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Empires to Nation-States

Late Antiquity

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Framing the Issues

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Decline or Transformation?

Did the Roman Empire decline or was it transformed? Is the subject political and military power or cultural and religious values? Change occurred but there was no simple downward trend-line of imperial decline. The empire’s political and military power altered, but its basic institutions were sound and not in any death spiral in the east. No artistic or architectural decline took place, but in fact a new and different visuality emerged. In written culture a change from roll to codex was fundamental. Literature written in Coptic, Syriac, and Armenian for peoples of the Middle East became major vehicles of expression. No commercial decline, no decline in industries took place. The Roman Middle East was an engine of economic strength and vitality that attracted interchange with others both inside and outside of the empire. But the empire’s armies found it increasingly difficult to handle multiple threats coming from different directions.

1. “The Fall of Rome—an author dialogue.” Oxford University Press Blog. Link to resourcenew window (accessed March 4, 2010).

2. “Edward Gibbon: General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West.” From The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York. Link to resourcenew window (accessed March 5, 2010).

3. Southern, Pat. “Ancient History in depth: Third Century Crisis of the Roman Empire.” BBC History. Link to resourcenew window (accessed March 5, 2010).

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