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Made famous in part by the writings of Peter Brown (although the German term Spätantike was known since the early 20th century), the term Late Antiquity is a rough periodization (c. 300-700/800 CE) used by historians and other scholars to describe the interval between high Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages in Europe and the Mediterranean world - between the decline of the western Roman Empire from the 3rd century AD onward, to the re-forming of the West under Charlemagne, of the Middle East under the Baghdad caliphate, and of Eastern Europe under the Byzantine Empire.
The continuities between imperial Rome and the Early Middle Ages are stressed by writers who wish to emphasise that the seeds of medieval culture were already developing in the Christianized empire, and indeed continued to do so in the Eastern, or "Byzantine" Empire, while Germanic tribes such as the Ostrogoths and Visigoths saw themselves as perpetuators of the Roman tradition. Conversely, proponents of "Late Antiquity" may argue that many of the social and cultural priorities of Classical Antiquity endured throughout Europe well into the Middle Ages.
Aspects of Late Antiquity
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, Arabic, Coptic, vulgar Latin and, in some cases, Romantic dialects. 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 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 Consolatio Philosophiae of Boethius—both later key works in Medieval education).
Late Antiquity also marks the decline of Roman state religion and the formation of many novel, syncretic sects, including Gnosticism, hermeticism, Neoplatonism and the Chaldaean oracles , as well as the formation and evolution of Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, post-diaspora Judaism, and Islam. Many of these 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 thus fueling the rise of synoptic exegesis.
This period also saw the decline of the Western Roman empire into city-states (Rome, Ravenna, Triers, etc) and independent units (Francia, Britannia, Hispania). Concurrently, the foundation of the eastern Roman empire at Constantinople marked a turning point for the Greek East.
For more information on specific aspects of Late Antiquity, please see the Category below.
- Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity Ad 150-750, ISBN 0393958035
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