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The techniques of accomodation : A viable thesis or not?

  1. Dec 7, 2008 #1

    arildno

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    "The techniques of accomodation": A viable thesis or not?

    This thread is devoted to Walter Goffart's hugely influential thesis that the classical explanation of the "fall of Rome" as primarily a direct result of barbarian invasions in the fifth century is wrong, in significant aspects.

    In particular, W.G. contends that insofar as we should speak of the fall of Rome, we should rather regard it as "an imaginative experiment that got a little out of hand", i.e, that the Roman state was a major, active player in its own dissolution, rather than an impotent by-stander unable to withstand the crumbling of the ground beneath him.

    The mechanism of dissolution that W.G. points to is that the Roman state made treaties with (some) tribes of Germanic origin (or at least label), in which the Germanic soldiers became stipendiaries who partook of the tax revenue normally given to the state, but now levied by the troops themselves from the taxpayers.

    To be sure, over time, this meant that power became concentrated in the hands of the Germanic soldiery, but W.G. contends that this power tranfer happened within a framework of legality (as defined by Roman law and custom), rather than concessions granted at gunpoint.

    In particular, W.G. militates against the traditional view that the "hospitalitas" granted to the barbarians involved a transfer of property from land-owners; rather, THEY experienced no significant losses, the state absorbed most of the costs, by cutting itself from the tax flow (now re-directed in a local manner to the barbarians).



    Personally, I am deeply skeptical to the major thrust of Goffart's thesis, and I would like to write down in this thread (in a very off-and-on manner) a close reading of W.G's work "Barbarians and Romans: The Techniques of Accomodation, AD 418-584", Princeton University Press, 1980.


    In particular, I would like to clarify the argumentative structure of that work, so as to see how the marshalled evidenced by Goffart matches up to the content of his thesis (,theses)


    I don't hope that this will remain a soliloquy on my side, please feel free to join up and hjave your say. If the theme warrants interest, that is..:smile:
     
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  3. Dec 7, 2008 #2

    marcus

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    Re: "The techniques of accomodation": A viable thesis or not?

    I suppose nowadays with business corporations, privatization of key infrastructure, healhcare and security functions (which has occurred in some countries) could be compared to the way the Empire would sell off the privileged role of tax collecting.
    I think the theme warrants interest, Arildno. I don't know the author W.G. or the book Techniques of Accomodation.

    Sounds like the state creates little Proxies of itself. Sells off semiautonomous pieces of its function. And then in the end the Proxies eat the state. Creepy. :biggrin:
     
  4. Dec 8, 2008 #3

    arildno

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    Re: "The techniques of accomodation": A viable thesis or not?

    You should, since it is perhaps the most influential account within academia concerning the role of the barbarian invasions during the 5th century.

    As someone quipped about Goffart's thesis, that, essentially, the Roman state said to its soldiers "Go fetch your money by yourself, stop bothering me about it".

    Now, I would like to say there are lots of sound thinking in Goffart's work, in particular in his, in my view, demolishment of the previous view that the barbarians supplanted the land-owners by become the new ones through massive expropriation of land.

    One of the major flaws with this view is that a tiny occupying force cannot sustain "punch" if it is dispersed all over the countryside as land-owners.
    Rather, the barbarians clustered as stipended elite forces in towns, and methods were deviced by which they drew sustenance and wealth FROM designated, indigenous land-owners. (A close parallell would be the garrisoned military aristocracy that the Arabs set up after their conquest, demanding tribute from the subjected population, rather than bothering themselves with the minutiae of agriculture and everyday business dealings)


    That these stipendships could involve a sell-out of tax rights to the barbarians, rather than a formal transfer of ownership (i.e, that the barbarians became absentee land-owners) might be true as well. (This is one of the main tenets of Goffart's thesis)

    The point of contention I have with Goffart is that he says this was an essentially peaceful and regulated process, more initiated by the Roman state, rather than grudgingly conceded by it in the face of superior force.
     
  5. Dec 8, 2008 #4

    marcus

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    Re: "The techniques of accomodation": A viable thesis or not?

    Sounds a bit like the tactics of the Mob. Selling "protection" to the local businessmen. It is neither peace nor outright war. (What I mean by the Mob is the Cosa Nostra gangster organizations, the "families")

    I think you have an interesting topic and that if you develop this thread it will not remain soliloquent
     
  6. Dec 10, 2008 #5

    arildno

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    Re: "The techniques of accomodation": A viable thesis or not?

    Certainly.
    And I don't think either Walter Goffart, or any other reputable historian (and he is one!) would disagree with that.
    Nor is there any disagreement that running this "protection racket" was the initial stage in a process which, quite naturally, over the following decades/centuries, evolved into the situation where those of originally "barbarian" stock came to dominate in the role as direct land-owners/ feudal lords as well (either by intermarriage with indigenous elites, or by various "techniques of ousting", to put it that way.)

    The major point of contention is, rather, what should we regard as the determining factor(s) in that this type of garrisoned cosa nostra came to be established in the first place?

    The classical account (recently defended with vigour by historians like peter heather, and bryan ward-perkins) is that the catalyst for "the fall of rome" was the barbarians invasions, and that the magnitude of the social disorder generated by the those invasions toppled over "l'ancien regime", by forcing its hand, and concede to its defeat.

    Goffart, and others, have a more continuivist approach, in that the Roman state gradually incorporated more and more "barbarians" into their armies, and then more or less dissolved its own tax-channelling bureaucracy by letting the soldiers fetch their own stipends.
    I.e, the "fall of Rome", if thought appropriate to label it as such, was more a result of "bad" management decisions (by eliminating their own bean counters/accountants in order to improve efficiency) than the result of a hostile take-over.

    The result of folly, rather than of misfortune, if you like.


    Since this is mainly a science site, I think that I will use this thread also to clarify, and expound upon the particulars of Goffart's thesis, many points of which are fascinating in themselves, but probably obscure at the outset for many here.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2008
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