Late Antiquity: Definition, Overview & Art

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  • 0:04 Definition
  • 0:32 Overview
  • 2:05 Art
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Moran
Late Antiquity was a time of transition, changing political climates, and shifting tastes in standards of society. This lesson will present an overview this time period, also sometimes known as the Dark Ages, and discuss how art changed during this time.


The term ''Dark Ages'' speaks of a time of unrest and collapse. This was a period in history that saw the decline in population, a slowing down of technological progress, and a worsening of living conditions throughout most of Europe. This term is not the currently accepted title for this period, however. The proper term is Late Antiquity, which lasting from about the third through the eighth century CE, brought with it a shifting of views and beliefs.


A transition from one age to another can sometimes be smooth. Late Antiquity, the period between Classical Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, however, was a frightening period of the past.

One of the key moments of Late Antiquity began with Emperor Diocletian, the ruler of Rome from 284 to 305, who brought about stabilization of the empire. His rule was a turning point for the Roman Empire, ending what's known as the ''Roman Crisis of the Third Century.'' The division of the Roman Empire into that of the eastern and western halves also began under Emperor Diocletian's rule.

Although the rule of Diocletian stabilized the eastern half of the empire, the western would soon fall to the migration of the Germanic tribes, such as the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, in the fourth century. This caused the eventual collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, and was one of the foundational building blocks for the German and Christian culture of Europe.

While the western empire fell, the eastern empire strengthened. Under the rule of Constantine, Christianity became a legal religion in the Roman Empire, and the capital of Constantinople was founded. Constantine was a pinnacle figure in the expansion and acceptance of the Christian faith through this part of the world.

One particular branch of Christianity that saw growth was Christian Monasticism, which actually began in Egypt in the third century. Originally operating outside the authority of the Church, with its widespread success by the eighth century, this became the primary Christian practice in the region.

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