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Episode 1: The Roman Mind and the Power of Fiction with Prof. Anthony Kaldellis and Jake Ransohoff

For our July podcast, we were joined by Professor Anthony Kaldellis (The Ohio State University) and Jake Ransohoff (ABD, Harvard University), for a discussion of “The Roman Mind and the Power of Fiction” by John S. Richardson. Bridging our understanding between the Roman civilization and today's society, they flesh out questions like, how strong was the power of imagination for the Romans, how does legal fiction contribute to equal rights citizenship, and how inclusive were the rights of the immigrants in Roman society?


Anna Stavrakopoulou: Welcome to the first episode of the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Podcast series. I'm Anna Stavrakopoulou, the program director in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. We are joined today by Anthony Kaldellis and Jake Ransohoff. Anthony Kaldellis is the professor and chair of the Department of Classics at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books including The Christian Parthenon, Hellenism in Byzantium, and The Byzantine Republic, which have been translated into French, Greek, and Russian.

His interlocutor, Jake Ransohoff, is a doctoral candidate at the History Department at Harvard. His dissertation studies punitive mutilation and the politics of disfigurement in Byzantium, the medieval West, and the Mediterranean world. Among several fellowships and awards he has received, Jake has also been a Tyler Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks.

They will be discussing The Roman Mind and the Power of Fiction by John S. Richardson, who is a professor of Classics at the University of Edinburgh, with main research interest in Roman imperialism and Roman law.

The article appeared as a chapter in the passionate intellect, classical traditions edited by Lewis Ayres and published by Rutgers University in its studies of classical humanities series in 1995. They'll answer questions like, "How strong was the power of imagination for the Romans? How does legal fiction contribute to equal rights citizenship? How inclusive were the rights of the immigrants in Roman society?"

So, Anthony, why did you suggest this reading? Would you like to tell us?

Anthony Kaldellis: I'm going to make two crazy claims, and then posit the mystery that got me thinking along down this path. The crazy claim is that we tend to think of the ancient Romans as pragmatic people. They were good at aqueducts and roads and boots on the ground and creating empires and things like that. Whereas, we tend to think of the Greeks as a more intellectual, imaginative ancient people. What I'm going to suggest is that, in fact, the Romans had a tremendous power of the imagination that was so strong that it reshaped their world and the world of Byzantium on a pretty fundamental level. They exercise this imagination in ways that I haven't seen in other cultures.

This is part of the broader project that I have embarked on for some time of understanding Byzantium in Roman terms. I wanted to get past things like laws and armies and institutions and get into the deeper substratum of the acts of imagination and the power of the mind that structured Byzantium on a deep level. One of the mysteries that got me thinking along this line was the following question.

How is it possible for the Romans of, say, Constantine's time to imagine building a new Rome in the east and to treat New Rome eventually over time as if it were a branch office of Rome in the east endowing it with the same institutions and the same name and the same legal-political status and the empire and so forth? We take this for granted, as just something that happened; it's fundamental for Byzantium civilization. If you stop and think about it, you got to wonder what mental faculties enabled people to imagine such a thing because we don't do that.

We know about New York, we know about New England, we know about such things, but they're not understood to be either extensions or a copy and paste version of the original in a new location treated as equivalent to it. That's not how we think about it. Sometimes states will move their capital from one place to another but not duplicate it. I was wondering how it was mentally possible in the realm of the imagination to conceive of such a thing. I knew that the answer had to lie-- It had to have Roman roots. I went looking for Roman fictive acts of the imagination, and over time, I eventually figured out that there was something going on in Roman civilization that we don't often talk about, and this article addresses it.

Let me just say that this is one of a number of studies. It's possibly the most accessible one. It's called The Roman Mind and the Power of Fiction by Richardson. I should also say that there are some very good treatments of the same thing by Cliff Ando especially in his book Roman Social Imaginaries, which is exactly what I'm getting at. The idea is basically like this. The Romans had an extraordinary capacity to commit socially to realities that were the product of a legal imagination. In other words, they would decide under certain circumstances that they were going to treat this thing as if it were that thing and commit to that. In other words, there are social-historical consequences to doing that.

Richardson mentions a few examples, for example, such as adoption. Roman adoptions, it's a pretty prevalent social form, especially among the Roman aristocracy, we know at best, which is where you treat someone else's son, biological son as if he were your own with no legal qualifications or distinctions or new want. No, no, you commit to that. Other examples include pro-magistracies, in other words, appointing a person to hold a position as if he held that position but doesn't really in order to extend a person's ability to hold that position. The Roman history is full of these kinds of things.

The most striking case of all is as the Romans developed the skill because I see it as a skill as a technology, a mental technology for dealing with the world and changing it. They began to expand in its scope. For example, we not only have adoption but by fathers of sons. Once you get into Roman imperial history, you actually have a dynasty, the Severan Dynasty, retroactively adopting itself into a previous dynasty. Choosing your ancestors and committing to that legally so strongly that that dynasty understands itself in all of its public monuments and its official acts as an extension of that previous dynasty.

For example, one of the members of the Severan Dynasty, who granted citizenship to all free people in the empire, this is Caracalla in 212, those people who acquired citizenship from him were known as Aurelius. They were Aureli because his official name was Marcus Aurelius from the dynasty into which his own had adopted itself backwards. It's phenomenal. You have millions of people across the empire whose very name, as you find it in Egyptian papyri and everything, is the result of the whole society committing to that fiction. I think that the creation of New Rome is an example of that. In other words, they were able to build a city over there in Byzantium and say, "We're going to treat this as if it were Rome and commit to that." The result is Byzantine civilization if I'm right.

Anyway, so that's the broad picture, and I thought that Jake would be a great person to have in this conversation because I've had previous discussions with him about social history in particular, and the way in which Byzantine society treated people are based on legal categories and how people were assigned to legal categories. I knew that he would have some great questions about this concept. I've given a name to this concept. I call it quasity from Latin quasi because when it occurs in Latin texts, the term quasi is pretty frequently used. We're going to treat this quasi with that. I just call it quasity. I knew that he would have a lot of questions, especially reading the article and application and application to other things that I hadn't thought of, and we'll get into some of those. Jake, you want to start off with just some of your impressions or reactions?

Jake Ransohoff: Yes. Thanks very much, Anthony. It strikes me that we can even understand the very conceptual category of Roman-ness as itself in Byzantium, as tied to this mode of thinking to this power of imagination. It allows the Byzantines to get around the problem of difference when it comes to being Roman. They're not speaking or writing Latin, they're not in possession of the city of Rome, but they're going to act like those things don't exist or those differences don't exist; those things don't matter. They carry on identifying themselves as Romans.

Anthony: You're exactly right. Citizenship is another one of these domains in which the Romans practice this. In fact, some of the earliest attestations of quasity is when a Roman magistrate. This is under the Republic. They're faced with this complex legal situation. What happens in legal disputes between Roman citizens and non-Romans in the provinces? Very often, the magistrates will just say, "Well, for the sake of convenience, I'm just going to treat you as if you were a Roman citizen and apply Roman ball to both of you and just resolve the situation." There's definitely an aspect of that, that is, this idea that-- This population, they're not Romans in any sense that we understand as of now but through a legal act, a fictive act, but it's an act that creates. We're going to make them Roman and treat them as such from here on.

You very rarely hear in all of the hundreds of years of Roman history of someone who is given Roman citizenship but not treated as a real Roman. How different that is from modern societies in many ways where we have legal frameworks. In many cases, they come from Rome, but we also have this underlying racial logic, and we can't get rid of it. We talk about real Americans or whatever. Real Germans, not just legal Germans. That doesn't happen in the Roman tradition, and that's extraordinary.

When modern historians or even medieval writers are saying that those Easterners aren't real Romans, they're Greeks, they're something else, they're applying a logic that's sort of racial and not Roman. Romans don't have this. The Byzantines, generally, with very, very few exceptions, just follow that same logic. That's what you were saying that Roman-ness is not an aspect of ethnic continuity or language or whatever. It emerges from this legal fiction, that is, as ancient as Rome.

Anna: I wanted to ask Jake, had you read this article before Anthony suggested that you read it? If not, what was the effect of the article on you?

Jake: No, I hadn't read this article before. I found it very provocative thinking about it in terms of my own work at least, which is focused on corporal punishment and political exclusion in the Byzantine world. Essentially, why was it that individuals who were mutilated in certain visible ways were considered to be unfit to hold the position of emperor or to participate in certain ways in the political community, such that to blind someone or to cut off someone's nose effectively debarred them from becoming emperor in the Roman world?

Thinking about this article, actually, it was really interesting to me in that respect. Seeing the ways in which Roman imagination, and by extension potentially, Byzantine imagination was quite so flexible. Adoption, in particular, made me think about this. Anthony mentioned this, the Severan Dynasties -- Septimius Severus is a Punic speaking North African, who comes to power, and he retroactively adopts himself into the 89th dynasty so creates this genealogy of legitimacy, but everybody accepts that.

This guy, who doesn't have any hereditary claim, necessarily comes from an unusual background; is able to make himself emperor and make himself accepted as emperor, and that continues into the Byzantine Era. There's no really strong dynastic system. There's no fixed nobility in Byzantium, so we can think about this. The flexibility of fictive mentality, as potentially, the positive counterpoint to mutilation in a world without a lot of these rules and strictures on who can become emperor and who can't.

Mutilation, the understanding of what an emperor ought to be able to do, and what the emperor ought to look like carries a little bit more weight in terms of the power of exclusion. Every society has to come up with rules as to who can be included, who can participate and who can't. In the lack of strong hereditary rules, you get these physical rules or physical understandings that come into play.

Anthony: The mutilation functions as a social commitment to exclusion.

Jake: Right.

Anthony: In a society that can be very inclusive in terms of who can occupy the throne, you have to make very visible a consensus, a collective act to exclude someone, and even in those cases, it didn't always work. As we know, there's one emperor with no nose, there's one who's blind. You can even get around that. What was difficult for the Byzantines was to find the-- and clearly demark the criteria for exclusion.

Jake: In this world, that's made so expansive in many ways by the commitments to social fiction.

Anthony: Here's another interesting extension of all of these and just to give you an illustration of how deep this goes into Byzantine mentalities of all kinds. We talked about dynasties retroactively treating themselves as extensions of previous dynasties, or cities being created and treated as extensions or daughters or whatever that pick the rhetoric of other cities. The same happens with the imperial position in the sense that-- When Diocletian, for example, picks a colleague, there used to be one emperor, and he decides, "We just need two. There's too much going on. I can't do all these by myself. I would just create two emperors." He picks a colleague, Maximian.

Then there's this whole apparatus he's put into operation for treating Maximian and Diocletian as the same thing, as one spirit and two bodies, and we've seen even the images of statues of the tetrarchy that emerged out of this, where they're treated as interchangeable, they're depicted as interchangeable. They commit to treating two people as if they were one.

Now there's another theory, which is that in some legal contexts, you can treat the image of the emperor as if it were the emperor. People could go to a public image of the emperor and appeal to it legally, and that was treated legally as if the emperor were physically there, and the person were physically interacting with the emperor. There are a number of legal context in which this could happen, and the converse is true. If you attacked a representation of the emperor, it was treated as if you had physically assaulted the emperor. That theory that treating the image under certain content in certain contexts counted as if you were interacting directly with the emperor. That was later picked up by defenders of icons in Byzantium.

When, say, theater studious or other iconified theorists are trying to explain how it's not idolatry for Christians to be venerating images of Christ or Mary or the saints, they fell back on this precise theory. The idea is that you're directing worship at a physical image that you know is not Christ; is not the Saint, but you're doing it as if the image were that person because the veneration sort of passes through the icon to the Holy person. In context of veneration, you treat the image as if it were the thing itself.

There's a direct genealogical line in intellectual history from what we were talking about emperors to icon worship in Byzantium. The fundamental theory of icon worship, and it's full of the Quasi language in the Greek ὥσπερ/hósper [just as]. You venerate the icon ὥσπερ/hósper [just as] as if it were Christ, and there you go. That's a fundamentally Roman way of thinking.

Jake: I have a lot of questions about that, Anthony. About the ways in which this mode of thinking is fundamentally Roman, or by extension, fundamentally, East Roman or Byzantine. This is particularly interesting to me, and I wonder if we can get a firmer handle on just how distinctive this fictive way of thinking is to Byzantium because one can point to examples in the Medieval West, let's say of similar thinking used to get around conceptual or procedural hurdles. The example that comes to my mind is the legal fiction of the King's two bodies. This idea developed by medieval jurists that every King has his actual physical body, which suffers and dies and his other symbolic or spiritual body, which is immortal. That was a very useful concept in the West.

It gave jurists and theorists all ways to circumvent problems around continuity, and it becomes very important for a whole lot of political thought in the West. This seems to me, not unlike some of the Byzantines examples we were just discussing on the face of it duplicating the King's bodies so that he now has two bodies instead of one isn't all that far from duplicating Roman Constantinople or duplicating the number of emperors in the tetrarchy. I'm sure we could come up with any number of other cases from the West or from the Islamic world or elsewhere, but in general categorical terms, I wonder what you see as setting Byzantium apart.

Anthony: That's an excellent question, and it's actually part of it. I haven't written about this, anything. This podcast that everybody's listening to, this is the first time that I think this idea has been applied to Byzantium, and I hadn't done it in print, and I'm still working out some of the problems. You're exactly right. This is the thing that I'll have to address. What are the cultural boundaries of this idea? What counts? What doesn't? My instinct is to say that, well, obviously, Western legal theorists were in part coming from the same tradition of Roman law that they had studied. They were certainly exposed to this kind of idea.

Here is one of the criteria that I set for seeing quasity in action as it were. What I expect to see is some kind of social commitment to the fiction. In other words, some social practice that you can trace to an acceptance of this equation or fiction or whatever, so that when we have to do with icons, it is the actual veneration of the icon of which has a theory behind it when it comes to the inclusion of new people under the umbrella of Roman-ness, so we take a group and-- This happened in Byzantium, we'll take Muslims or Uranian types or whatever and they come in; they're refugees or whatever, and through these fictive acts, we make them into Romans, and we treat them as such thereafter but without prejudice, or they're not second class Romans or anything like that. There's a social practice that's generated by the fictive act.

My question about the King's two bodies would be, and by the way, it's been since grad school, since I read that book, so I'm not entirely sure of what footprint it casts on the societies that develop this theory. Are there actual social practices that are generated by it that wouldn't make any sense without the fictive act? Is this confined to the theoretical domain? In other words, where certain legal theorists are trying to work out certain legal problems that preoccupied them, but nobody in society at large is aware that this theory is in place. That would be my criteria. Show me the social practice that requires the fictive act. Do you know what I mean? It might very well exist in the Medieval West as well.

Jake: It can still in some ways be an inheritance from Rome. There is some of this Roman political theory and legal theory that continues to persist in the West as well. We can still genealogically trace these back to a Roman legacy, even if perhaps it's less pervasive than it is in Byzantium, which is, in fact, the continuation of Rome.

Anthony: Every item of sub social history or intellectual history that I come across, and I scrutinize it, does this fit the model or not? I ask where's the social practice? There also needs to be some awareness of either a parallel difference or an original difference. This thing originally was not how I'm treating it now, or that it has certain aspects that don't fit. For example, this is just a piece of wood; they're not Christ even though for the purposes of worship, I'm treating it that way.

Here is a different idea that, in the end, I'm not putting under this category, and that is the theology of the Trinity because at first it blew my mind. I thought, "Wait a minute." Is this whole idea of treating three as if they were one, is it just another thing that's enabled by this Roman power of imagination because this was probably the major problem of Christian theology. How do we have three-- Call them what you will, persona, whatever that are one, indivisibly one but three. Half the days of the week, I would think, "Yes, that's what they're doing. If I look hard enough, I'll find the ὥσπερ/hósper [just as] language,” but I haven't yet. In other words, I don't think that this -- the theology of the Trinity, the Nicean theology of the Trinity, it doesn't keep in the background this sense of difference that the theology is overcoming through a fictive act. No, they were totally committed. These are the same entity, one in the same and indivisible. I didn't find that whole element of pretense. I don't mean pretense in a bad way. I hope that's pretty clear right by now that pretense is a strong generative and creative skill in these contexts. That's one that I have taken off the list.

Anna: I wanted to ask you before even getting to the theology of the Trinity, whether this quality of the Romans has had an impact on the shaping of Christianity altogether. Because listening to you now, it seems it does. You already mentioned surviving in later phases with the icons. Would you like to comment on that?

Anthony: Sure. Jake, correct me here if either I go too far, or I don't go far enough because I've only just begun to think about this. There are certain aspects of Christian thought and practice that fall under this category. I wouldn't want to go so far as to treat Christianity as a whole as being part of it. That's a case of when you're holding a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail, and I don't want to do that. Icon worship is something very specific that seemed to match the criteria, and there are other aspects. For example, aspects of Christian imperial ideology, and now we're getting back to emperors and dynasties, but that is a site where this thinking was very prevalent.

For example, the sixth ecumenical council, emperor Constantine IV talks about how he has been, in a certain sense, retroactively adopted by God. He uses the word υιοθεσία/yiothesia [adoption]. Because he's been retroactively adopted by God, this creates certain consequences for him in that he has to act as if X, Y, and Z because we have to treat the empire that he's governing as if it were God's house, and he's its custodian or something like that. That creates expectations and responsibilities on the emperor that are played out in the council. That's another very specific aspect.

Now, if I wanted to speak more broadly, there's an interesting parallel between the rise of Christianity and the creation of the universal Roman Empire at the same time, leading up to Constantine and beyond. This has not been explored by scholars. Scholars of early Christianity tend to stay away from Roman questions, and many Roman historians think that things change too much for their liking once Christians become too prevalent. Those two fields often don't intersect very well, but there were two kinds of people that the empire was producing at great rates between the first and the fourth century, and that was Romans and Christians. It was doing so in part through these processes, and those processes mirrored each other.

If you look at texts that are talking about how Romans are created-- Aelius Aristides’ oration on Rome, which is how Rome goes around creating Romans, and texts at the same time, which are talking about how the Christian community is expanding. They're structurally very similar, possibly homologous. We have texts that talk about Christians aren't limited to this place or that place, and they're not just come from one city or one ethnos, but they come from-- You know them by the laws from which they live. You're describing the Roman community. It's exactly the same thing. Now, what role processes of the imagination play in this? I haven't thought that deeply, but there's a lot of potential there.

Jake: I'm still thinking through these boundaries between imagination and belief and committing to a certain fiction and how one gets from the point of acting as if something were true to really ontologically believing something is true, with the distinction between that. Where I'm going is thinking about different types of phenomena that maybe fit or don't fit. The example of Constantine IV being adopted by God, can we classify that as being a fictive imagining in the same way that the duplication of Rome is Constantinople or the claiming of a Roman identity, or is this mirror merely imperial propaganda? Something that's being projected to legitimize rule, but people roll their eyes and say, "Oh." The distinction that comes to mind, it's something like Trump's inauguration where he'll say, "Oh, I had the biggest crowd turnout in history." You can see that it's not true, and you roll your eyes and say, "Okay, whatever." Where does the line fall between fictive imagining on the one hand and propaganda on the other?

Anthony: It's a great question, and it's a very difficult one. The obstacle that we face in trying to draw a line between those two is in the way that we think about belief. Belief is our real problem here. Because it's not a very good concept, and we use it a lot, but talk to any psychologist or even neuropsychologists, and you'll find that what historians and humanists call belief doesn't really correspond very well to what we know about how the mind operates. It covers such a broad territory of cognitive processes that are so complex that I don't think that the term has analytical value in the sense that it's not precise enough to help us cope with these concepts except on the broadest possible level.

The ability of the Romans to imagine that something was the case and then carry on as if it were, I don't think that this is an instance of belief. I don't think belief had anything to do with it. It was a commitment to a certain social process. They're not believing like, "Oh, now I really believe that that is New Rome over there on the Bosphorus.” It's not some confessional like, "I will sign that statement." It's a decision to carry on as if it were because we have very good reasons for doing that, pragmatic reasons. I see a lot of these behaviors falling into that pattern.

When emperors claim certain things like this or modern politicians make certain claims, well, in our current context, for example, I don't think that a lot of these things are actually believed, but I don't think that's the important thing about them. I don't think that's why they're being said. The people who say them sometimes think that they have to defend their belief of them, and sometimes they'll even often offer reasons. They wouldn't otherwise come up with conspiracy theories to explain why their photos look like the mall was so empty on that day if they didn't mean it to-- I'm committing to the ontological reality there that, "Yes, I believe that." That's the smallest part of the phenomenon.

Those statements are primarily performances of identity and affiliation and so forth where the truth content is ultimately irrelevant. A lot of imperial pronouncements in Byzantine fall somewhere along that category. What Constantine said at the ecumenical council, it's a statement that didn't cast a long shadow over Byzantine civilization. I don't see people acting out that imagination that he proposed to them. I don't see emperors generally taking on the role of God's adopted children. That just didn't catch on.

I see that as a momentary; almost experimental-- I'm going to play with my position and cast it this way for the purposes of this meeting, but it either was never intended to catch on or it just didn't catch on. This did not become a fundamental mode of the Roman Imperial Office. In that context, I would treat it as a very situational performance. I wouldn't say it's either true or false. Whether people believed in it or not. The question is, did they commit to it at that moment? I think so. Yes, but they didn't take it with them when they left the-- It was in the Trullo, actually in the Trullo chamber. They didn't take it with them. That's how I read that, but it really goes to how we see human psychology.

Jake: Right, how we gauge commitment then is how it shows up in social consequences. It’s its power to really shape practice in an applied way. That’s our heuristic when we’re thinking about when a society commits to a concept.

Anthony: Yes. Look, probably the most striking or easily accessible way in which modern audiences can visualize this is in the way in which, let's say, immigrants are accepted into a society. Does the society commit to treating them as the same, as equals like, "Yes, you're now part of the group, and we're going to treat you that way or not?" The Roman model is the one in which they are where a Punic speaking person from North Africa can become a Roman Emperor and even start restoring monuments to Hannibal of all things. Because Roman society was just very open to that, and once they committed to their idea of citizenship, they did it.

Just look around you, which societies operate that way? Which don't? The US is mixed, let's put it like that. Classic comparisons are between say France and Germany in terms of how they imagine nationality. They have very different models, but France is a country that since the revolution has tended to see being French as a commitment. It's not necessarily where your ancestors are from. It's not necessarily your language. It's part of a commitment to certain principles, and they're not perfect obviously. That's where you would gauge. That's the example that I use to turn attention from belief to social commitment. The Romans were really, really good at it. That makes sense?

Jake: Yes. Well, so thinking again about the Romans, the Byzantines being so good at this, do you think that this, what the power of imagination to shape social practice helps account for the empire's pretty remarkable resilience? Byzantium has this reputation of what John Holden called the empire that wouldn't die and likely so. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Byzantium. Its exceptional capacity to recover from disaster to adapt to very different political and social and environmental circumstances. I wonder if you see a role for the flexible practicality we're talking about in explanations of the empire's longevity.

Anthony: Yes, absolutely, I do. Almost anything important that we say about Byzantium ultimately is a factor and it's longevity because this is a state that if you add its earlier Roman component lasts for the better part of two millennia, as a state entity with a continual history, not as a broad culture that went through a number of different state iterations. Anything fundamental that we can say about it was certainly part of an explanation for its longevity. Think about it this way. A society certainly has that advantage. If it can reimagine itself and commit to being a different geographical location consisting of people who have very different ethnic backgrounds of changing language.

Over the course of its long history, the Roman people gradually changed their religion, they changed their language, they changed their capital city. They changed all of these things, and they were able to do very flexibly though. Each of those changes took a very long time. They are human beings. They can't just change at the drop of the hat, but they're willing to imagine themselves as oriented a bit differently as the centuries went by and adapting to different circumstances again and again. They were very resilient at doing that, and I think this is what helped.

Anna: So, what are the limits of this concept that is in the article?

Antony: Jake, you want to start with that?

Jake: Sure, yes. The limits of this concept are in terms of its actual application. I'm still thinking about the ways in which we can parse or disaggregate some of the different categories or species of examples that we've included under the heading of fictive mentality. My mind goes back to Richardson's example. For legal purposes, Roman law treating non-Roman citizens as if they were Roman citizens. Richardson goes into this. This is actually one of the principle examples that he gives. He says Romans treat non-Romans as if they were citizens for the purpose of a court case or for the pro-magistrate. They treat magistracies, a private citizen, as if he were a consul. They pretend he had the power of a consul, and nobody thinks a pro-consul is actually a consul.

Ontologically, they don't lose sight of the fact that the non-Roman citizen in Roman court isn't a Roman citizen, even though he's being treated as one for the purposes of this case or the pro-consul who is sent out to Spain to command the army. He's not actually a consul and nobody really loses sight of that, even though they act like the consequences. They commit to the consequences of that decision.

Still, there's something of a difference there between that legal fiction that Richardson's talking about, and the extension of that into the Byzantine era, which, let's say, the problem of Roman-ness and the Byzantines saying, "We are Romans." It's not that they're losing sight. They've committed to a Roman identity, but it's not-- They're saying, "We realize this isn't true, but we're going to act as if it is." They've defined the category of Roman in such a way that these other things don't matter. That does seem like a distinction to me. That legal way in which Richardson is talking about this fictive mentality working and for lack of better term, ontological way that we see it come up in Byzantium. The relationship between those two types of examples is something that's interesting to me and something I'd like to think more about.

Is there an evolution in the Republican period from this legal fiction into this other type of commitment we see in Byzantium? Do these things coexist? Do they exist on the spectrum between-- On the far end, a total fictive pro-magistrate, and on the other end, the trinity where they're totally committed to this or the icons where it ends up really becoming an issue of belief. The relationship between those are things that we'd have to think about more in terms of applying this concept.

Antony: That's excellent. I couldn't put it better. Just to add to what you're saying. There are cases where the difference remains visible or very prominent as when you're treating someone who isn't a Roman citizen as if he were for the purposes of a case, or you're treating a piece of wood as if it were Christ. You're very aware that it isn't. Something like new Rome is a more intermediate case because it's treated like that pervasively, but it's not in Italy. It's in Thrace. You know that, even if that doesn't really impinge on their consciousness that much. In fact, there are many cases where the Byzantines call Constantinople just Rome and not New Rome. It even got to that point. All the way to the other side of the spectrum where citizenship, you're right.

There isn't this conditional, "Yes, we know that this, but we're going to treat ourselves as that." That condition seems to have really evaporated. It comes back a little bit when in the later Byzantine period when they start investigating their Greek roots again for various reasons. They’re carrying on a dialogue with the Latins in Western Europe, and they're like, "Yes, we're Romans, but this kind and it's--" Anyway.

You're right. There are different degrees of difference that are implicit in the fictive act. I'm not sure what methodological problems they pose, but you're right. This is something that certainly, I would need to think about more. Another methodological problem is-- Is this completely distinctive to the Roman tradition? It's clearly more visible there, but would we totally fail to find similar things if we looked into ancient Greek practices? Nothing? I'm pretty sure that we would because there are other social practices that might have a more complex genealogy.

For example, consider in monastic groups, everybody treating each other as a brother. You're rehashing kinship terms to express nonkin relations in a spiritual or a symbolic way. I'm pretty sure that that has a rich background in all kinds of-- Ritual brotherhood is across all societies. There are aspects that might have a more complex genealogy, but it's certainly more prominent in the Roman tradition, and the Roman tradition was very prominent in Byzantine civilization, so that's why I've foregrounded it. The details remain to be worked out. That's a good question, Anna. Thank you.

Anna: I would like to thank you both for an amazing discussion, which clarifies some aspects of Byzantine beliefs, but also, helps us understand current situations and the issues that today's societies are facing. I would like to wish you both good luck with the projects you're working on right now. Jake, may you finish your thesis, and Anthony, may you finish your monumental book. Thank you very much. Thank you again.

Antony: Thank you, Anna.

Jake: Thank you, Anna.

Anna: Podcast musical theme is from the Concerto in E-Flat “Dumbarton Oaks” by Igor Stravinsky, recorded by the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, Kenneth Slowik, conducting. Special thanks to Anthony Kaldellis, Judy Lee, and Lain Wilson for making this podcast possible. And thank you for joining us and we hope that you tune in to our next episode.