When does antiquity end?

This week I have been reading Ignatius Aphram Barsoum, “The scattered pearls”, which is a monster history of Syriac literature (mostly ignoring the Nestorian half) at the monster price of $100. Barsoum wrote in the 1920′s, from notes of visits that he had made to libraries around the world and in the east, and so he gives lists of manuscripts where texts can be found. He’s pretty vague, sometimes, tho, and also adds that World War 1 may have destroyed some of them.

I’ve been looking at this to see what texts are of interest now. Since I have online collections of patristic texts, this raises the question of where the cut-off is, in the east. If we draw the line ca. 640, with the Arab conquest, this is a sensible point. It also fits in with the death of Isidore of Seville in the west. But then we have writers working later who still have access to ancient sources. Jacob of Edessa, I was interested to note, wrote a Syriac translation of Eusebius of Caesarea’s “Chronicle” and extended it down to his own time. Do we exclude such texts?

On the other hand the scholiast to Dionysius Bar Salibi writing in the 13th century is routinely quoted online as a source about the origins of Christmas. We can’t really go that far, surely?

When does “antiquity” end in the east? And why?

1 Response to “When does antiquity end?”


  1. Kevin P. Edgecomb

    The usual and rather arbitrary cutoff for the “Patristic” period, which sounds pretty much like what you’re looking at, is usually the early 700s for the East, with St John of Damascus (who died by 720), even though there are still plenty of other writers afterward in both the Syrian and Byzantine spheres. I’m not exactly sure who first made this cutoff, but it’s VERY old, medieval probably, and very likely related to that alteration in the culture of the East that Islam imposed. Interesting.