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The Politics of Incompetence? The "Feeble" Theodosian Emperors and Why They Matter

Meaghan McEvoy, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Summer Fellow 2013/14

During my summer fellowship the unique resources of Dumbarton Oaks enabled me to make considerable progress on my main project, a monograph on the eastern imperial court under the Theodosian emperors of the fifth century. In addition, I focused on research for an article dealing with relations between imperial courts under the eastern emperor Leo I (457–74), and the western emperor Anthemius (467–72. I looked at the particular difficulties that the transformation of the imperial office under the youthful non-military emperors Arcadius, Honorius, Theodosius II, and Valentinian III in the first half of the fifth century went on to pose for these two adult emperors to follow, both of whom were former soldiers themselves. This research highlights a period of parallel political configurations of the eastern and western courts, in the balance of power between mature, experienced emperors, dominant semi-barbarian generals, and civilian advisors. Competition between emperors and generals over issues of church politics and ecclesiastical benefaction, and the considerable eastern investment in attempts to aid western recovery in the later fifth century also proved to be major themes of this investigation.

McEvoy 13/14: Fig. 1
Piazza della Consolazione treasure

Additionally, I have begun some research into a collection of early fifth-century Roman jewelry held in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, known as the “Piazza della Consolazione treasure." This investigation was not planned, but it has raised many interesting questions regarding the provenance of the hoard (and current location of other pieces), and I plan to write an article on the subject. I could not imagine a more idyllic setting in which to have spent the summer, and am immensely grateful for the opportunity to benefit from the extraordinary resources and wonderful community at Dumbarton Oaks.


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Byzantine Studies Fellows, 2013/14