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Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation

Reexamine the period of late antiquity with an award-winning historian and explore the five momentous centuries that link the classical world with the modern.
Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 80.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid Western Civilization Course This is a 36-lecture course on the Roman Empire from the time of Constantine to the sweeping conquests of Islam. It presents a case that the Roman Empire did not *fall* in the Fifth Century but rather that it *fractured* into three parts: the Byzantine Empire in the east, Islam in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and Germanic tribes in the rest of Western Europe. Further, it shows that what is popularly called a “fall” is actually more an adaptation and transformation in the face of changing circumstances. Dr. Noble is a good lecturer, although not elite, who has several classes with The Great Courses (TGC). Although he is careful to avoid an obvious bias, it seems to me that some parts of lectures assume some measure of familiarity with Christianity. He teaches at Notre Dame, so that is probably a safe assumption in his classes but it might not be as valid for this course. Dr. Noble does a good job of integrating the contributions of women throughout the course as opposed to a separate “check-the-box” lectuer. The course guide is written in outline form. In my opinion, that makes it a little harder to follow than the paragraph format used in later course guides. There are valuable appendices including a timeline, a good glossary, biographical notes of many important persons, and a bibliography that includes a short description of what that reference communicates. The course is available in audio or DVD but not video streaming. I used the audio and I found that the visual aids were not necessary. The course was published in 2008.
Date published: 2022-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A+/ 6 Stars! The abundant information and insights presented in this excellent course impressed me very positively. Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble’s erudite delivery of his lectures pleased me as much or even more. The professor seemed to speak spontaneously, yet from such a thorough familiarity with his subject that each engaging lecture sounded like a well-crafted dramatic performance, spiced with sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing. Among his many fine analogies, my favourite was his characterization of Byzantium, the Abbasid Caliphate, and the collective group of Western European kingdoms circa the 8th century AD as sibling descendants of the Roman Empire. Having read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire long ago in my youth, and having learned subsequently of quite a few people, places, and key dates associated with the centuries called Late Antiquity, I thought Dr. Noble’s course was simply going to fill in gaps in my awareness of these so-called Dark Ages. Instead, he absolutely convinced me that they were not dark, but were just as remarkable and culturally rich as any other era. Dr. Noble expresses his historical analyses with confidence. He reports even-handedly on what was admirable and what was abhorrent about the deeds of the powerful and famous. In my estimation, he assesses political leaders, religious leaders, military leaders, economic leaders, and members of other social classes very fairly. To say that he is fair, however, does not mean that he is dispassionate. In fact, it is obvious that he cares passionately! He cares about humanity in general, and he cares about what we in the present can learn from thoughtful consideration of times past.
Date published: 2022-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging and thorough course on Late Antiquity I was only slightly familiar with this period. By the end I felt very knowledgeable about it. I enjoyed Dr. Noble's presentation style (I did the audio version). He has genuine enthusiasm for the subject matter. And it really is a fascinating narrative of vast changes but also continuity. This period in history is important but has been underappreciated in terms of its influence & importance on later times. I recommend this course heartily!
Date published: 2022-01-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from In Search of the Dark Ages I am as yet only half way through this book. Initial reactions are very favourable. I find it especially useful to read the dates of modern additions to the evidence now considered by the author. If you wish, I will give a more detailed response when i have finished.
Date published: 2021-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and informative. Very informative, provides great insight to the subject time. Bought audio version about half way through course, easy to follow the instructor. Material is presented clearly.
Date published: 2021-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding content of the lecture series I learned a lot from the lecture series. Prof. Noble’s dynamism held my attention. His mastery of the subject is impressive.
Date published: 2021-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great detail of the period I saw this course a few years ago by using a friends and wanted a copy for myself. It is not streamed.
Date published: 2021-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation This is an excellent program. Dr. Nobles is very knowledgeable and is animated in his presentation. He does not read the lecture as some of the other professors do. There is an enormous amount of information and the booklet is very helpful. I have purchased all of Dr. Nobles lectures and found them all to be outstanding.I highly recommend this program.
Date published: 2021-10-13
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Explore the five momentous centuries that link the Classical and Modern worlds in Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation. This 36-lecture course, taught by distinguished medieval historian Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, shows you how the fall of the Roman Empire gave rise to three great civilizations: Medieval Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and the Islamic Caliphate. You explore many features of the period between A.D. 253 and A.D. 750, including the development of these unique civilizations, their memorable political and religious leaders, and the fascinating experience of daily life in the late antique world. With its rich historical insights, Late Antiquity will reshape your thoughts about this underappreciated—yet vital—part of human history.


Thomas F. X. Noble

One great scholar said that history was a process of challenge and response. Surely we must ask what challenges remain.


University of Notre Dame

Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Teaching from Notre Dame. In 1999 he was awarded the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award and a David Harrison III Award for outstanding undergraduate advising, both from the University of Virginia. Professor Noble is the author, coauthor, or editor of 10 books and has published more than 40 articles, chapters, and essays. His coauthored textbook, Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, is in its 5th edition. His research has concentrated on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, focusing on the history of the city of Rome, the history of the papacy, and the age of Charlemagne.

By This Professor

The World of Late Antiquity

01: The World of Late Antiquity

Learn why the idea of "late antiquity" better reflects the period from the 3rd to the 8th centuries than the traditional view that Rome had a "decline and fall."

33 min
The Crisis of the 3rd Century

02: The Crisis of the 3rd Century

In this lecture you turn to the crisis of the 3rd century, when Rome found its frontiers threatened on several fronts. Armies made and unmade emperors with alarming regularity. The literature of the period also reveals unmistakable feelings of despair and uncertainty.

30 min
The New Empire of Diocletian

03: The New Empire of Diocletian

No one could have predicted that Rome was about to raise up two of its greatest rulers: Diocletian and Constantine. You learn how Diocletian instituted a series of reforms that divided the empire into east and west while also launching the last and fiercest persecution of Christians.

30 min
Constantine's Roman Revolution

04: Constantine's Roman Revolution

Turning to Constantine, you see how he extended Diocletian's reforms. Among them, he gave the empire a new capital at Byzantium, which he renamed Constantinople after himself. He also took the surprising step of legalizing Christianity.

31 min
The House of Constantine, 337–363

05: The House of Constantine, 337–363

Constantine's dynasty lasted through his sons and his nephew Julian, who continued the path of reform. You examine administrative, foreign policy, economic, and religious challenges during this period. In religion, Julian attempted to restore the pagan cults.

31 min
The End of a Unified Empire

06: The End of a Unified Empire

In the five decades after Julian's death in 363, the Roman Empire lurched from crisis to crisis. But it also raised up one of late antiquity's greatest rulers in Theodosius, who dealt with the Goths and the Persians and made Catholicism Rome's state religion.

31 min
Ruling the Roman Empire—The Imperial Center

07: Ruling the Roman Empire—The Imperial Center

This lecture looks at the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the emperors, together with the basic ideas that sustained the imperial regime. Also examined are the people who advised the emperor and the nature of the offices they held.

30 min
Ruling the Roman Empire—The Provinces

08: Ruling the Roman Empire—The Provinces

You turn here to the vast administrative hierarchy by which Rome accomplished the task of managing a state that extended from the north of Britain to Mesopotamia. Concluding reflections examine how effective Rome's government actually was.

31 min
The Barbarians—Ethnicity and Identity

09: The Barbarians—Ethnicity and Identity

The barbarians were continually changing groups of peoples who defy the popular view that they were ethnically distinct tribes that invaded the empire in a coordinated fashion. This lectures asks: Who were they? What were their relations with Rome? And how do we know about them?

31 min
Rome and the Barbarians

10: Rome and the Barbarians

You take the Visigoths as a case study of barbarian interactions with the Roman Empire. The Visigoths under Alaric famously sacked the city of Rome in 410, but this was neither an invasion nor a catastrophe to the city. Around 418 they settled in Gaul under an imperial treaty.

30 min
Barbarian Kingdoms—Gaul

11: Barbarian Kingdoms—Gaul

In addition to the Visigoths, the Burgundians and the Franks also erected kingdoms in Gaul. As the 5th century unfolded, the Franks overwhelmed the Visigoths and the Burgundians, creating the most successful and long-lived of the barbarian kingdoms.

30 min
Barbarian Kingdoms—Spain and North Africa

12: Barbarian Kingdoms—Spain and North Africa

You examine the shifting fortunes of the barbarian kingdoms and their continuing relations with Rome. In 406 the Alans, Sueves, and Vandals crossed the Rhine, initiating a sequence of events that would eventually establish the Visigoths in Spain and the Vandals in North Africa.

30 min
Barbarian Kingdoms—Italy

13: Barbarian Kingdoms—Italy

Sent to Italy by Constantinople to restore order, the Ostrogoths created a remarkable kingdom under Theodoric. In the turmoil after Theodoric's death, the emperor Justinian invaded Italy, launching the devastating Gothic Wars. Eventually defeated, the Ostrogoths were supplanted by the Lombards.

31 min
The Eastern Empire in the 5th Century

14: The Eastern Empire in the 5th Century

This lecture steps back to survey the Eastern Roman Empire when the Western empire was embroiled in barbarian kingdoms. The long reign of Theodosius II (401-450) saw a great codification of Roman law, military successes in the Balkans, and continuing religious strife.

30 min
The End of the Western Empire

15: The End of the Western Empire

You come to the event notoriously known as "the fall of the Roman Empire" meaning the empire in the West. In 476 the barbarian general Odovacer overthrew the last of the Western emperors, Romulus Augustulus, inauspiciously named for two of Rome's greatest leaders.

30 min
The Age of Justinian, 527–565

16: The Age of Justinian, 527–565

While Roman rule would never be restored in the West, the East raised up an exceptional ruler, Justinian, one of Rome's greatest emperors. His many reforms include the Corpus Iuris Civilis, perhaps the most influential collection of law ever assembled.

30 min
The Christianization of the Roman World

17: The Christianization of the Roman World

How did an obscure religious sect eventually take over the Roman world? Christianity had two things that no pagan cult ever possessed: a recognized body of authoritative texts, and an increasingly sophisticated administrative system that gradually reached across the empire.

31 min
Christianity and the Roman State

18: Christianity and the Roman State

You examine how the Roman state shifted from persecution to tolerance to promotion of Christianity. Several key pieces of legislation built the church into the public and private life of the empire. Christianity and the Roman state each benefited, with Christianity benefiting more.

31 min
The Rise of the Roman Church

19: The Rise of the Roman Church

It was by no means foreordained that the bishop of Rome, eventually to be called the pope, would achieve preeminence in the church. This lecture looks at how the bishops of Rome exercised their office and interacted with other church leaders. You also survey some significant early popes.

31 min
The Call of the Desert—Monasticism

20: The Call of the Desert—Monasticism

The emergence of Christian monasticism in Egypt is one of late antiquity's most dynamic and characteristic achievements. Instead of engaging the world, as the church and its leaders did, monks fled normal society. This lecture focuses on the Desert Fathers and their first followers.

30 min
Monasticism-Solitaries and Communities

21: Monasticism-Solitaries and Communities

Within a century of monasticism's origins, monks and nuns could be found in large numbers in every corner of the Roman Empire. This lecture explores how and why the monastic movement spread. In the East the more solitary form of monasticism prevailed, whereas in the West the communal form triumphed.

31 min
The Church Fathers—Talking About God

22: The Church Fathers—Talking About God

The writings of the church fathers represent the last great age of ancient literature. Among the Greek fathers, this lecture focuses on Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus and looks at how they helped create a vocabulary and structures of thought for the Christian faith.

30 min
Patristic Portraits

23: Patristic Portraits

Augustine was the most prolific author in ancient Latin letters, pagan or Christian. In his long and colorful life he became one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Christianity. In addition to discussing Augustine, this lecture considers Origen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Jerome.

30 min

24: "What Has Athens to Do with Jerusalem?"

Tertullian asked, "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" meaning, why should Christians concern themselves with classical culture? You see how Christian writers adapted classical models in genres from philosophy to poetry to history. You also study the changing educational system in late antiquity.

31 min
Graven Images—Christianity's Visual Arts

25: Graven Images—Christianity's Visual Arts

Given the Old Testament prohibition against graven images, it was by no means certain that Christianity would develop visual arts. After Christianity gained legal status in the empire, the arts exploded in a dazzling array of frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures.

31 min
The Universal in the Local—Cities

26: The Universal in the Local—Cities

Cities were culturally dominant in late antiquity. At the same time, only 10% to 15% of people lived in urban areas. This lecture examines the nature of cities (large and small, central and remote) using careful reading of the evidence to extract information such as population numbers.

31 min
Rome and Constantinople

27: Rome and Constantinople

You explore late antiquity's greatest cities, Rome and Constantinople, studying population, occupations, cultural attainments, and major buildings. During this time, Rome faced challenge, shrinkage, and decay, while Constantinople was a great city just coming into being.

30 min
Visigothic Spain and Merovingian Gaul

28: Visigothic Spain and Merovingian Gaul

You turn to Visigothic Spain and Merovingian Gaul. The Franks in Gaul and the Visigoths in Spain were the most successful of the early barbarian kingdoms. While the Visigoths eventually lost Spain to Berber and Arab invaders in 711, the Franks flourished under the Merovingian dynasty

31 min
Celt and Saxon in the British Isles

29: Celt and Saxon in the British Isles

Moving to the edge of the late antique world, you examine the British Isles, which provide a fascinating example of how peoples who were little if at all influenced by the Romans were drawn into the orbit of European civilization by the Catholic Church.

31 min
The Birth of Byzantium

30: The Birth of Byzantium

You shift to the part of the empire that lasted until 1453 - the Eastern Roman Empire. Eventually it became a distinctive regime that historians call the Byzantine Empire, developing a separate foreign policy from the West and evolving into its own form of Christianity: Greek Orthodoxy.

30 min
Byzantium—Crisis and Recovery

31: Byzantium—Crisis and Recovery

In the early 8th century, Byzantium appeared headed toward the same fate as the Western Roman Empire. But it was saved by a new dynasty of rulers, including Leo III, who instigated iconoclasm - the rejection of religious imagery. The end of the century saw the reign of the remarkable empress Irene.

31 min
Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

32: Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

The rise of Islam is the most surprising development of late antiquity. You begin with a survey of pre-Islamic Arabia. Then you turn to Muhammad and his essential teachings, concluding with a look at the situation in the Arabian peninsula on Muhammad's death in 632.

30 min
The Rise of the Caliphate

33: The Rise of the Caliphate

After Muhammad's death, his associates fashioned a military machine that swept from Arabia to North Africa. By the early 8th century, parts of Persia and central Asia had also been overrun. This lecture concludes with a look at some of the early caliphs, the leaders considered to be Muhammad's successors.

31 min
Material Life in Late Antiquity

34: Material Life in Late Antiquity

How was wealth generated in the Roman imperial and post-imperial worlds? How was that wealth distributed through society? The most revealing aspect of material conditions in late antiquity is the vast disparity of incomes between the wealthy and the ordinary citizens of the Roman world.

30 min
The Social World of Late Antiquity

35: The Social World of Late Antiquity

This lecture looks at social conditions in the regions ruled by the Romans, the barbarian kingdoms, Byzantium, and the Caliphate. The all-pervasive feature of society that was most pronounced and likely to seem strangest to modern observers centered on entrenched ideas of hierarchy.

32 min
What Happened, and Why Does It Matter?

36: What Happened, and Why Does It Matter?

At the end of the 8th century, how would the rulers of Byzantium, the Frankish Empire, and the Caliphate have looked back on the world of Diocletian, 500 years earlier? The answer says much about the remarkable transformations of late antiquity. You conclude with reflections on what makes this historical period distinct.

31 min