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Barry Baldwin

The Date of a Circus Dialogue

In: Revue des tudes byzantines, tome 39, 1981. pp. 301-306.

Abstract REB 39 1981 France p. 301-306 B. Baldwin, The Date of a Circus Dialogue. This dialogue, the so-called Acclamations against Calopodius, preserved by Theophanes, is attached by the latter, and by most modern scholars, to the Nika Revolt. For historical and prosopographical reasons, the author concludes that the dialogue probably belongs to the later years of Justinian's reign, some time between 547 and 565.

Citer ce document / Cite this document : Baldwin Barry. The Date of a Circus Dialogue. In: Revue des tudes byzantines, tome 39, 1981. pp. 301-306.






This dialogue, constituting the so-called1 Acclamations against Calopodius, belongs undeniably to the reign of Justinian. To which part, that is the question. Theophanes, the only source to record the dialogue in full2, attaches it to the beginning of the Nika revolt in 532. So does the Paschal Chronicle3, whose author transcribes the first seven exchanges and summar ises rest. the Historians have tended to accept this. Bury, although more cautious by the time he came to produce the final version of his Later Roman Empire*, was sufficiently confident in his classic analysis5 of the sources for the Nika revolt to fix the dialogue on Sunday, January 11, 532. Stein6 was equally sure that Theophanes had the piece in the right place. So, most recently, is Patricia Karlin-Hayter7. The two notable dissentients have gone to opposite ends of the period. 1. Alan Cameron {Circus Factions, Oxford 1976, hereinafter referred to by author's name, p. 318) rightly emphasies that the words are not a title. 2. A. M. 6024. 3. 336A (PG 92, 873-5). 4. History of the Later Roman Empire, London 1923, hereinafter referred to by author's name, II, p. 72, where it is admitted that the dialogue exhibits no connection whatever with the causes of that event, and may record an incident which occurred at some other period of the reign . 5. The Nika Revolt, Journal of Hellenic Studies 17, 1897, p. 92-119. 6. E. Stein, Histoire du Bas Empire, II (Paris 1949), hereinafter referred to by author's name, p. 450 n. 1. 7. Les , Byz. 43, 1973, p. 84-107.



Maas, in the course of his study of Byzantine acclamations8, was drawn to the last years. Alan Cameron, in his recent masterpiece of demolition work on circus factions, locates the dialogue at the very beginning of Justinian's reign9. My own conclusion will be that Maas was probably right, albeit for the wrong reason. Having opened their complaints on the coy and rhetorical note of fearing to name their oppressor, the Greens proceed to do just that : it is Calopodius the spathar who wrongs them (line 15). Karlin-Hayter suggests that this is a nickname, a notion that deserves rather more than Cameron's perempt ory dismissal10. The use of nicknames was widespread in the sixth century1 1. Procopius, for easy instance, is full of such characters as Theodotus the Pumpkin, John the Hunchback, John the Glutton, and so on. Sobriquets will have been a useful way of distinguishing homonymous individuals. The procedure of John Lydus is particularly instructive. In quick succession, and without qualification, he refers to John the Cappadocian as Cyclops, Salmoneus, Cerberus, and Laestrygonian12. In any age, a nickname can be a recognisable substitute for the real one. Who in 1979 does not know that the Iron Maiden is Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister ? Cobblers, if we stick to our ancient lasts, have an appropriately low tone. It was enough for Agathias13 that a certain individual was a shoemaker : that put him beyond the social pale. Most striking is the testimony of a scholiast on Aristophanes14 to the effect that it was customary to refer to certain types of servant as . The dialogue is to some extent a literary piece. Its metrical qualities, so ably disentangled by Maas and (now) Cameron, give it the air of an ora torio, akin to the kontakia of Romanus the Melode. So do such things as the quotation (line 68) from the New Testament and the literary flourish (line 49) drawn from the language of Christian martyrologies. Hence a nickname might be a literary touch, along the lines of cover-names in satire.

8. P. Maas, Metrische Akklamationen der Byzantiner, BZ2\, 1912, p. 28-51. 9. Cameron, p. 327. 10. Karlin-Hayter, art. cit., p. 87 n. 2, 107; Cameron, p. 319 n. 2. 11. And earlier, Eunapius, Vitae Sophistarum 490, mentions the praetorian prefect Anatolius, whose enemies gave him the (to us) obscure nickname Azutrion ; cf. Wright's note (in the Loeb edition) for the ubiquity of this fashion. 12. De mag. 3. 59. 3 ; 3. 59. 5 ; 3. 60. 1 ; 3. 61, 1. 13. Hist. 2. 27. 1. 14. Aves 719-21, adduced by the Suda (0 378 Adler).



For those attracted to the idea of nicknames, another possibility may be canvassed. There happens to be a very rare adverb ( lucki ly not in LSJ, employed in a letter by the emperor Heraclius15. Perhaps ), Calopodius reflects in part a sort of Byzantine B-feature gangster name, Mr. Lucky. This would link back to the opening of the dialogue, where the Greens will not name their enemy (line 5). All of which could have been intended to point to the city prefect Eudaemon, whose attempted execution of some Greens and Blues sparked off the Nika riot. Karlin-Hayter plumped for Narses. Mainly on the grounds that a career as spathar and cubicularius in 532 and as praepositus in the 550s fits both Narses himself and (by equation) the Calopodius elsewhere mentioned by Malalas and Theophanes as cubicularius and praepositus in 558/9. The inscription16 commemorating Narses' career down to 565 attests to his having been praepositus sacri cubiculi. Exactly what was he in 532 ? Spathar and chamberlain, according to Malalas, Theophanes, and the Paschal Chronicle. But that might only be extrapolation from his later years. On his first appearance in Procopius in the year 530, and again when sent to Italy in 53817, he is , a circumlo cution generally taken to denote the office of sacellarius18. The role of Narses in putting down the Nika riot is highly uncertain. He is altogether absent from the version of Procopius19. In the chroniclers, his major appearance is when sent by Justinian to detach Blues from Greens by bribery. Karlin-Hayter adduces this as part of her argument. In fact, it may be an unhistorical doublet, being suspiciously similar to his aforementioned epiphany in Procopius, where he bribes Persians over to the Roman side. Some sources give him a share in the military suppres sion the revolt ; others do not20. There is not enough evidence to justify of the confidence of . . . Jones21 that Narses owed his later career as general to the display of his military talents at this time. 15. PG 92, 1025, where it is rejected as a vox nihili. Admitted, however, to Lampe 's Patristic Greek Lexicon. 16. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum VI. 1199. 17. Bellum Persicum 1. 15. 31 ; Bellum Gothicum 2. 13. 16. 18. Cf. Stein, p. 512; Bury, p. 46 n. 2; Jones, Later Roman Empire, Oxford 1964, p. 567. The phrase is also employed by Agathias, Hist. 3. 2. 4. 19. Bellum Persicum 1. 24 ; it is worth noticing that Narses is never mentioned in the Secret History. 20. His military role is given by the Paschal Chronicle, Theophanes, and Cedrenus {PG 121, 705); omitted by Malalas and Zonaras (PG 134, 1323-5). 21. Op. cit., p. 276.



On balance, it may be better to accept Calopodius as a real name. There is confusion on this side of the question. Maas, Karlin-Hayter, and Cameron all say that the name is a common one. Jones22, by contrast, asserts that it is rare and restricted to eunuchs. The name occurs several times, though it cannot be determined just how many different individuals are in question. A praepositus flourished under Theodosius II and Leo ; under Anastasius in 512 a Calopodius is found heavily involved in ecclesiastical politics; the Life of Eutychius discloses a primicerius Augustae in the reign of Justinian23. Most relevant perhaps is the praepositus of 558/9, described by Theophanes24 as . With good reason, one may feel, since this eunuch is credited with two sons25 ! Bury's dissection of the sources is still fundamental. He missed one : a brief account in the Chronicle of Marius, Bishop of Aventicum in the 580s. This attenuated notice26 tells us nothing that we do not know from elsewhere, but serves as a reminder of the Latin sources for sixth-century Byzantium. The sources (unsurprisingly) exhibit discrepant details. A case in point, as we have seen, is the treatment of Narses. One further example is instruct ive. The Nika rioters demand the dismissal of John the Cappadocian, Eudaemon, and Tribonian in all sources save the Paschal Chronicle in which the quaestor Rufinus replaces Tribonian27. In no source, not even Theophanes or the Paschal Chronicle, is the dis missal of Calopodius demanded. He is absent from the narratives of Procopius. The dialogue, moreover, presents the traditional hostility between Blues and Greens, quite out of keeping with the Nika revolt and its extraor dinary spectacle of the soi-disant Merciful Greens and Blues acting in

22. Op. cit., Ill, p. 163 n. 9; Stein, p. 450 n. 1, is non-commital on the matter. 23. Codex Justinianeus 1. 2. 24; Vita Dan. 49; Theoph. A. M. 6004; Vita Eutych. 85. The position of primicerius was a senior one, apparently held for two years ; cf. Jones, op. cit., p. 568. 24. A. M. 6051 ; Malalas, Chronographia, XVII : Bonn, p. 490. 25. Either this Calopodius had had sons before becoming a eunuch, or it is merely a foolish error on the chronicler's part. Note that Theophanes and the Paschal Chronicle insert a son of Mundus (unknown to Procopius) into their Nika narratives. 26. MGH SS, XI (Berlin 1894), p. 235 : Hypatius patricius seditione populi Imperator levatus et iussu Justiniani Augusti interfectus est et cum eo Pompeius, et paene triginta milia hominum in circo gladio necati sunt. 27. A cognate example is that of the Rufinus whose successful peace-making mission to Persia endeared him (for a while) to Justinian. Theophanes (A. M. 6023) places this before the Nika troubles, Malalas (Bonn, p. 477) immediately after.



concert. Three compelling reasons for detaching the dialogue from 53228. How did Theophanes come to connect the dialogue with the Nika riots ? I offer one supplement to the detailed discussions of Maas and Cameron. Malalas inserts an account of factional violence immediately after his notice of the praepositus of 558/9. This is a possible pointer to associations of circus riots and the name Calopodius29. Cameron assigns the dialogue to the beginning of Justinian's reign, finding this the most natural context for a document proclaiming the host ility of a Blue emperor towards the Greens. His argument rests exclusively upon the Procopian diatribe in the Secret History against Justinian's indulgence to the Blues30. But as Procopius makes clear, this all has to do with Justinian's pre-imperial days. Once on the throne, he and Theodora went through various charades to keep the populace divided, including a pose by the emperor as punisher of the Blues31. And we have more than the malice of Procopius. According to Malalas and the Paschal Chronicle32, Justinian, both in 527 in concert with Justin and in 529 after disturbances at Antioch, took stern measures against Blues and Greens alike. Maas opted for the latter part of the reign on the grounds that the ana thema on those who denied the emperor's orthodoxy (lines 25-6) implies an allusion to Justinian's lapse into Aphthartodocetism. But it is surely unlikely that petitioners would risk imperial displeasure by such tactless hints. Cameron33 calls it a puzzling and neglected remark. Neglected,

28. Cameron, it may be added, rightly scouts efforts to link the references in the dia logue to Manichaeans and Samaritans to events contemporary with 532, an approach adopted by Karlin-Hayter. These are terms of stock abuse. Moreover, Malalas has many references to troubles with Manichaeans and Samaritans in Justinian's time. It is worth noticing that (unless the text is defective) the Greens do not even bother to answer the charge of Manichaean. 29. Cameron thinks that Theophanes shoved in the dialogue without reading it, a notion perhaps supported by the summarising comment of the Paschal Chronicle that there is much abuse of Justinian himself by the Greens, a travesty if intended as a precis of the actual dialogue. 30. Anecdota 7. Bury, p. 22 n. 1, is wrong in saying that this is the only evidence for connecting Justinian with the Blues ; Malalas (p. 426) furnishes the same information. Beware here of Migne, whose Latin version makes the emperor a Green! A similar howler in Bury, p. 42, n. 1 , who makes a Blue out of the demonstratively Green John the Cappadocian (Lydus, De mag. 3. 62). 31. Anecdota 10. 18. 32. Malalas : Bonn, p. 422, 449 ; Chron. Pasch. 334B (PG 92, 869). Cf. Stein, p. 240, 449 ; Bury, p. 40. 33. Cameron, p. 142.



perhaps ; but not really puzzling. Byzantine mobs customarily demanded an orthodox emperor. The present passage is, in a style typical of the dialo gue, merely a periphrastic allusion to the prime imperial virtue. I would put the dialogue late for two reasons. First, there is at least one Calopodius around at the time. It is safe to assume that the one in Theodora's service will have been a Blue, just the sort of official to incur Green hostility. Second, to go by the silence of the chronicles, there was little factional violence in the capital between Justinian's accession and the Nika episode ; also, thanks to the slaughter of thirty thousand or so rioters, the Hippodrome was quiet for a decade or so after that. But from 547 to the end of the reign, at least eight riots are recorded, all showing the Blues and Greens back on opposite sides34. Any one would provide an appropriate context for the dialogue35.

34. See Bury, p. 48 n. 2, for Malalas' references, the dates of the riots, and their major details. 35. An earlier version of this paper was read at the Fifth Annual Byzantine Studies Conference at Dumbarton Oaks on October 27, 1979. In the ensuing discussion, it was noted that no Calopodius is actually called spatharius outside the dialogue. But, as earlier seen, the chroniclers are capable of getting such things wrong. Allowance must also be made for promotion within the eunuch ranks. Furthermore, the functions of one such office were on occasion assimilated to another. A case in point is Chrysaphius, the allpowerful minister of Theodosius II. He held the position of primicerius sacri cubiculi, but exercised the functions of spatharius and is so referred to by most of the sources. Cf. Stein, I, p. 297 ; E. A. Thompson, History of Attila and the Huns, Oxford 1948, p. 99 n. 4.