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What makes Alexander Great? His story has captured the imagination of authors, artists, philosophers, and politicians across more than two millennia. He has provided a point of convergence for religious and spiritual thinkers, he has been co-opted as a champion for gender and sexual openness, he represents a paradigm for would-be charismatic dictators (and their opponents), he gives us scientific imperialism and justification for conquistadorial dreaming, and he exemplifies the risks of cultural appropriation. To understand why Alexander resonates so widely across so many different fields of study, interest groups, and media, is an exercise in reception. This Alexander who has captured the imagination is triumphantly equivocal and it is in the plurality of traditions through which this complexity is expressed that his enduring “greatness” lies. The imaginary quality of Alexander is unsurprising because more profoundly than for any comparable individual from classical antiquity, his history is a product of reception from the start: every encounter with Alexander the Great is part of a conversation that depends substantially on accounts and narrative evidence from long after his death, and at the least at one remove from the historians who first and contemporaneously chronicled his life and achievements.

Article

Sofie Remijsen

Whereas chariot races gained popularity in late antiquity, athletics declined. Traditional agones, such as the Olympics, disappeared in the course of the 4th and 5th centuries ce. The traditional explanation, that they were abolished by Theodosius I, is no longer widely accepted, as the imperial policy clearly remained positive towards games. Changes to the administration of the cities, which administered the funds of these games, must have had a stronger effect, as did the rise of new, and in particular Christian, values. The drive to compete in the individual competitions typical of Greek athletics can be linked to the ambition to excel that was typical of the earlier political culture, but which was increasingly perceived as a vain pursuit and replaced by an ideal of humility. Not all forms of athletics disappeared, however, as the spread of circus games created new opportunities for the demonstration of spectacular feats by athletes.

Article

Laura Mecella

Eustathius of Epiphania (modern-day Hama, Syria), late 5th–early 6th ce. He authored a lost summary of universal history in Greek, known only from Evagrius Scholasticus, John Malalas, the Suda, and Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos (14th century). It seems likely that both Evagrius and Malalas had direct access to it, while the Suda knew its existence only from Hesychius of Miletus’s Table of Eminent Writers (Onomatologos). We do not know the details of the link with Nicephorus, who quotes Eustathius in a passage concerning Theodosius II’s reign and Attila’s campaigns against the Romans (Historia ecclesiastica 14.57). A Patmos manuscript attests the existence of Eustathius’s work as late as the 13th century, so such direct access by Nicephorus cannot be ruled out.1 However, Nicephorus’s narrative is based on several different sources, and it is impossible to identify what could have been taken from Eustathius.2 Furthermore, the possibility that many fragments of John of Antioch’s Chronological History preserve a large part of Eustathius’s work has little credibility: according to this hypothesis, both John Malalas and John of Antioch would have drawn widely on Eustathius’s history, copying it extensively.

Article

John Weisweiler

The just distribution of social goods was fiercely debated in the ancient Mediterranean and the ideologies of egalitarianism and inegalitarianism developed in Rome and Athens shaped Euro-American political thought from the Enlightenment onward. By contrast, the study of actual income and wealth distributions in ancient societies is a more recent development. Only in the early 21st century have scholars begun to make systematic attempts to quantify levels of inequality in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Since we lack the documentary sources on which the study of inequality in contemporary economies is based, most of these reconstructions rely on a combination of modelling and the interpretation of isolated figures found in literary texts. This fragmentary evidence suggests that in the best-attested regions of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East inequality was considerable. In particular, the formation of large territorial states—most notably the empires of Babylon, Persia, and Rome—facilitated the concentration of wealth into fewer hands. But it is unclear whether inequality increased over time. At least, there is no unambiguous evidence that wealth and income were more unequally distributed in late antiquity than in earlier periods of Roman history.