The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

The Idea and Ideal of the Town between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages


This volume examines the changing perceptions and ideals of town life, from the classical civitas/polis (the lynch-pin of ancient civilisation) to the medieval city (still playing many central roles, but with less of the ideological charge characteristic of Antiquity). One central theme is the persistent shadow of the ancient city - in crumbling ancient buildings, and the survival of Roman styles of urban lay-out; and in the way that cities were depicted both visually (in persistence of often outmoded classical terms and descriptions), and verbally (in the persistence of often outmoded classical terms and descriptions). Yet the ideal of the city was also changing and developing, especially around the idea of a new, specifically Christian city, protected by its saints and by its churches.


G.P. Brogiolo and Bryan Ward-Perkins

This volume of papers is the first produced by a group set up to study towns and urbanism, within the European Science Foundation's project on the “Transformation of the Ancient World”. Our group (2b) had its origins in the bifurcation of a single original group, intended to cover together both Town and Countryside. Our purely “urban” group first met in Oxford in September 1995, where the first drafts of these published papers were presented and discussed. Revised versions were further discussed at the workshop held at Le Bischenberg in April 1996, before being submitted for publication.

Like the other groups, ours was established to study one broad theme within the remarkable history of change that occurred at the end of Late Antiquity. Again as with other groups, it has the specific additional remit of bringing together scholars from different European countries, in order to share and debate different approaches within the study of a common past.

Towns and urbanism were selected as a worthwhile sub-topic of the “Transformation of the Ancient World”, because towns have played a central role in European life and culture, and because it is well-known that the period c. 300-800 is a particularly dramatic phase in their history. in the classical period and in all centuries after around c. A.D. 700, the history of European urbanism is one of more-or-less continuous growth. But in our period, the un-doing

the work-shops held by Group 2b are organised and co-ordinated by Gian
Pietro Brogiolo; the papers for this first volume were edited for publication by Bryan

This meeting of minds has worked very well. However, the decision to pub
lish all papers in only two languages has revealed one of the obstacles in the way
of a fully unified Europe—the lack, since the decline of Latin, of a common liter
ary language. At the workshops and plenary conferences, the members of our group
have had very few problems finding a common language we can understand. But
writing, in a non-native language, prose that is sufficiently precise for publication
is a challenge beyond the capacities of almost all of us. Consequently, the work
involved in the translation and emendation of the submitted texts has been con
siderable—and we would like to thank Daron Burrows, Nancy Gauthier and Matt
Steggle for their help with this.

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