Choice Reviews, April 2000, 37-4201

Late antiquity: a guide to the postclassical worlded. by G.W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar Belknap, Harvard, 1999.

The editors (all at Princeton) of this handsome and inviting volume have each helped kindle the recent explosion in postclassical studies with important contributions on the creeds and cultures of the first millennium CE. Late Antiquity offers casual browsers and learned specialists alike a unique introduction to and summation of current scholarship on the period that has for too long been held as "the unraveling of a once glorious ... civilization" or "a violent and hurried prelude to better things." Covering the period 250-800, Late Antiquity begins with 11 thematic essays (e.g., "Barbarians and Ethnicity," by Patrick J. Geary; "Religious Communities," by Garth Fowden). The encyclopedia proper follows, with approximately 500 signed entries on places, people, and topics, most ending with a brief bibliography. Special efforts to cover Jewish, Islamic, Sassanian, and other traditions less familiar than the early history of the Christian church result in a multicultural feast, covering not only the expected but also a fascinating array of items concerned with the social fabric and customs of the late antique period. One can find "oceans" and "olives" as well as "Ostrogoths," "bathing," "belts," and "Boethius." A subject index concludes the volume. The editors acknowledge that their aim is not comprehensiveness and that much of the material they cover is available in greater depth in such recent works as Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. by Everett Ferguson (2nd ed., CH Sep'97), The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. by Alexander P. Kazhdan et al. (CH Oct'91), Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. by Angelo Do Berardino (CH Sep'92), or in reference classics like The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed., CH May'97) or Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. by F.L. Cross (3rd ed., CH Nov'97); but none provides the scope or sparkling prose of Late Antiquity. Highly recommended. -- B. Juhl, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville