Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft
The value of one’s body out of place: captives as a discourse of power relations in Late Antiquity

In critically examining the role of captives in Late Antiquity and the measure of their value, this investigation seeks to understand the relationship between ideology and utility. The analytical framework draws on a number of ancient, imaginary and modern liminal settings, including the institutions of ransoming, exile and the colonate – tenured farmers who existed between the free and the unfree. It begins by analysing the way groups of captives, available for ransom during the Late Antique period, provided one site of discourse and negotiation of power, jurisdiction, and community formation. Successful redemption – not to be equated with freedom – allowed for increased authority, influence and moral superiority for the mediators, especially Bishops as such as Caesarius of Arles or Avitus of Vienne (5-6th c). More tangibly, the utility of ransomable captives was economically contingent for both the captors and the redeemers. The value of captured people lay in their condition of being bodies out of place – physically and in terms of status. The records of negotiations for their release, whether within the Justinian Code or the writings of Priscus, reveal the tensions of morality, responsibility and obligation that lie between competing authorities, exposing the delicate balance of power and decision-making. They reflect a phenomenon that appears to be shared across historic and societal contexts: the unique role of people in states of liminality in articulating inter- and intra-community relationships – on the  boundary of civic society and the international community, in the space between civil rights and human rights.

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