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Synesius, On Imperial Rule


Bust of Arcadius. Forum of Theodosius, Constantinople; Arkeoloji Müzesi, İstanbul (Turkey). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Arcadius. Forum of Theodosius, Constantinople (Arkeoloji Müzesi, İstanbul)
Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, about the christianization of the Roman world, and the military crisis at the beginning of the fifth century.

In his speech On Imperial Rule (or On Monarchy), Synesius offers some advise to the emperor Arcadius (395-408). He presents himself as philosopher, who, after deep thought and without political motives, offers honest advise. The main issues are that the ruler must be a sober-living man and that the foreigners are to be expelled from the Roman armies.

This second subject was certainly relevant: in 400, the Germanic leader Gainas had been able to gain power in Constantinople, and he had been expelled by a popular revolt. (This is the subject of The Egyptian Tale.) Synesius appears to have spoken only a couple of weeks after this event.

It has been assumed that the text as we have it can not have been the real speech, because -in spite of the many topical remarks- Synesius is too frank. On the other hand, it is possible that after the Gainas crisis, opinions like the ones offered in On Imperial Rule were common; nor can the possibility be ruled out that courtiers like Aurelian, the praetorian prefect, used a dispensable philosopher to impress the emperor.

Summary

1-6: Philosophical introduction
7-8: The emperor needs honest friends
9: The army
10: Sycophants
11: Against luxury
12: An anecdote about the emperor Carus
13: Extravagance must be eliminated from kingship
14: Foreigners are to be expelled from the Roman armies
15: The emperor must personally expel the barbarians
16: The emperor as civil ruler
17: Embassies
18: Soldiers must protect, not suppress, civilians
19: The ruler must not act as a businessman
20: Appointments
21: Offices must not be purchased, but must be given to the best
22: A prayer for a philosophically-minded king


The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

Throughout this speech, the word "Scythians" refers to the Tervingian Germans (who would later be known as Visigoths), whereas "king" refers to emperor.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

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Online 2007
Revision: 4 December 2007
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