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Urban Centers and Rural Contexts in Late Antiquity.

Urban Centers and Rural Contexts in Late Antiquity. Edited by Thomas S. Burns and John W. Eadie. (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2001. Pp. xxvii, 379. $35.95.)

This volume contains a selection of papers presented at the third biennial Late Antiquity Conference ("Shifting Frontiers") in 1999. The eighteen papers follow an introduction: six on urban centers (Rome, Autun, Alexandria, Beirut, Caesarea Maritima, and Petra); seven on town and country (Gaul, Spain, middle Danube, Rhine, lower Danube, Arabia, and Cyprus); and five on Christianization (Augustine, Africa, Anatolia, Spain, and Syria).

As one would expect from a conference volume, it is a mixed bag. There is a greater weight toward material culture than in previous conferences (cf. the first published proceedings, Mathisen and Sivan, eds., Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity). In this volume, only the papers by John Drinkwater and Geza Alfoldy on aristocratic values, and Gillian Clark on Augustine's sermons, could really be described as text-based. This is a good thing. Many papers, like that by Kim Bowes on Prisicillianism or Kenneth Harl on the Anatolian religion, are problem-driven, using both texts and material culture to address issues. This is particularly true with papers on the Christianization of the countryside, where an interdisciplinary approach is almost taken for granted. The geographical spread covers most of the late Roman Empire, evenly split between East and West, though Britain and Greece are missing, and Egypt and Italy are represented only by Alexandria and Rome. There is no coverage of areas outside the empire, and the late antiquity here is that of the Roman imperial state. The range of questions posed is wide, from Joseph Patrich's excellent summary of work at Caesarea to Florin Curta's confident analysis of the rural Balkans in the sixth century.

Several papers complement others well: for example, David Graf on Arabia and Zbigniew Fiema on Petra, or Bowes and Michael Kulikowski on the Spanish countryside, and David Riggs and Clark on the North African countryside. There is occasional discussion of similar themes, for example, Christopher Haas on Alexandria and Patrich on Caesarea, both of whom suggest rapid change with the Arab invasions of the seventh century, though Fiema is, with good reason, less certain about this (58, 97, 120-23). The lack of cross-referencing or index, however, means that this sort of interplay can only be created by reading all the papers.

This volume would be suitable for undergraduate classes in late antique archaeology or history. As a set of comments on the state of research, it is useful. However, the collection fails to achieve anything greater than this series of snapshots. Though the editors provide a general introduction, the volume would benefit from a heavyweight introduction and/or conclusion emphasizing common themes. The omission of an index is unfortunate. Nonetheless, the editors and press should be congratulated on a reasonably priced, swiftly and well-produced volume (though Harl's paper seems not to have been proofread and Curta's maps are almost illegible) that will be a useful contribution to the debate about the nature of the late antique world.

Hugh Elton

Florida International University

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Author:Elton, Hugh
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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