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Mark Humphries


The last half century has seen an explosion in the study of late antiquity, largely prompted by the influence of the works of Peter Brown. This new scholarship has characterised the period between the third and seventh centuries not as one of catastrophic collapse, but rather as one of dynamic and positive transformation. Where observers formerly had seen only a bleak picture of decline and fall, a new generation of scholars preferred to emphasise how the Roman Empire evolved into the new polities, societies, and cultures of the medieval West, Byzantium, and Islam. Yet research on the fortunes of cities in this period has provoked challenges to this increasingly accepted positive picture of late antiquity and has prompted historians to speak once more in terms that evoke Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This study surveys the nature of the current debate, examining problems associated with the sources historians use to examine late-antique urbanism, as well as the discourses and methodological approaches they have constructed from them. It aims to set out the difficulties and opportunities presented by the study of cities in late antiquity, how understanding the processes affecting them has issued challenges to the scholarly orthodoxy on late antiquity, and how the evidence suggests that this transitional period witnessed real upheaval and dislocation alongside continuity and innovation in cities around the Mediterranean.

Clarifying the Eclipse

Ascetics, Politics, and the Poetics of Power in Post-Roman Iberia

David Ungvary


This essay examines a literary exchange between the Visigothic poet-king Sisebut (612-621 AD) and his scholar-bishop Isidore of Seville following an anomalous sequence of eclipses. After Sisebut commissioned a scientific treatise from Isidore on such natural phenomena, he responded to the bishop’s prose with a short poem on lunar eclipses (De eclipsi lunae). This study interprets the exchange of texts not as a literary game, but as high-stakes political correspondence. It situates the king’s verses in an ongoing process of cultural construction in Visigothic Spain, led prominently by Isidore himself, but also tied to a rising ascetic movement. It argues that Sisebut was attuned to Isidore’s designs to manage the discourses through which Christian power was proclaimed, and shows how the king attempted to versify in accord with scientific truth so as to fit within Isidore’s ascetic intellectual program.

Holger Szesnat


This paper is a response to Alice Whealey’s proposal concerning the authorship of certain fragments traditionally assigned to Eusebius of Caesarea, arguing that they are more likely the work of his pupil, Eusebius of Emesa. The paper considers the manuscript evidence, specifically the lemmata in 1611, in relation to the internal evidence considered by Whealey.

Devin L. White


In On Prayer 1-4, Evagrius of Pontus reads the incense described in Exodus 30:34-37 as an allegorical type of the four cardinal virtues. This essay explains the logic of Evagrius’s interpretation, situating his argument in a longstanding philosophical debate about the interrelationship of the virtues. By reading the incense as virtue, Evagrius joins both Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa in interpreting Exodus as a source for virtue theory, as well as several ancient philosophers who explained the virtues and their interrelation by comparing them to physical substances combined in a mixture. Central to Evagrius’s argument is the compound ancient philosophers called a “juxtaposition” (σύνθεσις), the use of which term shows Evagrius’s knowledge of a well-attested hexaplaric variant in Exod 30:35. In sum, authorized by his text of Exodus, Evagrius suggests the virtues relate to each other in the same fashion that the ingredients of a σύνθεσις relate to each other.

Johannes van Oort

Ian N. Mills


Most scholars agree that “pagans” did not read Christian scripture. This critical consensus, however, places inordinate weight on a decontextualized quotation from Tertullian and neglects a body of evidence to the contrary. In particular, the role of books in early autobiographical conversion narratives suggests that early Christian authors and copyists could sometimes work with a reasonable expectation of pagan readership. Against traditional notions of the restricted appeal and circulation of Christian literature, pagan and Christian sources alike indicate that Christian writings found an audience among philo-barbarian thinkers and that certain Christians promoted their books in pagan circles.

Willem J. C. Blom


The reference to Christ in Tacitus’ Annales is one of the earliest references to Jesus by a non-Christian author. Although this so-called “Testimonium Taciteum” is generally accepted as authentic, arguments against the authenticity of the passage given by Richard Carrier have not yet received a thorough response. In this article, I will argue that the arguments against authenticity of the Testimonium Taciteum do not rest on solid ground, nor does the alternative interpretation of the passage by Carrier. On the other hand, it is probable that Tacitus referred in his passage to the persecution of Christians, although that persecution may have been less connected with the fire of Rome than is commonly suggested. There are also four arguments that favour the authenticity of the Testimonium.

Bradley Hald


Thucydides’ History is deeply committed to the conventional correlation in Greek thought between sight and knowledge. In the Methodology chapters (1.20-3), the histo- rian grounds his investigative project in visual metaphor: it is a work that has been construc- ted ‘out of the most manifest evidence’, which promises to reveal the ‘least visible’ but ‘truest cause’ of this war. In contrast, Thucydides is suspicious of the epistemological value of hearing, repeatedly denigrating the ‘alluring’ sounds of poetic and hearsay accounts of Greek history. In this paper, I argue that this critique extends also to other sounds in the History, and that Thucydides’ anxieties over audition are directly related to the prob- lematic relation he sees between sound, knowledge, and emotion. While visual perception provides the normative pathway to cognitive evaluation and rational emotional response, sounds have the capacity to short-circuit the evaluative process by circumventing cognition and eliciting unmediated affective responses in hearing subjects.