- Motions of Late Antiquity: Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society in Honour of Peter Brown eds. by Jamie Kreiner, and Helmut Reimitz
It has been nearly fifty years since the publication of Peter Brown's trailblazing The World of Late Antiquity (1971). It is fair to say that this work — which emphasized cultural germination in a period (200–800) long remembered for decay — played an essential part in establishing late antiquity as its own unique historical epoch. Yet, late antiquity has experienced some recent growing pains. Detractors have countered Brown's more optimistic vision of the break-up of the Western Roman Empire. Establishing clear spatial and temporal boundaries for the field also continues to spark debate. Into this contested arena arrives a second festschrift for Brown. Based on a conference held at Princeton to honour Brown in 2011, the seventeen essays in this volume offer readers keen insights into an assortment of regions, time-periods, and methodological approaches.
Following an Introduction by the editors recounting Brown's vast contributions to the field, the opening chapters respond to some of the criticisms discussed above. Ian Wood maintains that late antique scholars should focus less on the 'creation' of modern Europe, and take a global approach by turning their attentions eastward to developments in Byzantium, [End Page 227] Persia and the Muslim world. Leaning heavily upon Brown's Through the Eye of the Needle, Walter Pohl downplays the economic and political ramifications of 'Rome's fall', positing instead that economic decline and social transformation in the period is better explained by shifting attitudes amongst Roman and non-Roman Christians towards wealth. In the post-imperial West, money flowed away from the secular elites and into the coffers of a Church more interested in salvation than finance.
As is to be expected in a volume dedicated to Brown, numerous contributions deal with late antique religions. Philippa Townsend uses Brown's The Body and Society as a pivot to question the standard contention that the Manichaeans' cosmological dualism was matched by their 'social dualism'. Utilizing the fifth-century Life of Hypatius by Callinicus as a window into late antique views on class, Jaclyn Maxwell scrutinizes the author's attitudes towards a wide social spectrum of guests who visited his rural monastery. Callinicus, Maxwell concludes, did not favour rich or poor, but judged people as distinct individuals. Daniel Schwartz uncovers a similarly even-handed approach in his source, the metrical homily On the Fall of Idols by Jacob of Sarug (c. 451–521). Schwartz concludes that Jacob preferred 'persuasive and moral approaches to Christianization', rather than the violent approach frequently condoned by more rigorous Christians. Volker Menz, however, focuses on the more violent Vita of the mid fifth-century presbyter and Miaphysite, Barsuma. As a member of a threatened sect, the author of the life was far less interested in presenting Barsuma as a converter of 'Jews, pagans, and Samaritans, but as someone who purified the Holy Land by eliminating his enemies' (p. 244). David Michelson resituates the Syriac writings of the late fifth-century Roman Monophysite Philoxenos of Mabbug within an older tradition of Cappadocian theologians. Ariel López applies modern knowledge about the Nile's seasonal currents and flooding patterns to shed light on the core 'truths' concerning voyages, famine and premature death to be found in late antique Egyptian hagiography.
Michael Maas turns to the complicated rivalry between two late antique agrarian empires, Byzantium and Persia. Rather than highlight discord, Maas examines instead three cases of potential collaboration. Bucking standard consensus, he takes seriously the mid sixth-century Byzantine historian Procopius's claim that the Roman emperor Arcadius (r. 395–408) had on his deathbed asked the Persian emperor Yazdgird I (r. 399–420) to act as guardian for his young son, Theodosius II (r. 408–450).
Several chapters examine the shadowy rise of post-imperial worlds in...