Selected Papers from the XV Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference
Edited By Maximilian Lau, Caterina Franchi and Morgan Di Rodi
Beyond a Landscape of Conflict: The Occursus in Fourth-century Rome
In probably one of the most frequently cited passages Ammianus Marcellinus conjures up emperor Constantius II’s triumphal adventus celebrating his victory over the usurper Magnentius at Rome in 357. In awe before the Roman capital’s ‘cultural heritage’, Ammianus envisions the senatorial occursus along with the welcoming crowd receiving their emperor:
As he approached the city he let his eye dwell without expression on the senators paying their humble duty and the venerable images of the patrician families. It did not occur to him as it had to Cineas, the celebrated envoy of Pyrrhus, that he was beholding an assembly of kings; his thought was rather that here was a place of sanctuary for the whole world, and when he turned towards the populace he was amazed to see in what numbers people of every race had flocked to Rome. (tr. W. Hamilton)2
← 31 | 32 → Apart from an admiration for the members of the traditional senatorial aristocracy in Rome,3 what is symptomatic in Ammianus’ ‘impressionistic ekphrasis’ is the strong sense of estrangement it conveys. An unbridgeable distance must have arisen between the emperor and the senatorial government of Rome to produce such a mood of mutual astonishment: ‘he himself sat alone on the golden carriage gleaming with various precious stones, whose mingled radiance seemed to throw a sort of shimmering light’.4
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