Late antiquity

Late antiquity is a periodization used by historians to describe the time of transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages in mainland Europe, the Mediterranean world, and the Near East. The popularization of this periodization in English has generally been accredited to historian Peter Brown, after the publication of his seminal work The World of Late Antiquity (1971). Precise boundaries for the period are a continuing matter of debate, but Brown proposes a period between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Generally, it can be thought of as from the end of the Roman Empire's Crisis of the Third Century (c. 235–284) to, in the East, the early Muslim conquests in the mid-7th century. In the West the end was earlier, with the start of the Early Middle Ages typically placed in the 6th century, or earlier on the edges of the Western Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire underwent considerable social, cultural and organizational changes starting with the reign of Diocletian, who began the custom of splitting the Empire into Eastern and Western halves ruled by multiple emperors. Beginning with Constantine the Great, Christianity was made legal in the Empire, and a new capital was founded at Constantinople. Migrations of Germanic tribes disrupted Roman rule from the late 4th century onwards, culminating in the eventual collapse of the Empire in the West in 476, replaced by the so-called barbarian kingdoms. The resultant cultural fusion of Greco-Roman, Germanic and Christian traditions formed the foundations of the subsequent culture of Europe.

Diptych Barberini Louvre OA9063 whole
The Barberini ivory, a late Leonid/Justinian Byzantine ivory leaf from an imperial diptych, from an imperial workshop in Constantinople in the first half of the sixth century (Louvre Museum)


The term Spätantike, literally "late antiquity", has been used by German-speaking historians since its popularization by Alois Riegl in the early 20th century.[1] It was given currency in English partly by the writings of Peter Brown, whose survey The World of Late Antiquity (1971) revised the post-Gibbon view of a stale and ossified Classical culture, in favour of a vibrant time of renewals and beginnings, and whose The Making of Late Antiquity offered a new paradigm of understanding the changes in Western culture of the time in order to confront Sir Richard Southern's The Making of the Middle Ages.[2]

The continuities between the later Roman Empire,[3] as it was reorganized by Diocletian (r. 284–305), and the Early Middle Ages are stressed by writers who wish to emphasize that the seeds of medieval culture were already developing in the Christianized empire, and that they continued to do so in the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire at least until the coming of Islam. Concurrently, some migrating Germanic tribes such as the Ostrogoths and Visigoths saw themselves as perpetuating the "Roman" tradition. While the usage "Late Antiquity" suggests that the social and cultural priorities of Classical Antiquity endured throughout Europe into the Middle Ages, the usage of "Early Middle Ages" or "Early Byzantine" emphasizes a break with the classical past, and the term "Migration Period" tends to de-emphasize the disruptions in the former Western Roman Empire caused by the creation of Germanic kingdoms within her borders beginning with the foedus with the Goths in Aquitania in 418.[4]

The general decline of population, technological knowledge and standards of living in Europe during this period became the archetypal example of societal collapse for writers from the Renaissance. As a result of this decline, and the relative scarcity of historical records from Europe in particular, the period from roughly the early fifth century until the Carolingian Renaissance (or later still) was referred to as the "Dark Ages". This term has mostly been abandoned as a name for a historiographical epoch, being replaced by "Late Antiquity" in the periodization of the late West Roman Empire, the early Byzantine empire and the Early Middle Ages.[5]


One of the most important transformations in Late Antiquity was the formation and evolution of the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and, eventually, Islam.

Constantine York Minster
Modern statue of Constantine I at York, where he was proclaimed Augustus in 306.

A milestone in the rise of Christianity was the conversion of Emperor Constantine the Great (r. 306–337) in 312, as claimed by his Christian panegyrist Eusebius of Caesarea, although the sincerity of his conversion is debated.[6][7] Constantine confirmed the legalization of the religion through the so-called Edict of Milan in 313, jointly issued with his rival in the East, Licinius (r. 308–324). By the late 4th century, Emperor Theodosius the Great had made Christianity the State religion, thereby transforming the Classical Roman world, which Peter Brown characterized as "rustling with the presence of many divine spirits."[8]

Constantine I was a key figure in many important events in Christian history, as he convened and attended the first ecumenical council of bishops at Nicaea in 325, subsidized the building of churches and sanctuaries such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and involved himself in questions such as the timing of Christ's resurrection and its relation to the Passover.[9]

The birth of Christian monasticism in the deserts of Egypt in the 3rd century, which initially operated outside the episcopal authority of the Church, would become so successful that by the 8th century it penetrated the Church and became the primary Christian practice. Monasticism was not the only new Christian movement to appear in late antiquity, although it had perhaps the greatest influence. Other movements notable for their unconventional practices include the Grazers, holy men who ate only grass and chained themselves up;[10] the Holy Fool movement, in which acting like a fool was considered more divine than folly; and the Stylites movement, where one practitioner lived atop a 50-foot pole for 40 years.

Late Antiquity marks the decline of Roman state religion, circumscribed in degrees by edicts likely inspired by Christian advisors such as Eusebius to 4th century emperors, and a period of dynamic religious experimentation and spirituality with many syncretic sects, some formed centuries earlier, such as Gnosticism or Neoplatonism and the Chaldaean oracles, some novel, such as hermeticism. Culminating in the reforms advocated by Apollonius of Tyana being adopted by Aurelian and formulised by Flavius Claudius Julianus to create an organised but short-lived pagan state religion that ensured its underground survival into the Byzantine age and beyond.[11]

Many of the new religions relied on the emergence of the parchment codex (bound book) over the papyrus volumen (scroll), the former allowing for quicker access to key materials and easier portability than the fragile scroll, thus fueling the rise of synoptic exegesis, papyrology. Notable in this regard is the topic of the Fifty Bibles of Constantine.

Laity vs clergy

Within the recently legitimized Christian community of the 4th century, a division could be more distinctly seen between the laity and an increasingly celibate male leadership.[12] These men presented themselves as removed from the traditional Roman motivations of public and private life marked by pride, ambition and kinship solidarity, and differing from the married pagan leadership. Unlike later strictures on priestly celibacy, celibacy in Late Antique Christianity sometimes took the form of abstinence from sexual relations after marriage, and it came to be the expected norm for urban clergy. Celibate and detached, the upper clergy became an elite equal in prestige to urban notables, the potentes or dynatoi (Brown (1987) p. 270).

The rise of Islam

Islam appeared in the 7th century and spurred Arab peoples to invade the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire of Persia, destroying the latter; and, after conquering all of North Africa and Visigothic Spain, to invade much of modern France.[13]

On the rise of Islam, two main theses prevail. On the one hand, there is the traditional view, as espoused by most historians prior to the second half of the twentieth century and by Muslim scholars. This view, the so-called "out of Arabia"-thesis, holds that Islam as a phenomenon was a new, alien element in the late antique world. Related to this is the Pirenne Thesis, according to which the Arab invasions marked—through conquest and the disruption of Mediterranean trade routes—the cataclysmic end of Late Antiquity and the beginning of the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, there is the modern view, associated with scholars in the tradition of Peter Brown, in which Islam is seen to be a product of the Late Antique world, not foreign to it. This school suggests that its origin within the shared cultural horizon of the late antique world explains the character of Islam and its development. Such historians point to similarities with other late antique religions and philosophies—especially Christianity—in the prominent role and manifestations of piety in Islam, in Islamic asceticism and the role of "holy persons", in the pattern of universalist, homogeneous monotheism tied to worldly and military power, in early Islamic engagement with Greek schools of thought, in the apocalypticism of Islamic theology and in the way the Quran seems to react to contemporary religious and cultural issues shared by the late antique world at large. Further indication that Arabia (and thus the environment in which Islam first developed) was a part of the late antique world is found in the close economic and military relations between Arabia, the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanian Empire.[14]

Political transformations

John William Waterhouse - The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius - 1883
The Favourites of the Emperor Honorius, 1883: John William Waterhouse expresses the sense of moral decadence that coloured the 19th-century historical view of the 5th century.

The Late Antique period also saw a wholesale transformation of the political and social basis of life in and around the Roman Empire.

The Roman citizen elite in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, under the pressure of taxation and the ruinous cost of presenting spectacular public entertainments in the traditional cursus honorum, had found under the Antonines that security could only be obtained by combining their established roles in the local town with new ones as servants and representatives of a distant Emperor and his traveling court. After Constantine centralized the government in his new capital of Constantinople (dedicated in 330), the Late Antique upper classes were divided among those who had access to the far-away centralized administration (in concert with the great landowners), and those who did not—though they were well-born and thoroughly educated, a classical education and the election by the Senate to magistracies was no longer the path to success. Room at the top of Late Antique society was more bureaucratic and involved increasingly intricate channels of access to the emperor: the plain toga that had identified all members of the Republican senatorial class was replaced with the silk court vestments and jewelry associated with Byzantine imperial iconography.[15] Also indicative of the times is the fact that the imperial cabinet of advisors came to be known as the consistorium, or those who would stand in courtly attendance upon their seated emperor, as distinct from the informal set of friends and advisors surrounding the Augustus.


The later Roman Empire was in a sense a network of cities. Archaeology now supplements literary sources to document the transformation followed by collapse of cities in the Mediterranean basin. Two diagnostic symptoms of decline—or as many historians prefer, 'transformation'—are subdivision, particularly of expansive formal spaces in both the domus and the public basilica, and encroachment, in which artisanal shops invade the public thoroughfare, a transformation that was to result in the souk.[16] Burials within the urban precincts mark another stage in dissolution of traditional urbanistic discipline, overpowered by the attraction of saintly shrines and relics. In Roman Britain, the typical 4th- and 5th-century layer of "black earth" within cities seems to be a result of increased gardening in formerly urban spaces.[17]

Rome went from a population of 800,000 in the beginning of the period to a population of 30,000 by the end of the period, the most precipitous drop coming with the breaking of the aqueducts during the Gothic War. A similar though less marked decline in urban population occurred later in Constantinople, which was gaining population until the outbreak of plague in 541. In Europe there was also a general decline in urban populations. As a whole, the period of late antiquity was accompanied by an overall population decline in almost all Europe, and a reversion to more of a subsistence economy. Long-distance markets disappeared, and there was a reversion to a greater degree of local production and consumption, rather than webs of commerce and specialized production.[18]

Ephesus Curetes street
View west along the Harbour Street towards the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, present-day Turkey. The pillars on the left side of the street were part of the colonnaded walkway apparent in cities of Late Antique Asia Minor.

Concurrently, the continuity of the Eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople meant that the turning-point for the Greek East came later, in the 7th century, as the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine Empire centered around the Balkans, North Africa (Egypt and Carthage), and Asia Minor. The degree and extent of discontinuity in the smaller cities of the Greek East is a moot subject among historians.[19] The urban continuity of Constantinople is the outstanding example of the Mediterranean world; of the two great cities of lesser rank, Antioch was devastated by the Persian sack of 540, followed by the plague of Justinian (542 onwards) and completed by earthquake, while Alexandria survived its Islamic transformation, to suffer incremental decline in favour of Cairo in the medieval period.

Justinian rebuilt his birthplace in Illyricum, as Justiniana Prima, more in a gesture of imperium than out of an urbanistic necessity; another "city", was reputed to have been founded, according to Procopius' panegyric on Justinian's buildings,[20] precisely at the spot where the general Belisarius touched shore in North Africa: the miraculous spring that gushed forth to give them water and the rural population that straightway abandoned their ploughshares for civilised life within the new walls, lend a certain taste of unreality to the project.

In mainland Greece, the inhabitants of Sparta, Argos and Corinth abandoned their cities for fortified sites in nearby high places; the fortified heights of Acrocorinth are typical of Byzantine urban sites in Greece. In Italy, populations that had clustered within reach of Roman roads began to withdraw from them, as potential avenues of intrusion, and to rebuild in typically constricted fashion round an isolated fortified promontory, or rocca; Cameron notes similar movement of populations in the Balkans, 'where inhabited centres contracted and regrouped around a defensible acropolis, or were abandoned in favour of such positions elsewhere."[21]

Roman cavalry - Big Game Hunt mosaic - Villa Romana del Casale - Italy 2015
Roman cavalry from a mosaic of the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, 4th century AD

In the western Mediterranean, the only new cities known to be founded in Europe between the 5th and 8th centuries[22] were the four or five Visigothic "victory cities".[23] Reccopolis in the province of Guadalajara is one: the others were Victoriacum, founded by Leovigild, which may survive as the city of Vitoria, though a 12th-century (re)foundation for this city is given in contemporary sources; Lugo id est Luceo in the Asturias, referred to by Isidore of Seville, and Ologicus (perhaps Ologitis), founded using Basque labour in 621 by Suinthila as a fortification against the Basques, modern Olite. All of these cities were founded for military purposes and at least Reccopolis, Victoriacum, and Ologicus in celebration of victory. A possible fifth Visigothic foundation is Baiyara (perhaps modern Montoro), mentioned as founded by Reccared in the 15th-century geographical account, Kitab al-Rawd al-Mitar.[24] The arrival of a highly urbanized Islamic culture in the decade following 711 ensured the survival of cities in the Hispaniae into the Middle Ages.

Beyond the Mediterranean world, the cities of Gaul withdrew within a constricted line of defense around a citadel. Former imperial capitals such as Cologne and Trier lived on in diminished form as administrative centres of the Franks. In Britain, where the break with Late Antiquity comes earliest in the 5th and the 6th century, most towns cities had been in rapid decline during the 4th century during a time of prosperity until the very last decades of the century , well before the withdrawal of Roman governors and garrisons; historians emphasizing urban continuities with the Anglo-Saxon period depend largely on the post-Roman survival of Roman toponymy. Aside from a mere handful of its continuously inhabited sites, like York and London and possibly Canterbury, however, the rapidity and thoroughness with which its urban life collapsed with the dissolution of centralized bureaucracy calls into question the extent to which Roman Britain had ever become authentically urbanized: "in Roman Britain towns appeared a shade exotic," observes H. R. Loyn, "owing their reason for being more to the military and administrative needs of Rome than to any economic virtue".[25] The other institutional power centre, the Roman villa, did not survive in Britain either.[26] Gildas lamented the destruction of the twenty-eight cities of Britain; though not all in his list can be identified with known Roman sites, Loyn finds no reason to doubt the essential truth of his statement.[26]

Classical Antiquity can generally be defined as an age of cities; the Greek polis and Roman municipium were locally organised, self-governing bodies of citizens governed by written constitutions. When Rome came to dominate the known world, local initiative and control were gradually subsumed by the ever-growing Imperial bureaucracy; by the Crisis of the Third Century the military, political and economic demands made by the Empire had crushed the civic spirit, and service in local government came to be an onerous duty, often imposed as punishment. Harassed urban dwellers fled to the walled estates of the wealthy to avoid taxes, military service, famine and disease. In the Western Roman Empire especially, many cities destroyed by invasion or civil war in the 3rd century could not be rebuilt. Plague and famine hit the urban class in greater proportion, and thus the people who knew how to keep civic services running. Perhaps the greatest blow came in the wake of the extreme weather events of 535–536 and subsequent Plague of Justinian, when the remaining trade networks ensured the Plague spread to the remaining commercial cities. The end of Classical Antiquity is the end of the Polis model, and the general decline of cities is a defining feature of Late Antiquity.

Public building

In the cities the strained economies of Roman over-expansion arrested growth. Almost all new public building in Late Antiquity came directly or indirectly from the emperors or imperial officials. Attempts were made to maintain what was already there. The supply of free grain and oil to 20% of the population of Rome remained intact the last decades of the 5th century. It was once thought that the elite and rich had withdrawn to the private luxuries of their numerous villas and town houses. Opinion has revised this. They monopolized the higher offices in the imperial administration. What they were removed from was military command by the late 3rd century. Their focus turned to preserving their vast wealth rather than fighting for it.

The basilica which functioned as a law court or for imperial reception of foreign dignitaries became the primary public building functioned in the 4th century. Due to the stress on civic finances, cities spent money on walls, maintaining baths and markets at the expense of amphitheaters, temples, libraries, porticoes, gymnasia, concert and lecture halls, theaters and other amenities of public life. In any case as Christianity took over many of these building which were associated with pagan cults were neglected in favor of building churches and donating to the poor. The Christian basilica was copied from the civic structure with variations. The bishop took the chair in the apse reserved in secular structures for the magistrate—or the Emperor himself—as the representative here and now of Christ Pantocrator, the Ruler of All, his characteristic Late Antique icon. These ecclesiastical basilicas (e.g., St. John Lateran and St. Peter's in Rome) were themselves outdone by Justinian's Hagia Sophia, a staggering display of later Roman/Byzantine power and architectural taste, though the building is not architecturally a basilica. In the former Western Roman Empire no great buildings were constructed from the 5th century. A most outstanding example is the Church of San Vitaly in Ravenna constructed circa 530 at a cost of 26,000 gold solidi or 360 pounds of gold.

The collapse of city life in the East was delayed, though negatively affected by the plague in the 6th, until the 7th century and was result of Slavic invasions in the Balkans and Persian destructiveness in Anatolia in the 620s. City life continued in Syria, Jordan and Palestine into the 8th. In the later 6th century street construction was still undertaken in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine,[27] and Edessa was able to deflect Chosroes I with massive payments in gold in 540 and 544, before it was overrun in 609.[28]

Sculpture and art

As a complicated period bridging between Roman art and medieval art and Byzantine art, the Late Antique period saw a transition from the classical idealized realism tradition largely influenced by Ancient Greek art to the more iconic, stylized art of the Middle Ages.[29] Unlike classical art, Late Antique art does not emphasize the beauty and movement of the body, but rather, hints at the spiritual reality behind its subjects. Additionally, mirroring the rise of Christianity and the collapse of the western Roman Empire, painting and freestanding sculpture gradually fell from favor in the artistic community. Replacing them were greater interests in mosaics, architecture, and relief sculpture.

As the soldier emperors such as Maximinus Thrax (r. 235–238) emerged from the provinces in the 3rd century, they brought with them their own regional influences and artistic tastes. For example, artists jettisoned the classical portrayal of the human body for one that was more rigid and frontal. This is markedly evident in the combined porphyry Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs in Venice. With these stubby figures clutching each other and their swords, all individualism, naturalism, the verism or hyperrealism of Roman portraiture, and Greek idealism diminish.[30][31] The Arch of Constantine in Rome, which re-used earlier classicising reliefs together with ones in the new style, shows the contrast especially clearly.[32] In nearly all artistic media, simpler shapes were adopted and once natural designs were abstracted. Additionally hierarchy of scale overtook the preeminence of perspective and other classical models for representing spatial organization.

From around 300 Early Christian art began to create new public forms, which now included sculpture, previously distrusted by Christians as it was so important in pagan worship. Sarcophagi carved in relief had already become highly elaborate, and Christian versions adopted new styles, showing a series of different tightly packed scenes rather than one overall image (usually derived from Greek history painting) as was the norm. Soon the scenes were split into two registers, as in the Dogmatic Sarcophagus or the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus (the last of these exemplifying a partial revival of classicism).[33]

Nearly all of these more abstracted conventions could be observed in the glittering mosaics of the era, which during this period moved from being decoration derivative from painting used on floors and walls likely to become wet to a major vehicle of religious art in churches. The glazed surfaces of the tesserae sparkled in the light and illuminated the basilica churches. Unlike their fresco predecessors, much more emphasis was placed on demonstrating a symbolic fact rather than on rendering a realistic scene. As time progressed during the Late Antique period, art become more concerned with biblical themes and influenced by interactions of Christianity with the Roman state. Within this Christian subcategory of Roman art, dramatic changes were also taking place in the Depiction of Jesus. Jesus Christ had been more commonly depicted as an itinerant philosopher, teacher or as the "Good Shepherd," resembling the traditional iconography of Hermes. He was increasingly given Roman elite status, and shrouded in purple robes like the emperors with orb and scepter in hand.

As for luxury arts, manuscript illumination on vellum and parchment emerged from the 5th century, with a few manuscripts of Roman literary classics like the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Vergilius Romanus, but increasingly Christian texts, of which Quedlinburg Itala fragment (420–430) is the oldest survivor. Carved ivory diptychs were used for secular subjects, as in the imperial and consular diptychs presented to friends, as well as religious ones, both Christian and pagan – they seem to have been especially a vehicle for the last group of powerful pagans to resist Christianity, as in the late 4th century Symmachi–Nicomachi diptych.[34] Extravagant hoards of silver plate are especially common from the 4th century, including the Mildenhall Treasure, Esquiline Treasure, Hoxne Hoard, and the imperial Missorium of Theodosius I.[35]


The Vienna Dioscurides, an early 6th-century illuminated manuscript of De Materia Medica by Dioscorides in Greek, a rare example of a late antique scientific text.

In the field of literature, Late Antiquity is known for the declining use of classical Greek and Latin, and the rise of literary cultures in Syriac, Armenian, Georgian, Ethiopic, Arabic, and Coptic. It also marks a shift in literary style, with a preference for encyclopedic works in a dense and allusive style, consisting of summaries of earlier works (anthologies, epitomes) often dressed up in elaborate allegorical garb (e.g., De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae [The Marriage of Mercury and Philology] of Martianus Capella and the De arithmetica, De musica, and De consolatione philosophiae of Boethius—both later key works in medieval education). The 4th and 5th centuries also saw an explosion of Christian literature, of which Greek writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom and Latin writers such as Ambrose of Milan, Jerome and Augustine of Hippo are only among the most renowned representatives. On the other hand, authors such as Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century) and Procopius of Caesarea (6th century) were able to keep the tradition of classical historiography alive.


Greek poets of the Late Antique period included Antoninus Liberalis, Quintus Smyrnaeus, Nonnus, Romanus the Melodist and Paul the Silentiary.

Latin poets included Ausonius, Paulinus of Nola, Claudian, Rutilius Namatianus, Orientius, Sidonius Apollinaris, Corippus and Arator.

Jewish poets included Yannai, Eleazar ben Killir and Yose ben Yose.


See also


  1. ^ A. Giardana, "Esplosione di tardoantico," Studi storici 40 (1999).
  2. ^ Glen W. Bowersock, "The Vanishing Paradigm of the Fall of Rome" Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 49.8 (May 1996:29–43) p. 34.
  3. ^ The Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity dates this as follows: "The late Roman period (which we are defining as, roughly, AD 250–450)..."
  4. ^ A recent thesis advanced by Peter Heather of Oxford posits the Goths, Hunnic Empire, and the Rhine invaders of 406 (Alans, Suevi, Vandals) as the direct causes of the Western Roman Empire's crippling; The Fall of the Roman Empire: a New History of Rome and the Barbarians, OUP 2005.
  5. ^ Gilian Clark, Late Antiquity: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 2011), pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ Noel Lenski (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (Cambridge University Press, 2006), "Introduction". ISBN 978-0-521-81838-4.
  7. ^ A. H.M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe (University of Toronto Press, 2003), p. 73. ISBN 0-8020-6369-1.
  8. ^ Brown, Authority and the Sacred
  9. ^ Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantini 3.5–6, 4.47
  10. ^ p. 96 Islam and Global Dialogue Roger Boase, Hassan Bin (FRW) Talal, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2010
  11. ^ Smith, Rowland B.E. Julian's Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian
  12. ^ Jerome of Stridon wrote in c. 406 the polemical treatise Against Vigilantius in order to, among other disputes concerning relics of the saints, promote the greater spiritual nature of celibacy over marriage
  13. ^ For a thesis on the complementary nature of Islam to the absolutist trend of Christian monarchy, see Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity, Princeton University Press 1993
  14. ^ Robert Hoyland, 'Early Islam as a Late Antique Religion', in: Scott F. Johnson ed., The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity (Oxford 2012) pp. 1053–1077.
  15. ^ Cf. the compendious list of ranks and liveries of imperial bureaucrats, the Notitia Dignitatum
  16. ^ 'The changing city' in "Urban changes and the end of Antiquity", Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, AD 395–600, 1993:159ff, with notes; Hugh Kennedy, "From Polis to Madina: urban change in late Antique and early Islamic Syria", Past and Present 106 (1985:3–27).
  17. ^ H. R. Loyn, Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest (1962) 1991:.
  18. ^ See Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization, OUP 2005
  19. ^ Bibliography in Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, AD 395–600, 1993,:152 note 1.
  20. ^ Procopius, Buildings of Justinian VI.6.15; Vandal Wars I.15.3ff, noted by Cameron 1993:158.
  21. ^ Cameron 1993:159.
  22. ^ "Arte Visigótico: Recópolis"
  23. ^ According to E. A Thompson, "The Barbarian Kingdoms in Gaul and Spain", Nottingham Mediaeval Studies, 7 (1963:4n11).
  24. ^ José María Lacarra, "Panorama de la historia urbana en la Península Ibérica desde el siglo V al X," La città nell'alto medioevo, 6 (1958:319–358). Reprinted in Estudios de alta edad media española (Valencia: 1975), pp. 25–90.
  25. ^ Loyn 1991:15f.
  26. ^ a b Loyn 1991:16.
  27. ^ Robert L. Vann, "Byzantine street construction at Caesarea Maritima", in R.L. Hohlfelder, ed. City, Town and Countryside in the Early Byzantine Ear 1982:167–70.
  28. ^ M. Whittow, "Ruling the late Roman and early Byzantine city: a continuous history", Past and Present 129 (1990:3–29).
  29. ^ Kitzinger 1977, pp. 2–21.
  30. ^ Kitzinger 1977, p. 9.
  31. ^ Kitzinger 1977, pp. 12–13.
  32. ^ Kitzinger 1977, pp. 7–8.
  33. ^ Kitzinger 1977, pp. 15–28.
  34. ^ Kitzinger 1977, pp. 29–34.
  35. ^ Kitzinger 1977.


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  • Johannes Wienand (ed.), Contested Monarchy. Integrating the Roman Empire in the Fourth Century AD, Oxford University Press, 2015.

External links


Bucellarii (the Latin plural of Bucellarius; literally "biscuit–eater", Greek: Βουκελλάριοι) were formations of escort troops used in the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. They were employed by high-ranking military figures (such as Flavius Aetius and Belisarius) or civil office-holders. The word is derived from the type of bread rations eaten by these troops, so-called buccellatum. The term bucellarii came into common use during the reign of Emperor Honorius (r. 395–423).According to Jon Coulston, one bucellarii regiment is attested in the Notitia Dignitatum. The creation of the bucellarii reflected an increase in the "use of armed retinues by public officials" in the Roman Empire. Coulston notes that the buccellarii provided the best cavalry in 5th and 6th century Roman armies, and were "recruited from Romans, Persians, Goths, and Huns, amongst others". They generally received the highest salaries and were armed with the best equipment from the empire's factories.


A burgus (Latin, plural burgi ) or turris ("tower") is a small, tower-like fort of the Late Antiquity, which was sometimes protected by an outwork and surrounding ditches. Darvill defines it as "a small fortified position or watch-tower usually controlling a main routeway."Burgus was a term used in the later period of the Roman Empire, and particularly in the Germanic provinces.

Christianity in late antiquity

Christianity in late antiquity traces Christianity during the Christian Roman Empire – the period from the rise of Christianity under Emperor Constantine (c. 313), until the fall of the Western Roman Empire (c. 476). The end-date of this period varies because the transition to the sub-Roman period occurred gradually and at different times in different areas. One may generally date late ancient Christianity as lasting to the late 6th century and the re-conquests under Justinian (reigned 527-565) of the Byzantine Empire, though a more traditional end-date is 476, the year in which Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustus, traditionally considered the last western emperor.

Christianity began to spread initially from Roman Judaea without state support or endorsement. It became the state religion of Armenia in either 301 or 314, of Ethiopia in 325, and of Georgia in 337. With the Edict of Thessalonica it became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380.

Diocese of Egypt

The Diocese of Egypt (Latin: Dioecesis Aegypti, Greek: Διοίκηση Αιγύπτου) was a diocese of the later Roman Empire (from 395 the Eastern Roman Empire), incorporating the provinces of Egypt and Cyrenaica. Its capital was at Alexandria, and its governor had the unique title of praefectus augustalis ("Augustal Prefect", of the rank vir spectabilis; previously the governor of the imperial 'crown domain' province Egypt) instead of the ordinary vicarius. The diocese was initially part of the Diocese of the East, but in ca. 380, it became a separate entity, which lasted until its territories were finally overrun by the Muslim conquest of Egypt in the 640s.

Greek East and Latin West

Greek East and Latin West are terms used to distinguish between the two parts of the Greco-Roman world, specifically the eastern regions where Greek was the lingua franca (Anatolia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East) and the western parts where Latin filled this role (Central and Western Europe). During the Roman Empire a divide had persisted between Latin- and Greek-speaking areas; this divide was encouraged by administrative changes in the empire's structure between the 3rd and 5th centuries, which led ultimately to the establishment of separate administrations for the Eastern and Western halves of the Empire.

After the fall of the Western Part, pars occidentalis, of the Empire, the terms Greek East and Latin West are applied to areas that were formerly part of the Eastern or Western Parts of the Empire, and also to areas that fell under the Greek or Latin cultural sphere but that had never been part of the Roman Empire. This has given rise to two modern dichotomies, which are, Christianity has been historically split between Western Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) and Eastern Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and related traditions). Second, Europeans have traditionally viewed Europe and the Mediterranean as having an East/West cultural split. Cultures associated with the historical Iberians, Goths, Franks, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Celts, West Slavs and the historical Roman Catholic Church (Central and Western Europe) have traditionally been considered Western; these cultures adopted Latin as their lingua franca in the Middle Ages. Cultures associated with the Byzantine and Russian Empires (Greeks, Orthodox Slavs (East and South Slavs), Romanians and to a lesser extent Albanians) have traditionally been considered Eastern; these cultures all used Greek or Old Church Slavonic as a lingua franca during the early Middle Ages.


Kemetism (also Kemeticism; both from the Egyptian kmt, usually voweled Kemet, the native name of Ancient Egypt), also sometimes referred to as Neterism (from nṯr (Coptic ⲛⲟⲩⲧⲉ noute) "deity"), or Egyptian Neopaganism, is the contemporary revival of Ancient Egyptian religion and related expressions of religion in classical and late antiquity, emerging during the 1970s. A Kemetic is one who follows Kemetism.There are several main groups, each of which take a different approach to their beliefs, ranging from eclectic to reconstructionistic. However, all of these can be identified as belonging to three strains, including reconstructed Orthodox Kemetism (adopting a philological approach, also Kemetic Orthodoxy).


Kneph is a motif in Ancient Egyptian religious art, variously a winged egg, a globe surrounded by one or more serpents, or Amun in the form of a serpent called Kematef. Some Theosophical sources tried to syncretize this motif with the deity Khnum, along with Serapis and Pluto. Under the Greek theonym Chnuphis, this figure adopts a serpent-bodied, lion-headed ("leontoeidic") visage, being particularly common in magical artifacts in Late Antiquity. It is by proxy frequently associated with the Gnostic Demiurge.

List of states during Late Antiquity

Late Antiquity is a historiographical term for the historical period from c. 200 AD to c. 700 AD, which marks the transition from Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Precise boundaries for the period are a matter of debate, but historian Peter Brown proposed a period between the 2nd and 8th centuries. While generally, it can be thought of as from the end of the Roman Empire's Crisis of the Third Century (c. 235 – 284) to the re-organization of the Eastern Roman Empire under Heraclius and the Muslim conquests in the mid-7th century, for the purposes of this page it will be considered the period 200 to 700 AD.

This list's the main types state that existed in Africa, Americas, Central Asia, East Asia, Europe, Eurasian Steppe, South Asia, and West Asia.

Neoplatonism and Christianity

Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.

Notitia Dignitatum

The Notitia Dignitatum (Latin for "The List of Offices") is a document of the late Roman Empire that details the administrative organization of the Eastern and Western Empires. It is unique as one of very few surviving documents of Roman government and describes several thousand offices from the imperial court to provincial governments, diplomatic missions, and army units. It is usually considered to be accurate for the Western Roman Empire in the AD 420s and for the Eastern or Byzantine Empire in the AD 390s. However, the text itself is not dated (nor is its author named), and omissions complicate ascertaining its date from its content.

Peter Brown (historian)

Peter Robert Lamont Brown, FBA, (born 26 July 1935) is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is credited with having brought coherence to the field of Late Antiquity, and is sometimes regarded as the inventor of the field. His work has concerned, in particular, the religious culture of the later Roman Empire and early medieval Europe, and the relation between religion and society.


Proskynesis or proscynesis (Greek προσκύνησις, proskúnēsis) refers to the traditional Persian act of bowing or prostrating oneself before a person of higher social rank. In the Eastern Orthodox Church the term proskynesis is used theologically to indicate the veneration given to icons and relics of the saints; as distinguished from latria, the adoration which is due to God alone, and also physical gestures such as bowing or kneeling (genuflection in the Western church) before an altar or icon.

Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire

Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire (usually abbreviated as PLRE) is a set of three volumes collectively describing many of the people attested or claimed to have lived in the Roman Empire from AD 260, the date of the beginning of Gallienus' sole rule, to 641, the date of the death of Heraclius, which is commonly held to mark the end of Late Antiquity. Sources cited include histories, literary texts, inscriptions, and miscellaneous written sources. Individuals who are known only from dubious sources (e.g., the Historia Augusta), as well as identifiable people whose names have been lost, are included with signs indicating the reliability.

The volumes were published by the Cambridge University Press, and involved a large number of authors and contributors. Arnold Hugh Martin Jones, John Robert Martindale, and John Morris were the principal editors.

Volume 1, published on March 2, 1971, comes to 1,176 pages and covers the years from 260 to 395.

Volume 2, published on October 9, 1980, comes to 1,355 pages and covers the years from 395 to 527.

Volume 3, published on October 15, 1992 is itself a two-volume boxed set coming to a total of 1,626 pages and covering the years from 527 to 641.As of October 2007, the volumes cost $300, $350, and $420 respectively, so the total collection of 4,157 pages comes to $1070. As of September 2016, each volume (consisting of two hardbacks per "volume": 1A&1B, 2A&2B, 3A&3B) costs £69.99, totaling £209.97 for the full set.

The work was announced in the 1950 issue of the Journal of Roman Studies as a project of the British Academy, with the goal of doing "for the later Empire what the Prosopographia Imperii Romani has done for the Principate, to provide the materials for the study of the governing class of the Empire. The majority of the entries will be persons holding official posts or rank together with their families, and the work will not include clerics except in so far as they come into the above categories."The Prosopography of the Byzantine World project aims to extend coverage to 1265.


Saint Aelia Pulcheria (; Greek: Πουλχερία; 19 January 398 or 399 – July 453) was Regent of the Eastern Roman Empire during the minority of her brother Theodosius II, and empress by marriage to Marcian.

She was the second (and oldest surviving) child of Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius and Empress Aelia Eudoxia. In 414, the fifteen-year old Pulcheria took over the reins of government as the guardian of her younger brother Theodosius II and was also proclaimed "Augusta" (Empress). Pulcheria had significant, though changing, political power during her brother's reign. When Theodosius II died on 26 July 450, Pulcheria provided a successor by marrying Marcian on 25 November 450, while simultaneously not violating her vow of virginity. She died three years later, in July 453.

Pulcheria greatly influenced the Christian Church and its theological development by guiding two of the most important ecumenical councils in ecclesiastical history, namely those of Ephesus and Chalcedon, in which the Church ruled on christological issues. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church subsequently recognized her as a saint.

Quaestor sacri palatii

The quaestor sacri palatii (Greek: κοιαίστωρ/κυαίστωρ τοῦ ἱεροῦ παλατίου, usually simply ὁ κοιαίστωρ/κυαίστωρ), in English: Quaestor of the Sacred Palace, was the senior legal authority in the late Roman Empire and early Byzantium, responsible for drafting laws. In the later Byzantine Empire, the office of the quaestor was altered and it became a senior judicial official for the imperial capital, Constantinople. The post survived until the 14th century, albeit only as an honorary title.

Sacred prostitution

Sacred prostitution, temple prostitution, cult prostitution, and religious prostitution are general terms for a sexual rite consisting of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity performed in the context of religious worship, perhaps as a form of fertility rite or divine marriage (hieros gamos). Some scholars prefer the terms "sacred sex" or "sacred sexual rites" to "sacred prostitution" in cases where payment for services was not involved.


The Spangenhelm was a popular medieval European combat helmet design of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

State church of the Roman Empire

With the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the Empire's state religion. The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Catholic Church each stand in that continuity.

Earlier in the 4th century, following the Diocletianic Persecution of 303-313 and the Donatist controversy that arose in consequence, Constantine had convened councils of bishops to define the orthodoxy of the Christian faith, expanding on earlier Christian councils. A series of ecumenical councils convened by successive emperors met during the 4th and 5th centuries, but Christianity continued to suffer rifts and schisms surrounding the issues of Arianism, Nestorianism, and Miaphysitism. In the 5th century the Western Empire decayed as a polity: invaders sacked Rome in 410 and in 455, and Odoacer, an Arian barbarian warlord, forced Romulus Augustus, the last nominal Western Emperor, to abdicate in 476. However, apart from the aforementioned schisms, the church as an institution persisted in communion, if not without tension, between the east and west. In the 6th century the Byzantine armies of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I recovered Italy and other sections of the western Mediterranean shore. The Eastern Roman Empire soon lost most of these gains, but it held Rome, as part of the Exarchate of Ravenna, until 751, a period known in church history as the Byzantine Papacy. The Muslim conquests of the 7th century would begin a process of converting most of the then-Christian world in West Asia and North Africa to Islam, severely restricting the reach both of the Byzantine Empire and of its church. Missionary activity directed from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, did not lead to a lasting expansion of the formal link between the church and the Byzantine emperor, since areas outside the empire's political and military control set up their own distinct churches, as in the case of Bulgaria in 919.

Justinian I, who became emperor in Constantinople in 527, recognized the patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem as the top leadership of the Church (see Pentarchy). However, Justinian claimed "the right and duty of regulating by his laws the minutest details of worship and discipline, and also of dictating the theological opinions to be held in the Church".In Justinian's day, the Christian church was not entirely under the Emperor's control even in the East: the Oriental Orthodox had seceded, having rejected the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and called the adherents of the imperially recognized Church "Melkites", from Syriac malkâniya "imperial". In western Europe, Christianity was mostly subject to the laws and customs of nations that owed no allegiance to the emperor in Constantinople. While eastern-born popes appointed or at least confirmed by the Eastern Emperor continued to be loyal to him as their political lord, they refused to accept his authority in religious matters, or the authority of such a council as the imperially convoked Council of Hieria of 754. Pope Gregory III (731-741) was the last Bishop of Rome to ask the Byzantine ruler to ratify his election. With the crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800 as Imperator Romanorum, the political split between east and west became irrevocable. Spiritually, Chalcedonian Christianity persisted, at least in theory, as a unified entity until the Great Schism and its formal division with the mutual excommunication in 1054 of Rome and Constantinople. The Eastern Roman Empire finally collapsed with the Fall of Constantinople to the Islamic Ottoman Turks in 1453.

The obliteration of the Empire's boundaries by Germanic peoples and an outburst of missionary activity among these peoples, who had no direct links with the Eastern Roman Empire, and among Pictic and Celtic peoples who had never been part of the Roman Empire, fostered the idea of a universal church free from association with a particular state. On the contrary, "in the East Roman or Byzantine view, when the Roman Empire became Christian, the perfect world order willed by God had been achieved: one universal empire was sovereign, and coterminous with it was the one universal church"; and the church came, by the time of the demise of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, to merge psychologically with it to the extent that its bishops had difficulty in thinking of Christianity without an emperor.Modern authors refer to the church associated with the emperor in a variety of ways: as the catholic church, the orthodox church, the imperial church, the imperial Roman church, or the Byzantine church, although some of these terms are also used for wider communions extending outside the Roman Empire. The legacy of the idea of a universal church carries on, directly or indirectly, in today's Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as in others, such as the Anglican Communion.


A villa was originally an ancient Roman upper-class country house. Since its origins in the Roman villa, the idea and function of a villa has evolved considerably. After the fall of the Roman Republic, villas became small farming compounds, which were increasingly fortified in Late Antiquity, sometimes transferred to the Church for reuse as a monastery. Then they gradually re-evolved through the Middle Ages into elegant upper-class country homes. In modern parlance, "villa" can refer to various types and sizes of residences, ranging from the suburban semi-detached double villa to residences in the wildland–urban interface.

Periods of the history of Europe
Classical antiquity
Middle Ages
Early modern
See also

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