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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Revised and Expanded Edition Paperback – May 15, 1970

ISBN-13: 978-0195004564 ISBN-10: 0195004566 Edition: Rev Exp

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The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Revised and Expanded Edition + The Terror of History: On the Uncertainties of Life in Western Civilization + The Little Flowers of St. Francis
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Rev Exp edition (May 15, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195004566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195004564
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,360 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

At the end of the first millennium A.D., itinerant preachers crisscrossed Europe warning that the end of the world was nigh. Hundreds of thousands of people took heed, joining religious cults and anti-governmental militias in preparation for the coming war between good and evil. (If this sounds familiar, it is proof only that history is cyclical.) During this heady time, Europe exploded in religious war, peasant revolts and sectarian strife, marked by the first large-scale massacres of Jews and gypsies, the first inklings of inquisitions and holy crusades. Norman Cohn, a masterful writer and interpreter, carefully explores this extraordinary period in European history in a book that bears rereading as our own millennium approaches its end.


"Cohn uncovers interesting historical connections between millennial ideas and their use in furthering revolutionary movements started by the engine of social unrest."--The Catholic World

"Cohn's book is even more relevant today. He has added a conclusion relating [these movements in medieval Europe] to the contemporary scene....The mirage of a secularized millennium now appeals, he considers, both to the 'disoriented and desperate' in underdeveloped countries, and to an equally disoriented minority on the fringes of the social democratic state."--Times Literary Supplement

"A work of the first water...of great originality and power."--Sir Isaiah Berlin, Twentieth Century

"As valuable as it is interesting...full of historical facts which are passed over in silence in most histories."--Bertrand Russell

"Now we can understand the origins of twentieth century idiologies."--Dr. Wayne Allen, Delta State University

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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This work is a classic of social history.
Shalom Freedman
This is a very common opinion nowadays, and in fact both the millennarists and the mystical anarchists have their successors nowadays.
This is a collection of some of the most obscure peasant cults and peasant wars that afflict mankind during the middle ages.
Rodney J. Szasz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Antonio on August 30, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cohn's "Pursuit of the Millennium" has aged well and nearing 50 years of age it is deservedly a classic. Its subjet might be considered by some to be esoteric: it deals with prophets from middle age Europe who led others to believe that the end of times was at hand, and that they had been chosen by God to purify the world in preparation for the Kingdom of the Last Days, and with pantheistic mystical anarchists who believed that they could do no evil because they had connected with their divine essences. In most cases these figures are virtual unknowns even for people who like history. The few that still turn up are Thomas Müntzer, the leader of the rebellious peasants who were exterminated in the Battle of Frankenhausen (a character in the historical fiction pastiche "Q" by Luther Blisset) and John of Leyden, the tailor who created a totalitarian kingdom of saints in Münster. For the revolutionary millennarians the tale is a bit repetitive, and it usually went like this: a former priest or a hermit with a violent disposition concludes, after meditating for a long time, that he is living at the end of times and that he is God/ he is a god/ he has been chosen by God or a god to lead the just and the good in a final, apocalyptic, war against Antichrist and his followers, to usher in the millennium of the saints announced by John the Divine, prior to the end of the world and the final reckoning. The hermit or defrocked priest finds some followers and eventually is able to take hold of a town or a castle, which he converts into a stronghold with the help of the rootless rabble. Then he proceeds to plunder from the rich (nobles and clergy) and to purge the unredeemed.Read more ›
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on March 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
The apocalyptic imagination has always exercised great control over the mind of the Western man - from bands of Jewish zealots in the time of Josephus to the masses of poor warriors in the Crusades to take the Holy Land for Christendom to the mutual hurling of the epithet "Antichrist" between Luther and the Pope, and it has been keenly expressed in the Biblical tradition within the Books of Daniel and Revelations. _The Pursuit of the Millennium_ takes a look at the mass movements and delusions that developed out of this tradition in the Middle Ages and the period following the Middle Ages, the Reformation. Norman Cohn shows how prejudices and hatreds among the poor (especially against the Jews, the clergy, and the wealthy) were used by mystical prophetae in conjunction with the apocalyptic tradition to give rise to mass movements which resulted in much mayhem and bloodshed. For example, the People's and Shepherd's Crusades in the Middle Ages were movements of mindless zealotry which ended in mass slaughter. Cohn examines various sects that developed out of these apocalyptic traditions around such figures as the Emperor Frederick, Joachim of Fiore, and various other individuals and imposters who sought to mobilize the masses of poor. In the later Middle Ages, this type of movement was exemplified among the flagellants, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, Taborites and followers of Thomas Muntzer, the militant wing of the Anabaptists, and later the Ranters in England. Often, these movements incorporated Joachimite speculations about a coming Age of the Spirit, mystical doctrines that made one was free to sin as one pleased (Free Spirit), and communistic ideals that involved belief in a Golden Age in which all men had lived as brothers with all things in common.Read more ›
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Toby Joyce on October 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
A friend recommended this to me as 'a great read' and I also recommend it to you for the same reason. It is rare that a work can be appreciated for its academic value, and for pure fascination. Who could not but be fascinated by the medieval flagellants, the Taborites, Joachim of Fiore, the Tafurs, the Anabaptists and the Ranters. Some groups awaited the returned of the Emperor Constantine, or Frederick Barbarossa, or even the Duke of Flanders, to herald the last days. Other preached, and practised, Free Love, and community of goods. Startingly, the Anabaptists of Munster (Germany) withstood a lengthy siege for their beliefs, while what was happening inside the walls of the city seemed to prefigure the regime of Stalin. Important to recall the limitations of medieval Catholicism, which drove many into fringe sects, and eventually helped spawn the Reformation. Not that the Protestant princes were any more sympathetic to the Prophets of the Poor. For an academic book, this is also fun to read, though its subject in places in quite grisly.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 13, 1997
Format: Paperback
When I first read the book, I began in the back--it's divided well so that it reads like small hilarious tales or longer, fascinating and riotous history. The tales are Monty Python-esque, especially because the best Monty Python humor is the use of straight-forward history. From the whacked out tales of Protestant reformation, utopian and distopian enclaves of cultish religious fanatics, to riveting tales of 'witchcraft and mysticism,' this isn't comedic fiction, it's unbelievable History! I love to read this book aloud to others, and that's my highest compliment
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