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By James J. O'Donnell

The dream Alexander the good and Julius Caesar shared of uniting Europe, the Medi-terranean, and the center East in one group shuddered after which collapsed within the wars and failures of the 6th century. Historian and classicist James J. O'Donnell—who final introduced readers his masterful, aggravating, and revelatory biography of Saint Augustine—revisits this previous tale in a clean approach, bringing domestic its occasionally painful relevance to today's matters.

With unforeseen aspect and in his hauntingly vibrant kind, O'Donnell starts off at a time of obvious Roman revival and brings readers to the instant of impending cave in that simply preceded the increase of Islam. unlawful migrations of peoples, non secular wars, worldwide pandemics, and the enticements of empire: Rome's finish foreshadows today's crises and provides tricks tips to navigate them—if current leaders will heed this tale.

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Fortunately for us, Dionysius had the year wrong. Jesus was born no later than 4 BCE and perhaps as early as 8 BCE. If Dionysius had been correct, then the second millennium would have arrived between 1992 and 1996 and a generation of computer programmers would have had even less time than they did to forestall the confusion of Y2K. We hear of Dionysius’s work first in his own time in another writer’s treatise on the mechanism 44 s the ruin of the roman empire for fixing the date of Easter, and at least one seventh-century chronicler reckoned dates that way, but it was not until the eighth century that the Anglo-Saxon historian Bede employed it consistently and found a relatively wide readership.

Christian kindness for the poor made some difference in late Roman times, but the poor who benefited were usually not the most downcast—the slaves, sharecroppers, hewers of wood, and drawers of water—but people with some social standing, whom we might think of as the lower middle class. Christian love of neighbor and Christian charity were focused mainly— some scholars think exclusively—on other Christians. Soldiers were different and always had been. In classical Roman times, they could not marry or own property until they were given land at retirement—if they lived that long.

The poor, on the other hand, were many. Those with connections to the rich might derive some benefit— the well-dressed slave, for example—but might equally be abused by their overlords. By late antiquity the prevalence of slavery had subsided, but not for a particularly good reason. Great landlords didn’t need so many slaves (as southern plantation owners discovered after the Civil War) if they had tenants and sharecroppers for whom they had even less responsibility than they had for slaves. The urban poor similarly had no social safety net and were free to starve unimpeded.

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