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From the Trade Paperback edition.
If Y2K proved anticlimactic, the Y1K crisis-apocalyptic expectations surrounding the year 1000-had a lasting impact, argues this far-ranging, over-reaching history of medieval Europe. Holland (Persian Fire) surveys the two and a half centuries between the fragmenting of Charlemagne's empire and the First Crusade, visiting milestones like the Norman conquest of England along with lesser invasions, raids, feudal vendettas, kidnappings and pope vs. antipope squabbles. He discerns movement amid the tumult and slaughter, as Catholic Europe went from anxious beleaguerment by the barbarians coming from every direction to confident expansionism. Holland's thesis that it was the disappointment of millennial hopes that gave Christendom its new focus on worldly progress is weakly supported; he has a hard time showing that anyone besides churchmen thought about the approaching millennium. His greater theme is Catholicism's civilizing mission: pagan foes are converted and co-opted, a new class of marauding knights is tamed by Church peace councils, and Pope Gregory VII's defiance of Emperor Henry IV inaugurates church-state separation. Holland's colorful, energetic narrative vividly captures the medieval mindset, while conveying the dynamism that underlay a seemingly static age. Maps. (May 5)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
British historian Holland (Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Empire) has written a big, old-fashioned study of the reemergence of Europe following the disastrous collapse of the Roman Empire. He argues that expectation of Apocalypse at 1000 C.E. (or thereabouts) shaped the course of the era from Charlemagne to the start of the Crusades, i.e., roughly 800-1100 C.E. His vast setting shifts among locations as far-flung as York, Cordoba, Kiev, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. The huge cast includes all the great personalities of the time: popes and emperors, warriors and saints, including Canute, William the Conqueror, Pope Gregory VII, and Emperor Henry IV, along with many lesser prelates and warlords. To hold this diffuse story together, Holland relies with some success on lively, jokey, confident prose. His bloody saga of embryonic European states (and their alliances and conflicts with a power-hungry papacy) rather swamps any Millennial argument: Holland does not persuade the reader that concern about the End of Days played a significant role in the actions of the savage, power-hungry men who began assembling the proto-states of Germany, France, England, and Spain and launched the Crusades, the first pan-European enterprise. This book will appeal to all who enjoy a good history read.
“An entertaining account of the fraught last years of the Dark Ages.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“An enjoyable and exuberantly argued book. . . . Holland combines sound scholarly credentials with a gift for storytelling on a magisterial scale. . . . In a tightly woven and sometimes witty narrative, [Holland demonstrates] the subtle interplay of genuine religious sentiment and cynical power politics.”
“A sweeping and hugely enlightening study of Western history.”
“Prodigious. . . . A marvelous, enthralling read, [it] gives a lively sense of these turbulent centuries that were so crucial in the making of Western civilization. . . . Narrative history in the grand manner, written with the panache and confidence we associate with the great historians of the 18th and 19th centuries.”
—Daily Telegraph (London)
“A superb, fascinating and erudite medieval banquet of slaughter, sanctity and sex, filled with emperors, whores and monks.”
—Simon Sebag-Montefiore, The Evening Standard (London)
“Fresh from his triumphs in Rome and Persia, Tom Holland turns his brilliant narrative spotlight on the so-called ‘dark ages’ that followed the Western Empire’s decline. Global in reach, this book sweeps thrillingly over the troubled centuries that saw the triumph of Byzantium, the ascent of Islam—and the lingering disaster of the Crusades. . . . Unlike other blockbuster histories, this one takes as much care with beliefs as with the battles they provoked. We all live in the feverish aftermath of these events, which makes Holland’s galloping guidance all the more timely.”
—The Independent (London)
“A fast and lively lesson in that period which school so often misses out. . . . Another blockbuster.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“A tremendously good read, which will no doubt gain more accolades and many more readers.”
—The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“As a stirring, vivid and formidably learned analysis of the events surrounding the Millennium, this will hardly be equalled. Extraordinary insights and lapidary phrases abound.”
—The Independent on Sunday (London)
“It is perfectly right for Holland to claim a great deal for the 11th century, of which his book is a splendid, highly coloured canvas.”
—The Guardian (London)
“Nobody believes in the Dark Ages any more, but Holland’s brightness and clarity makes this account of the year 1000 exceptionally pleasing.”
“This was the era when dragons were still thought to stalk the Earth; when daredevil noblemen would cover their bodies in honey and allow it to be licked off by ravening bears. . . . Mightily readable—far more than the stories of Greeks and Romans, this is your history.”
—Mail on Sunday (London)
“Remarkable. . . . Both a vastly entertaining read, with grandiloquent Gibbon-like sweep, as well as deeply intelligent: it constitutes a major contribution to some of the most crucial issues of our time.”
—John Cornwell, The Tablet
“An exhilarating sweep across European history either side of the year 1000; riveting.”
“In the year 1000, Western Europe was no more than a primitive and fearful region in the shadow of Byzantium and Islam. Yet as Tom Holland demonstrates in this fascinating history it was also the crucible for the creation of the Europe we know today. From the age of Canute and William the Conqueror, Pope Gregory VII and the Vikings this vivid and bloodthirsty history is a riveting insight into what made us the people we are.”
—The Daily Mail (London)
A New Rome
But what if Caesar himself were a servant of Christ? Barely a decade after Maurice's martyrdom, and even as persecution of the Church rose to fresh heights of ferocity, the hand of God was preparing to manifest itself in a wholly unexpected way. In ad 312 a pretender to the imperial title by the name of Constantine marched from Gaul -- what is now France -- across the Alps, and on towards Rome. The odds seemed stacked against him. Not only was he heavily outnumbered, but his enemies had already taken possession of the capital. One noon, however, looking to the heavens for inspiration, Constantine saw there the blazing of a cross, visible to his whole army, and inscribed with the words, "By this sign, conquer." That night, in his tent, he was visited by Christ Himself. Again came the instruction: "By this sign, conquer." Constantine, waking at dawn, obeyed. He gave orders for the "heavenly sign of God" to be inscribed upon his soldiers' shields.14 When battle was finally joined outside Rome, Constantine was victorious. Entering the capital, he did not forget to whom he had owed his triumph. Turning his back on a whole millennium of tradition, he offered up no sacrifices to those demons whom the Caesars, in their folly and their blindness, had always worshipped as gods. Instead, the dominion of the Roman people was set upon a radically new path, one which God had clearly long been planning for it, to serve Him as the tool and agent of His grace, as an imperium christianum -- a Christian empire.
"And because Constantine made no supplications to evil spirits, but worshipped only the one true God, he enjoyed a life more favoured by marks of worldly prosperity than anyone would have dared imagine was possible."15 Certainly, it was hard for anyone to dispute that his reign had indeed been divinely blessed. In all, Constantine ruled for thirty-one years: only a decade less than the man who had first established his fiat over Rome and her empire, Caesar Augustus. It was during the reign of Augustus that Jesus had been born into the world; and now, under Constantine, so it seemed to his Christian subjects, the times were renewing themselves again. In Jerusalem, earth and rubbish were cleared from the tomb in which Christ had been laid. A Church of the Holy Sepulchre, "surpassing all the churches of the world in beauty," was raised above it, and over Golgotha, the hill of the crucifixion.16 Simultaneously, on the shores of the Bosphorus, what had formerly been the pagan city of Byzantium was redeveloped to serve the empire as a Christian capital. Constantine himself, it was said, marking out the street plan of his foundation with a spear, had been guided by the figure of Christ walking before him. Never again would pagan temples be built on Byzantine soil. No palls of smoke greasy with sacrifice would ever drift above the spreading streets. Graced with the splendid title of "the New Rome," the capital would provide the first Christian emperor with the most enduring of all his memorials. Ever after, the Romans would know it as "the City of Constantine" -- Constantinople.
A seat of empire, to be sure -- but hardly a monument to Christian humility. The leaders of the Church were unperturbed. Scarcely able as they were to credit the miracle that had transformed them so unexpectedly from a persecuted minority into an imperial elite, they raised few eyebrows at the spectacle of their emperor's magnificence. Since, as St. John had seen in his vision, the New Jerusalem would not be descending to earth until the very end of days, it struck most of them as a waste of time to preach revolution. Far more meritorious, the world's fallen state being what it was, to labour at the task of redeeming it from chaos. It was order, not egalitarianism, that the mirror of heaven showed back to earth.
What were the saints, the angels and the archangels if not the very model of a court, ranked in an exquisite hierarchy amid the pomp of the World Beyond, with Christ Himself, victorious in His great battle over death and darkness, presiding over them, and over the monarchy of the universe, in a blaze of celestial light? A Christian emperor, ruling as the sponsor and protector of the Church, could serve not merely as Christ's ally in the great war against evil, but as His representative on earth, "directing, in imitation of God Himself, the administration of this world's affairs."17 In the bejewelled and perfumed splendours of Constantinople might be glimpsed a reflection of the beauties of paradise; in the armies that marched to war against the foes of the Christian order an image of the angelic hosts. What had once been the very proofs of the empire's depravity -- its wealth, its splendour, its terrifying military might -- now seemed to mark it out as a replica of heaven.
Naturally, the Christ to whom Constantine and his successors compared themselves bore little resemblance to the Jesus who had died in excruciating and blood-streaked agony upon a rough-hewn cross. Indeed, whether in the meditations of theologians or in the mosaics of artisans, He began to resemble nothing so much as a Roman emperor. Whereas the faithful had once looked to their Messiah to sit in awful judgement over Rome, now bishops publicly implored Him to turn His "heavenly weapons" against the enemies of the empire, "so that the peace of the Church might be untroubled by storms of war."18 By the fifth Christian century, prayers such as these were turning shrill and desperate -- for increasingly, the storms of war appeared to be darkening all the world. Savages from the barbarous wilds beyond the Christian order, no longer content to respect the frontiers that had for so long been circumscribed by Roman might, were starting to sweep across the empire, threatening to despoil it of its fairest territories, and to dismember a dominion only lately consecrated to the service of God. Was this the end of days come at last? Christians might have been forgiven for thinking so. In ad 410, Rome herself was sacked, and men cried out, just as St. John had foreseen that they would, "'Alas, alas for the great city!'"19 Still waves of migrants continued to flood through the breached frontiers, into Gaul and Britain, Spain and Africa, the Balkans and Italy; and this too, it struck many, St. John had prophesied. For the end time, he had written, would see Satan gather to himself nations from the far ends of the world; and their numbers would be like "the sand of the sea."20 And their names, St. John had written, would be Gog and Magog.
1 Matthew 4.9.
2 Daniel 7.19.
3 Matthew 5.9.
4 Matthew 26.52.
5 1 Peter 5.13. The first independent allusion to Peter's presence in Rome does not date until ad 96.
6 Revelation 17.4-6.
7 Ibid., 20.2.
8 Romans 13.1.
9 2 Thessalonians 2.6.
10 Mark 13.32.
11 Revelation 21.2.
12 Christians were expelled from the army some time around 300, just before the great persecution launched by the Emperor Diocletian in 303. This has raised considerable doubts about the veracity of the story of St. Maurice, since he and his legion are supposed to have been martyred for refusing to take part in this self-same persecution. For a convincing explanation of the legend's origin, see Woods.
13 Eucherius of Lyon, 9.
14 Lactantius, 44.5.
15 Augustine, City of God, 5.25.
16 Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3.31.
17 Ibid., In Praise of the Emperor Constantine, 1.
18 "Examples of prayers for the Empire and the Emperor" (c), Folz (1969), p. 176.
19 Revelation 18.19.
20 Ibid., 20.8.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted August 3, 2009
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this history. Although I knew some of the period's highlights, Mr. Holland did an excellent job in tying together all the disparate, yet interrelated trends of that era.
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Posted October 11, 2009
I originally read The Forge of Christianity when I saw it displayed at the public library. I have a special interest in this time period and thought it might be a good read. It was not only a "good read" I learned so many things about that time period, that I wanted to buy a copy so that I could reread it and note the pages that were of particular interest, something that can't be done with a public library book.
I read Hollands other two books and I again, learned a great deal about subjects that I didn't know as much about. The author is definitely a scholar who researches his material thoroughly.
I am glad that I saw the display at the public library of The Forge of Christianity, and that I read it, and I that could buy a copy. Barnes and Nobles did not have it in stock but they quickly ordered the book for me. I suggested they get more copies of the book because I will recommend the book to friends.
Posted May 5, 2010
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Posted August 27, 2010
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Posted September 6, 2010
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Posted November 5, 2012
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Posted June 20, 2009
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