ABSTRACT

Fifth-century Rome was a city under siege from many directions. Its crises included threats to its religious, civil and political security, as well as an ongoing identity crisis with the permanent move of the imperial residency to Ravenna in the 450s. 1 The letters written by bishops of Rome between 410 and 500 offer a limited picture of the types of crisis that impinged specifically on the city of Rome in the fifth centuries, and the strategies bishops adopted for dealing with them. Within this corpus of some 300 letters, those of Gelasius stand out as offering a markedly different approach. As deacon and then bishop of Rome, Gelasius (492–96) had to deal with the ongoing Acacian schism with Constantinople, as well as fallout from the recent transition of Italy to Gothic rule. 2 By comparing his letters with other sources – histories, inscriptions, uitae and Liber pontificalis among them – we can establish who or what failed to register in the episcopal record. Gelasius’ approach to his role emerges most clearly in his management of various crises. The categories of crisis that may be identified as relevant to the pontificate of Gelasius are:

crises in structures of dependency; 3

population displacement, including exiles, prisoners of war, refugees and asylum seekers;

violent conflict, within the church and without; and

failure of the justice system, both secular and ecclesiastical (audientia episcopalis). 4