Monday, August 17, 2009

1000 A.D.

I recently finished reading the book "Millennium," by Tom Holland. It chronicles the history of Europe from the slow decline of the Roman Empire up through the conquering of Jerusalem by Crusaders in 1098. From start to finish, I was riveted by the complex tangle of power, faith and tradition and how it all affected the outcome of history.

The author makes the argument that a host of noblemen and religious leaders made monumental decisions believing that the thousandth year of Christ's birth (or resurrection) would usher in the end of days. In the book's forward, parallels are drawn between modern doomsday proclamations including the hype surrounding the unimpressive Millennium bug. Might our own leaders in this decade have meddled in foreign affairs believing that our medieval ancestors were just off by a multiple of two.

By mixing quotations from historic texts with archeological records, the story is told from the perspective of those who lived in these chaotic times. Many of the surviving accounts come from the priesthood, no doubt due to much better literacy rates.

We learn that the church, at the turn of the millennium, was undergoing a serious attempt to reduce simony (the taking of bribes) and liberate itself from the monarchy who cared little for the eternal souls of the common man. Led by the example of thriving monasteries, this is also when the church began cracking down on married priests. Mandatory mass on Sundays was also introduced. People who preferred to worship on their own or who became vegetarians were labeled heretics. Strangely, many hermits continued to be revered despite their heretical tendencies.

The church was ultimately unsuccessful in ushering in meaningful reforms (see the reformation). And in the effort to strengthen the Papacy, so that it did not need to rely on the might of a king or Emperor, a monster was created. To protect its southern flank from Saracen pirates, the Pope authorized a fighting force of Normans to invade Sicily. Although these mercenaries would refuse to leave their recently conquered lands, the power play was repeated in England, where the Pope authorized William the Conqueror on his famous campaign. Finally, similar actions by the Papacy eventually led to the First Crusade.

These historic events are explained in such detail that you can imagine the time and places no matter your current location.
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1 comment:

  1. Ken,

    Thanks for your comment and reference to Millenium. I will look at it. Yes I know the Dark Ages were a busy time. I have read about them extensively and am amazed at how Europe had to re-build itself virtually from a tribal environment. It's also interesting to contemplate the church's role in slowing the process by surpressing classical knowledge as pagan.


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