Athens in Themistius. Civic models and historical memory in the ‘New Rome
This paper analyzes the historical memory of Athens in Themistius’ Orations to clarify if the ‘school of Greece’ represents a model for the new imperial capital, Constantinople. Promoted by Constantius II as a centre of Greek culture, the city of Constantine is compared by Themistius to ancient Athens and its institutions (Areopagus, bouleuterion, theatre, demos). Constantinople is also a ‘temple’ like the sanctuary of Eleusis. In addiction, Roman emperors, from Constantius II to Theodosius I, are praised because they imitate the practices (euthynai; grant of citizenship for culture) and the most illustrious men of ancient Athens. However, Constantinople can not be seen as a ‘new Athens’. Firstly, the Athenian politicians are always inferior to the emperors and their negative qualities are mentioned. Secondly, the political system of Athens is not suitable for the ‘new Rome’ because of the lack of good kings, the experience of tyranny (the Pisistratids; the Thirty Tyrants), and the uncontrolled behaviour of the Athenian people. Finally, it should be noted that the best military and moral paradigm of the Greek past is represented by the Theban general Epaminondas, whose example is highly recommended to Jovian, Valens, and Theodosius I.
Keywords: Themistius, Constantinople, Hellenism, Athens, Greek past, Epaminondas.
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