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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

During my summer fellowship, the unique resources of Dumbarton Oaks (its library and its coin and museum collections, in particular) enabled me to make considerable progress on my monograph on the Eastern imperial court under the Theodosian emperors of the fifth century. In addition, I researched an article on the relationship between imperial courts under the Eastern emperor Leo I (457–474) and the Western emperor Anthemius (467–472), looking at the particular difficulties that the transformation of the imperial office under the youthful nonmilitary emperors Arcadius, Honorius, Theodosius II, and Valentinian III in the first half of the fifth century posed for these two adult emperors, both of whom were former soldiers themselves. This research highlights a period of parallel in the political configurations of the Eastern and Western courts, in the balance of power between mature and experienced emperors, dominant semibarbarian generals, and civilian advisers. 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. Finally, I began to research a collection of early fifth-century Roman jewelry (the “Piazza della Consolazione treasure”) held in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum. This investigation was not planned, but it raised many interesting questions regarding the provenance of the hoard (and the current location of other pieces).