Constantine I and the Barbarian Revolution


  • Jeroen Wijnendaele
    Universität Bonn

Prof. Jeroen Wijnendaele (Universität Bonn)
Constantine I and the Barbarian Revolution

This presentation wishes to explore the tension between Constantinian propaganda of victorious emperors over barbarian peoples, in particular Alamanni and Franks, and their extensive use of these communities to sustain their own power. While some third century emperors had occasionally made use of barbarian muscle, it was the Constantinian dynasty who exploited the resources of Alamannia and Francia as never before. Its inhabitants were not only instrumentalized as bogeymen for purposes of propaganda, but also coerced as labour for the Gallic countryside, and even employed as recruits for the imperial army among whom individual Alamanni and Franks rose to unprecedented positions in the army’s chain-of-command. This presentation will seek to reveal what drove this balancing-act and how Constantine made it work. The main contention is that Constantine was the first Roman Emperor to award high office to non-Romans, precisely because their origins made them more vulnerable, and by extension, loyal to the throne. This has been asserted in the past, but will now be demonstrated more thoroughly than hitherto has been done. Constantine’s creation of the offices of magister equitum and magister peditum should thus be seen in tandem with his dynasty allocating high command to non-Romans henceforth. This was the final step in several reforms to stop the downward spiral of usurpation and civil war that had bedeviled the third century.