Classical Antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centred on the Mediterranean Sea, which begins roughly with the earliest recorded Greek poetry of Homer (7th century BC) and continues through the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th century AD). The term Late Antiquity suggests that the social and cultural priorities of Classical Antiquity endured throughout Europe into the beginning of the middle Ages (700/800 AD).
A first impression of the history of geographical thought and the expansion of knowledge through conquest and exploration tends to focus attention on the Mediterranean world. As the island of Ireland was never formally incorporated into the Roman Empire, it remained free from Roman influence and existed as a relatively isolated corner of Celtic culture.
[...] The records speak chiefly of the ravages committed by the Irish in Britain, but they were at the same time making permanent settlements on the western coast, and some of them, it seems probable, were entering the Roman service as auxiliary troops. Meanwhile, trade with Gaul and Roman Britain had brought Christians to Ireland. By 431 there were enough Christians in Ireland to justify the appointment of a bishop for them by Rome. Prudentius alludes to the success of Rome at converting the Irish to Christianity writing in Contra Orationem Symmachi: “nations that once were barbarous but had their savagery subdued and became civilised”. [...]
[...] He gives a somewhat fabulous account of Ireland 43 climate is unfavourable for the ripening of grain, but so luxuriant is the herbage, in quality both nutritious and savoury, that the cattle eat their fill in a small part of the day, and, if they were not restrained from feeding, would, by eating too long, burst”. The flora is strange, and so is the fauna. Solinus is the first to refer to the absence of snakes in Ireland 253-268 “Britain is surrounded by many important islands. [...]
[...] While the rest of the Western Roman Empire crumbled at the time of Patrick's death in 461 AD, Ireland was being enlightened by its new found faith and literacy and entered into its own ‘Golden Age'. When we come to the end of Late Antiquity, Ireland has no unendurable cold, cannibalism, sexual debauchery or absence of bees. It is clear in this extract of Bishop Donatus of Fiesole singing Ireland and the Irish's praises (9th century fruitful soil forever teems with wealth With gems her water and her air with health. [...]
[...] Ireland is smaller than Britain, but larger than those in the Mediterranean, contexts of comparison which immediately draw Ireland and the world of the Ocean towards the Mediterranean Roman world. As Clarke says (2001: 102), the notion that conquest of Ireland would help to link together the western parts of the Roman Empire Britain, Ireland and Spain brings these Oceanic lands into the embrace of Rome again, redrawing the map of the Greek geographical tradition which had placed them outside or, at least, on the edge of the world. [...]
[...] As for Solinus, he refers to the Irish as an inhospitable race who makes no distinction between right and wrong: victors in battle drink the blood of the slain and smear it on their faces. No distinction is made by them between the moral and the immoral [fas ac nefas]”. During his sojourn in Gaul Jerome had an opportunity of learning something of the Irish enemy. In his tract Adversus Jovinianum, written about 393, he asserts that he had seen Scots (Irish people) who were cannibals of particularly revolting tastes: should I speak of other peoples when I myself as a young man saw in Gaul the Scots, a British race, feeding on human flesh? [...]
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