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Cassiodorus’s Variae and Ostrogothic Italy

Cassiodorus’s Variae provide the database and research object for the testing of digital methods and tools.

The Roman politician and author Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (born around 490 in Scylaceum, Bruttium; died around 583 in the monastery Vivarium near Scylaceum) wrote and compiled a collection of about 470 official letters issued by the kings of Ostrogothic Italy (507 – 537): the Variae.

The letters are of key importance for the understanding of the transition period between the Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages, shedding light upon matters of everyday life, on social and economic conditions, on political institutions and conflicts, on the coexistence of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions, but also on the development of the Latin language from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Thus, the Variae provide valuable information for scholars of various disciplines, such as Ancient History, Classical Philology, Archaeology, Historical Geography, Medieval Studies, Historical Linguistics and others.

However, as the Variae contain highly disparate material – in terms of, e.g., the letters’ addressees, dates, topics and formal peculiarities – they pose enormous challenges to modern readers. Conversely, their very complexity makes the Variae particularly suitable for the employment of digital methods designed to process large amounts of information. This is the approach taken by our project, aiming at fostering collaboration and creating synergies across the scholarly disciplines concerned with late-antique texts.

Cassiodorus’ work serves as a touchstone in the process of validating the innovation potential of digital methods in the Humanities at the hands of 19 international research groups. The Ancient History Department of the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (headed by Prof Dr Marietta Horster) is responsible for providing and digitally pre-processing the projects’ historical database.

The JGU team focuses on two essential tasks: