The Roman empire in Late Antiquity (c. 300-600 A.D.) was long seen as an autocratic state where
the emperor took all decisions. Recent studies have emphasized that many imperial laws were in
fact responses to questions from below, and that their drafting and execution was handled by
counsellors and bureaucrats. Yet the actual decision processes have not yet been studied: On the
basis of which arguments were decisions taken? Who tried to influence official decisions, and what
was the role of formal and informal networks? To what extent were such lobby activities effective?
And how were they presented to the public by the different parties involved?
These questions are crucial for our understanding of the later Roman state and society: Was the
empire an autocracy with power concentrated at court, or were there ‘outside’ influences? And
what is the effect of possibilities to influence decisions on the social integration of different layers in
In order to answer these questions, the project uses council acts. Combining a report of what was
said during the council with letters sent around before and after it, this source offers unique insight
into late antique decision processes. Focusing on the letters, which have thus far been neglected,
this project studies the role of networking, persuasion, presentation and governance in decision
making. In this way, council acts will allow a reassessment of the functioning of the later Roman