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The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,082 ratings  ·  207 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2018

“Searingly passionate…Nixey writes up a storm. Each sentence is rich, textured, evocative, felt…[A] ballista-bolt of a book.” —New York Times Book Review

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 H
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 17th 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published September 21st 2017)
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Ocelot Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000. This book goes into quite some detail and may be a little off-putting in…moreChris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400-1000. This book goes into quite some detail and may be a little off-putting in places, but it gives you a solid basis for understaning the period. Some chapters are about society, others about economy, so it's not specifically tied to Christianty per se, but as a primer it's good. (less)

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4.04  · 
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Hypocrisy in Action

In my email today I received an invitation from a group called Developing a Christian Mind [DCM] to one of their programmes in Oxford entitled Seeking Wisdom. I am assured that essential issues relating to the “Humanities, Medical Sciences, Natural Sciences, Philosophy and Theology, and Social Sciences” will be addressed over a two day weekend by well-known academics. I will be informed, specifically, “How postgraduates, postdocs, and academics at the University of Oxford can
Tim O'Neill
Sep 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Nixey's pop history purports to present some kind of new perspective on the transition from the pagan Roman world to the dominance of Christianity, but all we get is dusty old Edward Gibbon rehashed for the post-Dawkins/Hitchens age. In the hands of skilled historian this could have been an interesting book; one which explains a fascinating period and an interesting subject. A balanced and objective scholar could have made it clear that this transition was sometimes violent and that the Christia ...more
Image result for hypatia
(Hypatia, circa 350–370 CE to 415 CE, Philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician of Alexandria)

Knowing what I already knew about the destruction of the great Library of Alexandria and the torture and murder of the brilliant philosopher and mathematician Hypatia, I knew the early Christians weren't exactly kind to those who didn't believe as they did. I knew there was much they destroyed of the ancient world, much that is forever lost to history because they had no tolerance for those whose belie
I notice many reviews of this book tend to the extremes either rating it very highly or very negatively, I feel by way of contrast that it is a very middle of the road kind of book, ok, but it pulls it's punches.

The title effectively sums up the book, the author is a journalist and maybe that is the kind of neat trick that she has picked up from her professional practise.

Putting words into her mouth the story she tells is of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire, she goes back to the letters
Josephine (biblioseph)
I love to read negative reviews of books I'm interested in. Sometimes they convince me I *must* read a book, more than any positive review probably will. However, after reading several theological negative reviews that didn't say "Christians weren't really this bad!" they were still written by theological historians or students of theology and history, I turned to finding one written by an atheist. I warn you, it's a long review, but Tim O'Neill has posted one on his blog: History for Atheists. ...more
Emma Sea
6 stars. Heartbreaking, vivid, and wonderfully researched

If you're wondering if this book is for you, check out Josephine's excellent roundup of critiques in her review.
Aurva Bhargava
It is said that “ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS”. Hence the post-Roman era is typically called as the Dark ages, since it was the period when Christianity held absolute power, which resulted in widespread destruction and corruption of everything that it touched. However, what was it like when Christianity was struggling to acquire power ? What effect did it have during that time? These are the questions that Catherine Nixey’s new book titled “The Darkening Age” attempt to answer. And it sheds light on ...more
Galina Krasskova
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is so good to read a scholarly book that presents the monotheistic destruction of the classical world accurately: as religious and cultural genocide (though she's not quite so blunt). This is an excellent book challenging all too often unquestioned ideas of christianity in general and monotheism in particular as "inevitable" and most especially as "progress." I highly recommend it.
Matthew Bargas
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I almost didn’t read this book after reading all of the negative reviews: accusations of poor scholarship, personal biases, a vendetta against Christianity. She certainly has her opinions that she supports with quotes from her sources. I did my own fact checking, and didn’t find all of the distortions of which they accuse her.

Rather than write my own review, I thought it would be apropos to present some more favorable reviews that others have presented to serve as a counterweight to all the nega
Libros Prestados
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Este ensayo trata de una religión monoteísta venida de Oriente que se extiende por Europa y destruye la tolerante y cosmopolita civilización dominante. Y esa religión es el cristianismo.

La tesis del libro es que esa historia de que en el Imperio Romano la religión estaba en crisis (era casi laico, si me apuras) y que los paganos no eran realmente creyentes y que el cristianismo simplemente ocupó un agujero que existía de forma pacífica y sin mucho esfuerzo es eso, una historia. Un cuento. Una fa
A lively and highly accessible book that challenges the view that Christian society was a benign, accepting and accepted religion during its first few centuries.

Temples, statuary, books and other art was destroyed, vandalised, hidden and in many cases crudely "Christianised" by defacement. On the face of it, this isn't a surprise as it's a simple human trait seen throughout our history that the "good and right" will erase or change the "bad and wrong" to suit the narrative needed to "progress" a
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Devoured this book in a few days. A wonderful antidote to the 'persecuted church' narrative so prevalent in today's society.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Yes, I would like to go back in time and wreak destruction on the barbaric Christians who gloated in the destruction of the Temple of Artemis and send lightning bolts to strike them down! Temple-destroyers! Murderers of Hypatia! Book-burners!

In the wake of such senseless destruction no real ‘triumph’ is possible. I’m afraid that Christianity spread the same way as the other monotheistic religions following it—through force and coercion. Nevertheless, it is the Greeks who will have the last laugh
Frederick Gault
The Christians of the period right after Constantine declared it the Roman religion around 310 AD were violently opposed to the worship of the traditional Roman gods. So they organized armies of thugs who defaced temples, statues and works of art that had survived a thousand years. These were not nice people. They took Hypatia of Alexandria, a polymath philosopher and flayed her alive - because, you know, God loves us. If you a church goer beware - if you read this you may never be able to see C ...more
Andy Lake
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First off, I enjoyed The Darkening Age. It’s very well written and carries you along all the way through. And it redresses as it were a historical injustice, or at the very least a negligent oversight – and that is the coercive and persecuting side of Christianity in the first centuries after it became the religion of the Roman empire.

But – this is polemical history rather than objective history. Catherine Nixey picks up on an old theme of the greatness and glory of classical antiquity and how i
David Wineberg
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"With our faith, we desire no further belief"

Before Christianity, no one identified by their religion, says Catherine Nixey. It was not their defining characteristic. Christians imposed their beliefs on everyone else, and required everyone to identify as Christian. That is the essence of The Darkening Age. It shows how the free-for-all that was life in the Roman Empire became the dour, sullen austerity of Christendom.

The Roman Empire was about living life to the fullest. Sex was celebrated (Marc
Al Bità
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The beginning of the 4th century CE was a crucial and highly significant time for what was to become known as Christendom: the new Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 CE, having set up his “new Rome” in Byzantium (to the increasing annoyance and chagrin of the Bishop of Rome!), and declared that henceforth Christianity would be the sole religion of the Roman Empire (albeit in a form (probably Arianism) that would soon be declared heretical).

Constantine set up the first maj
Darcia Helle
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
History is written by the victors. It stands to reason, then, that the history of Christianity's rise in power is also written and handed down to us by its victors. Historians, particularly in ancient times, wanted to, or perhaps were required to, put a positive spin on events. And so the history we're taught, whether in school or in church, is typically edited and shown in a pretty light. With this book, we take off those rose-colored glasses and examine the whole truth surrounding Christianity ...more
Keith Scholey
Feb 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A dreadful Horrible History for (childish) adults - except HHs are better written, not selling a political agenda and well researched. One star is more than this piece of crap deserves.
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recently I’ve been mining YouTube for the debates of the late, great Christopher Hitchens. As Hitchens more often than not eviscerated the biblical scholar they put in front of him, one of his most repeated arguments was in regard to the legacy that Christianity has left the world. Beautiful cathedrals, yes. Incomparable religious art, yes again. Yet, Hitchens asked, is any of this worth the trail of blood Christianity has left in its wake? Is it worth the destruction of the temples and art tha ...more
Peter Greenwell
I have little else to add that wasn't already summed up perfectly in this review, except that I was entertained by the author's hellbent and vitriolic condemnation of Christianity. But I'm under no misapprehension that this is a work of history. There are far more nuanced books on this subject out there.
Heather Brooks
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved the book. So sorely needed when history has glossed over the brutal rise of Christianity.
Alex Sarll
Opening with an account of Palmyra's devastation by bearded zealots, but not the ones you think, aaaah, this polemical history makes its position clear from the off - the supposed 'Triumph of Christianity' at the close of the classical age was in many ways identical to the rise of Da'esh, except worse because more widespread and not so soon reversed. Fortunately, I entirely agree with that assessment. If this book was going to have a problem for me, it would be that just as I didn't read Fire an ...more
J.S. Green
Mar 05, 2018 rated it liked it
At the end of the Introduction, Catherine Nixey says the following:

One final note: many, many good people are impelled by their Christian faith to do many, many good things. I know because I am an almost daily beneficiary of such goodness myself. This book is not intended as an attack on these people and I hope they will not see it as such. But it is undeniable that there have been — that there still are — those who use monotheism and its weapons to terrible ends. Christianity is a greater and a
Cassidy (Reminders of the Changing Time)
To see all of my book-related content, check out my blog @

Most of the reviews on Goodreads say that The Darkening Age is biased.
Most of them are written by Christians so one may say that they are biased.
Either way, in The Darkening Age you find Catherine Nixey’s passionate argument about all that was lost when Christianity rose. It doesn’t need to be objective, it doesn’t need to be balanced; it just needs to raise attention of the some 90% of books that were lost, the peop
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book because it was different from others that I have read on this subject. I do think the author had decided before writing this that she was in favour of the Pagans, and that reflected throughout the writing, but keeping that in mind, so I would not become tempted to fall into the "all Christians are evil," trap that can happen when you read a book like this, I tried to remain objective and look at her arguments realistically, and found that I really enjoyed this book.

Whilst I
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If the Christians were conservators of the knowledge of the classical age, they did a terrible job of it. Miniscule fragments have made it down the years from then to now, censored and ignored by zealots who disagreed ideologically with the teaching of atomic theory and the physicality of classical life. The Christianising of society kept Catullus 16 from vernacular translation almost to the present day.

No doubt other factors influenced the loss of classical knowledge and culture, but bands of w
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"A chegada das trevas" debruça-se sobre os efeitos (devastadores) que o surgimento do cristianismo teve sobre a cultura clássica.
Efetivamente, estamos habituados a ver os cristãos como vítimas perseguidas por romanos cruéis e monges altruístas a copiar documentos em latim, perpetuando assim os escritos clássicos e a língua latim a realidade foi bem diferente.
A verdade é que maior parte da documentação que nos chegou, por ter vindo de mãos cristãs, apresenta-nos os factos de um único ponto de vi
Dec 29, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, history, non-fiction
This book sets out its mission to be an objective look at the Christian "triumph" over paganism focusing on the destruction involved, the author admits that this wasn't her original goal - and that really shows.

The book waffles around without a clear structure, jumping from anecdote to anecdote. Barely half the chapters seemed to cover the period she was supposed to be writing about - we frequently digress to Victorian visitors to Pompeii or the writings of Celsus (second century AD Athens' ans
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though I am only half done, I'm really liking this book. Unfortunately the library wants it back. I'm not sure why it's so controversial, facts are presented here, fabulous art was destroyed but the early Christians were saving souls. There are some interesting parallels for our own time but without reading the conclusion I don't think the author is making a grand statement about christians today, it is obviously a very different religion. Perhaps what is controversial is the idea that rath ...more
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The Endarkenment 1 12 May 05, 2018 05:51AM  
  • The Roman Triumph
  • Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome & the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD
  • Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age
  • Pagans and Christians
  • Classical Literature (Pelican Introduction)
  • Pax Romana
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  • Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History Vol. 1
  • The Big Book of Pain: Torture  Punishment Through History
  • A Short History of Christianity
  • Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century
  • Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World
  • Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind
  • Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century
  • Why Priests?
  • War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots
  • The French Intifada: The Long War Between France and Its Arabs
  • Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism
Catherine Nixey is a journalist and a classicist. Her mother was a nun, her father was a monk, and she was brought up Catholic. She studied classics at Cambridge and taught the subject for several years before becoming a journalist on the arts desk at the Times (UK), where she still works. The Darkening Age, winner of a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award, is her first book. She lives in Lon ...more
“It wasn’t just the fact that Christians were ignorant about philosophical theories that annoyed Celsus; it was that Christians actually reveled in their ignorance.” 6 likes
“It was the Church, they told me, that had kept alive the Latin and Greek of the classical world in the benighted Middle Ages, until it could be picked up again by the wider world in the Renaissance. On holidays, we would visit museums and libraries where the same point was made. As a young child, I looked at the glowing gold of the illuminated manuscripts and believed in a more metaphorical illumination in ages of intellectual darkness. And, in a way, my parents were right to believe this, for it is true. Monasteries did preserve a lot of classical knowledge. But it is far from the whole truth. In fact, this appealing narrative has almost entirely obscured an earlier, less glorious story. For before it preserved, the Church destroyed. In a spasm of destruction never seen before—and one that appalled many non-Christians watching it—during the fourth and fifth centuries, the Christian Church demolished, vandalized and melted down a simply staggering quantity of art. Classical statues were knocked from their plinths, defaced, defiled and torn limb from limb. Temples were razed to their foundations and mutilated. A temple widely considered to be the most magnificent in the entire empire was leveled. Many of the Parthenon sculptures were attacked, faces were mutilated, hands and limbs were hacked off, and gods were decapitated. Some of the finest statues on the whole building were almost certainly smashed off then ground into rubble that was then used to build churches. Books—which were often stored in temples—suffered terribly. The remains of the greatest library in the ancient world, a library that had once held perhaps 700,000 volumes, were destroyed in this way by Christians. It was over a millennium before any other library would even come close to its holdings. Works by censured philosophers were forbidden and bonfires blazed across the empire as outlawed books went up in flames.” 4 likes
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