BMCR 1994.04.18

The Later Roman Empire; The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity

, The Later Roman Empire, AD 284-430. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. x, 238 pages. ISBN 9780674511934.
, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity, AD 395-600. Routledge History of the Ancient World . London, New York: Routledge, 1993. xvii, 251 pages. ISBN 9780415014205.

The interest of ancient historians in late antiquity has been steadily growing over the past twenty years. Ramsey MacMullen recently calculated that fully one eighth of the 524 historians listed in the current Directory of Ancient Historians in the United States now indicate an interest in late antiquity[1]. This growth in interest has meant an increase in the number of introductory surveys offered in North American colleges and universities at both the undergraduate and beginning graduate levels. But until recently instructors found a limited selection of translations, textbooks, and sourcebooks available in English, particularly for courses with a secular rather than ecclesiastical focus[2]. Although the problem has abated somewhat since the early 1980s, teaching materials for late antiquity have inevitably not kept up with the pace of research. It is therefore in an atmosphere of keen anticipation that these books arrive on the scene, the first (LRE) devoted to the fourth century and the second (MWLA) devoted to the fifth and sixth. In fact these are more than textbooks, since they also represent the attempt of a distinguished historian to define the field and mark out a point of view. As such, they will be of interest not only for their value in the classroom, but also for the statement of principles they make to a wider audience. Although the two books will normally be treated as a pair, and are considered by the author as such (LRE, p. v; MWLA, p. ix), they appear in separate series and differ considerably in organization, focus, and level of detail.

The Later Roman Empire is the final volume in the Fontana History of the Ancient World, edited by Oswyn Murray. To a large extent its scope and format are determined by the demands of series, which is aimed squarely at an undergraduate audience. There is a welcome emphasis on documents and literary sources, which are abundantly quoted and cited in the text; the most important of these are listed alphabetically with English translations and relevant modern discussions at the back of the book. References to secondary literature — in most cases just sufficient to justify controversial positions and point the reader to further discussion — are not given in notes but in a bibliographic essay organized by chapter. The author’s eastern focus is evident from the choice of maps, which include an outline of the Diocletianic dioceses and provinces, plans of Rome and Constantinople, and a map of the cities of the eastern empire, but no map of the cities of the west. The book also contains thirteen illustrations, mostly familiar (e.g., colossal head of Constantine, arch of Constantine, interior of S. Maria Maggiore, diptych of the Symmachi); a fairly abbreviated date chart; and a list of emperors and some usurpers from Gordian I to Theodosius II.

Like other volumes in the series, LRE does not offer a continuous political and military narrative — for this C. suggests Roger Collins, Early Medieval Europe 300-1000 (New York, 1991), 1-57 — but rather discusses topics in social, cultural, political, and military history. Its organization is roughly chronological, with episodes of political narrative linking largely thematic chapters. While this approach has clear merits, there is a repetition of topics which some readers may find confusing. The problem of the colonate, for instance, is discussed in three separate chapters (pp. 45, 55, 110-11), as is Eusebius’ account of Constantine’s role in the council of Nicaea (pp. 17, 59-61, 68-69).

A certain sharpness of tone is evident from the beginning; this, combined with a keen interest in historiography and a fondness for recent revisionist interpretations, makes for lively and sometimes jarring reading. Chapter 1 begins in 235 where the previous volume in the series, Colin Wells, The Roman Empire (Stanford, 1984), left off. Throughout the chapter C. emphasizes the gradual nature of the transition from the second to fourth centuries. She points out that many of the problems once thought to define the “crisis” of the third century (heavy pressure on the frontiers, high levels of political instability, sharp debasement of the silver coinage) had their beginnings as early as the reign of Marcus Aurelius (pp. 4-6), and that many of the changes thought to have been instituted by Diocletian and Constantine (reorganization of the army, increased ceremonial distance between ruler and ruled, establishment of the tied colonate) had already been underway for decades (pp. 33, 42, 45-6). Viewing the third century as an age of development rather than as an age of crisis paves the way for C.’s view of the later empire, which likewise emphasizes continuity over discontinuity. In the face of traditional and still pervasive images of late antiquity as an age of totalitarian government, rampant corruption, fiscal oppression, religious irrationalism, military weakness, and cultural decline, sharply different from an earlier empire supposedly innocent of these shortcomings, C. proposes a later empire seamlessly connected to its past, with strong continuities in economy, culture, and political organization. Even the most striking discontinuity — the emergence of Christianity as the Roman state religion — is explained as much as possible within a framework of continuity and gradual change, at some cost perhaps to what were arguably discontinuous features of the Christian religion (e.g., p. 127 on civic euergetism and Christian charity). This framework of interpretation paves the way for C.’s later conclusion (LRE, pp. 190-4; MWLA, pp. 197-200) that the fall of the western empire in the fifth century and the Arab conquest of much of the eastern empire in the seventh century represented less important changes in the longue durée of Mediterranean history than the economic and social transformations of the eleventh century, when the center of gravity began to shift away decisively to northern Europe.

Chapters 3 and 4 are largely devoted to the changes set in motion (or first in evidence) under Diocletian and Constantine, which C. acknowledges had a decisive, though not necessarily predictable or immediate, impact on the empire during the fourth century and beyond. Of changes in imperial administration she discusses reform of the army (pp. 33-36, 53), the tax system (pp. 36-38), the coinage (pp. 38-39, 53-54), and the bureaucracy (pp. 39-41, 53). None of these are simple topics, and C. to her credit does not try to oversimplify them. Her method here, followed throughout the book, is to provide a summary of the problem, brief references to evidence, and a skeptical, guarded, and often revisionist conclusion. Thus in the space of a few paragraphs C. describes Diocletian’s tax reforms as “reforms of practice, not of principle”, suggests that they probably did not substantially increase the overall tax rate “as has been argued in the past”, labels A. H. M. Jones’ comment that the virtue of the system lay in its simplicity a “modern view”, and concludes that “the net effect of Diocletian’s innovations was much less dramatic than is often supposed” (pp. 37-38). The tone and the approach will be unnerving to students looking for simple, conventional answers, but readers who are willing to examine the evidence themselves, track down C.’s secondary sources (not always easy), and accord her narrative a provisional status it does not always explicitly claim for itself will find much to reward them.

Not surprisingly, in view of her earlier remarks on Timothy Barnes’ totally Christian Constantine[3], C. interprets Constantine in the light of his military, financial, and administrative as well as religious policies. And even in his embrace of the Christian god C.’s Constantine operates according to earlier precedent by adhering to a powerful source of divine protection and success (pp. 55-56). C. also continues to differ with Barnes on the religious affiliation of Constantine’s top officials, suggesting that few were “provably Christian” (p. 55)[4]. Together with her discussion of Diocletian, C.’s interpretation of Constantine’s reign is repeatedly echoed in later chapters, for instance, in treatments of the army (p. 146), the senatorial order (pp. 103-4), and the coinage (pp. 115-16). Indeed, she believes that in the organization of the later Roman state “the later fourth-century emperors essentially continued or developed the patterns set under Diocletian and Constantine” (p. 112).

Chapter 5 explores one of Constantine’s legacies, the problem of church-state relations in the fourth century. It is a mostly conventional treatment of the main topics — imperial involvement in the Donatist and Arian controversies, the rising importance of bishops, imperial efforts to suppress paganism, and the growth of asceticism and monasticism — sharpened by implicit condemnations of Christian extremism, including hostility toward Jews (pp. 76-77) and anti-pagan violence (pp. 75, 76, 83). Radical asceticism and monasticism also receive an unsympathetic treatment, with comments on the participation of monks in anti-pagan violence (pp. 76, 83) and on the “ultra-harsh” lifestyle of dedicated ascetics like Paula and her daughters Eustochium and Blesilla, blamed largely on Jerome’s bad influence (pp. 81-82, 154-55, 184). In C.’s view the success of Christianity in the fourth century, although “slower and more uneven than is sometimes imagined” (p. 77), was due in large measure to imperial support (direct and indirect enrichment of local churches, anti-pagan legislation, and the promotion of individual Christians to positions of power) as well as to the active efforts of individual bishops. The growing wealth of the church and the resulting capacity of its leaders to exercise patronage in the form of charity, church-building, and hospitality is repeatedly emphasized, in this and other chapters (pp. 58, 71, 77, 115, 124, 126-27, 177-78).

Chapter 6 is largely devoted to Julian, the only emperor besides Diocletian and Constantine (and in MWLA, Justinian) to receive a chapter of his own. Following Ammianus in narrative and analysis, it focuses on the character flaws and errors of political judgment that, as C. hints, prevented Julian from achieving his aims, including the reversal of imperial support for Christianity and the restoration of paganism (pp. 91, 93, 98). This chapter thus does more than indulge the fascination, even the nostalgia, that some ancient historians feel for Julian. Rather it acts as an important step in the book’s arguments for continuity by questioning the inevitability of Christianization and the disturbing changes that the new religion threatened to introduce, even if it never fully succeeded.

After a brief account of Julian’s successors up to Theodosius, Chapter 7 discusses the workings of the late Roman state and the social structure that supported it. Much in this chapter is an elaboration of C.’s earlier suggestion that the late Roman administration “maintained an uneasy balance between bureaucracy and patronage” (p. 41), a view which sees patronage as a feature of pre-modern societies in particular[5]. To C. late Roman patronage was not so much a form of corruption as a structural mechanism for supplementing the shortcomings and circumventing the injustices of a rudimentary state apparatus (pp. 106-8). The weakness of this apparatus also suggests to C. that the Roman government was incapable of imposing in any serious way the “rigid caste system” mandated in the lawcodes for decurions, coloni, and workers in regulated industries like shipping and baking (pp. 109-12). Here as elsewhere she minimizes the impact that imperial legislation had on actual practice. The point is not new, but the totalitarian model of later Roman social structure has proven surprisingly resistant to correction. C. does draw on new thinking to question conventional views of the colonate, rural slavery, and medieval serfdom (pp. 110-11, 118-21). Although her account suggests more questions than answers, it offers the signal advantage of alerting readers to the unsettled state of current scholarship.

Chapter 8 on economy and society continues C.’s focus on the late Roman state with a discussion of fiscal and monetary policies from the time of Constantine. It then examines topics in the larger economy, including patterns of landholding, the use of slaves in agricultural production, and levels of trade and market exchange. C.’s discussion of slaves continues her discussion of coloni in Chapter 7, and after some attempt to minimize their importance in agriculture concludes that the obscurity of the subject calls for a position somewhere in the middle (p. 120). The second half of the chapter is mainly devoted to the economic and social impact of Christianity on the empire. It focuses on the progressive enrichment of local churches and monasteries; the corresponding empowerment of bishops and ascetics (especially women); the economic effects of almsgiving, pilgrimage, and church building; and the practical effects of Christian ideology on the daily lives of ordinary people. As elsewhere in the book, C. stresses the slow pace of change; at the same time she suggests that Christian leaders had more success in acquiring material goods and political influence than in changing attitudes and modes of behavior. Although prepared to acknowledge that ordinary Christians were influenced by the views of their leaders (p. 130), C. reminds the reader that despite the growing Christianization of the empire many aspects of everyday life remained the same. Christians lived in the same kinds of houses as non-Christians, wore the same fashions, and enjoyed the same kinds of entertainment (pp. 126, 131; see also pp. 160-63, 175-76). They also married at the same ages as non-Christians and had families of the same size (p. 129). Nor, according to C., did the church’s increased attention to women make much if any difference in their everyday lives. Like the emperors — C. cites Constantine’s legislation on divorce for this point (p. 128 with p. 58) — “the Church Fathers also took a mostly poor view of women” (p. 129), although it is not clear that this was in most cases any poorer a view of women than their non-Christian counterparts held. In any case, church ideology probably did not matter much when it came to domestic arrangements, at least not for a long time: as Brent Shaw has shown from the evidence of Augustine, the Christian paterfamilias of late antiquity remained as stern and potentially cruel a figure as his pagan predecessor[6].

C. covers military history in Chapter 9, beginning with the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Not surprisingly Goths attract substantial attention. Although C. takes account of recent work (some of it perhaps too recent to be fully utilized), her narrative remains to a large extent conventional. Thus her fourth- and early fifth-century Goths are still Visigoths (pp. 83, 116, 128, 136, 177) and Ostrogoths (pp. 136, 140)[7], many fleeing from the Huns (p. 136, but see also p. 140) and willing to exchange army service for land. Alaric is characterized as leader of the Visigoths between 395 and 410 and his demands for military office, food, and money are discussed (p. 138) without an explicit commitment to J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz’s view that the Goths he led were an army on the march rather than a tribe in search of land[8]. C. also provides a conventional treatment of the massacre of Gainas’ Goths in 400 at Constantinople (pp. 102, 139, 149-50; see also MWLA, p. 17), often thought, perhaps mistakenly[9], to have been critical in convincing the east Roman government not to rely on barbarian generals and federates, thus saving it from the fate of the west. As the chapter proceeds, C.’s attention turns to the eastern frontier. Here she follows Benjamin Isaac and others, whose studies of the military archaeology of the region have cast doubt on Edward Luttwak’s theory of a change between the second and fourth centuries in the “grand strategy” of Roman frontier policy (although in MWLA, pp. 53-54, she seems to accord some legitimacy to the concept of defense-in-depth). The chapter concludes with a discussion of the beginnings of political fragmentation in the west, a complex process which C. attributes to political and economic factors (recruitment and settlement of barbarian federates, weakness of the western emperors, lack of resources, concentrated power of the senatorial class) rather than to the decline of the late Roman army as such. This reasoning is restated later in different terms when the fall of north Africa to the Vandals is explained not by the region’s economic decline but by “progressive weakening of the centre and the general problems affecting the Roman army” (p. 190).

Chapter 10 is a broad survey of fourth-century culture, mainly education, learning, the visual arts, philosophy, and theology. As elsewhere, C. strongly emphasizes continuity with the past, without necessarily underestimating the amount of cultural change or the degree of tension among Christians and between Christians and non-Christians over such problems as the pagan content and elite character of classical education (pp. 152-54) and the worldly nature of popular entertainment (p. 155). The reader’s assent to the argument for continuity, however, is virtually guaranteed by a focus in the middle pages of the chapter on the literary and artistic tastes of the senatorial class in late fourth-century Rome, where we should expect veneration for the past and the maintenance of tradition to be at its highest, even among Christians. But C. does not focus exclusively on elite culture. She also reminds readers of the importance of local cultures and languages in the east, especially Syriac (pp. 167-68; see also pp. 183-84), and hints at changes occurring below the surface in the west which were disguised by the apparent continuity of Latin culture (pp. 168-69).

Chapter 11 on Constantinople and the east begins to make a case for the continued economic vigor, cultural vibrancy, and political strength of the eastern (in contrast to the western) empire, a theme that returns in MWLA. The emphasis is mostly on urban life and specifically the urban plebs, with discussion of public spaces, festivals, riots, food distributions, chariot racing, and other topics that have dominated the study of late antique civic culture in the past two decades. What is most welcome in this chapter, however, because it will be difficult for students to find elsewhere, is a brief survey of recent work on rural life in the east, including economic organization, settlement history, relations between center and periphery, and the impact of Christianity, especially monasticism, on the countryside, themes discussed more fully in MWLA.

The final chapter begins by minimizing the importance of the year 476 in explaining the downfall of the western empire. C. points out earlier signs of political weakness in the west and stresses the continuity of Roman culture in the barbarian success or kingdoms. But she hints here at a point of view that becomes much more prominent in MWLA, namely that differences in economy, politics, and culture between east and west had already become so marked by the fifth century that the two halves of the empire were already headed in separate directions — the east more, the west less successfully — no matter what the barbarians did. In this chapter, the fate of the east is illustrated by the “obstinate survival of Byzantium” to 1453 (p. 192), that of the west by the Vandal conquest of Africa and by Augustine’s City of God, with its vision of a polity never to be realized on earth (pp. 188-90). Yet at the same time as C. concedes the fact of political fragmentation — for the west in the fifth century, for the east in the seventh century (p. 193) — she also suggests that it did not matter as much in the long run as the many underlying continuities that still tied the Mediterranean world together into the next millennium.

For a book as densely packed with citation, information, and argument as this, there are surprisingly few slips. The only incorrect references I found were at p. 17, where Eusebius, Life of Constantine II. 10 should read III. 10, and p. 36, where Lewis and Reinhold II. 118 should read II. 128. Also, Valentinian II seems to have dropped off the emperor list on p. 198. A few abbreviations will be unclear to undergraduates who are not classicists, including ILS (p. 54) and NTh (p. 144), as well as technical terms such as largitiones and res privata (p. 40), but diligent readers can quickly find these in Jones’ Later Roman Empire. The lists of primary sources and secondary literature are very useful and up to date. Because the sourcebook of Lewis and Reinhold is so widely cited, I would have referred to the third edition of 1990 rather than the revised edition of 1966 (p. 210; MWLA, p. 237). But these are minor lapses in a book that tries to do so much.

LRE is an excellent book which I would wholeheartedly recommend for undergraduate courses in later Roman history. Because it was written as a starting point for students (p. v), it will do the most good when it can be read with large amounts of evidence and when its opinions can be discussed side by side with the views of other scholars. Not everyone will agree with its organization, its tone, or its interpretations, but this is precisely why it is a valuable contribution to the field. In general I would say the same of its companion volume, which treats many of the same themes, although its time period is later and its intended audience more advanced.

The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity is the last volume in the Routledge (formerly the Methuen) History of the Ancient World, edited by Fergus Millar. Only one other volume in the series has so far been published, Simon Hornblower’s The Greek World 479-323 BC (London and New York, 1983). To judge from that work and from MWLA, the series is aimed at a level above that of the Fontana series, with a looser chronological structure, fewer aids for the novice, and greater emphasis on secondary literature and the specifics of scholarly controversy. Like Hornblower’s history, MWLA features endnotes with extensive references as well as chapter by chapter bibliographies. It also contains five maps, twelve illustrations, and lists of dates and abbreviations (but not of primary sources or emperors).

In her preface C. informs the reader that the focus of MWLA is on the Roman empire of the fifth and sixth centuries “rather than the periphery or the emergent kingdoms of the west” (p. x). This state-centered framework is initially surprising in view of the book’s title and heavy use of settlement archaeology, which together suggest an emphasis on the Mediterranean world as a whole. In fact, C. believes that the west belongs in a study of late Roman society and culture (pp. 7-8, 43-44), and introduces much western material into the text and especially the notes. But at the same time her preoccupations become, by design, more eastern, that is to say more Byzantine, as the book progresses, especially after Chapter 2, which analyzes the “fall” of the west and briefly surveys the barbarian successor kingdoms. This happens not only because C. respects the political (if not the social, cultural, or economic) importance of the events leading up to the year 476 (pp. 8, 33-34), but more importantly because she believes that the continuities with the classical past that justify the use of the term “late antique” in the east were less in evidence in the west after the fifth century (pp. 7-8). From the fifth century on, the west is repeatedly described as “fragmented” in government (pp. 4, 28, 41, 79, 85), territory (p. 95), economy (p. 84), society (p. 151), and culture (p. 8). At times this characterization allows the west to serve as a standard of failure and discontinuity against which to measure success and continuity in the east (pp. 2, 28, 83-85, 95-96), although C. points to examples of continuity in the west as well (pp. 41, 43, 129-30). The point of such comparisons seems to be not to devalue the west, but to point the way to similar failures and discontinuities about to occur in the east (pp. 2, 85, 176), a subject toward which the last part of the book is directed. The theme of a steadily growing gap between east and west, which runs throughout the book, serves in part to justify the exclusively eastern focus of these last chapters, since C. implies that the west had largely ceased by the end of the sixth century to belong to the same late antique Mediterranean as the east (p. 85) and can therefore no longer be treated in the same framework of interpretation. Whatever one thinks of this view, or of C.’s decision to end her work just before the Arab conquests of the 630s, it is clear that inclusion of the west on equal terms with the east would have meant a very different and certainly less focused book. As it is, C.’s argument has a momentum that gains in interest as it tries to explain the end of antiquity in the east.

Despite an uneven treatment of east and west, it is fair to say that C.’s overall emphasis is still on continuity, as in LRE (p. 8). She rejects all approaches tied to theories of decline (Gibbon, Marx, and Rostovtzeff are explicitly named), endorses the work of Peter Brown in religious and cultural history, and calls for its extension into administrative and social history, with archaeological evidence and approaches not found in Jones (p. 6). She also briefly discusses fifth- and sixth-century sources, but reserves more detailed comments for chapter bibliographies.

The first two chapters survey the political and military history of the fifth century, up to the reign of Anastasius (491-518). Chapter 1 covers secular and ecclesiastical politics in the east, primarily Constantinople, while Chapter 2 focuses on barbarians, the army, and the fall of the west. Although C. discusses a variety of topics, including church councils, barbarian successor kingdoms, and imperial ceremonial in Constantinople, the central question of both chapters is why the west “fell” and the east did not. C. answers the question in much the same terms as in LRE, albeit at greater length. She again cites the massacre of Gainas’ Goths and its attendant political consequences along with greater political stability and economic prosperity (pp. 17, 34-35, 56) to explain the eastern government’s success in avoiding the settlement of barbarian groups on imperial soil, and attributes the fall of the western government to its own internal weaknesses (pp. 34), a wealthy and powerful aristocracy (pp. 53; see also pp. 84, 89), and widespread official and unofficial barbarian settlement in the west (pp. 44-47), indeed, to a “seepage of barbarian peoples” into imperial territory (pp. 55-56). After this chapter the political history of the west receives no further systematic attention.

Chapter 3 is devoted to illustrating the impact of Christianity on fifth- and sixth-century society. C. limits herself here to a few well-chosen topics: church building, the role of bishops in church and society, church councils, imperial involvement in the church, private and public religion, ascetics and holy men, Christian art and pilgrimage, and almsgiving and church wealth. Her main concerns are first, to demonstrate the steadily growing wealth, power, and public influence of the institutional church, and second, to measure the more limited and less obvious effects of Christian beliefs on private life. That these are also the concerns of much recent scholarship is not coincidental, and C. largely succeeds in articulating a consensus in current opinion. There has never been much doubt among scholars, whether hostile, neutral, or friendly to Christianity, of the enormous growth in the church’s political power and material prosperity over the fifth and sixth centuries, and further research has tended to confirm this view. At the same time, however, the assumption by some, especially but not exclusively church historians, of a parallel increase in the church’s “spiritual” influence has come into question. While C. is willing to concede that the church had an important influence on the lives of its members (pp. 70, 80; see also p. 148) and that some Christian practices, including pilgrimage and almsgiving (pp. 77-79; see also pp. 145-46), were widely popular, she cautions against assuming that Christians always practiced (or, one might add, always held) the Christian ideals their bishops taught them (p. 69; see also pp. 147). She also points out that despite claims to the contrary pagan cult continued to survive and in some places thrive throughout the period (p. 70; see also pp. 141-44). These are conclusions well worth emphasizing in a book of this kind, and they fit in well with C.’s general effort in matters of religion to emphasize traditional and ordinary patterns as opposed to the new and “exotic”, especially in ascetic behavior (pp. 6, 71-75).

Chapter 4 on social structures and the economy touches on many of the themes found in corresponding sections of LRE. But it also seeks to advance an argument for increasing prosperity in the east and economic decline in the west, which prepares the way for later chapters on urban change and settlement history (p. 85). Using a model developed by Keith Hopkins, C. argues that the west failed to meet several important conditions for economic growth. Supplies of raw materials, and land and labor available for cultivation (and hence taxation) decreased through war, population decline, and barbarian settlement, which caused a reduction in government exactions and in the stimulus of government spending (pp. 95-96). Markets were diminished by a reduction in government spending on the frontiers (p. 96), by the ending of grain distributions in Rome (p. 102), and by an increase in non-commercial exchange on the part of western landowners (pp. 89-90). Because the east did not suffer from the same problems, C. asserts, it experienced a degree of prosperity unknown in the west, at least until the disruptions of the early seventh century (p. 85), an argument based in part on the evidence of African pottery as interpreted by Andrea Carandini and others (pp. 101-2). Much of this is provisional and controversial, as C. admits, and by its very brevity will send many readers to the bibliography for further explanation. The analysis is nonetheless valuable, if only to certify the liveliness of current debate.

Chapter 5 concentrates on Justinian’s reign and particularly his reconquests. C. justifies an uncharacteristically military and political account of this period by Justinian’s extraordinary importance as an emperor (p. 123; see also p. 151), by the significance of Procopius as a source (p. 104), and by the absence of a detailed modern history (p. x). Justinian’s efforts to reconquer the west take center stage more for their effects than their intentions: in addition to devastating Italy (pp. 109, 122) and failing to ensure a permanent hold over reconquered territory (p. 121), C. argues that the wars weakened the eastern government and its defenses and precipitated the decline of the seventh century (pp. 106, 108, 115). This was not so much the fault of the emperor as the result of changes already occurring in the Mediterranean world, of which contemporaries were unaware (pp. 121, 127). Like many scholars, C. sees Justinian’s reign as pivotal in the history of the eastern Mediterranean, marking the end of classical antiquity and the beginning of Byzantine civilization, with elements of both. It is no accident that the Greeks of the eastern Roman empire are suddenly transformed in this chapter into Byzantines (pp. 110 ff.); as C. noted earlier, this change of terminology fits one definition of the end of late antiquity (p. 7).

In Chapter 6 C. surveys fifth- and sixth-century culture and mentality with a view toward the role of Christianization in continuity and change. She rejects any facile connection of Christianity with cultural change, and points out that the survival of classical education, literature, philosophy, and culture depended more on continuities in traditional urban life than on religious preferences, whether pagan or Christian. When changes in population and settlement led to the decline of cities and their cultural structures, in east as well as west, classical civilization gradually gave way to new mentalities and cultural forms, not all of which were necessarily of Christian origin (p. 141). C. counts among these changes a greater role for religion and the miraculous in historical explanation (p. 139), a more popular culture based on hearing and seeing rather than writing (p. 138), a growing interest in personal biography (p. 145) and the literary emergence of local languages such as Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian (p. 140). Among specifically Christian changes, C. discusses the repression of pagans, Jews, Samaritans, and other minority groups by the state (p. 143), the renunciation of wealth by Christian ascetics (pp. 145-46), a greater attention to the poor (pp. 138, 146), and the entry of women into the public sphere as travelers, monastic founders, and exemplars of holiness (pp. 148-50). As elsewhere, however, C. cautions against putting too much faith in Christian representations of success, pointing to the continuation of pagan practices and the reluctance of Christians to yield control over their private and family lives to the church.

The final two chapters make use of archaeological evidence to define and explain the end of classical antiquity in the east. Chapter 7 concentrates on changes in the classical city, while Chapter 8 discusses the eastern provinces just prior to the Muslim conquests. The urban changes in which C. is primarily interested are those which occurred all over the Mediterranean littoral from the sixth century on (although examples in this chapter are largely drawn from Byzantine territory). They include the contraction of cities into well-fortified urban cores, the retreat of populations to more defensible sites, private encroachment into public spaces (amphitheaters, circuses, theaters, streets, fora), and the subdivision of great houses into smaller, poorer dwellings. C. points out that the pace of change was not uniform from one region to another and acknowledges that many local factors might have been responsible, including the threat of invasion, economic changes, the plague of 542, or the withdrawal of military resources (pp. 161-62, 164). But she is also impelled to search for underlying structural factors that could explain such widespread and similar changes. Although C. does not hold Christianity directly responsible for the decline of the classical city (p. 165), she cites as an important factor the shift of resources and responsibilities away from civil authorities, primarily a curial order already in decline, and toward the church, whose leaders were motivated by different priorities (pp. 165-70). C. argues that it was not so much that bishops and other churchmen lacked the resources to keep up the public places and cultural activities of the classical city (although they sometimes did, p. 170), as that they chose to allocate their resources toward other enterprises, such as building churches and distributing alms (p. 165). Whatever the actual causes of urban change, which are still under debate and must have varied widely by region and period, C. is clearly correct in suggesting that Christianity contributed to changing definitions of the late antique city and of civic life. But it is worth stressing that this contribution was not entirely or even predominantly economic, although it had economic consequences. Underlying the deterioration of the classical fabric of ancient cities and the creation of a Christian topography in its place was a new set of attitudes not just toward space but toward time as well. By introducing new urban holy places and festivals, Christian leaders and congregations redefined their cities according to views of their own past and eschatological future, in the process calling into question classical ideals of the city, civic life, and the public good[10]. Although they certainly helped to change their cities directly, Christian leaders may have been more successful at taking advantage of changes already in motion to implement their own ideals of Christian living and civic identity.

C. devotes the last chapter to the factors that led to the seemingly effortless conquest of Palestine, Syria, and Egypt by the Muslims in the mid-seventh century. Rightly rejecting as simplistic the explanation that the Monophysite populations of these areas welcomed the Arab conquerors out of hostility to the Chalcedonian government (pp. 176-77, 189-91), C. suggests that political, military, economic, and demographic factors were more significant. Weak frontier defences, difficulties in recruitment, the inability to pay regular troops, and the withdrawal of subsidies to Arab allies had already led to Persian invasions in the 610s and 620s. Although the emperor Heraclius retook the conquered territories by 630, many previously prosperous areas, especially in Palestine, had suffered destruction and population dispersement (pp. 187, 194). When Arab armies drove north into Palestine in the early 630s there was little to stop them (pp. 188-89, 196). Even with the Muslim conquests, C. would discount any sharp break in continuity: towns such as Scythopolis appear to have retained their Greek culture and their prosperity, and the framework of Byzantine administration was left in place (pp. 180, 188). C. places this continuity and the conquest itself in the context of the region’s complex linguistic, cultural, and religious geography. In particular, Arab peoples had long been a feature of the landscape, and were increasingly employed as federates by the Byzantine government from the fourth century (pp. 177, 1 85). This makes the Muslim victories less surprising (p. 186), and may also help to explain the continuities that followed, since the territories the Muslims invaded remained just as culturally complex as they had been under Byzantine rule. It is on a theme of change rather than decline and continuity rather than disruption that the book draws to a close, with a set of conclusions that closely echo those of LRE.

Like its companion, MWLA has a remarkably small number of editing and typesetting errors in the text. I note two different spellings of Theodahad (pp. 108, 130), and a misspelling of Pahlavi (p. 185). The endnotes and chapter bibliographies are accurate and up to date, with a wide range of references not only for students but also for their teachers, especially to recent archaeological material.

It is not difficult to predict that MWLA will soon be required in the great majority of advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate courses in late antique history, paired for now with LRE and perhaps eventually with the volume projected in the Methuen series (and presumably still planned) on the Roman empire from AD 180 to 395. What we and our students desperately need now is a comprehensive sourcebook for the history of the Mediterranean world in the fourth through early seventh centuries, something of an English equivalent to André Chastagnol’s useful Le Bas-Empire (Paris, 1969) and La Fin du monde antique (Paris, 1976). With suitable teaching materials available, including Professor Cameron’s fine textbooks, courses in late antiquity will flourish all the more, to the lasting benefit of the classics and ancient history curriculum.

[1] Newsletter of the Association of Ancient Historians, no. 62, December 1993, p. 2.

[2] For a survey up to 1980, see B. MacBain, “An Annotated Bibliography of Sources for Late Antiquity in English Translation”, Byzantine Studies/Etudes Byzantines 10 (1983), 88-109, 223-47.

[3] JRS 73 (1983), 184-90.

[4] See now T. D. Barnes, “Christians and Pagans in the Reign of Constantius”, in L’Eglise et l’empire au IVe siècle, ed. A. Dihle, Entretiens de la Fondation Hardt 34 (Geneva, 1989), 301-43, esp. 315-19 on Constantine’s appointments.

[5] On the debate over the particularity vs. the universality of patronage, see T. Johnson and C. Dandeker, “Patronage: relation and system”, in Patronage in Ancient Society, ed. A. Wallace-Hadrill (London and New York, 1989), 219-42.

[6] “The family in late antiquity: the experience of Augustine”, Past and Present 115 (1987), 3-51.

[7] For the view that these are anachronistic labels, see P. Heather, Goths and Romans, 332-489 (Oxford, 1991), 12-18.

[8] Barbarians and Bishops: Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom (Oxford, 1990), 48-85.

[9] Alan Cameron and Jacqueline Long, with Lee Sherry, Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993).

[10] Robert Markus, The End of Ancient Christianity (Cambridge, 1992).