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The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World (2017)

by Catherine Nixey

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7242631,599 (3.78)15
Offers a history of the rise of Christianity in the classical world that focuses on its terrible cost, in terms of violence and dogmatic intolerance, that helped bring upon the dark ages. "A bold new history of the rise of Christianity, showing how its radical followers ravaged vast swathes of classical culture, plunging the world into an era of intellectual darkness. In Harran, the locals refused to convert. They were dismembered, their limbs hung along the town's main street. In Alexandria, zealots pulled the elderly philosopher-mathematician Hypatia from her chariot and flayed her to death with shards of broken pottery. Not long before, their fellow Christians had invaded the city's greatest temple and razed it--smashing its world-famous statues and destroying all that was left of Alexandria's Great Library. Today, we refer to Christianity's conquest of the West as a triumph. But this victory entailed an orgy of destruction in which Jesus's followers attacked and suppressed classical culture, helping to pitch Western civilization into a thousand-year-long decline. Just one percent of Latin literature would survive the purge; countless antiquities, artworks, and ancient traditions were lost forever. As Catherine Nixey reveals, evidence of early Christians' campaigns of terror has been hiding in plain sight: in the palimpsests and shattered statues proudly displayed in churches and museums the world over. In The Darkening Age, Nixey resurrects this lost history, offering a wrenching account of the rise of Christianity and its terrible cost."--Jacket.… (more)
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» See also 15 mentions

English (19)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Well-written, deeply researched and annotated, eye opening (and, in some cases, eye popping). I thought I knew a fair bit about the conversion of the Roman empire - I was mistaken. One of the best popular history books I've ever read, and certainly the most important in setting to right the historical record, obscured by a thousand years of misdirection by the victors. If you have any interest at all in European history or the history of religion, read this book. ( )
  dhaxton | Jan 8, 2024 |
The traditional view most of us learned in school is that diligent monks copying manuscripts in their monasteries helped to preserve civilization during the Dark Ages. What most of us did not learn is that early Christian zealots, starting in the 4th century, were the barbarians that destroyed so much of the civilization of the ancient world.

Catherine Nixey tells the story of how those early Christian zealots destroyed great works of art and architecture as well as countless manuscripts in ancient libraries. They also shut down the open study of philosophy and terrorized many philosophers. The most interesting chapter in the book tells about Romans that provided a detailed and educated critique of the Christian religion. The book is recommended for the new perspective it provides on early Christian history and the fall of Rome.

The book is very readable even for people not familiar with Roman history or literature. Nixey's writing style is saucy and she goes out of her way to quote the most salacious passages from Roman erotic literature. There are, however, several weaknesses in the book including a considerable number of redundancies and a tendency to jump around in time so it is difficult to put the events she describes in context. Also, because she focuses on just a limitted number of figures, I was not sure how broadly things had spread. ( )
  M_Clark | Jan 2, 2024 |
Introduced me to the topic of Christian destruction in the ancient world, a topic about which I was woefully underinformed. A lot of good primary and secondary sources were used, providing further reading on the subject if desired. The author was definitely writing a polemic, straying significantly into other eras as the book progresses. On the whole, a lot of good information that is sometimes lessened by the author's own seeming bias against more modern church practices.

Recommended to those interested in the cultural history of the late Roman / early Byzantine empires, the impact of Constantine in the empire, the transition from the ancient to the medieval world, or the influence of the Church in any of those subjects previously mentioned. ( )
  alrajul | Sep 12, 2023 |
Terrific lode of information that was all new to me, written very well and in readable form. I was shaken by this book, and am grateful to the author. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
Nixey is a journalist and not an historian and this polemic confirms that she has very little understanding of the period or the subject matter.
She has started with her conclusion and worked backwards cherry-picking sources and omitting anything that would contradict her thesis.

The idea that the early Christian Church systematically destroyed ancient knowledge is simply a myth. Christian texts considered heretical could be condemned to the flames but not works of ancient philosophy and literature. The infamous library of Alexandria was destroyed by the Roman invasion at the time of Cleopatra; what existed thereafter was not considered particularly important by the ancients themselves.

All the ancients texts we have (without exception) are the result of copying by monks and churchmen until the advent of the printing press. Outside the deserts a papyrus scroll will barely last a generation without careful preservation. There isn't a single major settlement of the ancient world which hasn't been sacked (often multiple times) over the centuries and papyrus is very flammable. Quite frankly it's astounding that so much has survived at all and for that we have the Church to thank.

Archaeology confirms that the vast majority of pagan temples were simply abandoned when the substantial funds needed for their maintenance dried up after wealthy benefactors adopted Christianity. They were then used as quarries for building material and nature took its course. ( )
  Henry.Pole-Carew | Jan 22, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Catherine Nixeyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ferriz, Ramon; GonzalezTraductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
“To T.,
for deciphering my handwriting.”
First words
Prologue
Palmyra, c. AD 385
'There is no crime for those who have Christ.'
St Shenoute

The destroyers came from out of the desert.
Introduction
Athens, AC 532
'We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?'
The 'pagan' author Symmachus

'That all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants. God commands, God proclaims!'
St Augustine

They must have been a melancholy party.
Chapter One
The Invisible Army
'Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.'
Luke 10:19

Satan knew how to tempt St Antony.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Offers a history of the rise of Christianity in the classical world that focuses on its terrible cost, in terms of violence and dogmatic intolerance, that helped bring upon the dark ages. "A bold new history of the rise of Christianity, showing how its radical followers ravaged vast swathes of classical culture, plunging the world into an era of intellectual darkness. In Harran, the locals refused to convert. They were dismembered, their limbs hung along the town's main street. In Alexandria, zealots pulled the elderly philosopher-mathematician Hypatia from her chariot and flayed her to death with shards of broken pottery. Not long before, their fellow Christians had invaded the city's greatest temple and razed it--smashing its world-famous statues and destroying all that was left of Alexandria's Great Library. Today, we refer to Christianity's conquest of the West as a triumph. But this victory entailed an orgy of destruction in which Jesus's followers attacked and suppressed classical culture, helping to pitch Western civilization into a thousand-year-long decline. Just one percent of Latin literature would survive the purge; countless antiquities, artworks, and ancient traditions were lost forever. As Catherine Nixey reveals, evidence of early Christians' campaigns of terror has been hiding in plain sight: in the palimpsests and shattered statues proudly displayed in churches and museums the world over. In The Darkening Age, Nixey resurrects this lost history, offering a wrenching account of the rise of Christianity and its terrible cost."--Jacket.

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Despite the long-held notion that the early Christians were meek and mild, going to their martyr's deaths singing hymns of love and praise, the truth, as Catherine Nixey reveals, is very different. Far from being meek and mild, they were violent, ruthless and fundamentally intolerant. Unlike the polytheistic world, in which the addition of one new religion made no fundamental difference to the old ones, this new ideology stated not only that it was the way, the truth and the light but that, by extension, every single other way was wrong and had to be destroyed. From the 1st century to the 6th, those who didn't fall into step with its beliefs were pursued in every possible way: social, legal, financial and physical. Their altars were upturned and their temples demolished, their statues hacked to pieces and their priests killed. It was an annihilation. Authoritative, vividly written and utterly compelling, this is a remarkable debut from a brilliant young historian.
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