Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
This riveting audiobook narrated by Phyllida Nash traces the history of the city that led the West out of the ruins of the Roman Empire
At the end of the fourth century, as the power of Rome faded and Constantinople became the seat of empire, a new capital city was rising in the West. Here, in Ravenna on the coast of Italy, Arian Goths and Catholic Romans competed to produce an unrivaled concentration of buildings and astonishing mosaics. For three centuries, the city attracted scholars, lawyers, craftsmen, and religious luminaries, becoming a true cultural and political capital. Bringing this extraordinary history marvelously to life, Judith Herrin rewrites the history of East and West in the Mediterranean world before the rise of Islam and shows how, thanks to Byzantine influence, Ravenna played a crucial role in the development of medieval Christendom.
Drawing on deep, original research, Herrin tells the personal stories of Ravenna while setting them in a sweeping synthesis of Mediterranean and Christian history. She narrates the lives of the Empress Galla Placidia and the Gothic king Theoderic and describes the achievements of an amazing cosmographer and a doctor who revived Greek medical knowledge in Italy, demolishing the idea that the West just descended into the medieval "Dark Ages."
Based on the latest archaeological findings, this monumental book provides a bold new interpretation of Ravenna's lasting influence on the culture of Europe and the West.
- Click above for unlimited listening to select audiobooks, Audible Originals, and podcasts.
- One credit a month to pick any title from our entire premium selection — yours to keep (you'll use your first credit now).
- You will get an email reminder before your trial ends.
- $14.95 a month after 30 days. Cancel online anytime.
People who viewed this also viewed
People who bought this also bought
Related to this topic
|Listening Length||19 hours and 3 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||October 27, 2020|
|Publisher||Princeton University Press|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #75,507 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#26 in Italian History (Audible Books & Originals)
#62 in Ancient & Classical Roman History
#85 in Medieval European History
Top reviews from the United States
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
That said, Herrin’s book sets out to shed light on what has come to be known as the Dark Ages. The eponymous city, located in a marshy area on Italy’s Adriatic coast, provides the setting for her exposition. In short, Ravenna came to serve as Constantinople’s foothold in Europe as that city gradually took Rome’s mantle as the seat of empire. For a time, it was the capital of the Western Empire, proving more defensible than Rome or Milan. Its influence probably peaked during the reign of King Theoderic, the Ostrogoth, who was sent by Constantinople to assert control in Italy.
Herrin’s study features much more than just the political rise and fall of Ravenna. She delves into the religious disagreements that caused so much strife at the time, focusing mainly on Arianism as a rival to Catholic orthodoxy. Unsurprisingly, many records have been lost over the centuries, but she also gives a sense of daily life in Ravenna, using papyrus records of financial transactions that took place between individuals and the two major institutions of Church and State. Most of all, the book goes a long way in dispelling the notion that Europe at the time was characterized uniformly by ignorance and war.
It’s difficult to condense the scope of this book into such a short review. Suffice it to say that, to this layperson, it reads as an ambitious survey of a forgotten city’s roughly four century heyday. If it weren’t so esoteric, one would look for it in an undergraduate history course. Perhaps the current push in academia to add nuance to our understanding of the early Middle Ages will bring this kind of book into the mainstream of historical understanding. The biggest flaw here is the editing; tighter writing would have made it much more enjoyable to read.
Ravenna does a decent job of stitching together the high political and ecclesiastical narratives of this period, but a focus on life in titular city seems lacking. As a result, it often reads more like a history of late antiquity (or early Christendom, as the author prefers) in broad strokes from the perspective of Ravenna than an in-depth history of Ravenna itself. Giving credit where it is due, sources from this period are few and far between, and I am certain that Herrin knows every relevant scrap of parchment and papyrus intimately. Unfortunately, there just isn't much surviving information to present that directly pertains to the lives of the Ravennati, and some of the documents she does make use of (mostly records of property sales and religious donations) can seem tedious and only tenuously connected to the subject matter.
The scarcity of sources probably contributes to the unfortunate way the book is written, which is very dry and sometimes even seeming 'lifeless' as another reviewer put it. As a result, I found it hard to focus on at times and often found myself skimming and even skipping entire paragraphs and pages. The fact that the author frequently backtracks chronologically, sometimes causing confusion when the text involved multiple very similarly (or identically) named people, made it even harder for me to follow. The included plates are gorgeous and in lavish color, but they are at times far removed from the places in the text where they are referenced and can be hard to find as they are spread throughout the book.
Overall, the book as an object is beautiful, and is an important and impressive piece of scholarship focusing on late antiquity. I don't regret buying or reading it. However, it often felt like a bit of a slog, and while I valued the information I got from it, I didn't particularly enjoy the process of reading it. This book will probably be more accessible and useful to those with an academic interest in the period. I would not recommend it for anyone looking to read for entertainment or for anyone inexperienced with the subject matter or with reading academic texts.
The cast of characters Herrin writes about include the imperial daughter Galla Placidia, the Arian Goth King Theoderic, Emperor Justinian, a host of dynamic archbishops and popes, the Lombard King Desiderius, the Byzantine Empress Irene, and Charlemagne among others. The author clearly explains the world events that gradually moved Europe's focus away from the dominant imperial rulers in Constantinople to the leaders in western Europe (specifically Charlemagne). I have never read a history that explained this transition so well.
Herrin writes with a fluid and engaging style that keeps the reader interested through even the most tedious of Church rivalries between popes and errant bishops. The book contains excellent maps and illustrations to help readers visualize Ravenna would have been like at its height.
All in all, this book is a masterful accomplishment that anyone interested in the development of European history would appreciate.
Top reviews from other countries
Let me make it plain: I love Kindle books, love amazon prime, I just HATE the skimpy bubble wrap envelope they sent this hardback book in: the packing for a 10m Cat 5 cable this week was way more impressive and secure.
So, in short, a bit academic, though well worth buying if like me you have been fascinated by the city.
The mosaics in the churches of Ravenna, outstanding examples of early Christian Art, are to gasp at, and the ceilings of the building constructed for the tomb of the last Western Roman Empress, Galla Placidia are beyond breathtaking.
This book explains how Ravenna was the the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the capital of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, the centre of Byzantine power in Italy, and the inspiration for Charlemagne's church in Aachen.
Some reviewers have commented that they found the book hard going - it can be a little, but only because there is so much information here that you will want to absorb - skimming and cursory reading won't give the understanding that a thorough reading will, and so it does require some effort - but that effort is well rewarded.
I am grateful to the author for the inspiration this book gave me to visit, and to be stunned by, Ravenna. If you have the desire to see some of the best preserved images from the late Roman empire, and to experience the magnificent of Justinian and Theodora's Byzantium - then you really should read this book and, if you possibly can, visit Ravenna for yourself.
On the other hand this dry long book certainly contains all the info you may ever want on Ravenna....I doubt whether this will lead to bestseller status!