History 3019  /  8204
Late Antiquity -- The Fall of Rome


Ravenna - San Vitale, 526-547AD


        Ever since the publication in 1776 of the first volume of Edward Gibbon's monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the end of Classical Antiquity has captured the imagination of modern historians. Indeed, it may be argued that identifying the cause for the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Middle Ages has constituted the great historiographical question which has taxed the skills of outstanding European thinkers, from St. Augustine to Henri Pirenne and Peter Brown. Since there is still very little consensus as to the precise cause for the end of Antiquity, it is not surprising that the various explanations proffered illustrate the full gamut of historical interpretation: economic, military, climatic, religious, medical, social, moral, racial -- among others. Some historians dispute the very notion of a "fall" of Rome, opting instead for models of transformation and continuity. Yet others question the centrality of the this historiographical issue, since the traditional narrative betrays a triumphalistic, western European focus. Consequently, the end of the Roman empire can serve as a finely-cut prism, refracting a broad spectrum of basic questions regarding historical methodology and interpretation.

        Besides examining many of these explanatory theories, this course will look carefully at the surviving ancient source material (both written and archaeological) so that students may come to their own conclusions regarding the end of western history's most influential empire.

Web links for course texts:

Cosmas Indicopleustes ("the India-Traveler") Christian Topography

Lactantius On the Deaths of the Persecutors

Diocletian Edict on Manichaeism

Selections from Eusebius' Life of Constantine

On the finding of the True Cross,
from the Historia Ecclesiastica of Socrates Scholasticus

Symmachus and Ambrose -
     *  Paulinus: V. of Ambrose
     * For a chronology of Ambrose, Symmachus, and Augustine, plus study
on the Altar of Victory dossier, click here
     * For the dossier of letters which constitute the core of the debate
        between Symmachus and Ambrose, click here 

     * from the Codex Theodosianus - web source, click here
     * Augustine: selections from the City of God
     * The Destruction of the Serapeum, click here         

The Call of the Desert:

        The bestseller of the 4th century: Athanasius's V. of Anthony
        For study questions to the Life of Anthony, click here
        Desert Fathers & Desert Mothers
        K. Ware: "The Way of the Ascetics"

For Eugippius' Life of St. Severinus click here

Priscus of Panium's account of an embassy to Attila the Hun, click here

Exploring the World of Late Antiquity:

            A useful place to start is The Late Antiquity Research Guide at Falvey Library

External Links (*n.b. -- I cannot guarantee that any of the following are currently online.  External links often suffer unforeseen extinction.).  Voyage at your own risk!

315-325 AD - Constantine (Algérie), Musée du Louvre, N° Inv. Ma 1880

For a useful search engine in Classics, Archaeology, and Ancient History, consult TOCS-IN

Familiarize yourself with this extensive online resource: De Imperatoribus Romanis

Texts and Resource Pages (often containing extensive collections of links):

        The single best source for news in the field --  Research News in Late Antiquity:

The International Network for the Study of Late Antiquity:

Late Antique page from ORB (Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies)

My own course-page for Byzantine Civilization, with links to other resources:

A discussion of late antique sources with further links for research:

A current listing of titles in the series, Translated Texts for Historians (TTH) from Liverpool University Press:

The Cambridge Histories (including CAH2):

News links of archaeological discoveries -- updated daily! 

New publications in papyrology:

An online version of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Map Resources:

        Downloadable maps from UNC's Ancient World Mapping Center

        A great collection of World History Maps with Links to other map pages.

        Public domain maps of the Ancient World (with extra maps of the Caucasus) from The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography by S. Butler, E. Rhys, eds., (Suffolk, 1907)

        Ian Mladjov's fabulous collection of Ancient and Medieval World History Maps (University of Michigan)

Other Translated Late Antique Sources:

Translated Patristic texts (19th century Edinburgh edition usually referred to ANF, NPNF series 1 and 2):
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/, or at http://www.tertullian.org/fathers2/

A collection of translated Late Antique sources, both secular and ecclesiastical (frequently updated):

Many relevant Loeb texts and translations (Claudian, the Excerpta Valesiana, the HA, Cassius Dio, Procopius) are at:

A great collection of sources and bibliographical materials on Fourth Century Christianity:

A long-used treasure of translated source material, Henry Bettenson's The Early Christian Fathers, now online:

A collection of Passiones of late antique military martyrs:

A translated and annotated online version of the Codex Justinianus:


        Journal of Late Antiquity

        Antiquite Tardive

        Journal of Early Christian Studies

On Sassanian Persia:

        The best portal to all things Sassanian: The Sasanika: Late Antique Near East Project at UC-Irvine

          An Introduction to the Sassanian Empire from CAIS (the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies)

A brief timeline of Sassanian history may be found here:

For a very short survey of Sassanian history:

Coin portraits and regnal dates of the Sassanian shahs:

Be sure to take the full tour of the fabulous relief sculptures from Taq-e Bustan:

and finally, a photo-essay on modern Zoroastrians:



mosaic from Edessa











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