Late antiquity--that period of history between 250 and 800 C.E.--was a unique and notable era, when the Roman and Sassanian empires spanned a great arc from the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Morocco across the Mediterranean, into the Balkans, and through the Middle East as far as Afghanistan. Historians have tended to dismiss this era as the decline and fall, and little more. In contrast, the editors of Late Antiquity (all esteemed professors at Princeton) make a great case for this era as the source from which our modern culture sprung. During that time, Constantinople and Baghdad came into being, and paganism took hold of people's imaginations so strongly that it's still with us today. "Much of what was created in that period still runs in our veins," they say, such as the codification of Roman law, the Jewish Talmud, the basic structure and doctrine of the Christian church, and the birth of Islam.
There are learned essays on topics such as Islam, the Christian triumph, and sacred landscapes; habitat, war, and violence; and empire building; as well as a timely piece on barbarians and ethnicity. But these essays, fine though they are, make up but a small fraction of the volume. The lion's share belongs to the alphabetical guide, an A-to-Z encyclopedia of more than 500 entries on items such as almsgiving, angels, bathing, circus factions, contraception, eunuchs, dendrites, Huns, monks, prayer, and pornography. With erudition and clarity, these editors redefine late antiquity, and provide a remarkable source of information for students, sages, history buffs, and antiquity enthusiasts. --Stephanie Gold
From Library Journal
The editors of this work, all Princeton scholars, have accomplished a worthy goal in broadening our understanding of a significant period of history; through inclusion of the early expansion of Islam, they have extended late antiquity by some 150 years. Their new time line begins around 250 C.E., when the Roman Empire was in crisis and the Sassanians, a militant new dynasty, had arisen in Iran. By 313, the Roman Empire's civil and military institutions had been totally transformed, and a strong central goverment with imperial aspirations had also altered Iran and Iraq. By the year 800, the Church in Europe drew its organization from the civil institutions of the late Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate of the Abbasids had adopted the court ceremonies of the Sassanians to reinforce their authority, and Byzantium was ruled by the direct successors of Caesar Augustus. Making extensive use of new archaeological discoveries, this work challenges old assumptions and should help renew interest in this era. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.ARobert James Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN
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