Rezension über:

David Hecken: Das amalische Italien. Herrschaft – Ethnographie – Integration. Teil 1 und 2 (= Pharos. Studien zur griechisch-römischen Antike; Bd. 47), Rahden/Westf.: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2022, 1160 S., ISBN 978-3-86757-275-0, EUR 74,80
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Rezension von:
Massimiliano Vitiello
Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Massimiliano Vitiello: Rezension von: David Hecken: Das amalische Italien. Herrschaft – Ethnographie – Integration. Teil 1 und 2, Rahden/Westf.: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 5 [15.05.2023], URL:

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David Hecken: Das amalische Italien

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David Hecken has produced an impressive opus of almost 1,400 pages, which results from his dissertation written and defended at the University of Trier in the years 2016-2020. He begins with a provocative introduction that considers many key historiographical elements, from the legacy in German-speaking Europe of Felix Dahn's four-volume masterpiece Ein Kampf um Rom (1876-78) in the context of 19th-20th century nationalism to the recent TV documentaries on "Migrations and Germans." This work thoroughly explores the Italy ruled by the Amals (489/493-536/540) through the lenses of "Rule", "Ethnography", and "Integration". Because these lines of research have been widely investigated, this study is unusual among dissertations, which are generally focused on less explored topics. As I was enjoying this book, the structure and length of the thirty-year-old study of Beat Meyer-Flügel (Das Bild der ostgotisch-römischen Gesellschaft bei Cassiodor. Leben und Ethik von Römern und Germanen in Italien nach dem Ende des Weströmischen Reiches, Bern, Frankfurt a.M., New York, Paris, Wien, 1992) came often to my mind, perhaps because both works compile vast amount of data and scholarship.

The theoretical frame in the first chapters of the book is well built. It encompasses the different scholarly positions on "Ethnicity" and the understanding of Germani in both the classic ethnography and in the modern discussion (36-66). Here and throughout the work the author never fails to address the main questions of the historiographical debates, which he always discusses at length and explains with clarity. The question on the appropriate/inappropriate use of key-words/concepts like gens, regnum, Stamm, and Ethnogenesis is excellent (157-261). The histoire évènementielle is exposed in an analytical way, with excursuses on central issues like the juridical status of kings Odoacer and Theoderic (262-339). The study rests on a strong knowledge of the primary sources and on the impeccable use of prosopography, which is used for the historical contexts and also for questions of the spelling of barbarian names.

The author has methodically synthesized the plethora of studies on all the subjects explored in this work, and he takes his own position (see for example at 82-156 the question of the origins and movements of Huns and the analysis of Attila and his court). Some of the interpretations are provoking, like the composition of Theoderic's army in the year 488 based on Ennodius, Pan. 26 (235-236, 1152). Others are less convincing (see below). The central sections are dedicated to the main questions of the coexistence of Goths and Romans, the propaganda/integration (345-395), the propagandistic purposes of the lost Cassiodoran Gothic History (396-511), the integration through legislation and the Edict of Theoderic (513-571), the much-disputed question of the size of the number of the Goths and their "Accommodation" in Italy (572-651), and the ethnic composition of the "Gothic" army (652-754). These are well-studied aspects of the multifaceted expressions of the civilitas of Theoderic, which largely survives through the collection of the Variae. The same is true for the overlong discussions on the consistorium and the composition of the court, on the life at the palace, on the technicalities of the administration of the Gothic kingdom (755-806), on the disputed literacy of Theoderic and the education/acculturation of the Amal family (807-836), on the reaction of the "Gothic nationalism" - including the Boethius affair and the vicissitudes of the last Amals (837-898). This lack of originality in the structure does not invalidate the quality of this work, which contains well-articulated discussions. More original appears the section on Fremde und Einheimische, in which - together with a plethora of written evidence including "Gothic" sources like the anonymous Geographus Ravennas, the Roman/barbarian laws, papyri, and Wulfila's Bible - Hecken contextualizes the archeological findings pertaining to the Goths in and outside of Italy and the Empire (often by relying on the results of Bierbrauer's research together with the work of P. von Rummel, Habitus barbarus) within the discussion on ordinary life of the barbarians, society, intermarriages, religious identities (899-1037). A section that analyses in parallel the propaganda of Theoderic and that of Justinian (1038-1094), two excursuses dedicated to the use of the Gothic language in Italy and to the names of the Goths (1095-1129), and an eighty-page Ergebnisse that summarizes the results of the investigation (1130-1208), conclude this opus.

It is impossible in this place to address the interpretations of all the documents that Hecken provides. This reviewer believes that in many places Hecken should have understood the documents within their historical context and the literary scope of the authors. This is the case, for example, of Hecken's explanation of the mistake in the Byzantine sources that Theoderic was the son of Valamir (229-230), of the interpretation of the status of Odoacer based on the use of the word regnum in Anon. Vales. 38 (266), and of Theoderic's saying in Anon. Vales. 61 (777-778). At p. 947, Hecken misunderstands my observations in Theodahad 2014. His approach to the question of the place of composition of the Variae and its audience is also not well grounded (331-338). Another example of wrong contextualization is Cassiodorus, Var. 11.31 (882-889). Hecken's interpretation based on the use of words and the well-known parallels with other elections of the late Roman Empire is not satisfactory. The author should have explained Var. 11.31 within both the historical context of late 536 and Cassiodorus' literary goals. The remarks that "Die Mitglieder des italischen Heeres [...] haben Tacitus nicht gelesen", does not dismiss the possibility that Cassiodorus - whose use of Tacitus in the Variae is demonstrated (see Var. 5.5.2, on which p. 992) - had in mind Tacitus or other cases of barbarian/Gothic/Germanic history, which as the writer of the lost Historia Gothorum he knew very well. When he penned this letter in the name of King Witiges, Cassiodorus's aim was to justify a questionable election in front of a disbanded Gothic army and a divided Gothic aristocracy, both still largely committed to the Amals. Even if Hecken's study has once again showed how unorthodox is to investigate the "Identity" of the Goths from Greek and Latin sources, it is equally unorthodox to challenge any possible expression of identity. Unlike other authors like Ammianus, whose experience with the barbarian world was limited, Cassiodorus spent an extraordinary amount of time at the Gothic court. This experience cannot be minimized.

Overall, whether one agrees or not with some of Hecken's interpretations, this work is a good research instrument, an excellent base for any study on Ostrogothic Italy. The author has made understandable to a large audience many complex topics. Some of the erudite excursuses stretch outside the field, like the sociological/anthropological interpretation of the origins of peoples' names (175-200). The literature is generally exhaustive, certainly for the foundational works of the alte Meister. The author has a good familiarity with the European languages. Understandable is the occasional lack of secondary literature and studies of the main sources published in and after the year 2020 (e.g. the translation and commentary of Jordanes' works by P. Van Nuffelen and L. Van Hoof 2020, the new edition of the Anonymus Valesianus published in 2020 in the Collection Budé). More difficult to explain is the absence of reference to the four volumes of translations and commentaries of Cassiodorus's Variae edited by A. Giardina, G.A. Cecconi, and I. Tantillo (2014-2017). Considering the centrality of this collection of letters for the architecture of Hecken's opus, the solid, detailed commentary would have improved the author's analysis, offered access to more specific secondary literature, and helped Hecken corroborate/amend some of his interpretations.

If one thinks that the forty-year-old dissertation by Stefan Krautshick (Cassiodor und die Politik seiner Zeit, Bonn 1983), discussed in ca. 200 pages many of the topics of Hecken's work, one realizes how much the research on the Goths has progressed over the last decades, and at the same time, how difficult it is to provide fresh interpretations of the overstudied materials. The overextended secondary literature puts young scholars at a disadvantage, because a proper exploration of the scholarly discussion increases dissertations to a size that is out of range.

The author has an enviable capacity for synthesis and organization of the materials. The narrative is fresh and pleasant, and it makes enjoyable the reading of this long work. Considering the short period in which this study was produced, that it derives from a doctoral thesis, and that was largely written and defended during COVID, this work deserves to be highly acknowledged.

Several long quotations of modern authors included in the narrative and in the footnotes were not indispensable. Mistakes in both footnotes and bibliography are inevitable (e.g. Fauvinet-Robinson [sic!]). One notices also a remarkable inconsistency and mistakes in the apostrophes (‘, ’, ') which indicates a lack of attention to the automatic corrector and seems to suggest that much literature was copied/pasted from electronic sources without due care.

Massimiliano Vitiello