Late Antique Society Was an Unchanging Monolith
Late antique society was not monotonously timeless and frozen. In fact it experienced change and vitality. It pulsated. Conditions varied in different regions of this large empire. Conditions in the late second and early third century were not the same as those in the fifth or sixth century, let alone those at the beginning of the seventh. External enemies changed on the empire’s European and eastern frontiers. In particular the Huns, an Altaic steppe people, altered the balance of power among tribes beyond the frontiers in eastern Europe and even on the northern frontiers of the Sasanian Empire in Iran. Sources of military recruitment for the Roman army changed; more recruitment drew on Arabs and diverse Germanic tribesmen. Coinage reforms of Emperor Constantine I in the early fourth century alleviated the disastrous challenges of the lengthy third-century monetary (coinage) crisis. New art and architectural forms developed. Political and military leadership came no longer exclusively from Italy and western European provinces. Examples of all three of the stereotypes discussed in this module, from Orientalism to the assumptions of the unchanging nature of society and rigidity of classes, are all found in a chapter in an earlier eminent work of reference by J. S. Reid, “The Reorganisation of the Empire Vol 1. Cambridge Medieval History.” [See Reid, J S. “The Reorganisation of the Empire Vol 1. Cambridge Medieval History,” 2nd. ed. 1924, pp 24-54]
“Roman commerce.” Wikipedia. Link to resource (accessed April 1, 2010)
Walter E. Kaegi
Professor of History, University of Chicago
1. Discuss what effect various external enemies on the frontier had on the Roman Empire.
2. Assess how a coinage crisis may have presented disastrous challenges requiring actions by Emperor Constantine I. How could the hardships brought about by this crisis have been alleviated?