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Review: The World of Late Antiquity

Peter Brown

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The World of Late Antiquity

Mr. Peter Brown once wrote a book “The World of Late Antiquity”, in which, despite its small size, he presented the last stage of the long and beautiful ancient era, which stretched from about 200 CE (i.e. the time of the historian Cassius Dio) until the turn of the 8th and 9th century CE (times of the reign of Caliph Rashid Al-Harun of the Abbasid dynasty), which is a bit further than the subtitle of the book suggests. It is basically an interesting look at the actual end of ancient civilization, which actually ended for good in the Middle East with the shift of the cultural and economic center towards the Persian (in the cultural, not linguistic sense) east, to Baghdad.

It is an interesting presentation of very complex mental (including great religious changes) and social changes that the Mediterranean world experienced in the last centuries of Roman rule in its areas. The book contains some interesting statements, such as comparing the Byzantine or Eastern Roman administration with the Chinese Mandarinate. This is a bold comparison, though incomplete, as Mr. Brown must be aware. After all, the Chinese mandarinate had a very well-organized and complex examination system, which was, of course, also riddled with the purest corruption. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that these two bureaucratic systems have, despite their obvious flaws, an astonishing longevity.

The author, in my opinion, rightly emphasizes the significant influence of the great achievements of Persian culture on the Abbasid Caliphate, which was created mainly thanks to Persian support for the revolt against the Umayyads. This Persian influence shifted the center of gravity of the Muslim world east of the Mediterranean. This shift cannot, in my opinion, be treated as a victory of Persia over Rome, which the author suggests, because Persia of this period is already a very different creation from Sassanid Persia, which was defeated by Emperor Heraclius. Not all metaphors are accurate.

Together with the book by Mr. Henri-Irenee Marrou entitled “Décadence romaine ou antiquité tardive?”, the reviewed position is a recommendable read about the world of late antiquity, which lasted longer than many people think.

Purchase book in Amazon

Author: Antypater (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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