Looking At The Late Antique World

Decent Essays

“Looking at the Late Antique world,” writes Peter Brown in his seminal work The World of Late Antiquity, “we are caught between the regretful contemplation of ancient ruins and the excited acclamation of new growth.” Brown’s work covers the years 150-750 AD a period of time too often – and mistakenly – labeled as the “dark ages.” Brown does not make this mistake. Instead, he challenges what seemed to be a grounded notion that the study of Late Antiquity was one of “decline and fall.” This was a time of transformation and continuity. Moreover, he moves beyond the narratives of the “barbarian invasions” that brought about the end of the Roman Empire. There were no barbarian invasions, as they were already gradually becoming Roman. That is, the barbarians had already started to assimilate to Roman culture and, crucially, the Roman Empire did not end with the “fall of Rome” as its capitol moved East. This is a constant theme running through the works of Brown. Where some historians see decay, he sees growth.
Brown was arguing against the works of Mikhail Rostovtzeff and Edward Gibbon. Rostovtzeff evoked a Roman world full of modern economic theory. He used terms such as capitalism and bourgeoisie in his description of the ancient economy (ignoring the fact that they had no conception of these terms, nor did they have a conception of an economy). This led to – and seems to continue today – a debate between “modernist” and “primitivist.” While Brown does not deal with this

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