Before "Antiquity"

Petrarch and Boccaccio

The Landscape of Ancient Rome

The Landscape of Antiquity

The Inhabitants of Antiquity






Before 'Antiquity'


Basilica of St. Peter

Basilica of St. Peter

Summaries of treatises on logic

Aristotle and Porphyry, Summaries of treatises on logic

Nuremberg Chronicle

Nuremberg Chronicle


The remains of Greek and Roman civilization did not disappear after the proclamation in Rome of the Christian faith. Most emperors, scholars, and architects of what we today call "the Middle Ages" thought of themselves as the direct descendants of their Roman counterparts. As they did not posit a radical break between the ancient and the modern, neither did they adopt a preservationist attitude toward "antiquities" in general, although certain monuments of local importance, such as the Column of Trajan, were protected by law.

Accordingly, medieval builders frequently used old materials in new buildings. The colonnade of the fourth-century Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, shown here in a 17th-century engraving, was constructed entirely out of re-used columns. It is difficult to say whether the columns of St. Peter's appeared "antique" to medieval viewers, or whether they were seamlessly integrated into their new context.

Similarly, classical texts were valued not as witnesses to a lost civilization, but for their contemporary relevance. The Latin-speaking West had lost nearly all knowledge of Greek, but texts by Greek philosophers were read in translation. In the manuscript shown here, philosophical works by Aristotle and Porphyry have been translated into Latin and condensed for the use of medieval students. The act of abridgement makes it clear that medieval scholars did not treat classical texts as sacrosanct.

Nowhere was the continuity between pre-Christian and Christian more evident than in the landscape of Rome, the capital first of the Roman Empire and then of the Latin Church. In the view of Rome from the Nuremberg Chronicle shown here, some of the local highlights, such as the Coliseum and the Column of Antoninus Pius, are given their original, "ancient" names, while the Mausoleum of Hadrian, which continued to be used, appears in its "medieval" guise as "Castel Sant' Angelo." All are, like the Tiber itself, equally marvels of Rome.


[Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections]