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Nomads in Late Antiquity: Gazing on Rome from the Steppe, Attila to Asparuch

Giuseppe Ricci, Princeton University, Junior Fellow 2014–2015

During my tenure as a junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks in the academic year 2014–2015, I was essentially able to write the entirety of my dissertation, which I will defend in the fall of 2015. My dissertation is titled “Rome and the Steppe: Attila to Asparuch.” In it, I discuss the role of the Roman Empire as a catalyst for political change on the western Eurasian steppe in late antiquity, roughly from AD 370 to 680. I argue that during this period, a Roman “sphere of influence” on the Pontic Steppe and even further east toward the Volga was developed to deflect nomadic aggression away from the Balkan provinces. Roman influence was so pervasive, however, that it led to a series of migrations and political fragmentations among nomadic, pastoralist peoples like the Huns, Avars, and Bulgars. Although traditional narratives of the period see nomadic peoples as harming the Roman state, I take the view that the Roman/Byzantine Empire was a disruptive and destructive influence on nomads of the steppe. At Dumbarton Oaks, I wrote all five chapters of my dissertation. The excellent resources of the library allowed me to gather all of the books and articles I needed in a short time, which left me with the exclusive task of writing up the research I have conducted over the past several years. I would like to thank Margaret Mullett, the staff, and especially my fellow fellows for all of their support and intellectual motivation.