THE LAST GOSPEL: shipwreck evidence for literacy in the ancient world

I’ve just finished reading Bryan Ward-Perkins’ excellent The Fall of Rome (Oxford University Press, 2006) in which he uses archaeological evidence to argue – very persuasively, in my view – that the end of the western Roman empire in the 5th century AD was not a period of ‘transition’ but rather one of devastation and economic collapse, in terms that Edward Gibbon would have understood almost three centuries ago when he wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon, of course, had no archaeological data at his disposal, but the number of excavations and syntheses now published has allowed historians such as Ward-Perkins to use the evidence with confidence, seeing patterns for example in pottery distribution that can be related to wider questions about the workings of the ancient economy as a whole ...


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