The Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity, under the general direction of the Council of the Humanities, was established to foster interdisciplinary discussion and cooperation among members of the University engaged in the study of the period that extends from 200 to 800 CE in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The committee includes specialists in History, Classics, Religion, and Art and Archaeology, and Near Eastern Studies with a wider representation from other fields among those related to Late Antique studies intended to provide a forum for discussion of research in progress by faculty members, students, and members of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton Theological Seminary, and visiting scholars. In addition to a program of public lectures, designed in collaboration with other departments and programs, the committee provides logistical support to the Late Antique Colloquium, an informal discussion group organized by faculty and graduate students across disciplines at Princeton. Each year the committee sponsors a symposium on a topic of broad appeal.
Princeton and the Study of the Late Antique World
Princeton's engagement with the Late Antique began with the epoch-making Princeton expedition of Howard Crosby Butler (Art and Archaeology) and William Kelly Prentice (Classics) to the Dead Cities of northern Syria in the early 20th century. It has continued with great distinction in the Departments of Classics, History, Religion, Near Eastern Studies, Art and Archaeology, and the Program in Hellenic Studies. At this moment, all of these entities enjoy the presence of scholars of international acclaim whose interests and research activities converge around the study of this period. With its vast resources (including archaeological archives, papyri, manuscripts, coins, art objects, mosaics, and the Antioch collection) in the Library and The Art Museum, Princeton University is already a distinguished center for the study of Late Antiquity. In the last twenty years or so, and thanks to the support of the Group for the Study of Late Antiquity, led by Peter R. Brown, more than 45 Princeton graduate students earned Ph.D.’s in this field and now hold academic positions around the world. The Princeton-Oxford exchange program and the newly established Princeton-Vienna-Oxford graduate student group, bring a further international dimension to the work done at Princeton in late antique studies.
The Study of Late Antiquity
The period which extends from 200 to 800 CE in Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East has come to be regarded as the birth of a new world in ancient regions. From this new birth Christianity first emerged as a dominant religion. At the same time, Judaism took on its new, rabbinic form. Last but not least, Islam appeared as a religion with deep roots in the culture and society of the late antique Middle East. The effects of these transformations were felt as far south in Africa as Ethiopia and across Eurasia to western China. Parallel to this religious creativity, the forms of secular culture changed in all areas. We owe to this period the formation of a canon of classical authors that would continue to dominate both Byzantium and the Latin West. Situated at the cross roads of Europe and the Middle East, Syriac scholars maintained an infrastructure of learning, which enabled Hellenic philosophy to pass into the Islamic world. Roman law reached its classical form in the schools of late antique Beirut. Seldom have the separate regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East been so open to each other. Seldom have ancient traditions been so thoroughly transformed and so heroically defended. Features of the modern world, that were unthinkable in the classical age before 200 CE, first make their appearance in this period.
For this reason the study of Late Antiquity has always proved a privileged meeting point for diverse disciplines and a theater for the discussion of diverse methodologies, involving intellectual outreach. It aims to set the Greco-Roman world against the wider backdrop of the cultures of Africa, of the Middle East, and of post-imperial northern Europe. It offers an understanding in depth of religions and of bodies of ideas that are still present and urgently important for millions. Altogether, the period offers a viewing point on the contemporary world based on the careful study of a time of radical transformation that extends back to the first centuries of our era.