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The End of the Past


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Table of Contents

Preface Introduction 1. A Golden Age 2. Why Not Then? 3. The Hidden Form 4. Optical Effects 5. The Rhythms of the Economy 6. Dual Equilibria 7. The Roman Miracle and Imperial Rationality 8. Nobles and Merchants 9. Slaves, Nature, Machines 10. Ancient and Modern Work: Three Philosophers 11. A Blind Alley between Economics and Politics 12. How History Works Notes Index

About the Author

Aldo Schiavone founded the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane, where he was Professor of Roman Law. He is the principal investigator of a European Research Council Project on Roman legal thought, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the author of books including The End of the Past, The Invention of Law in the West, Spartacus, What Is Progress, and Pontius Pilate.


Schiavone, a professor of Roman law at the University of Florence, addresses one of the most debated questions of European history: What brought about the collapse of ancient Graeco-Roman society? Or, as the author puts it, "What separated imperial antiquity so irremediably from European modernity?" Schiavone's analysis is very much in the mainstream of contemporary thinking on the subject (traditional explanations such as the rise of Christianity and the influx of barbarian hordes are no longer current). He argues that the seeds of the collapse can be found in the development of Roman institutions as far back as the second century B.C. These institutional flaws, combined with changes in the socioeconomic balance of the late Roman world, resulted in a cataclysmic upheaval of life in cities throughout the Roman West. Schiavone's analysis is based on a sophisticated blending of theory and empiricism, with more of the former than the latter. The difficulty with his solution, however, is that so little economic evidence survives that any conclusions must remain speculative. Deploring the increasing specialization of history, Schiavone says he has set out to write a book for both historians and a wider, nonprofessional audience. To be sure, he has taken care to translate extended citations from Greek and Latin authors, and traditional scholarly apparatus is unobtrusive, but, because of the complexity of the evidence, the book is unlikely to appeal to anyone other than scholars of the ancient and medieval world. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

In the middle of the second century A.D., the brilliance of Graeco-Roman civilization and the relative stability provided by the Pax Romana seemed to promise a benign, even glorious, future. With hindsight, we can see the ultimately fatal fissures that lay beneath the surface. In this difficult but often fascinating work, Schiavone examines the extent to which our own civilization is an heir to that glittering age. Did the long decline of the empire, which is generally assumed to have begun late in the second century, result in a permanent rupture in the thread of history? If so, does our cultural heritage own far more to the medieval world than to the classical? This is an important and complicated question, and to appreciate and comprehend Schiavone's thesis, knowledge of classical history is essential. Readers with the necessary background should find this a stimulating and provocative work. -- Jay Freeman * Booklist *
Why did the Roman Empire decline and fall instead of developing into some version of the world as we know it? This is the question Aldo Schiavone...asks, and answers, in this fascinating book... The association of work with slavery transformed the aristocratic disdain for labor into an inability even to think about improving productivity... The result, Schiavone argues in prose both readable and learned...was an institutional and intellectual gulf between the ancient and modern worlds so deep that it took a catastrophe-the fall of Rome-to pass from one to the other. -- Paul Mattick * New York Times *

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