Peter Brown bibliography

June 26 2012

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, Faber and Faber, 1967

The Rise and Function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity, The Journal of Roman Studies 61, 1971

The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750, Thames and Hudson, 1971

The Making of Late Antiquity, Carl Newell Jackson lectures, Harvard University, April 1976, Harvard University Press, 1978

The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity, Haskell Lectures, University of Chicago, April 1978, University of Chicago Press, 1981

Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity, essays, Faber and Faber, 1982

Late Antiquity in Paul Veyne, editor, A History of Private Life: 1. From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, Harvard University Press, 1987

The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Columbia University Press, 1988

Power and Persuasion: Towards a Christian Empire, Curti Lectures for 1988, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1992

Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World, Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Cambridge University, November 1993, Cambridge University Press, 1995

The Rise of Western Christendom, AD 200-1000, Blackwell, 1996

Chapters 21 and 22 in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIII, The Late Empire, A.D. 337-425, Cambridge University Press, 1998

Poverty and Leadership in the Later Roman Empire, Menahem Stern Jerusalem lectures, Jerusalem, May 2000, Brandeis University Press, 2001

A Life of Learning, Charles Homer Haskins Lecture delivered at ACLS Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, 2003, American Council of Learned Societies Occasional Paper no 55, 2003

[More in comments below.]

First editions. Some have been revised. Why nothing recent? Wikipedia: “His current research focuses on wealth and poverty in late antiquity, especially in Christian writers.”


If I had to name the greatest living historian, I’d name Brown. Possibly I am missing a better candidate. He writes about the religious transformation of Greco-Roman society. The fourth, fifth and sixth centuries are the heart of his interests, but his work isn’t just patristics. It leads us into not the beleaguered afterlife or dusty aftermath of classical civilisation, but a luminous, spacious world explored for its own sake, and full of sensual realities. His books can appeal to anyone, learned or not, but they won’t appeal to the masses. He won’t write a bestseller. Wikipedia, edited:

“Brown, who reads at least fifteen languages, established himself at the age of 32 with his biography of Augustine of Hippo. Currently, Brown is arguably [why arguably?] the most prominent historian of late antiquity. Brown has been instrumental in popularizing late antiquity, the figure of the ‘holy man’ and the study of the cult of the saints.

“In his book The World of Late Antiquity (1971), he put forward a new interpretation of the period between the third and eighth centuries CE. The traditional interpretation of this period was centered around the idea of decadence from a ‘golden age’, classical civilization, after the famous work of Edward Gibbon The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1779). On the contrary, Brown proposed to look at this period in positive terms, arguing that Late Antiquity was a period of immense cultural innovation.

“Brown was influenced in his early works by the French Annales School, and specifically the figure of Fernand Braudel. Following this school, Brown analyzed culture and religion as social phenomena and as part of a wider context of historical change and transformation. The Annales influence in Brown’s work can also be seen in his reliance on anthropology and sociology as interpretative tools for historical analysis. Specifically, Brown received the influence of contemporary Anglo-American anthropology.

“His research has been devoted chiefly to religious transformation in the late Roman world. His most celebrated early contribution on this subject concerned the figure of the ‘holy man’. According to Brown, the charismatic, Christian ascetics (holy men) were particularly prominent in the late Roman empire and the early Byzantine world as mediators between local communities and the divine. This relationship expressed the importance of patronage in the Roman social system, which was taken over by the Christian ascetics. But more importantly, Brown argues, the rise of the holy man was the result of a deeper religious change that affected not only Christianity but also other religions of the late antique period – namely the needs for a more personal access to the divine. [The word access begs some questions.]

“His views slightly shifted in the eighties. In articles and new editions Brown said that his earlier work, which had deconstructed many of the religious aspects of his field of study, needed to be reassessed. His later work shows a deeper appreciation for the specifically Christian layers of his subjects of study. His book The Body and Society (1988) offered an innovative approach to the study of early Christian practices, showing the influence of Pierre Hadot and Michel Foucault’s work on the history of sexuality.”

Brown was born into a Scots-Irish Protestant family in Dublin.

1953-56: Modern History at New College

Then Merton and All Souls

1975-78: Professor of Modern History, Royal Holloway College, University of London

1978-86: Professor of Classics and History, University of California, Berkeley

From 1986: Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, Princeton University (now Rollins Professor Emeritus)


There was a historian called Sir Samuel Dill (1844-1924) who took the fifth century seriously, but he dealt mainly with the western empire, ie Gaul and the world of Sidonius. His book was Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire, Macmillan, 1898. I enjoyed it and have it. (He went backwards in another book in 1904, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, and forwards again in a posthumous book published in 1924, Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age.) Is he viewed as a groundbreaker now? He doesn’t have a Wikipedia article. Gooch writes in History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century, Longmans, 1913 (1920 edition): “Professor Dill’s volumes on Roman Society have enriched the conception of history.” I think they did. Dill dealt with “society” in the way later historians would. Dictionary of Ulster Biography: “These books are less histories of a period than studies of the life of societies in dissolution or in spiritual crisis or decay, and reveal his moral and religious sympathies.” What does Peter Brown think about Samuel Dill? Dill was also an Irish Protestant and sometime Oxford man.

The historian who began to take Byzantium seriously in England was JB Bury (1861-1927) – whose only real pupil, Steven Runciman, died in 2000. Toynbee owed a debt to Bury. He would have had no excuse not to read Brown’s first two books, and he had rejected Gibbon’s shallow view of Christianity. But when you turn to him from Brown, you are reminded what a generalist he was much of the time, and needed to be. He was a specialist on aspects of the Greco-Roman world, but his most specialised writing is technical, its style lugubrious and pedantic. He would not have been capable, at this close range, of the supple and subtle narrations of Brown.

4 Responses to “Peter Brown bibliography”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Looking at Dill again, I’m convinced that his approach influenced Brown.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    A short-lived, rather hagiographical, blog devoted to Brown:

    It says that the only historian to have won the Nobel Prize was Mommsen in 1902. Not quite true: Russell got one for a history of philosophy, Churchill for his histories. And some economics winners have written about economic history. The problem with awarding it to a historian is: how do you select? But the prize has to come under the heading of “literature”, so that narrows the field. Brown deserves it.

  3. davidderrick Says:


    Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD, Princeton University Press, September 2012

    Oh dear, AD after the year! And from an academic publisher.

  4. […] Brown bibliography here (post and comment). For the sake of completeness, his new book […]

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