The Last of the Romans: Cassiodorus between Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople
This paper serves as a conspectus of the book project, Politics and Tradition in Sixth-Century Italy: A Study of Cassiodorus and the Variae, which examines the political, literary and intellectual context of a collection of 6th-century administrative letters written by Cassiodorus. The book argues that through the publication of his epistolary collection, Cassiodorus fashioned for the bureaucratic elite of Ravenna a persona that was responsive to social, political, religious and intellectual communication exchanged between Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople. This study suggests that such channels of communication allowed vibrant and even volatile discourses shared between the east and west to have far more agency in determining the culture of 6th-century Italy than that found in studies which have characterized Italy in terms of its estrangement from the imperial culture of the east. It is not the interest of this study to suggest that 6th-century Italy did not part ways with its imperial past, but rather that the combination of dramatic departure with that past and continued contact with the Eastern Empire required the formulation of a portrayal of governance in Italy that was an elaborate apologetic against the assumption that Italy had become ‘barbarized’. The study takes into account the fact that 6th-century society was shaped by a number of unresolved cultural debates concerning social status, moral tradition, governmental style, religion and, ultimately, who could more properly claim to bear the name “Roman.” The form and content of the Variae was in large part determined by the way that the eastern emperor, senators in Rome, eastern and western bureaucrats and even a barbarian ruler each contested the definition of “Roman” in these debates.
Professor Shane Bjornlie is the Andrew Heiskell Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy of Rome and Assistant Professor of Roman and Late Antique History from the Department of History at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles, California. While a graduate student at Princeton University from 2001-06, Professor Bjornlie studied late-antique and medieval history in the Department of History and Roman literature in the Department of Classics. After receiving his Masters and PhD at Princeton, Professor Bjornlie taught medieval history at Bryn Mawr College for one year before accepting a permanent faculty position with the Claremont Colleges in Los Angeles. Professor Bjornlie’s research focuses on the intersections of rhetorical representation and historical reality in the Roman Empire and Late Antiquity and includes the study of concepts of imperial decline and fall, cultural continuity and discontinuity from the Roman to the Carolingian Empire, Roman politics and economics, Roman urban history and archaeology, the institutional histories of the ancient and medieval military and bureaucracy, the history of education and the transmission of classicism and the literary history of the ancient and medieval Mediterranean. Publications include articles for the Journal of Late Antiquity on 6th-century political culture and Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae on the culture of amicitia, shorter pieces on epistolography, incastellamento and literary authors of the 5th-6th centuries and, most recently, finishing work on a monograph examining Cassiodorus’ production of the Variae in Ostrogothic Italy. Professor Bjornlie has spoken at international conferences in the United States, Leeds, Helsinki, Edinburgh, Heidelberg, Rome and Oxford.