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Political Power and Imperial Governance: The Transformation of the Imperial Office in the Later Roman Empire, ca. 367–527

Meaghan McEvoy, British School at Rome / University of Oxford, Fellow 2009/10

My semester-long fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks gave me the opportunity to begin my three-year postdoctoral project on late Roman imperial politics, addressing the ways in which the symbolism of imperial power in 4th–6th centuries was restructured around a push to make acceptable and even normalise the rule of minors, particularly for the powerful senatorial and military elites of the empire, who had a direct stake in the dynastic successions of such young emperors. Fundamental to the process of making child-emperor rule acceptable was the continuing ceremonialization of the imperial office in the context of an increasing emphasis on specifically Christian virtues. These virtues were highlighted as a means of symbolic reassurance of divine support for the ruler, most conspicuously when that emperor was a child. My doctoral project focused on the nature, perception, and presentation of child rulers in the west. The new project expands this focus to encompass the eastern court, in particular the reign of Theodosius II, and moves the enquiry on through the 5th and into the 6th century.

Apart from beginning the detailed analysis of the relevant literary and other sources, a number of new and important questions have arisen, including that of how the sharp increase in the translation of relics to Constantinople starting ca. 395 fits into this picture, and also the changing emphasis of imperial ceremonial in the more urban and civilian (and less military) context of early to mid-fifth-century imperial rule. My semester at Dumbarton Oaks proved invaluable in enabling me to refine the research questions of the project, to more fully assess the relevant secondary literature on the subject, and to begin examining the complex source material.

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