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Defection and Freedom: Long-Term Cross-Border Movements of Individuals in the Late Antique World

Ekaterina Nechaeva, American Academy in Rome, Fellow 2013–2014

My research at Dumbarton Oaks concentrated on individual emigration (both voluntary and forced) in Late Antiquity. I created a prosopographical database to elucidate the specific economic, social, and religious circumstances in Late Roman society that influenced the migration of individuals. I collected a considerable amount of biographic evidence about people leaving the Roman Empire to either join different barbarian kingdoms in the West or to go to Persia in the East. This investigation offered a detailed view of the lives of individuals as well as a unique insight into the problems of Late Roman society. I also considered the problem of freedom: how solid were the boundaries between different parts of the Late Antique world, and to what degree was this world divided or united as concerns individual movements? Stories of the displacements and flights of individuals demonstrate that freedom of movement across the borders was quite limited, but that these limits could often be surpassed. In many cases, help from the foreign side was essential for the success of a flight. During this fellowship, I prepared and published an article, “La traversée de la frontière par les ‘émigrants’ en fuite, selon Ammien Marcellin,” in Voyages, déplacements et migrations: Actes de la VIe journée d’études nord-africaines, edited by François Déroche and M. Zink. I also finalized the work on my first monograph, Embassies—Negotiations—Gifts: Systems of East Roman Diplomacy in Late Antiquity (2014).