A Contemporary View of Ancient Factions: A Reappraisal
By Anthony Lawrence Villa Bryk
Bachelor’s Thesis: University of Michigan, 2012
Abstract: I will reassess the scholarship relating to the motivations for the increasingly frequent and destructive riots spearheaded by the circus factions between the 5th and 7th centuries CE in the Eastern Roman Empire. My analysis offers a dynamic model that includes many of the models that have been advanced by contemporary historians to explain this phenomenon. While these long-standing models characterize a portion of these riots, none of them adequately account for all of the evidence that challenges their rigid absolutism. To more fully explain this riotous behavior, this thesis analyzes these models in light of newly translated primary sources that provide evidence of an important influence systematically denied by previous historians: theological controversy.
Before examining these primary sources, the development and the social, cultural, and political importance of the circus factions from the early Roman Empire up to the 6th and 7th centuries CE in Byzantium will be discussed. Next, the intrinsically religious nature of the Byzantine world of the later Roman Empire will be explicated through analysis of hagiographic sources. This analysis reinforces the notion that religion permeated every strata of urban and rural society. The fourth and final chapter examines the evidence, concluding that these riots were, in part, theologically motivated.
The final chapter of examines the works of the chroniclers, Byzantine historians who chronologically recorded major events that shaped their world between the 6th and the 8th centuries CE. These chronicles provide invaluable primary evidence for several factional riots that occurred from the reign of Justin I to Heraclius the Younger. After examining several of these chronicles, my analysis advances a strong correlative relationship between theological controversy and factional rioting in this period; moreover, it suggests that that it is not implausible to hold that theological controversy played a causal role in factional rioting.