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29.3.McLaughlin

Despite the relatively large number of military elites with non-Roman names in the fourth century CE, I argue that a stark cultural divide did not exist between "barbarian" military officials and non-military educated Greek and Roman elites, as witnessed by their communication with educated members of the civilian elite. Letters, ranging from mundane scrawlings on papyri and ostraca to the polished epistles of the manuscript tradition, were an essential component of patronage and friendship not only in civilian society but also in military administration. While military officials of non-Roman backgrounds may not have fully appreciated the artistry of the letters composed by civilian elites, they nevertheless understood the benefits of maintaining relationships through letters because of the cultural and administrative practice of letter-writing in the Roman army. Focusing on the letters of Libanius, Symmachus, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory of Nazianzus, I first argue that educated civilians approached military officials in nearly the same manner as they did civilian administrators. Overall, such letters conform to the traditional understanding of the epistolary genre and have similar purposes, such as demonstrating friendship, offering praise, and recommending clients. For example, in the summer of 390, Libanius wrote twelve letters to influential men in Constantinople on behalf of his student Thalassius (Ep. 922-30, 932, 936-7). One of these men was Ellebichus, the recently retired magister militum and Libanius' long-time friend (Ep. 925). However, although Libanius uses explicit military analogies, neither Ellebichus' military status nor his seemingly barbarian origins mattered at this point; what mattered was his influence at court. Maintaining the semblance of a shared educational background in their letters suggests not only that civilians were concerned about not offending the cultural aspirations of their military correspondents, but also that their military correspondents had these very aspirations. Military officials responded to their civilian correspondents (e.g. Symmachus Ep. 3.55, 64, 71; Libanius Ep. 1059, 1060), although none of these letters survive. While this may have been a somewhat burdensome task, military officials would have recognized the potential benefits of maintaining such relationships, as writing letters, particularly letters of recommendation, was a standard part of military administration. Letters found on papyri and ostraca demonstrate that even soldiers of non-Roman backgrounds were required to write in Latin or Greek. For high military officials, a degree of education in Greek and Latin was necessary, although an appreciation of literary prowess was not. The stylistic and content similarities between the civilian letters sent to civilians and those sent to military officials, combined with the importance of Latin and Greek letter-writing in military administration, suggest that the degree of cultural separation between educated civilian elites and military officials of non-Roman background may not have been as definitive as it appears on the surface. These relationships of friendship and patronage were maintained on the terms of the practice of the exchange of letters, effectively leveling out the differences in culture, education, and power between correspondents.

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