Tag Archives: byzantine art and architecture

52 books / 52 weeks – The World of Late Antiquity

Review – The World of Late Antiquity, by Peter Brown

A keeper? Definitely. Absolutely. No question.


I bought this one for the pictures. Really. I thought it was an art book – it is delightfully cluttered with pictures of all sorts of Roman and Persian and Byzantine art and architecture. I never bothered to plow through the text, because I assumed it would just be droning about ancient artistic styles.

Boy, was I wrong. Brown jams a vivid explanation of how and why the colorful people who lived in several great nations over a five hundred year period thought and lived the way they did – anyway, he squeezes a lot of history into only two hundred pages. Along the way, he never forgets to keep track of how widely different topics like war, religion, taxes, and nostalgia all played off each other. And, apparently just because the subject excites him so much he can’t help himself, he tosses off little images like the Byzantine courtier / accountant who kept pen, ink, and a night light next to his bed in case he wanted to work in the middle of the night, or the way that snobbery and self-righteousness helped to cause the barbarian conquest of Rome, or the Persian emperor who kept three empty seats below his throne “for the emperor of China, the great khagan (ruler of the nomads of central Asia), and the Roman emperor” to use when, some fine day, those rulers came to court as Persian vassals.

It’s packed with information about times and places nobody ever taught me about. It’s full of pictures. And it’s smaller than a “trade paperback” and only half an inch (or, about 1.4 cm) thick. What’s not to like?