The World of Late Antiquity

Some books of history have been so ground breaking and influential that they demand a place in your library even if they are decades old themselves and the period has been covered more recently. Peter Brown’s ( World of Late Antiquity, published in 1971, is one such.


The period in question (AD 150-750) had long been cast as one of dark skies, of abandoned baths and central heating, of the decline and fall of Roman civilization. Instead, Brown emphasised the vibrancy and creativity of late antiquity. It was cultural rather than political history that principally interested Brown, and in particular ‘the haunting mixture of classical reticence and new religiosity’ that defined the emerging monotheisms of the age. There are certainly emperors and barbarians portrayed but Brown brings holy men to the fore. From this point of view he portrays Islam as the culmination of the age’s deepest trends. Concluding his book with the foundation of Baghdad, he cast the emergence of the Abbasid Caliphate as the clinching victory for Persian civilisation in its centuries-old battle for supremacy with Rome.


Fashions in academic history have moved on, and authors such as Peter Heather and Bryan Ward-Perkins have written accounts which emphasise material culture over intellectual history. However, Brown’s work remains a pleasure to read and I commend it to you.


There is a beautifully illustrated Thames & Hudson edition from 1989 available here


Check if this excellent new book is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at


212 pages in Thames and Hudson

Originally published 1971

ISBN  978-0500330227


Peter Brown

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