Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin
Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize 2021
In 402 AD, after invading tribes broke through the Alpine frontiers of Italy and threatened the imperial government in Milan, the young Emperor Honorius made the momentous decision to move his capital to a small, easy defendable city in the Po estuary – Ravenna. From then until 751 AD, Ravenna was first the capital of the Western Roman Empire, then that of the immense kingdom of Theoderic the Goth and finally the centre of Byzantine power in Italy.
In this engrossing account Judith Herrin explains how scholars, lawyers, doctors, craftsmen, cosmologists and religious luminaries were drawn to Ravenna where they created a cultural and political capital that dominated northern Italy and the Adriatic. As she traces the lives of Ravenna’s rulers, chroniclers and inhabitants, Herrin shows how the city became the meeting place of Greek, Latin, Christian and barbarian cultures and the pivot between East and West. The book offers a fresh account of the waning of Rome, the Gothic and Lombard invasions, the rise of Islam and the devastating divisions within Christianity. It argues that the fifth to eighth centuries should not be perceived as a time of decline from antiquity but rather, thanks to Byzantium, as one of great creativity – the period of ‘Early Christendom’. These were the formative centuries of Europe.
While Ravenna’s palaces have crumbled, its churches have survived. In them, Catholic Romans and Arian Goths competed to produce an unrivalled concentration of spectacular mosaics, many of which still astonish visitors today. Beautifully illustrated with specially commissioned photographs, and drawing on the latest archaeological and documentary discoveries, Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe brings the early Middle Ages to life through the history of this dazzling city.
Over the years I have learned a lot about Ravenna and the mosaics in the churches. As a lover of history, it is one of those must-see places. On this year’s Wolfson History Prize shortlist is Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (Allen Lane) by Judith Herrin tells of how Ravenna became the Western Capital of the Roman Empire, but it did not stop there. We all know the history of Rome and how it was the centre of the Roman Empire. But situated in the North of Italy is Ravenna and its rich place in history.
From 402 until its collapse in 476 Ravenna was the capital of the Roman Empire, and then the Kingdom of Theoderic the Goth and then that of the Byzantine empire.
Judith Herrin has written a sumptuous book that is beautifully illustrated, and the research is incredible. If you have a real interest in the history of Europe, then this is a book I would add to your reading list. Going through this part of history Ravenna changed hands so many times. There is so much incredible artwork on show through Herrin’s book that will entice the reader to add Ravenna to their places of interest, it is not just the mosaics that have remained but there are also important documents that date back to the fifth century.
What Judith Herrin does is tell the story of Ravenna in short chapters from the fourth century to the ninth that are fascinating and throughout there are the beautiful illustrations which just add to the interest of Ravenna and its place in history of its rulers and the politics.
Lord Byron made Ravenna his home from 1819 to 1821, anyone who has read Mary Shelly’s The Last Man will know of Ravenna and Oscar Wilde wrote a poem called Ravenna in 1878 and the poem features in the opening pages of Judith Herrin’s outstanding Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe.
One of six books Shortlisted for The Wolfson History Prize 2021 with the virtual prize ceremony taking place at 6pm Wednesday 9th June. I am extremely honoured once again to be taking part in the blog tour to cover one of the six books on the shortlist.
This year’s winner will be announced on Wednesday 9th June.
To find out more about the Wolfson History Prize visit their website: https://www.wolfsonhistoryprize.org.uk/
My thanks to Ben McCluskey and Midas PR for the invitation to take part in this year’s blog tour.
Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin is published by Allen Lane on 27th August 2020 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop or through Bookshop.org that supports your local independent bookshop. UK Bookshop.org
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