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TitleApproaching Late Antiquity: the Transformation from Early to Late Empire
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Approaching Late Antiquity: The Transformation from Early to
Late Empire
Simon Swain and Mark Edwards

Print publication date: 2006
Print ISBN-13: 9780199297375
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: Jan-10
DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199297375.001.0001

Title Pages

APPROACHING LATE ANTIQUITY Approaching Late Antiquity

(p.iv)

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Page 22 of 40 Late Antique Art: The Problem of the Concept and the Cumulative Aesthetic
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winged victory (to the left), and conquered natives of the east offering
homage and ivory to the emperor (below). The right-hand plaque is lost.
From Constantinople. Ivory. Sixth century AD, probably from the period of
Justinian. Photograph: Louvre, Paris/Réunion des musées nationaux

Fig. 9. Central medallion of the Meleager Plate from the Sevso Treasure,
carved from a cast blank in high relief. Silver. Fourth century AD.
Photograph: courtesy of the Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton 1987
Settlement

Such silver objects and ivories, like the Rubens Vase and Lycurgus Cup,
were certainly made for the elite (in the case of the Barberini ivory almost
certainly for the court, in the case of the silverware perhaps for less elevated
but still wealthy patrons). 89 They were designed for their patrons to handle
—only in turning the Barberini diptych is its rich detail of sculpture revealed,
so that (for example) the barbarian’s head, obscured by the emperor’s
lance when seen from the front, comes into view when the spectator
turns the object and peers from the side. 90 Not only in ivory, like semi-
precious stones, an expensive medium with an aristocratic market, but
also in glass and silver (relatively cheaper materials, if not cheaper in their
craftsmanship), we have a similar gem-like focus on the exquisite miniature.

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In all these cases, the miniature may be in low or high relief (with very
different effects summoned from the same medium). Ivories may have been
coloured, 91 although the jury is still out on this question and also on the
extent of the use of colour, if the fragmentary survivals of (p.300) pigment
discovered by scientific analysis are indeed antique. 92 But like the glass
and stone vessels, they speak of an absorbed viewing, (p.301) relishing
the quality and virtuosity of craftsmanship and revelling in the miniature
elegance of supremely expensive possessions.

Fig. 10. Amphora from the Sevso Treasure with animal, Dionysiac, and
marine scenes. Hammered in relief in the repousse´ technique and partially
gilt, with solid-cast handles in the form of panthers. Silver. Fourth century
AD. Photograph: courtesy of the Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton
1987 Settlement

Turning to the monumental scale of public architecture, it is striking to find
the care and panache of the making of such luxurious one-off miniatures
lavished on large-scale and mass-produced objects like capitals. But by

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Page 35 of 36 Economic Change and the Transition to Late Antiquity
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(123) Roman lawyers show evident reluctance to cite rulings by disgraced
rulers suchas Nero and Commodus; cf. Duncan-Jones ( 1990 ) 168 n. 73 . But
that does not explain a collapse in citations half way through the reign of
Gallienus.

(124) Index to Codex Theodosianus, ed T. Mommsen, and Honore´ (1998).

(125) Sbonias ( 1999 ).

(126) In principle, one possibility need not exclude the other, because
pre-modern towns in the Mediterranean could easily be net consumers of
population (see e.g. Duncan-Jones ( 1990 ) 104, and Scheidel ( 2001 b) 28).
But for urban as well as rural shrinkage in south Etruria, see Potter ( 1979 )
143–5. And for urban shrinkage in Egypt, see n. 99 above.

(127) Thus Boak’s book on manpower decline (Boak ( 1955 )) was largely
dismissed in Finley ( 1958 ), while Gilliam’s very influential article on the
Antonine plague minimized its effects (Gilliam ( 1961 ); later contested at
length in Duncan-Jones ( 1996 )). Archaeologists confronted by Italian survey
evidence have nonetheless suggested overall depopulation (Potter, loc. cit.).

(128) Duncan-Jones ( 1996 ).

(129) Dio Cassius 75.13.2.1: Herodian 6.6.

(130) See n. 9 above.

(131) For visible shrinkage of the cultivated area of an Egyptian village in
the aftermath of plague, see Sharp ( 1999 a) 188. Jones noted the incidence
of plague in the 2nd and 3rd centuries when discussing decline in numbers
(Jones ( 1964 ) 2.1043). But his demographic inferences from the eastern
census inscriptions seem uncertain (see Duncan-Jones ( 1990 ) 207 and 199–
210).

(132) Ikeguchi calculates composite trend lines for some of the Italian survey
evidence (Ikeguchi ( 1999/2000 )).

(133) For trends in Spain see also text at n. 74 above.

(134) Notwithstanding the well known ‘taxes and trade’ arguments of
Hopkins ( 1980 ), contested in Duncan-Jones ( 1990 ) chs. 2 , 3 , and 12 .
For this debate, see now Hopkins (1995/6), Pollard ( 2000 ) 171–211, and
Duncan-Jones ( 2001 ).

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(135) For African urbanization, cf. Lasserre ( 1977 ), and Lepelley (1979/81).

(136) For these important tendencies, see Vera ( 1995 ) and Duncan-Jones (
1990 ) 140–2.

(137) See n. 8 .

(138) Cf. Duncan-Jones ( 1982 ) 375.

(139) For Asia, see n. 66 above.

(140) Cf. n. 120 above.

(141) Asia like Africa shows much reduced levels of public building in the
mid-3rd cent. (n. 66 above).

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