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The Profanation of Diocletian’s Grave According to Ammianus Marcellinus (XVI, VIII, 3-7)

Joško Belamarić ; Institut za povijest umjetnosti - Centar Cvito Fisković

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 423 Kb

str. 409-427

preuzimanja: 137


Puni tekst: engleski pdf 423 Kb

str. 409-427

preuzimanja: 197



The article analyses the historical circumstances behind the story of Ammianus
Marcellinus (XVI, VIII, 3-7), according to which a certain woman, in the year 356, during the reign of Constantius II, made a report to Rufinus, the chief steward of the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum, accusing her husband Danus and »a gang of plotters« of the theft of the purple robe (uelamen purpureum) from the sarcophagus of the emperor in his mausoleum in Split, of the crime, then, of lèse-majesté, of the most serious affront to the imperial majesty. In the subsequent inquiry, it later turned out that Rufinus had persuaded this woman by a tissue of lies to charge her guiltless husband.
Always only in a passing comment, the story is taken as a proof that Diocletian built his octagonal temple as a place for his eternal resting place and that he was in fact entombed there. Ammianus, with his acute and impassioned evaluations of contemporary real politics and characters, described the trial that was conducted in the city, at that time still an uncommon combination of imperial palace and factory for army textiles (Gynaeceum Iovense Dalmatiae – Aspalatho as the
place is called, in entirely official terms, in Notitia Dignitatum at the beginning of the 5th century). The Split episode is mentioned as the first in a series of proofs that Constantius II exceeded the severity of Caligula, Domitian and Commodus in the processes of interrogating accused persons who were in any way suspected of having threatened his rule or the attributes of his dignity. The many people put to torture during the investigation must have been working people and officials in Diocletian’s gynaeceum. The investigation was conducted, highly logically, by Ursulus, count of the largesses, that is, the head of the sacred state treasury, under whose direct jurisdiction the gynaeceum Io-vense in Aspalathos lay, and by Lollianus Mavortius – praefectus praetorio per Illyricum, known to us as the dedicatee of an important book about astrology by the Late Antique writer Julius Firmicius Maternus, lavishing on him numerous encomiums.
It is worth pointing out at once that appointment of Lollianus Mavortius to the position of examining magistrate in the Split case was very logic, not only because he, like count Ursulus, belonged to the imperial consistory, but because at that time justice in the appeal court was carried out by the praetorian prefect, as it was on occasions in the court of first instance.
Ursulus was appointed Mavortius’ collaborator; in fact, he is the central character in the whole story, one of the exceptionally rare positive characters in the world of Ammianus. He was count of the sacred largesses. A number of special financial bodies were underneath him: in Illyria, for example Rationalis summarum
Pannoniae secundae, Dalmatiae et Saviae, as well as comes largitionum per Illyricum. (Not. dig., 188), in rank almost equal to the governor. Dependent on the counts largitionum per Illyricum were the prepositi (for example, Prepositus thesaurorum Salonitanorum), managers of the state workshops, procurators, of which there was a fair number in Illyria (for example, Procurator monetae Siscianae)
and also the Comes metallorum per Illyricum (who controlled the gold
mines in the interior). In Salona there was also a separate gynaecium, certainly connected with that in Aspalato; also there was a separate workshop for dyeing silk and wool with scarlet – bafium, as well as a weapons factory – fabrica Salonitana armorum, where helmets, gauntlets, breastplates and so on were produced, under the direct control of the magister officiorum.
The real investigation into the theft of the purple from Diocletian’s tomb carried out precisely by the comes sacrararum largitionum; this shows, it should be underlined, not so much the emperor’s wish to get things into the open by a really righteous and strict person, as Ammianus would have it, rather the fact that the crime happened in the premises that were under the direct jurisdiction of the highest financial officer of the empire. The procedure was not conducted
by anyone from the level of the provincial politburo, not by any of the officers in Salona, which at that time was the head of the diocese of western Illyria, the prefecture of Italia (composed of seven provinces). Ursulus’ authority in the case of this enquiry is thus extremely significant. The comes sacrarum largitionum directly
oversaw the work of the gynaecea, like that called after Jupiter in Asapalto.
Rufinus is a particularly picturesque character. He was princeps clarissimus, in the highest rank of state officials (agentes ducenarii), from whom the heads of the officia of the prefects and the most important civil governors for West and East were chosen, or for the military in the East. Via these principes, the court was able to keep a close eye on the working of the provincial governors, that is, they
had official spies (if we can really say that). We recognise Rufinus from a second Ammianus story (XV, III, 7-11).
Danus is usually considered to have been a slave, according to an actually rather arbitrary repair by Heraeus of a lacuna of some 11 to 14 letters in the firstsentence [Per id tempus fer………..num quendam nomine Danum → Per id tempus fere servum quendam nomine Danum]. But Pighi fills this same lacuna by venturing that Danus might have been some official – a palatinus or praefectianus (in his supplement: palatinum vel praefactianum), which does seem a more
logical solution. He might, then, have had some official standing in Aspalathos, and Ammianus’ story could well be an indirect confirmation of the operations of the gynaeceum in Aspalathos. This new approach, in which we are no longer dealing with a slave, as has been commonly thought, but, probably, with one of the officials in the management of the imperial textile factory in Split, elegantly
explains the apparent contradiction of the affair between Rufinus and Danus’ wife. We have no knowledge of how the cunning Rufinus became acquainted with this thoughtless woman. Perhaps he met her during an investigation into the theft in the Split mausoleum, which without any doubt really did happen. He seduced her (post nefandum concubitum) with fine words and promises (ut loquebatur
iactantius). Ammianus’ account might have been a significant proof of the beginnings of Christianity’s squaring of accounts with the reliquaries of paganism within the Palace. It was in that same year, 356, that by the edict of Constantius all the pagan temples in Rome and elsewhere in major centres (which would have included
Split, which was under direct imperial control) were closed down. This could well have emboldened the Split conspirators to take steps in squaring accounts with the irritating presence of the mortal remains of the emperor-persecutor in the midst of the Split palace-factory, which at that time was already certainly in the process of Christianisation.
The sentences that Ammianus might have based on a direct inspection of the dossier of the Roman prefecture certainly demand to be analysed in detail and, as far as is possible, supplemented. The short Split story penned in 15 sentences of Ammianus’s masterly hand, in refined literary expression, sets forth a poignant sample of the harsh texture of life in later antiquity. It is also an important historical source, in the context of the great paucity of written sources about the life of the Palace in the century in which it was built, and provides us with some of the names of its first visitors after the death of Diocletian.

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