Justinian and the Late Roman Empire: Ethnicity, Identity, and Change
This article discusses Justinian’s reign, the ethnic groups in the late Roman Empire, and the changes that occurred during this period. It highlights the importance of the public assembly and how ‘barbarian’ leaders fit into the Roman world. It also talks about the shift from public taxation to private landowning and its impact on the Roman budget.
Table of Contents
- Public Assembly in Post-Roman Kingdoms
- ‘Barbarian’ Leaders in the Roman World
- The Shift towards Private Landowning
- The Move away from Public Taxation
Public Assembly in Post-Roman Kingdoms
The public assembly became increasingly important in post-Roman kingdoms. This formal meeting of adult male members of a political community to deliberate and decide on political action and war represented the principle that the king had a direct relationship with all free Franks, Lombards, or Burgundians. These assemblies had wider significance in that they represented the idea of democracy and the need for political action.
‘Barbarian’ Leaders in the Roman World
‘Barbarian’ leaders fitted into a Roman world, as local Roman elites adjusted to new political situations. There were not large numbers of ‘barbarian’ invaders in any province, and their demographic impact was small. Change did not derive mostly from cultural differences but from the structural position of each ‘barbarian’ group. The new ethnic groups accommodated themselves to Roman rules as much as they could, and most of them had a history of employment in the Roman army. The distinction between regular army forces and the followers of King X or leader Y characterized the people as a whole, no matter what their origin.
The Shift towards Private Landowning
A move to a landed army and a ‘barbarian’ ethnic identity on the part of landowners began with the extensive properties and desire for estates of Gothic and other ‘barbarian’ aristocrats by 500. There was a shift from supporting armies by public taxation to supporting them by the rents deriving from private landowning to fulfill the aim of becoming a ruling class, like the rich Roman aristocrats in each of the provinces they occupied. This shift towards private landowning had a considerable impact on the Roman budget and paved the way for changes in the administration and taxation.
The Move away from Public Taxation
The major post-Roman kingdoms still taxed into the seventh century. However, the move to a landed army and a shift away from supporting armies by public taxation reduced the major item of expense in the Roman budget. Tax still made kings rich, and their generosity increased the attractive power of royal courts, but it was not assiduously collected and was often neglected. In ex-Vandal Africa after 534, the Roman re-conquerors had to reorganize the tax administration to make it effective again, to great local unpopularity.
In conclusion, the article sheds light on Justinian’s reign and the changes that occurred during the late Roman Empire. The new ethnic groups accommodated themselves to Roman rules, and the distinction between regular army forces and the followers of King X or leader Y characterized the people as a whole, no matter what their origin. The shift towards private landowning had a significant impact on the Roman budget and paved the way for changes in the administration and taxation. Ultimately, the article highlights how the post-Roman identities were less about locating an ethnic group in the past than distinguishing it from its contemporary neighbors, and how the ‘barbarian’ groups brought elements of their earlier cultures into the empire.