The soldier’s life: martial virtues and hegemonic masculinity in the early Byzantine Empire

The soldier’s life: martial virtues and hegemonic masculinity in the early Byzantine Empire

The soldier’s life: martial virtues and hegemonic masculinity in the early Byzantine Empire

Michael Edward Stewart

The University of Queensland: Doctor of Philosophy, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, May (2012)


This dissertation argues that martial virtues and images of the soldier’s life represented an essential aspect of early Byzantine masculine ideology. It contends that in many of the visual and literary sources from the fourth to the seventh centuries CE, conceptualisations of the soldier’s life and the ideal manly life were often the same. By taking this stance, the dissertation challenges the view found in many recent studies on Late Roman masculinity that a Christian ideal of manliness based on extreme ascetic virtues and pacifism had superseded militarism and courage as the dominant component of hegemonic masculine ideology. Though the study does not reject the relevance of Christian constructions of masculinity for helping one understand early Byzantine society and its diverse representations of masculinity, it seeks to balance these modern studies’ often heavy emphasis on Christian sources with the more customary attitudes we find in the secular, and indeed some Christian texts, praising military virtues as an essential aspect of Roman manliness. Indeed, the reader of this dissertation will find that the “manliness of war” is on display in much of the surviving early Byzantine literature, secular and Christian. Chapter 1 examines how modern historians formulate and use “masculinity” as a tool of historical inquiry. It provides a brief summary of the growth of gender studies in the past forty years, and explores some the current debates surrounding “masculinity” as a viable tool of historical enquiry. Chapter 2 focuses on the continuing relevance of martial virtues in Late Roman conceptualisations and representations of heroic manliness. The chapter provides a brief summary of the close link between the soldier’s life and codes of manliness from the Republic to the Early Empire. It describes the supposed demilitarisation of the Roman upper classes and the use of non-Romans in the Roman army in the Later Empire.

It closes with a discussion on how these shifts influenced representations of “true” manliness in both the ancient texts and in some modern works on Late Roman masculinity. Chapter 3 examines the seeming paradox, between the images of ideal martial manliness disseminated by the fifth-century Roman emperors and their supporters, and the reality of the increasing demilitarisation of a segment of the Roman leadership. It seeks to understand how the declining military role of the emperor after the death of Theodosius I in 395 influenced literary representations of idealised leadership that had long depended on the intimate connections between an emperor’s courage, his manliness, and the well-being of the Empire. Chapter 4 disputes the thesis presented by several recent studies that a new Christian ideology had emerged as the hegemonic masculine ideal by the fourth century. It also rejects the idea found in some studies that Christian intellectuals rejected militarism as a key component of its ideology. Chapter 5 concentrates on one early Byzantine historian, Procopius, and discusses the ways he utilised the field of battle to not only explain the reconquests of Justinian, but to comment on the role that courage, manliness and men’s virtues played in determining events.

Watch the video: Daily Life in the Byzantine Dark Ages: An Introduction (December 2021).