Sub-Project C01: The Eastern Roman Empire Under Threat, ca. 500 A.D.


Project Goals:

Project Team

Project Leader

Prof. Dr. Mischa Meier

Ph.D. Students:

Christoph Begass

Philipp Stahlhut

Fabian Schulz (assoz. Mitglied)

Dr. Johann Martin Thesz

Student Assistant:

Inge Göhring

Academic Disciplines and Orientation

Ancient History

Project Description

The impetus behind this project is the observation that there is an apparent lack of research related to key aspects of Eastern Roman history in the late 5th century A.D. For over a century now, the threat situation in relation to political and social order in the Roman world that reached an extreme climax during this period has been primarily attributed to the incompetency of individual emperors, namely Leo I (457-474), and above all, Zeno (474-491). In contrast to this common master narrative highlighting the “weaknesses” of the emperor Zeno, little scholarly attention has been directed towards developing an approach that looks at structural and exogenous factors to explain the difficult situation of the Eastern Roman Empire during this time, even though the significance of some of these factors has already been pointed out in individualised studies. However, these advancements in recent research in terms of individual aspects of the history of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th century have not yet been woven together to create a new explanatory narrative. This is apparently due to the fact that, among others, it has not yet been possible to develop an over-arching hypothesis capable of competing with the explanations and interpretations that have prevailed up to now. This project intends to take just this step, albeit without succumbing to the danger of merely replacing one sweeping generalization with another based on more recent research. To avoid this trap, this project will attempt to redirect scholarly attention toward a previously neglected, but very possibly decisive aspect, namely the decline of the Roman Empire in the West and the resulting consequences thereof for the East. By using the heuristic instrument of “threatened orders” developed within the CRC, this project specifically aims to theoretically reflect on and question the reasons behind the "chaos" that characterised the reign of Zeno (even the most recent scholarship has not questioned that this period was indeed chaotic) and to revise the commonly accepted interpretative models that focus on the person of the emperor and essentially only reiterate verdicts that were already made within the source materials. Accordingly, the fundamental questions of this project are as follows: Are there other plausible explanations that can account for the menace to political and social order in Eastern Rome – especially to imperial rule – in the late 5th century and, in this respect, is it possible that the end of the Empire in the West influenced the situation in the East? How can this be determined, described and analysed and what other factors can be used to analyse the short-term menace to, and subsequent re-stabilization of, the Imperium Romanum as the overarching constellation of order in the East? In comparison to older hypotheses, this approach has the advantage that it replaces problematic explanatory models centred on individual actors with structural arguments. Moreover, this analytical perspective takes the general situation of the Imperium Romanum in which social order was temporarily, yet also seriously, threatened into greater consideration. In turn, this promises to provide important insights into the over-arching question about the mechanisms which underlie the transformation of the Eastern part of the Imperium Romanum into the Byzantine Empire.

Project-related Lectures and Publications

Meier, Mischa



Begass, Christoph

Schulz, Fabian

Stahlhut, Philipp

Thesz, Johann:

Conferences, Workshops, and Conferences

Project-related Courses

Begass, Christoph:

Stahlhut, Philipp: