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Letters as an Instrument for Lobbying: Libanius and the Imperial Court|Intellectuals & Empire

van Hoof
Thursday, February 11, 2021, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

AbstractIn Late Antiquity (ca.300-600 A.D.), intellectuals could and did try to weigh on imperial decisions in a variety of ways. This paper examines how various fourth-century emperors were lobbied by the pagan sophist Libanius. As a professor of Greek rhetoric intervening for various causes, Libanius used letters as well as other genres in order to influence decisions on the highest level.

Lieve Van Hoof is a Professor of Ancient History & Classics at Ghent University, Belgium. Trained as a classicist, historian, and political scientist, she currently conducts a research project on Lobbying in Late Antiquity. Whilst the various postdocs and PhD students working on the project use different letters and letter collections to study decision processes in Late Antiquity, Lieve’s own research focuses on the sophist Libanius (314-393 A.D.), on whom she has published various articles as well as an edited volume (CUP, 2014).

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The lecture is a part of the CEMS "Intellectuals and Empire" lecture series. The series asks what role intellectuals played in formulating notions of empire and spreading imperial policy, on the one hand, and, on the other, how they criticized emperors and challenged imperial ideology or practices. How did intellectuals navigate power structures and their asymmetrical relationship with relevant powers? What strategies did they use to maintain a critical distance from those on whom they often depended for their livelihood? How did they shape their personas to carve out a place for themselves within – or outside – the machinery of imperial administration? By looking at the intellectual production and socio-political roles of different kinds of intellectuals in various historical periods, the series invites meditation of the complex yet constant tension between power and intellectual life.