In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman History: Late Antiquity

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Classics Roman History: Late Antiquity
Eric Rebillard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0025


Late Antiquity, here defined as the period between the accession of Diocletian in 284 CE and the end of the Roman rule in the Mediterranean, is one of the most exciting periods of ancient history. Since the 1960s its depiction as a period of decline and fall has been seriously challenged and, despite a recent controversy over its periodization, Late Antiquity is now conceived as an era of multiple transformations: political, economic, social, religious, and cultural.


The Italian historian Andrea Giardina (1999) opened the controversy by regretting an “explosion” in the study of Late Antiquity resulting from too expansive a periodization and from the prominence of cultural history. Cameron 2002 provides an interesting review of the historiography of this “long” Late Antiquity. Ward-Perkins 2005 goes further in a provocative book whose title is meant to recall Gibbon's Decline and Fall (1776–1789). The first issue of the Journal of Late Antiquity 2008 contains several papers that address this question. Straw-Lim 2004 provides a good survey of the historiographical changes since the 1960s.

  • Cameron, Averil. 2002. The “Long” Late Antiquity: A Late twentieth-century model. In Classics in progress: Essays on ancient Greece and Rome. Edited by T. P. Wiseman, 165–191. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    A critical review of the historiography.

  • Giardina, Andrea. 1999. Esplosione di tardoantico. Studi Storici 40:157–180.

    On the problems of periodization.

  • Journal of Late Antiquity 2008. 1.1.

    The first issue of the journal includes Arnaldo Marcone, “A Long Late Antiquity?: Considerations on a Controversial Periodization,” 4–19; Edward James, “The Rise and Function of the Concept Late Antiquity,” 20–30; and Clifford Ando, “Decline, Fall, and Transformation,” 31–60.

  • Straw, Carole, and Richard Lim, eds. 2004. The past before us: Emerging historiographies. Bibliothèque de l'Antiquité tardive 6. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.

    A series of contributions on how the study of Late Antiquity has been reshaped since the 1960s.

  • Ward-Perkins, Bryan. 2005. The fall of Rome and the end of civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    A provocative reassessment of the consequences of the barbarian invasions.

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