Approaching late antiquity

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As we approach Late Antiquity in the first decade of the twenty-first century, a number of questions arise. We must ask ourselves not simply what is it that we see – that is, what does Late Antiquity look like, how do we define it, what shape does it currently take? – but also why do we see what we see? To what degree does the way in which we approach Late Antiquity shape the picture that we receive? This leads to a deeper question: what drives us to approach Late Antiquity in the particular ways that we do? What are the historical and ideological underpinnings of the approaches that were taken in the past or that we now exploit? These last two questions are explored at length in the chapters by Papaioannou, Leyser, Vessey, Ando, Rebenich, and Brandt (and touched on in Trout, Francis, Harley, Burton, Gillett, Halsall, Drijvers, and Lim). It is on the second question (how does the way in which we approach Late Antiquity shape the picture that we receive?) and its related issues that I want to focus here. My purpose is to raise awareness of how our approach to the field is a significant factor in shaping our perception, to learn what kinds of questions to ask of what we see, and to provide some understanding of the limitations of the methodologies, approaches, and theories that we apply. In this respect, the chapter is at its heart a consciousness-raising exercise, a warning to those about to enter the world of Late Antiquity that everything may not be as it at first appears.


Centre for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

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Book Chapter

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ERA Access