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Thursday, October 15, 2015
Late Antiquity for Pirennistes
As best I can tell, "late antiquity" implies a period after the best Latin and Greek literature, and before the era of knights and castles. I also recognise a Dark Age with minimal literacy, mass ignorance and helplessness before barbarians - the last of which problems, those knights and castles solved. So, I ask - what's the difference?
Back in 2006 I had a simple answer to that: there wasn't one, look at what a hellhole seventh-century France became, and for evidence read Ward-Perkins. I've read some more in the past nine years, not least Tannous's thesis. So, I'll try again here.
I admit some biases. I am generically "British" with a quarter Ashkenazi; I also hold some university pretensions to Byzantinism. Great Britain went from Rome straight to the Dark Age, and thence to the Anglo-Saxons. As for those Saxons, and for the Irish for that matter: they started out in the Dark Age. Ashkenazim meanwhile appear to have flitted about marginal states like Khazaria and Kiev which, again, did not partake of Classical Antiquity. And "the Byzantine Dark Age" is a thing in our field, really.
This may explain why it has been so difficult, personally, to get my head around a "late antiquity". Britain didn't have a "late antiquity", and the Greeks spent 600-720 CE fighting for their lives. Saxony, Ireland, and Khazaria didn't even have an "antiquity".
I am learning that the Syriac-speaking nations, at least, very much did have a period after Rome and before Caliph al-Mutawakkil. It was a long period, and a productive one; and a period in continuity with classical-era Syria (Edessa, mainly). Even in 2006 I'd known from Ward-Perkins that Syria didn't suffer during the seventh century. So now I have to consider that "late antiquity" can apply to post-Roman nations, at least to Syria.
This makes me wonder where we can apply this to non-Syrians. I'd suggest applying it to early Merovingian France, first; Gregory of Tours seems the gold standard here. As for post-Roman Spain, they had the Visigothic Code.
So Late Antiquity in western Europe would mean at latest: sixth century for France, seventh for hinterland Spain, and for Rome the Byzantine Papacy. They don't overlap but hey, the Mediterranean is a big place. Before that, we can negotiate. After that, in each nation: the Dark Age.
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