- Audio Download
- Listening Length: 31 hours and 15 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.co.uk Release Date: 19 Sept. 2012
- Language: English
- ASIN: B009D9YVAO
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
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Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD Audiobook – Unabridged
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Top customer reviews
See how Saint Augustine writes an angry letter complaining about slavers grabbing his flock and the distress of Saint Ambrosius' rich cousin who had his villa in Rome burnt down because he insulted the local plebs!
All of Peter Brown's previous works, books and articles,are magnificent, and this one is no exception. A leading scholar of Late Antiquity he writes in a way that compels reading. In this book of 806 pages no less than 107 are notes with a further 76 pages that list the cited works. Despite this, Brown's book, heavy though it is, is very hard to put down.
Using eloquent and precise prose his book begins in 350 AD. It is organised in short chapters-some only 5-10 pages. He takes as his theme wealth and expenditure and charitable giving. Brown points out that the Romans did not recognise 'the poor' as such. They distinguished citizens, rich or poor-and non-citizens. Hence Jesus was at odds with the Romans when he frequently focused on the poor.
Brown describes many classes that have been previously been ignored, for example the lower and middle classes of the towns. H
e also gives us fascinating detail about individuals such as Petronius Probus and the poet Ausonius.
Peter Brown has meticulously reconstructed the culture of late Roman society. It is unlikely to be bettered.
Readers might like to read also a new book by Geza Vermes:'Christian Beginnings:From Nazareth to Nicaea AD 30-325'. This compliments Brown's book beautifully.
The joy of reading Peter Brown is that he is a gifted storyteller, narrating history via the lives of a wide range of individuals and their writings or inscriptions (albeit mostly well-known to historians). He has a fine sense of the many layers and imperceptibility of change. His (lightly worn) scholarship is second to none.
However, he is not your man for quantitative analysis of how many people were affected in what way - and indeed there is virtually no 'data' available on which to base this sort of approach. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to read, for instance, his guess as to what rough proportion of the population in the west by (say) AD 400 and AD 600 were nominally Christian; and if a minority or majority of these truly believed. The fact that Brown does not give any sense of how broadly different segments of the population were influenced by the trends he describes must, to some extent, qualify the authoritativeness of what he has to say.
Brown is not dealing here with the religious appeal of Christianity, but I still think he unduly neglects the egalitarian, personal and millenarian aspects of Christianity, which had their part to play in changing attitudes to wealth and the poor. Equally, we might learn much by comparing what happened in the far more secure Eastern half of the empire (but that is to ask too much).
The book is convincing on the broad thrust of social (and ultimately political) change which this highly challenging and aspirational creed brought to a culture which, by the fourth century, was dull and fissiparous. He paints a vivid picture of the massive effects of rich Christian patronage and almsgiving on those at the top of society - shifting the focus of social value from the city and civic honour to the church and gifts to the poor. In truly valuing 'treasure in heaven', the commitment to the Imperial centre and to an essentially secular network of patronage was radically modified - ushering in the semi-egalitarian, great age of the Catholic Church.
This was nothing less than an imaginative revolution at least as profound as the scientific revolution of the modern era - and was the basis of the ensuing Middle Ages.
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