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Trans-Regional Elites in the Later Roman Empire

Final Report Summary - TRANS-REGIONAL ELITE (Trans-Regional Elites in the Later Roman Empire)

In the last two decades, the growing level of political and economic integration has led to the emergence of pan-European managerial, administrative and (increasingly) educational elites. From a historical perspective, the importance of supra-regional institutions is a rare phenomenon. Before the onset of modernity, the Roman Empire was the only political formation which united much of the European continent under the umbrella of a unified and centralized administrative framework. Here, in the late third and early fourth centuries, a centralized, hierarchical and salaried bureaucracy developed. For the first time, aristocrats from throughout Europe and surrounding regions of the Mediterranean world were joined in one unified and hierarchically structured institution.

This project explored the social and cultural effects of the formation of a new trans-regional governing class in the Later Roman Empire. It showed that the growing penetration of public institutions did not lead to a conflict between the state and locally based aristocrats. Rather, the creation of a new empire-wide administration deeply reshaped the self-understandings of Mediterranean élites. They saw themselves as members of a global and unified aristocracy of public service, whose superiority was rooted in their shared moral excellence and their loyal service to the lawful ruler of the Roman world. The results of this research project are presented to the scholarly public in the form of two books and five peer-reviewed articles.

The first book produced during the project is a monograph, World Aristocracy: State Formation and Aristocratic Identity in Early Imperial and Late-Antique Rome (c. 25 BC – 425 AD). It will appear in the Empire and After series of Pennsylvania University Press, edited by outgoing host Clifford Ando. The second is an edited volume, entitled, Imperial Cosmopolitanisms: Global Identities and Imperial Cultures in Ancient Eurasia. It looks at the topic of trans-regional élites in Antiquity from a comparative perspective. The volume assembles papers on ancient imperial élites in the Mediterranean World, the Near East and East Asia which originally were given at a conference hosted in Heidelberg in July 2013 and co-financed with funds from the Marie-Curie-project. It is edited by Weisweiler and two other scholars and will appear in the Oxford Studies in Early Empires series of Oxford University Press.

In addition, five peer-reviewed articles have been published. One has appeared in one of the two leading journal of the field of Roman studies, the Journal of Roman Archaeology, the others in peer-reviewed edited volumes published by three prestigious university presses: Oxford University Press, Universitätsverlag Winter in Heidelberg and Brill in Leiden.

In addition to the academic benefits, the project has led to the establishment of new research collaborations. Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner, previously lecturer at the Seminar für Alte Geschichte und Epigraphik in Heidelberg, the host institution of the project, has hired Marie Curie Fellow John Weisweiler as lecturer at the University of Tübingen. They are preparing two new projects, both of which arise out of the now-completed ‘Trans-Regional Elites’ project: (1) the establishment of a new online database which contains a complete prosopographical list of members of the trans-regional élite of the Later Roman Empire from the fourth to the sixth centuries; (2) a research group on imperial élites in ancient Eurasia.

Weisweiler’s stay in Chicago has integrated him into North American academic networks and enabled him to transfer expertise acquired in the USA to the European research area. Most important is the establishment of a lasting collaboration with outgoing host Clifford Ando, the world-leading expert on Roman government, who has been a recurrent guest in Heidelberg since the establishment of the project. At the same time, Weisweiler entered a variety of new collaborations with other Anglophone scholars, amongst them Richard Payne, Neugebauer Assistant Professor at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and Myles Lavan, lecturer in St Andrews, with whom he edits the Imperial Cosmopolitanisms volume, mentioned above.

In order to disseminate the results of his research, researcher Weisweiler has given fourteen public presentations at conferences and as invited speaker at the research seminars of different universities. He also organised an international conference, mentioned above, which looked at trans-regional élites in Antiquity from a wider comparative perspective. This conference enabled him to share the conclusions of the project with experts working in the related fields of ancient Mediterranean, Near Eastern and East Asian history.