Bjornlie, Shane. "Beowulf and the Textual Exclusion of Vikings in the Carolingian World." Inclusion and Exclusion in Mediterranean Christianities, 400-800, edited by Yaniv Fox and Erica Buchberger. Brepols, 2019, pp. 69-93.
Abstract: in the late eight century, Carolingian emperors of the western European continent and Anglo-Saxon kings of England came into increasing contact with visitors from non-Christian Scandinavia. These encounters of 'Vikings' with Christian realms had been preceded by centuries of the more or less regular forms of contact (trade, piracy, and settlement) that characterized the cultural zone of the North Sea. The intensification of contact in the eighth century initiated alternating patterns of conflict and accommodation that would extend well into the eleventh century and that were far more complex than a straightforward 'invasion' narrative. Sources indicate that Scandinavian Vikings were a regular feature of the early medieval political landscape: sometimes as antagonists but often as participants. Nonetheless, by the eighth century, the world view of people living in the former Roman provinces of north-western Europe had assumed a Christian perspective of political community, and the early medieval Christian imagination was quite capable of envisioning Vikings as the 'other' from beyond a political, cultural, and religious frontier. Within this same period, sometime between the late-ninth and tenth century, when Christian polities of the Carolingian continent and Anglo-Saxon England were developing strategies to assimilate the 'heathen' Scandinavian, an anonymous writer composed, transcribed, or translated over 3000 lines of verse in the dialect of the West Saxon court of Alfred the Great. The poem, now well known as Beowulf, recounts the deeds and death of the eponymous hero who leads a band of warriors against the monster Grendel on behalf of the beleaguered household of the Danish king Hrothgar. The poem has attracted a steady flow of scholarly attention as an exemplar for early medieval culture. Set in the pre-Christian landscape of sixth-century Scandinavia, the poem has been understood to represent a memory of the Germanic ancestry shared in common by peoples of post-Roman and northern Europe. Interpretations of Beowulf have elaborated on elements of early medieval kingship, the gendered norms and aesthetic tastes of early medieval nobility, the importance of memory and lineage in early medieval society and the peripatetic nature of elite military culture. The distance of the poem's temporal setting (the sixth century) from that of its audience (late ninth or tenth century) and the fantastical nature of its narrative have additionally encouraged interpretations of the poem within the context of elite entertainment. Indeed, the Anglo-Saxon dialect of the poem's extant manuscript and its content as a tale set in pre-literate and pagan Scandinavia have made it difficult for assessments of the poem to move beyond the context of Anglo-Saxon literary culture. This essay will attempt to broaden the scope for understanding Beowulf by considering it as a response to anxieties about cultural conflict, real or imagined, within early medieval Anglo-Saxon society. The essay proceeds in this direction first by focusing on the paradoxical role of the other in Beowulf as a figure capable of mediating cultural conflict. Thus, the central conflict between the monster and the mead hall, or Grendel and Heorot, may be understood as a means by which an Anglo-Saxon audience transposed the dilemma of Viking settlement in England onto earlier Scandinavian society. The Anglo-Saxon formulation of this particular dilemma also seems to be mindful of the previous (or possibly contemporary) Carolingian experience with Vikings. Removed from the political reality of Viking settlement, the poem allowed its Anglo-Saxon audience conceptual space within which to contemplate the historical role of the heathen other. This essay will suggest that where the Danish mead hall is analogous to both Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian royal courts, the monsters of Beowulf figure as Vikings.
Bjornlie, Shane. “Cassiodorus.” The Oxford Classical Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Sander Goldberg. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Bjornlie, Shane. Review of Rome Resurgent: War and Empire in the Age of Justinian, by Peter Heather. Studies in Late Antiquity: A Journal, vol. 3, no. 4, 2019, pp. 624-629.
Bjornlie, Shane. The Variae: The Complete Translation. University of California Press, 2019.
Abstract: This volume is the first full translation into English of the Variae, a collection of 468 letters written and assembled by Cassiodorus in the middle of the 6th century. The Variae are our best witnesses to the dramatic transformation of Italy from a Roman seat of imperial government to a medieval kingdom. Cassiodorus' work as a Christian exegete secured his reputation throughout the Middle Ages of western Europe, but his earlier role as a high-ranking public official for the Ostrogothic rulers of Italy produced a text in many ways more valuable to modern historians of Late Antiquity than any of his later scholarly works. The letters known as the Variae are both sensitive and elusive witnesses to the many interactions of the so-called barbarian court of Theoderic and his heirs with eastern emperors, western kings, bishops and senators, military commanders and private citizens, scholars and loyal taxpayers, criminals and oppressive landlords. The collection represents thirty years of Cassiodorus' work in civil, legal and financial administration during the twilight of the late-Roman state and provides insights into aspects of the 6th-century society of Italy rarely seen in such detail in other bodies of evidence. For the modern student and scholar of Late Antique and Early Medieval Italy, the Variae are an indispensable resource for understanding political and diplomatic culture, economic and legal structure, intellectual heritage, urban landscapes and religious worldview, and the evolution of social relations at all levels of society.
Bjornlie, Shane. "Virtues in a Time of War: Administrative Writing, Dialectic and the Gothic War of 6th-Century Italy." The Collectio Avellana and Its Revivals, edited by Rita Lizzi Testa and Giulia Marconi. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019, pp. 425-462.
Abstract: Ostrogothic Italy has a particular Janus-like quality. Janus governed beginnings and endings and his image, rendered enigmatically as a two-faced bust, gazed in opposite directions to the past and future. Many historical "periods" share Janus' temporally ambivalent disposition, particularly as manufactures of the modern historical mind, and this is especially true of the Ostrogothic period in Italy (493- 535), when successive members of the Amal family ruled the peninsula and its neighboring provinces. Although the period represents perhaps the longest span of political stability in Italy since the reign of the last Theodosian emperor, Valentinian III (d. 455), this perspective prevails primarily in comparison to preceding and subsequent decades. Prior to the arrival of Theoderic and the Goths, the relative success of Odoacer's rule in Italy (476-91) certainly contributed to political conditions under the Amals, but Odoacer's government suffers from poor documentary attestation and tends to be associated with the previous generation (455-76) of abortive imperial reigns and arriviste warlords. The period following Amal rule, initiated ironically by Justinian's attempt to extend eastern imperial authority over Italy (the Gothic War), experienced a rupture of social, political and economic fabric that would last almost two decades (535-54) and ultimately resolve in the tessellation of the Italian peninsula into disputed zones of Byzantine, Lombard and Papal influence. As a result, modern scholarship often views the roughly four decades of Amal rule in Italy as both a resurgent period of stable government and as the final period in which Italy enjoyed continuity with Roman imperial traditions. In a sense, it may be said that Ostrogothic Italy, much like Janus, looked ahead to the disarticulation of the western Mediterranean from imperial rhythms and backward toward the maintenance of those rhythms. In other words, Ostrogothic Italy represents both the final stage of antiquity and the beginning of the early Middle Ages. Of course, these characterizations depend upon the representational quality of the available sources and whether scholars read these sources as actual indices of regional culture and state practice, or as textual rhetoric. One area where the impression of continuity with imperial habits is particularly persistent is in the administrative style of Ostrogothic sources. Sixth-century Italy offers a rich fund of administrative sources drawn from legal, fiscal, diplomatic and ecclesiastical contexts. A potential peculiarity of these sources is the varying degree to which the vocabulary and ideals of moral and political philosophy inform administrative writing. The source that reveals most vividly the confluence of administrative and philosophical literacy is the collection of letters that Cassiodorus assembled and revised as the Variae sometime during the early stage of the Gothic War. Earlier scholarship has assumed that Cassiodorus assembled the Variae between 538 and 540, by which reckoning the capture of Ravenna figured as the terminus of his political aspirations. More recent analysis of the political context suggests that Cassiodorus may have produced the Variae later in the 540s, in response to the vacillating fortunes of the Gothic War and the troubled circumstances of Justinian's reign. Regardless of the precise date and location of "publication," the Variae are a product of the Gothic War, a period in which colonization by an eastern imperial administration threatened to challenge social and political norms in Italy. The engagement of administrative writing in the Variae with ideas attached to a long tradition of moral and political philosophy suggests the rhetorical maintenance of an antique tradition as a direct response to rupture in social and political norms caused by the conflict. This becomes particularly evident in comparison to other sources of administrative writing circulating in Italy both before and during the Gothic War where such an attachment to philosophical language is lacking. The following essay will outline features of Cassiodorus' administrative style through an examination of his engagement with the vocabulary of political and moral philosophy and furthermore contrast Cassiodorus' development of political ideals using traditional philosophical vocabulary to other products of public literacy contemporary with the Gothic War, including Justinian's Novellae and the papal letters of the Collectio Avellana. What emerges from this examination is a perspective of how sources appropriated the rhetoric of philosophy in response to political and military conflict in 6th-century Italy.