had barely had two or three hours of sleep by the time the conference was scheduled to resume on Saturday morning.  As a result I missed the first session and a bit.  This included papers on Ostia by Axel Gering, on Jerome and Orosius by Neil McLynn, on the epigraphic evidence by Sylvia Orlandi and on statues by Bryan Ward-Perkins.  I was especially disappointed to miss McLynn's paper as I had wanted to hear it and it was, apparently, very good indeed, really playing up the extent to which the sack is used by Jerome for his own purposes and how little it seems to have mattered to Orosius.

The conference's last session was I think set up to be something of a play-off between Peter Heather and Walter Pohl, representing the schools of 'Fall of Rome' and of 'Transformation of the Roman World' respectively.  I didn't hear most of Peter Heather's presentation but from what I did hear and from what emerged in questions, it was exactly the same line that he has been arguing since 1991, without modification or any real reflexion.  The Roman Empire was brought down by the exogenous pressure of barbarian incursions produced by the Huns (an idea first expressed by St Ambrose of Milan in the 380s, incidentally).  From what heard it was clear that Heather hasn't had anything new to say on the subject of Goths and Romans for twenty years.  In questions he declared that the world was irreparably changed by 420; if he meant that and it wasn't a slip of the tongue, then I think that that is just empirically wrong.  In 420 I would say that the West was on the verge of complete restoration under Constantius III and that had the emperor not dropped dead of pleurisy the next year things would probably have been very different indeed (see, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, p.234).  What brought down the Roman Empire?  Pleurisy.  ... As I always, not entirely jokingly, tell my first-years. 

Walter refused to play the part scripted for him and instead presented a useful summing up, and a view that pointed out how Heather and Ward-Perkins had essentially misconstrued the position of those who don't believe that barbarians conquered the Roman Empire, by claiming that they don't believe there was any violence. ('Transformation' is not the same as 'continuity', said Andrea Giardina in discussion afterwards.)  The process - and the debate - was more subtle and more complex than that.  That apart he did a very fine job of conciliation, and so the whole event drew to a close.

Some Reflections
As far as the historians' contributions went, there was not very much that was new.  For the most part it was the same old same old, with a few twists and tweaks here and there (or with none at all).  But it was a useful overview of the different ways of reading - or telling - the 'story' of 410, as Walter Pohl said in his paper at the end.  Machado's paper on the aristocracy was for me a bit of a highlight in that it dealt with material I didn't have very much of a handle on, and Salzman's also had some interesting material, although in that case I was not sure that the event referred to by Leo ('the days of our tribulation and salvation') needed to refer to the Gothic sack; it seemed to me that they could refer to November 312 as plausibly as to August 410. 

The archaeological papers presented masses of new and interesting data but overall it appeared to me that the story being told, or the questions being asked, were still very much (with the possible exception of Malmberg's paper) framed by the historical account.  Was the sack archaeologically visible?  Did it produce change or was there more general continuity (or slower processes of change)?  There were valuable insights (e.g. Meneghini) and more than one person pointed out that the sack could have been a quite orderly affair: the systematic stripping of movable wealth rather than the rampagings of a wild mob of savages.

But what I wondered was whether it wasn't time for the archaeologists to stop thinking in these terms and to open themselves to some different stories, not predetermined by the old narrative of the barbarian invasions.  What, for example, of the narrative of Christianisation?  This is an old story but it is nevertheless grounded, as has long been known, in some indisputable facts, such as the increasing foundation of churches within the centre of the city.  What if, say, the dereliction of old sites or their reuse for new purposes (almost all of those we know about, inevitably, being close to churches) is more about the donation of land and buildings to the Church than about simple tales of growth or decline, or of sack or continuity?  A story of the christianisation of the Roman landscape would be a narrative that would fit very well with the story that different forms of evidence tell us right across the West.  I have run an MA course entitled 'Renegotiating Rome' in which we look in turn at different corpora of evidence and see whether the story it tells us is the same as the stories modern history books tell - it almost never is.  Indeed what seems to be the real master-narrative of the fifth century is not the conquest of the Empire by Barbarians (as I had already realised when I wrote Barbarian Migrations) but the replacement of a classical world view which defined legitimacy or otherwise according to the performance of civic Roman values, by a Christian one which defined legitimacy and its alternatives according to doctrinal orthodoxy.  This is a story that the archaeology and history of Rome still have much to tell us about, far more meaningfully than they do about Alaric and the sack of Rome.