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Fiscal Grammars of Governance in Ostrogothic Italy

M. Shane Bjornlie

This paper argues that taxation in Ostrogothic Italy was an important means by which Ostrogothic rulers sought to generate the idea of a harmonious society and that the rhetoric of this policy is visible in the Variae of Cassiodorus. Ostrogothic Italy has enjoyed a long reputation in modern scholarship as one of the most successful amalgamations of imperial Roman political tradition, Germanic military aristocracy and emergent Christian culture (Momigliano 1955; Hen 2007; Arnold 2014). Increasingly, scholarship is recognizing similar characteristics of deep social and cultural integration across the western Mediterranean (Conant 2012). For Ostrogothic Italy, the vocabularies by which the government elaborated continuity with imperial Roman political tradition have been the subject of a wide range of approaches. The representation of public office holding through the creation of formulae, for example, was but one rhetorical strategy in the reification of the Roman imperial tradition (Pferschy 1986). The elaboration of civilitas as an underlying political doctrine of the Ostrogothic court has similarly been examined in a number of studies (Amory 1997; Kakridi 2005; Giardina 2006). Additionally, it is possible to identify Neoplatonic formulations for governmental probity in writing associated with the Ostrogothic court (Bjornlie 2013). The present paper proposes to add to this elaboration of the “grammars” of Ostrogothic government by examining the vocabularies of taxation visible in the Variae of Cassiodorus. Previous investigations of the Ostrogothic fiscal system have sought to understand the economic integration of Goths into Roman society (Goffart 1980; Bjornlie 2014). By contrast, what the language of taxation communicated to Roman, or more properly, civilian audiences, has not received direct attention. Of course, the mere presence of taxation instantiated the continuities that Ostrogothic Italy had with Roman imperial government (Wickham 2005); but more recently, the scale of this fiscal apparatus has been called in question (Bjornlie 2014; Bjornlie forthcoming 2016). This paper argues that the Ostrogothic government fashioned a particular language for taxation that was itself a response to the fact of thin governmental presence on the ground. In effect, taxation was used as a vehicle to convey notions of reciprocal community, statehood and governmental probity in conditions where social definitions and political affiliations were still relatively fluid.          

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Grammars of Government in Late Antiquity

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