Book reviews / Fiction / History

Book review: Millennium

After reading Viking Britain, I wanted to pick up more books around historical periods where my knowledge is on the hazy side. Millennium by Tom Holland fit that bill, which focuses around the first millennium. It was a pretty good read, though I think I preferred the style of Viking Britain, which was a little shorter on ruminating on what people of the time, or key figures may have thought. I must confess, I did gloss over some of those passages more than once. Given that some of them had visions of the Cross in the Sky or thought they saw angels, I doubt we can really place ourselves in their shoes.

The central arc of the story is about the millennium and the fears / expectation of the second coming of Christ, even though official doctrine (from Augustine) said that it couldn’t be predicated. I do love that there’s this long history of people trying to predict the second coming, and how many times that fails (obviously). I remember in my classes on the Reformation how various kings / emperors were implicated as the anti-christ. It was a good enough hook, though there were sections of the book where that through line wasn’t really present, and so those sections (I think chapter 3) which felt a bit unmoored and disjointed

What was interesting was all the interesting figures who dominated imperial and religious politics, with the ebb and flow of who had power at what time. I really enjoyed all the Henries and Ottos and various others who drifted in and out of the narrative, with their personalities and ambitions described in an interesting and accessible way. However, even though there was this tension around the millennium, I didn’t get a sense of how palpable it was to every day folk. I wondered if it was as heightened as the reformation, where there was SO MUCH discussion, portents and anti-christs about, or if it just wasn’t part of the story Holland wanted to tell.

I also just love how many times there were multiple-popes. Just so often, more so than I thought.

Now I want to read more about the Normans! I had familiarity with them because of 1066 and general English history, but had no idea that they were running about Italy and Byzantium! I also want to pick up the story from 1100 to the renaissance as it starts to get into my area of knowledge a bit more, but still it’s worth a refresh. I also saw another history of the 30 Years War which I want.

Importantly, I found interesting places to go visit, whenever we get to Europe again. Though I am sad that Canossa no longer exists (except as ruins), which was the place where Henry III was un ex-communicated by Pope Gregory VII (the first time anyway….) and where the book starts. But also places the Monastery at Cluny, Madinat al-Zahra and the Cathedral at Gniezno.

It was also nice that some women were featured, though some interesting things were just glossed over like a council of women regents (?!?), which I’d loved to know more about. Anyway, it was pretty interesting, though you may find the chapters a slog (they were very long!)

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