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The World of Late Antiquity 150-750

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  985 ratings  ·  72 reviews
This remarkable study in social and cultural change explains how and why the Late Antique world, between c. 150 and c. 750, came to differ from "Classical civilization."

These centuries, as the author demonstrates, were the era in which the most deeply rooted of ancient institutions disappeared for all time. By 476 the Roman empire had vanished from western Europe; by 655 t
Paperback, 216 pages
Published March 19th 1989 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published 1971)
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4.06  · 
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 ·  985 ratings  ·  72 reviews

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Peter Brown's book proved hugely influential creating the idea of late antiquity as a distinct period and asserting its importance as the beginning of Christian Europe. The focus has almost invariably been on the fall of the Rome Empire and what was lost, Brown's focus was more on what survived, a Roman world that endured in parts of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean until the rise of Islam.

A strength of this book is its accessible format, a comfortable sized font and wealth of illustra
Michael Finocchiaro
This book was highly informative and enlightening. The period following the fall of Rome to the advent of the Carolingian Empire is a confusing one, but Peter Brown does an excellent job of describing the forces in movement and the significance of historical events during this period in their context. Highly recommended.
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In the beginning of my junior semester at college I took a class called "The World of Late Antiquity." Originally, my goal was to become a historian of the classical world and I thought I would take this class to learn more about the period after the period I was interested in. The class and particularly the writings of Peter Brown made such an impact on my life that I decided to focus on post-classical studies.
The thing about this book is the intimacy gained through the imagery. The work is re
First, the good stuff: Peter Brown's (very broad) overview of Late Antiquity presents an alternative view to the traditional decline-and-fall thesis and covers a much broader geographical spectrum than most books addressing the same period. It's a nice corrective to works that portray the period from 200-800 as one of decline into perpetual awfulness, and Brown's more optimistic view makes it a good book to read alongside a more dire view, like Ward-Perkins's The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civ ...more
Czarny Pies
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers who want to learn how to see history in art.
When I first read Peter Brown's "The World of Late Antiquity" forty years ago as an undergraduate it disappointed me greatly. It had been presented to me as outstanding rebuttal of Gibbon's great thesis that the Roman Empire Declined and toppled over. In fact, the "World of Late Antiquity" addresses none of Gibbon's arguments. What it does do is explain how the Mediterranean world transformed from a classical (pagan) to a medieval (Christian civilization) during the period from 150 AD to 750 AD. ...more
José Luís  Fernandes
First of all, I must say I love this book. Why? Because of the way how it challenged old Gibbonian Orthodoxy in 1971 and revealed the myth of the "Dark Ages". This is the way how it should be viewed today: a founding stone of the scholarship of the latest 40 years on Late Antiquity (a term made popular by this work).

The challenge referred above is also the cause of what looks to be an extreme disregard for any kind of decline, yet I think many people attacking Brown's work fail to have this in
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reading for exams is grunt work, but Peter Brown’s book made it enjoyable even though I was never interested in the Late Antique period. Yet this period (200 - 800 AD) was no doubt important as it witnessed the birth of two universalist, monotheist religions, permanently transforming the classical empires of the Mediterranean and the Near East.

Brown resists Gibbon’s “decline and fall” paradigm by qualifying it to the decline in political structure of the western half of the empire, and instead g
Jeni Enjaian
(copied from my annotated bibliography)
With this book, Brown hopes that by studying the social and cultural change of the Late Antique period, he could inform the reader as to how and why the Late Antique world came to differ from that of the Classical. He also hopes to show how these changes determined the evolution of society of that time period and what life was like for the average Late Antique Roman citizen. Brown first sketches the public changes that occurred between 200 and 400 AD before
Katie Bayford
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm preparing for a semester of directed reading on Justinian's reconquering of Rome, and read this to have a good base of knowledge on the general period. Brown looks at the rise of Christianity in the West, the blurring of boundaries between the eastern and western empires, the East, and then the rise of Islam. It's a fantastic piece of scholarship to prepare for further reading afterwards, albeit one that focuses heavily upon religion (and less so upon, say, war or politics).
Kathryn Mattern
I've loved everything I've ever read by Peter Brown. His writing is so clear, so cogent, and reveals so much of interest about the worlds of the past about which he writes. At the time I read this book in the early to mid 1980's, I was terribly interested in the history of christianity, in its two-tiered sysem of clergy and laity, in the ascetical movements of martyrdom and monasticism,and its relationship to the pagan world around it, especially the world of classical pagan philosophy. So Peter ...more
Dec 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: middle age history fans if they exist
An interesting essay more than a book. Mr. Brown discusses the development of two empires in what was one Roman Empire, the root causes of Christianity's spread in both and this, of course leads to the success of Islam in much of the region. The book does not totally answer some of my questions but did a good job overall and created some new thoughts for me to research--the major ones dealing with the rise of christianity and the whys of it.
Oct 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
Great, engaging survey (in essay form) of the Late Antique Period. I read this in conjunction with a graduate seminar on the literature of the time period and I would recommend that people who enjoy Brown's work check out the literature of Ausonius and Ammianus Marcellinus (both of whom Brown mentions frequently) as well as Prudentius' speeches against Symmachus.
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Peter Brown's survey of culture and society from the time of Diocletian to the rise of the Abbasid dynasty of Persia manages to be highly sophisticated in its judgements while remaining entirely accessible to the lay reader.

A gradualist rather than a catastrophist, Brown's concern is to trace the evolution of the medieval world from its classical predecessor. He does so by focusing on the lines of continuity rather than on the hammer blows of invasion and pestilence, highlighting the way change
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, byzantium
A slim and engaging survey of an extremely dynamic period. Excellent coverage of the social and religious developments of the late roman world from the 3rd-6th century. Slightly less satisfying when it tries to incorporate Sassanian Persian and Arabian developments, let alone the interaction of Turkic and Chinese polities. Suitable as an introduction to the topic as well as an enjoyable casual read!
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, middle-ages
As the title partly describes, this is a scholarly (Oxford, Princeton) though much condensed history of Europe in what was called the “Dark Ages” but also the Persian Empire and the sudden what the author calls “rapid crisis” of Islam.
Nathan Albright
Jan 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: challenge
In many ways, this book is the inverse of another book I have read about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and deliberately so, in that both books seek to attack the central thesis of the other book on their weakest ground and this book, at least, largely ignores its own weakest ground [1]. At its best, this book echoes the concerns of the late Roman and early Byzantine world with constant warfare and the need for adroit diplomacy [2] as well as the fragility of civic culture in the face ...more
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A fascinating blank spot in most of our understanding of European history. It's heavily illustrated, which helps a lot, as it moves back and forth between political history and the waves of thought and art. Overall, I found it a bit turgid, possibly because I was reading it as research for a novel I'm writing about the period and it wasn't terribly useful for that. But its focus on the split between Eastern and Western Roman empires, and the role of Persia and the Middle East in the whole muddle ...more
John Cairns
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
Very good, with relevant illustrations, an interesting bibliography, timeline and general map. It's interesting on Justinian and why Procopius wrote a secret history. If the plague, recurrent from 542 hadn't happened, Justinian might've had an easier time of it containing the Persians, also at their apogee, and the Slav incursions, but he did the best he could. The merging of state with religion is completed under his autocratic rule and the pagan academy of Athens is closed, moving to Persia's ...more
Donald Yates
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is THE book to read to understand how Christianity took over the Roman Empire. It explained to me how people could have more admiration for a hermit that lived on top a pillar than the emperor who turned back the barbarian hordes. Like the story of America, it seemed that God was repeatedly on Rome's side, without good cause. By a miracle everything worked out. But if you don't believe in God or the fateful course and predestination of history you are still left with questions. Why did the ...more
Sean Mccarrey
Sep 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was a hard one for me. On the bright side, it was a very interesting view of the way the religious transformations worked within late Antiquity and helped create the momentum that would eventually lead to the creation of various distinct schools of religious thought. On the down side, the book clearly pushed the message that the fall of the Roman Empire was not a fall, to the point of making the post-Western Roman period seem downright cheery. It distorts facts and cherry picks certain ...more
Czarny Pies
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-history
The World of Late Antiquity is an excellent book known best as a rebuttal to Gibbon's great thesis that the Roman Empire Declined and Fell.

Brown's focus is entirely on the Western or Latin Empire. As presented by Brown this was a period of evolution and progress not decline. The Western Church became a major institution uniting all of Europe. At the same time the Feudal system was founded and developed into a stable form of social organization.

Brown's vision of Late Antiquity has dominated histo
Hall's Bookshop
Oct 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: james
An established classic, first published in 1970. Most modern scholarship on Late Antiquity consciously or unconsciously begins with this basic thesis in mind, and thus it still feel fresh. If you're interested in being interested in the end of the Ancient world and the dawn of the Middle Ages, this book is one of the best places to begin.
A classic book that literally redefined the era away from earlier assumptions about a purely barbaric and unenlightened dark age. Focuses on the cultural evolution of the west via Christianity, and the Persian-Greek synthesis that lead to Rome's eastern inheritors, the Arab Caliphate.
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Western history
Peter R.L. Brown travels quickly over the Classical Age to Middle Ages transition, which actually strengthens his argument, since he does not bog down in historical detail. In fact, Brown discloses at end of the book that he has only written an essay on the issue, and not an in depth analysis of the matter.

A point of interest to this reviewer is that Brown holds that the rise of Islam actually cemented (my word) the transition in world view, because it eliminated, finally, the easy exchange of
Z. J. Pandolfino
Jun 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
By now, Peter Brown’s once revolutionary approach to the study of Late Antiquity has become par for the course in Classics and Religious Studies departments across the United States and the United Kingdom. Those who continue to perpetuate the Gibbonian ineluctable “decline and fall narrative” share a misplaced academic nostalgia for the first and second centuries CE that, most likely, first drew their attention to the ancient world in the first place. Nevertheless, despite the ubiquitous nature ...more
Bill Kvebak
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
The period of time between the Roman Empire and the eventual Renaissance of Italy in European History has been characterized by many historians as “The Dark Ages.” The prevailing idea is the collapse of the Roman Empire, somewhere around 450 - 550 C.E., left a vacuum of the rule of law leading to a period of time where very little learning or new ideas were being created throughout what the world that was formerly known as the Roman Empire. In The World of Late Antiquity, a book by Peter Brown, ...more
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A dense book for all its brevity, outlining a description of the transition from the Roman Empire of classical thought (Greek and Latin philosophy), which bulks large as the first Mediterranean Empire, through its decline and fragmentation, to create:
1 The West, which descended into local principalities (this is not explored in depth, as the author considers that it has already been written about extensively); and
2 The Eastern Byzantine Empire, which managed to maintain its connection to classic
Philip Coulter
Aug 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
As I understand it, this book from 1971 was influential in paving the way for current scholarship that treats the period form the 3rd to 8th centuries as distinct from the earlier Classical Roman period.  Brown is positive about this era finding growth and creative in place of or alongside the traditional views of decline and destruction.  I've read more recent, and more detailed books on this - The Inheritance of Rome by Chris Wickham stands out.  This still added something for me - the short a ...more
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
One of my primary criteria for whether I like a history book is the percentage of the information that I was not previously aware of. The ratio was satisfyingly high in this book. I couldn't quite figure out how the book was organized, however, partly because the chapter headings were hidden almost in plaintext.
Andrew Davis
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
A very slim book, but with very competent view of the late antiquity. Only two stars from me, but this is mostly to reflect my poor knowledge of that period in history, and the author’s much higher expectation of it for the reader to absorb his presented view. I was often lost when reading of the major characters of the era and assessment of their role in the history.
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There is more than one author with this name

Peter Robert Lamont Brown FBA is Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. His principal contributions to the discipline have been in the field of Late Antiquity. 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.