History and Geography in Late Antiquity (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series)

History and Geography in Late Antiquity (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series)

A. H. Merrills

Language: English

Pages: 408

ISBN: 052107598X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The civilized world witnessed massive political, social and religious change from the fifth century to the eighth century. Geographical and historical thought, long rooted to Roman ideologies, had to adopt new perspectives of late antiquity. Taking their lead from Orosius in the early fifth century, Latin historians turned increasingly to geographical description, as well as historical narrative, to examine the world around them. This book explores the interdependence of geographical and historical modes of expression in four of the most important writers of the period: Orosius, Jordanes, Isidore of Seville and the Venerable Bede.

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introduction as a whole reveals the skill and determination with which the sixth-century writer defended his thesis. Upon close analysis, it seems probable that the geographical passage with which the Getica opens was composed as a coherent whole. Individual elements may have been appropriated from Cassiodorus’ lost Historia Gothorum, but the consistency of source use, authorial intervention and rhetorical structure argues strongly that the form in which they survive was largely the product of

in making such an assumption. Hispania meant different things to the writer in different contexts, and could include regions both beyond the Strait of Gibraltar and beyond the Pyrenees.32 By employing obviously literary language within his introduction, therefore, and by omitting any definition of his terminology, Isidore actually created something rather more nebulous than has frequently been assumed. Isidore’s ethnographic assumptions, like his geographical perspective, are also more complex

have alienated a patron more interested in a rejection of mundane matters, in favour of higher goals. If Augustine turned his back on the innovative philosophy of the Spanish presbyter, however, the same was certainly not true of generations of historians in the Latin west. Orosius essentially created an image of a universal Christian world, reclaimed from secular Rome and bound tightly to the undulations of human history. It was a model that was to resurface consistently in the centuries that

Marin (1971), who argues that Jordanes’ presentation of Scandza was utopian. On this confusion, cf. Mommsen (1882), pp. XXX–XXXI. 139 Jordanes of Jordanes’ later work considerably. Its author is extensively praised and is explicitly cited on a number of occasions. It seems likely, therefore, that the prominence of Cassius Dio within the geographical introduction was at least partially the result of a confusion of the two writers. The material on Britannia that is taken from Cassius Dio is

Christensen (2002), pp. 259–60 and the bibliography therein. 146 Scandza variously identified, with Lake Ladoga, to the north-east of modern St Petersburg, gaining the greatest number of adherents.201 Inevitably, this discussion has had at its heart a dispute over the trustworthiness of Jordanes’ Scandinavian geography, and hence his account of the ethnography of the region in the sixth century. More significant for the purposes of the present study is the observation that the quadripartite

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