Drawing a Line Under Antiquity: Archaeological and Historical Categories of Evidence in the Transition from the Ancient World to the Middle Ages
All periodization is a matter of drawing lines in the past; artificial but necessary if we are to parcel out history into manageable objects of study. Even though we know that our periodizations are artificial heuristic devices rather than substantive barriers between sections of past time, it is easy for them to become normative, whether in the courses we teach, the conferences we go to, or the books we read. Given this tendency, it is worth making the most of our periodizations and giving them some logical substance. The attempt to draw a line between Antiquity and the Middle Ages is ultimately a legacy of Renaissance humanists who believed themselves to be reviving the one while rejecting the other. Why should we perpetuate their distinction when we no longer accept the value judgment behind it? One answer might be that the categories ancient and medieval articulate a meaningful difference. After all, that the second and eighth centuries bore little resemblance to one another is not open to serious dispute. What is debatable, by contrast, is the way in which the divergences between those centuries arose. That problem is immeasurably complicated by the fact of the Roman Empire and the disappearance of its western portions. Try as we might, it has proved difficult to avoid eliding what is essentially a political problem—why the western empire ceased to function and then disappeared during the 400s—with the more encompassing problem of how, why, and when the deep structures of Antiquity, however we define them, became something new.
KeywordsArchaeological Record Archaeological Evidence Fourth Century Material Evidence Late Antiquity
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- 3.Alexander Demandt, Der Fall Roms: Die Auflösung des römischen Reiches im Urteil der Nachwelt (Munich: Beck, 1984).Google Scholar
- 4.Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)Google Scholar
- J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, The Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
- 6.G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
- 27.Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire (London: Macmillan, 2005).Google Scholar