Decimus

The End of Late Antiquity

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I've been reading quite a bit about the so-called 'Father Of Europe' Charlemagne recently, and his crowning as Imperator Augustus in Rome on Christmas Day AD 800. This is traditionally seen as the founding moment of the Holy Roman Empire (although it certainly wasn't referred to by that name in Charlemagne's time) and as a revival of the defunct Western Roman Empire. This made me think - when did the late antique period end?

Some claim that the period should end with Charlemagne becoming Emperor, while others state it ends with the death of Heraclius and the loss of much of the Eastern Roman Empire to Islam in the 7th century. Heraclius is usally seen as the dividing line between the ancient world because his reign saw Latin being dropped as the official language of the Empire for Greek, while the loss of territory to the Muslims sees the collapse of much of the classical urban civilisation that had existed in the east since's Alexander's conquests in the fourth century BC. Other scholars have suggested different events to mark the end of the period.

When would you say that this period ends and the Middle Ages proper begins? Or is the term 'late antiquity' similar to Medieval and Renaissance - in that according to some scholars the fifteenth century in Italy is the Renaissance period, while in fifteenth century Britain it's the Medieval era.

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Henri Pirenne would have argued for the 7th century and the loss of the Mediterranean Sea to Islam. Nowadays the so called Pirenne Thesis is mostly famous for being wrong, and knowledgeable scholars will tell you that his data on various details were incorrect. Some of Pirenne's data may be incorrect (we should also remember that medieval archeology was not very developed in his times) but his intuition is brilliant: the loss of the Mediterrean Sea really was a turning point in European history, way more than the so-called fall of the Empire (and it's no surprise that the biggest scientific project on the late antique and early medieval period – link in German – began with a reflection on Pirenne). That is not to say that late antiquity ends in the 7th century.

One good thing about modern historical narratives is that they don't like clear-cut lines as much as previous narratives. In lower elementary school I was taught that history is another thing than prehistory: it begins with the invention of writing and it's subsequentely divided in: Ancient Age (to 476 CE), Middle Ages (from 476 to 1492), Modern Age (from 1492 to 1789), Contemporary Age (from 1789 till present days). This is how we divide history in Italy. Now, while this may be useful for teaching kids, it hardly makes sense at all. However, it isn't just 'history for kids', as it reflects a higher historical methodology and numerous biases.

Nowadays no serious historian will argue that the Middle Ages begin in 476 (or even that the Empire 'fell' in that year). However, the moments of closure are disclaimed not only because it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moments of closure, which may be spread over time and over different phenomena with uneven chronology: more so, the moments of closure are disclaimed because the closure itself is disclaimed.

Let's see. Recent historiography has challenged some of the most significant changes that were usually argued in the transition from Antiquity to Middle Ages. Conversion to christianity, to say one, didn't happen overnight and, however, it didn't change the face of the Empire. The so-called Barbarians, to name another one, had long been in contact with Rome: they were sedentary peoples, living on the outer border of the Empire, who shared a common cultural heritage with those living within the Roman Empire (as it has been argued especially by Peter Brown). Even the issue of deurbanization has been partly reconsidered. Hence we might dismiss the idea of closure and engage with the idea of transformation. But transformation is a process, it's not an event: hence we're done with precise dates and clear-cut periodizations.

There is another thing. Also if we identify major changes in the economy – following political, military, and natural events – changes in the other spheres of life do not necessary follow. The old paradygm was so strong because it imagined numerous changes in every sphere of life: from paganism to christianity, from Roman to Germanic, from the political unity of the Empire to the 'nations'. But those changes didn't really occur. About the first one, the change from paganism to christianity was namely in the higher theology, but it was no huge change in the cultural life of the people, who retained their pagan culture in christian clothes, while christianity itself was largely a product of the hellenistic culture. The second one is even more funny: there could be no change from Roman to Germanic culture, simply because Germanic culture only exists in the historical (read: mythological) discourses of modern scholars. Finally, the transition from the Empire to the 'nations' was not such a change: first of all, there was no 'national' ideology at all (the so-called Germanic tribes were nothing like 'nations', and ethnic identities were mobile: many have written about this, especially Walter Pohl); secondly, the newbown 'States' retained much of the legal structures and political ideology of the old Empire. As it's apparent, the issue of the transition from Ancient to Middle Ages became problematic also because of the crisis of the founding concepts of the Middle Ages.

Long story short, I would say that the ex-territories of the Empire underwent a long period of transformation which lasted... long. 10th century Europe was certainly different from the 2nd century one. When did the change occur? It was spread over eight centuries.

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What do you mean?

I would rather say that the idea of a Germanic culture and ethnos is part of the myths that gave rise to the Nazi ideology, so probably I don't understand you.

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Late Antiquity seems to be a popular field in the last decade or two with Peter Heather and Bradley Ward-Perkins putting out somewhat popular works on the subject [in English].  I just reviewed the prefaces to Ch 13 and 14 of the Cambridge History of the Ancient world dealing with the 4th century onward, rather instructive but probably by necessity the timetable isn't exact for the very reasons Number Six explains.

My question is this: What is the view from Medievalists as to when their timeline begins? I suspect it's similarly 'flexible'.

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I'm not sure about Medievalists as a whole: I mostly take the pulse of Legal Historians. Unfortunately Italian Legal Historians have been mostly uninterested about the early Middle Ages for the last forty years, thus the problem doesn't concern them too much. However, in Italy, the vulgata holds that the real closure between Antiquity and Middle Ages is the Lombard invasion of 568/569. The common opinion learned to accept that the age of Odoacer and Theoderic still is profoundly Roman, while the period between the last years of Theoderic and the Lombard invasion would probably be regarded as the end of Late Antiquity in Italy.

Now, all of this is a bit problematic, because the traditional historical narrative of the Lombard history has been entangled with political and ideological issues at least since Alessandro Manzoni saw the ancient Lombards as resembling the Austrian rulers of the 19th century, while the papist historiography saw them as the Arian enemy of the Catholic Church. Those biases, together with others, still taint the understanding of our early medieval history. So, while much has been done in the rest of Europe to argue the continuity between the Roman Empire and the so-called barbarian kingdoms, not as much has been done for the Lombard Italy.

 

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"...

On Monday, November 30, 2015 3:35:10, Number Six said:

Henri Pirenne would have argued for the 7th century and the loss of the Mediterranean Sea to Islam. Nowadays the so called Pirenne Thesis is mostly famous for being wrong, and knowledgeable scholars will tell you that his data on various details were incorrect. Some of Pirenne's data may be incorrect (we should also remember that medieval archeology was not very developed in his times) but his intuition is brilliant: the loss of the Mediterrean Sea really was a turning point in European history, way more than the so-called fall of the Empire (and it's no surprise that the biggest scientific project on the late antique and early medieval period – link in German – began with a reflection on Pirenne). That is not to say that late antiquity ends in the 7th century.

One good thing about modern historical narratives is that they don't like clear-cut lines as much as previous narratives. In lower elementary school I was taught that history is another thing than prehistory: it begins with the invention of writing and it's subsequentely divided in: Ancient Age (to 476 CE), Middle Ages (from 476 to 1492), Modern Age (from 1492 to 1789), Contemporary Age (from 1789 till present days). This is how we divide history in Italy. Now, while this may be useful for teaching kids, it hardly makes sense at all. However, it isn't just 'history for kids', as it reflects a higher historical methodology and numerous biases.

Nowadays no serious historian will argue that the Middle Ages begin in 476 (or even that the Empire 'fell' in that year). However, the moments of closure are disclaimed not only because it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moments of closure, which may be spread over time and over different phenomena with uneven chronology: more so, the moments of closure are disclaimed because the closure itself is disclaimed.

Let's see. Recent historiography has challenged some of the most significant changes that were usually argued in the transition from Antiquity to Middle Ages. Conversion to christianity, to say one, didn't happen overnight and, however, it didn't change the face of the Empire. The so-called Barbarians, to name another one, had long been in contact with Rome: they were sedentary peoples, living on the outer border of the Empire, who shared a common cultural heritage with those living within the Roman Empire (as it has been argued especially by Peter Brown). Even the issue of deurbanization has been partly reconsidered. Hence we might dismiss the idea of closure and engage with the idea of transformation. But transformation is a process, it's not an event: hence we're done with precise dates and clear-cut periodizations.

There is another thing. Also if we identify major changes in the economy – following political, military, and natural events – changes in the other spheres of life do not necessary follow. The old paradygm was so strong because it imagined numerous changes in every sphere of life: from paganism to christianity, from Roman to Germanic, from the political unity of the Empire to the 'nations'. But those changes didn't really occur. About the first one, the change from paganism to christianity was namely in the higher theology, but it was no huge change in the cultural life of the people, who retained their pagan culture in christian clothes, while christianity itself was largely a product of the hellenistic culture. The second one is even more funny: there could be no change from Roman to Germanic culture, simply because Germanic culture only exists in the historical (read: mythological) discourses of modern scholars. Finally, the transition from the Empire to the 'nations' was not such a change: first of all, there was no 'national' ideology at all (the so-called Germanic tribes were nothing like 'nations', and ethnic identities were mobile: many have written about this, especially Walter Pohl); secondly, the newbown 'States' retained much of the legal structures and political ideology of the old Empire. As it's apparent, the issue of the transition from Ancient to Middle Ages became problematic also because of the crisis of the founding concepts of the Middle Ages.

Long story short, I would say that the ex-territories of the Empire underwent a long period of transformation which lasted... long. 10th century Europe was certainly different from the 2nd century one. When did the change occur? It was spread over eight centuries.

"...simply because Germanic culture only exists in the historical ( read mythological) discourses of modern scholars." I'm not an expert but I've seen archaeological and mediaeval literary evidence which contradicts that ethnocentric assumption. Much of the Nazi interpretations of that evidence, however inflated, is an attempt to free themselves from the propaganda which has been proliferated since the battles in the Teutoberger Forest, that Germans always have been and always will be barbarians. Sometimes, if you give someone no other option than to relate to you in one way, you are in fact, oppressing them.

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When I say that the Germanic culture doesn't exist, I don't mean that the Germans were uncultivated: I mean that the 'Germans' as such – as a people with identifiable culture and identity – only exist in scholarly and political discourses.

Beside that, while the 'barbarity' of Germans was alleged by some to the detriment of the German nation – for example by the discoverer of Tacitus' Germania, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who was however preoccupied with demonstrating the primacy of the Church over the Empire, by alleging that the Germans became civilized thanks to the Church – mostly it wasn't such a problem: the answers to Piccolomini already emphasized the barbarity of Germans as synonym with pristine values of freedom, honor, family, beauty, etc. This may have been the intent of Tacitus himself, as we know, and it also became the standard interpretation of German barbarity (the most notorious case is Nietzsche's 'blond beast'). While my knowledge of the topic may be limited, I can't think of significant ideological challenges to the modern Germans – so much as to provoke a reaction – on the ground that they were uncivilized barbarians. For example, while on the one hand Nietzsche considered Germany as the true and only heir of the classical world, by establishing an ideal bridge that linked Germany with Greece, on the other hand Italian intellectuals – who considered themselves as the true heirs of the classics – at least recognized that Germans were bearers of new elements and values that would eventually blend with the Roman and the Christian ones (incidentally, German, Roman and Christian are the three elements that originated the Middle Ages according with the traditional narrative: and their emphasis is so rooted in all kind of political and ideological discourses!).

When I say that the Germanic culture doesn't exist, I mean that the 'Germans' as such didn't exist, i.e. that a unitary German people is an 'invention' of various kind of scholarly and political discourses that began after Piccolomini's discovery made it possible for the people of the North to have an ancient and illustrious identity, and flourished in the late 18th and 19th century. Herder, the brothers Grimm and others were fabricating an identity that didn't exist: Nazi ideology is mostly part of the same enterprise (of course I'm not holding Herder & Co. responsible of Nazism). This is not merely my personal opinion, but rather the result of the latest studies in various fields. History, to begin with, investigated the ethnic identity of ancient Germanic peoples and argued that Germanic peoples were not even biologically German, let alone culturally (the Goths, for example, were a patchwork of different peoples and so was their culture), while the 'German' values and culture were in fact a patchwork of the values and culture of German and Roman aristocracies and military, which may comfortably fit mobile identities such as identities were in the late antiquity and early middle ages. Anthropology, on its own, has disclosed the political and ideological discourses that operated behind the scholarly fiction of Germans and how they have been developed along the centuries. Now, while those trends in history and anthropology may have their biases as well, they do certainly reflect a deeper understanding than what was held in the traditional narrative.

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On 12/2/2015, 7:07:34, Number Six said:

The common opinion learned to accept that the age of Odoacer and Theoderic still is profoundly Roman, while the period between the last years of Theoderic and the Lombard invasion would probably be regarded as the end of Late Antiquity in Italy.

 

This recalls something Peter Brown wrote where he compares Marcus Aurelius and Constantine as two emperors who summed up their eras; one profoundly in the classical tradition the other inhabiting a distinctly different world harboring among other things the expansion of Christianity as well as a different administrative and military apparatus. Of course this takes place over 100-150 years vs Theoderic and the influx of Lombards. 

Although there are strong reasons not to compartmentalize historical studies I'd like to see a narrative timeline and breakdown  for each of the following [where the transition from ancient-antiquity to early-medieval might take place]; Economic, political, military, cultural, religious, art and architectural histories, etc. The Oxford History of the Ancient World Volumes 13 and 14 seems to do this to some extent [I've only read two articles and one preface so far from Vol 13].

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On 12/2/2015, 7:07:34, Number Six said:

I'm not sure about Medievalists as a whole: I mostly take the pulse of Legal Historians. Unfortunately Italian Legal Historians have been mostly uninterested about the early Middle Ages for the last forty years, thus the problem doesn't concern them too much.

I'm trained as a lawyer [w/a history degree & interest in classical civilization] and as such I'm woefully uneducated in the history of laws outside of the Anglo-American tradition.

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On 4/12/2015, 22:38:30, Bad Admin said:

I'm trained as a lawyer [w/a history degree & interest in classical civilization] and as such I'm woefully uneducated in the history of laws outside of the Anglo-American tradition.

In Italy Legal History is part of the mandatory curriculum for our equivalent of your Bachelor and Master of Laws. Then there is also Roman Law, while the courses of Legal Philosophy are partially concerned with the history of legal thought from the Enlightenment and onwards. Sometimes also courses of Comparative Law have a highly historical approach. And of course there are also all kind of optional courses. So, basically, any Italian LL.M. is supposed to have a substantial historical education, although those courses are often done with little interest and poor results.

As the name says – in Italy we call it History of Medieval and Modern Law (ex History of Italian Law) – Legal History in Italy is concerned with the period from the fall of the of the Roman Empire (476) to the Code Napoleon (1804): basically Middle Ages (476-1492) and Modern Age (1492-1789) according with the traditional periodization. And it goes for Legal History as a University course and as a scientific field. Sometimes, in the name of clarity, students' handbooks begin with Diocletian, but research in that field is highly discouraged because it's considered the field of Romanists. Furthermore, as I said, in the last forty years Italian Legal Historians lost interest in the early Middle Ages. Actually also the 1000-1400 is partly deserted: most Legal Historians prefer to focus on the Modern Age and sometimes they do even go beyond 1804 (while devoting most of their energies to largely irrelevant episodes of local history), which is probably due to the decline in the knowledge of Latin as much as it is due to general trends in education that prefer professional usefulness over erudition.

However, all of this concers our topic: since 1. History before 476 CE is the field of Romanists and 2. Legal Historians have deserted early medieval studies for forty years, Italian Legal Historians are totally unconcerned with problems of periodization Late Antiquity. On one hand they don't dare to consider Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages as one item because it would imply trespassing into someone's else garden; on the other hand their lack of interest in the early middle ages has kept them away from the actual paradigm shift that has happened in the international scholarship of Late Antiquity.

Now, all of this may sound trivial from an American point of view: who cares if jurists do not know history very well? There are still real historians who know their shit. Unfortunately it's not like that. Traditionally, Legal Historians have been some of the prime contributors to the knowledge of ancient and early medieval history. There is no need to remind that Theodor Mommsen was primarily a jurist. In Italy, Legal Historians from the 19th and the 20th century have been the major contributors in the knowledge of early medieval history, especially because the history of Lombard kingdom aroused as many problems and emotions as I said in the previous message. Gian Piero Bognetti can still be considered one of the major contributors in the field of the Lombard history. Italian classicists and medievalists always advanced in tight dialogue with Romanists and Legal Historians. Legal History is not a secondary field, but a prime one: it can provide a deeply competent insight into the history of the human institutions, but it's not faring well – same with Roman Law in Italy, really.

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On 12/6/2015, 10:56:08, Number Six said:
On 12/6/2015, 10:56:08, Number Six said:

 

Now, all of this may sound trivial from an American point of view: who cares if jurists do not know history very well? There are still real historians who know their shit. Unfortunately it's not like that. Traditionally, Legal Historians have been some of the prime contributors to the knowledge of ancient and early medieval history. There is no need to remind that Theodor Mommsen was primarily a jurist. In Italy, Legal Historians from the 19th and the 20th century have been the major contributors in the knowledge of early medieval history, especially because the history of Lombard kingdom aroused as many problems and emotions as I said in the previous message. Gian Piero Bognetti can still be considered one of the major contributors in the field of the Lombard history. Italian classicists and medievalists always advanced in tight dialogue with Romanists and Legal Historians. Legal History is not a secondary field, but a prime one: it can provide a deeply competent insight into the history of the human institutions, but it's not faring well – same with Roman Law in Italy, really.

Unfortunately although history is vital to an understanding of American law though most legal scholars in the U.S. have somewhat poor understanding of history. For one example though it's unpopular to say this in the U.S. the American Constitution's Second amendment almost certainly never legalized arms for every adult citizen but was very specifically directed towards state militia members.

The problem here I think is that there is a division between professional historians and lawyer/scholars and often little overlap. A lawyer in the U.S. tradition already has a 4 year bachelor's degree before going to law school for a JD [juris doctor]. Seldom does a person get a JD and PhD in history, it's just too time consuming. It's impossible to have a holistic understanding of legal history without the knowledge of how Anglo-American lawyers and jurists interpret the law vs the professional historians view of history & the forces requiring the passage of certain laws. It happens but I think it could be improved.

I took a look at some free Google-books on Greek and Roman history. The English language offering are interesting; so many were written by Anglo-Americans with a legal background, it goes to show how important being fluent in Greek and Latin were for an educated man at one time. Somewhere after World War I fluency in those ancient languages as a 'marker' of an educated man declined dramatically.

Thanks for the insight into legal scholarship in Italy No 6.


I took a look at some of the free Google English language books on Roman and Greek history [all prior to 1920 or so]  and so many of them were written by trained lawyers then somewhere in the early 20th century knowledge of Latin and Greek dropped dramatically.

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9 hours ago, Bad Admin said:

I took a look at some free Google-books on Greek and Roman history. The English language offering are interesting; so many were written by Anglo-Americans with a legal background, it goes to show how important being fluent in Greek and Latin were for an educated man at one time. Somewhere after World War I fluency in those ancient languages as a 'marker' of an educated man declined dramatically.

You're right. Trained lawyers have always been great contributors to culture, probably because law studies were the natural direction for those smart, wealthy and educated men who wanted to make a career and a living; especially when, after the rise of the modern State, law studies became the way for training State officials. Goethe, just to name the most successful one in other fields, was a trained lawyer. Nowadays we have other models of intellectual, while State officials are nothing but bureaucrats.

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13 hours ago, Number Six said:

...Nowadays we have other models of intellectual, while State officials are nothing but bureaucrats.

One big exception here in the states. At the federal gov't level [especially in DC] a lot of agencies have bureaucrats with JDs working in them in non-legal avenues. For example I'd guess somewhere around 1/4 to 1/3 of State Department foreign service officers have JDs. I worked at a sub-section of the Dept of Commerce dealing with international trade and maybe 20% had JDs and we worked alongside those phds and MAs in international affairs or economics. Oddly enough a lot of finance, CEO, corporate VP and other positions have a larger % of them as well. Europe may be different in that way?

I went to law school with a high % of people with bachelor's degrees in finance, business and even engineering as well as three medical doctors. There is no doubt in my mind that there are more law students and lawyers with BAs in history here then those who chose to go into the field of history!

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On Thursday, December 3, 2015 7:56:41, Number Six said:

When I say that the Germanic culture doesn't exist, I don't mean that the Germans were uncultivated: I mean that the 'Germans' as such – as a people with identifiable culture and identity – only exist in scholarly and political discourses.

Beside that, while the 'barbarity' of Germans was alleged by some to the detriment of the German nation – for example by the discoverer of Tacitus' Germania, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who was however preoccupied with demonstrating the primacy of the Church over the Empire, by alleging that the Germans became civilized thanks to the Church – mostly it wasn't such a problem: the answers to Piccolomini already emphasized the barbarity of Germans as synonym with pristine values of freedom, honor, family, beauty, etc. This may have been the intent of Tacitus himself, as we know, and it also became the standard interpretation of German barbarity (the most notorious case is Nietzsche's 'blond beast'). While my knowledge of the topic may be limited, I can't think of significant ideological challenges to the modern Germans – so much as to provoke a reaction – on the ground that they were uncivilized barbarians. For example, while on the one hand Nietzsche considered Germany as the true and only heir of the classical world, by establishing an ideal bridge that linked Germany with Greece, on the other hand Italian intellectuals – who considered themselves as the true heirs of the classics – at least recognized that Germans were bearers of new elements and values that would eventually blend with the Roman and the Christian ones (incidentally, German, Roman and Christian are the three elements that originated the Middle Ages according with the traditional narrative: and their emphasis is so rooted in all kind of political and ideological discourses!).

When I say that the Germanic culture doesn't exist, I mean that the 'Germans' as such didn't exist, i.e. that a unitary German people is an 'invention' of various kind of scholarly and political discourses that began after Piccolomini's discovery made it possible for the people of the North to have an ancient and illustrious identity, and flourished in the late 18th and 19th century. Herder, the brothers Grimm and others were fabricating an identity that didn't exist: Nazi ideology is mostly part of the same enterprise (of course I'm not holding Herder & Co. responsible of Nazism). This is not merely my personal opinion, but rather the result of the latest studies in various fields. History, to begin with, investigated the ethnic identity of ancient Germanic peoples and argued that Germanic peoples were not even biologically German, let alone culturally (the Goths, for example, were a patchwork of different peoples and so was their culture), while the 'German' values and culture were in fact a patchwork of the values and culture of German and Roman aristocracies and military, which may comfortably fit mobile identities such as identities were in the late antiquity and early middle ages. Anthropology, on its own, has disclosed the political and ideological discourses that operated behind the scholarly fiction of Germans and how they have been developed along the centuries. Now, while those trends in history and anthropology may have their biases as well, they do certainly reflect a deeper understanding than what was held in the traditional narrative.

All of which goes to prove that it's better to say what one means, rather than italicize one's meaning.

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6 hours ago, Artimi said:

What was early antiquity and middle antiquity?

 

Classical Antiquity is a phrase often used and by that I think they usually mean early and middle but you're right in that 'late' seems to describe the post-3/4 century AD/CE. 

Now why does 'middle age' usually describe anyone between 40-65 when the average lifespan is in the mid-late 70s?!?!?!

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Well, 'early antiquity' is usually referred to as 'archaic period'. Classical antiquity is the 6th-5th century BCE for Greece, and 1st BCE - 2nd CE for Rome.

So, basicly...

 

GREECE

Before 6th century BCE: archaic period

6th-5th century BCE and a little of the 4th: classical period

4th century BCE and onwards: hellenistic period

 

ROME:

Before 3rd century BCE: archaic period

3rd-2nd century BCE: hellenization of Rome

1st BCE - half of the 2nd century: classical period

half of the 2nd century and onwards: late empire

 

If you wanna sum it up, everything between the 6th century BCE and the 2nd century CE is classic. Everything before is archaic.

Or something like that. I stand up with my point: periodizations mean nothing :P

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16 hours ago, Bad Admin said:

Now why does 'middle age' usually describe anyone between 40-65 when the average lifespan is in the mid-late 70s?!?!?!

Because of the politically correct :P

Dante begins the Divine Comedy with Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (Midway in the journey of our life) and he meant 35, according with Ps. 90:10: Dies annorum nostrorum sunt septuaginta anni aut in valentibus octoginta anni (Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures), which he quotes in another of his works.

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On Wednesday, December 9, 2015 7:13:36, Bad Admin said:

Classical Antiquity is a phrase often used and by that I think they usually mean early and middle but you're right in that 'late' seems to describe the post-3/4 century AD/CE. 

Now why does 'middle age' usually describe anyone between 40-65 when the average lifespan is in the mid-late 70s?!?!?!

Denial

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