Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Harvard University Press Reference Library) First Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0674511736
ISBN-10: 0674511735
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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
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard University Press Reference Library (Book 9)
  • Hardcover: 802 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First edition (November 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674511735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674511736
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 8.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Frankly, I have a concern that this book's subject, length, and (perhaps) cost will deter certain readers from purchasing it. I urge those readers to read this and other reviews provided by Amazon.com first before making that decision. The authors focus on the period roughly between 250 and 800, treating it as a "distinctive and quite decisive period of history that stands on its own." The material is organized as follows: first a brilliant Introduction which will convince almost any reader of the unique importance of Late Antiquity to human history; then a series of essays by various authors, each followed by an immensely useful bibliography (more about one of those essays later); and then a comprehensive Alphabetical Guide which combines many of the most valuable benefits of an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and a lexicon. The commonly accepted chronological and territorial boundaries of the period -- which encompass Rome, Byzantine, Sassanian, and early Islamic cultures -- are extended by the authors so that "new connections" can be established and "revealing comparisons" (and contrasts) are permitted.
There are eleven individual essays whose titles suggest the scope of Late Antiquity: Remaking the Past (Averil Cameron), Sacred Landscapes (Beatrice Caseau), Philosophical Tradition and the Self (Henry Chadwick), Religious Communities (Garth Fowden), Barbarians and Ethnicity (Patrick J. Geary), War and Violence (Brent D. Shaw), Empire Building (Christopher Kelly), Christian Triumph and Controversy (Richard Lim), Islam (Hugh Kennedy), The Good Life (Henry Maguire), and Habitat (Yizhar Hirschfeld). I think all are first-rate and especially appreciate what I learned from Kelly's essay.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By H. Fuller on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I don't usually lay out the cost of such a book, but I could not resist on this one. It was well worth it! It has some of the best discussions of such areas as the Gnostics that I have seen in a a non-specialized work and better than in most specialized works in that they don't continue the early Christian feud with the Gnostics, but merely describe it. The format is roughly 50/50 of essays and encyclopedia. The essays include discussions of Christianity and its problems, military matters, economic matters, etc. and the encyclopedia part is quite complete and very clear in its discussions.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Donald B. Straus on November 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is a scholarly book -- realy an encyclopedia of culture in the post Roman Empire period. It is edited by three scholars associated with one of the worlds most prestigous think-tanks -- the Institute for Advanced Study. So if you are a scholar yourself and interested in this period, this is a book for you. But if, like me, yoare simply interested in this period without true scholarly credentials, don't be fooled by the title -- it is a thoroughly delightful and readable book for browsing. Its authors have an obiously insatiable appetite for human details, they have that rare gift of being able to transmit their excitement to their readers, and even more remarkable, they mix their erudition with frequent and surprising bursts of humor.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Donald B. Straus on November 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is really a scholarly encyclopedia edited under the auspices of one of the world's foremost think-tanks -- the Institute for Advanced Study. But it was compiled by three top scholars who are endowed with an insatiable drive for discovering the human details of ancient civilizations, a wonderful style for sharing their excitement with their readers, and, most surpising of all, a sense of humor seldom associated with this level of erudition.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The book 'Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World', edited by G.W. Bowerstock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, is a wonderful collection of essays and encyclopedic articles on the period on a fascinating period of transition and change in the history of the West. This is a period often overlooked and neglected, for it is a period of confusion and uneasy description; the Roman Empire has fallen, but the medieval world has yet to rise. Literature from this historical period is rare, both in terms of history and literary output; the medieval world looms large over late antiquity due to the rise of literature that is more easily accessible to those in the modern world.
The first section of the book consists of interesting essays, as listed below:
Remaking the Past, by Averil Cameron
Sacred Landscapes, by Beatrice Caseau
Philosophical Tradition and the Self, by Henry Chadwick
Religious Communities, by Garth Fowden
Barbarians and Ethnicity, by Patrick J. Geary
War and Violence, by Brent D. Shaw
Empire Building, by Christopher Kelly
Christian Triumph and Controversy, by Richard Lim
Islam, by Hugh Kennedy
The Good Life, by Henry Maguire
Habitat, by Yizhar Hirschfield
To give but one example, in the article 'Sacred Landscapes', Caseau traces the development away from public sacred spaces such as temples to the god to a resacralisation of Christian spaces, which had originally grown up in house-church environments with communal meals short on exclusively sacred spaces, particularly in light of early Christian apologists who saw distinct paganism in the sacralisation of space.
The remaining two-thirds of the book consists of an encyclopedia of late antiquity, including articles on places, events, people, and ideas.
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Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Harvard University Press Reference Library)
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