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The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  4,038 ratings  ·  656 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2018. Named Book of the Year by The Telegraph, The Spectator, The Observer, and BBC History Magazine
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 Hypatia from her chariot and flayed her to death with shard
Hardcover, 315 pages
Published April 17th 2018 by Mariner Books (first published September 2017)
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William Weiswasser THE BARBARIAN CONVERSION From Paganism To Christianity
by Richard Fletcher
"This is a marvelous work. The scope of Fletcher's erudition would be daunti…more
THE BARBARIAN CONVERSION From Paganism To Christianity
by Richard Fletcher
"This is a marvelous work. The scope of Fletcher's erudition would be daunting were it not for the verve and flair of his style, which makes the reader's journey . . . a positive pleasure." KAREN ARMSTRONG(less)

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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
Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤
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 as far as the
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
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
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 fools 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. Christianity spread the same way as the other monotheistic religions, that is, through force and coercion. Nevertheless, it is the Greeks who will have the last laugh: in my view, the strongest writ
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
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.
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. ...more
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
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
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know whether the beautiful province of Quebec, which has been my home for about fifteen years, now, has got the most places named after saints in North America, but it is sure you will see them on almost any plate on the road. Yet, Quebec is also one of the less religious places I know of, despite (or because of) the fact that, until just some fifty years ago, the Catholic Church was maybe the most powerful instance in the country. And if you ask the Quebecers about that period, their sm ...more
Ross Blocher
I'm conflicted after reading The Darkening Age, having subsequently fallen down an online rabbit hole of critical reviews, particularly this one by Tim O'Neill for his blog History for Atheists. Catherine Nixey is an excellent writer, and her prose is a delight to read. She has set out to detail the Christian destruction of classical art and thought from the institutionalized Christianity of Constantine through the early 6th century. The question is whether that destructive force is overstated a ...more
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. ...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
Sep 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
They not only despised pagans but also atheism, science and philosophy. They not only jeered at the indigenous rituals but hated even the idea of bathing! This wasn't just the spread of a world's largest religion in Europe but also the massacre of the non believers, suppression of individualism, pluralism and the silencing the very first western philosophers. It wasn't just women like Hypatia who were skinned to death but also the massive book burning and wiping out of the philosophical writings ...more
Anonymous Hindu
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
The book is an excellent account of the conflict of Christianity and the native religions of the Roman empire, mainly the Greek and Roman traditions that worshipped many gods, had an intricate philosophy, temples and rituals. What often struck me when I was younger while reading Greek mythology, was how was it possible that an entire way of life was eradicated without a protest, especially a tradition that was at least a 1000 years old at the time of its elimination. Now, after reading this book ...more
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
One simple thing that is of enduring interest to me is the fact that the world was very different in the past. The transition from the classical to the Christian world was one of the greatest moral revaluations of all time. It was a change not of mere material circumstance but in the inner lives of mankind. This book is a highly partisan, unnuanced account of this shift. It is polemically anti-Christian and almost feels as thought it was directly written by an indignant classical "pagan," or at ...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.
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
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.
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
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
Patrick Peterson
2021-08-23 I just came across this excellent article that uses Nixey's book as the focal point for a critique of various present day trend! Don't miss it. https://symposium.substack.com/p/our-...

On rereading my review below and noting that I only gave the book 3 stars, I changed the rating to 4 stars, which seems more in keeping with how good the book seems to me.

4 Sept. 2019
I finished this yesterday.
Very powerful. Very sad.

Answered a question I had had since my high school history class days t
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
Erik Graff
Apr 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: James DeVoto
Shelves: religion
This was given me by a retired university professor and former colleague at Loyola University Chicago. Raised Catholic himself, his fields of study--astronomy, the classics, ancient history, Greek and Latin--and educational background at religious institutions led him to develop some antipathy towards the faith. Knowing that my own background was more in the history of the early Jesus movement(s), this gift was a natural.

Unfortunately, there was little within new to me. What was different was pe
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
Dec 29, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
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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

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“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.” 13 likes
“One day in March AD 415, Hypatia set out from her home to go for her daily ride through the city. Suddenly, she found her way blocked by a “multitude of believers in God.”32 They ordered her to get down from her chariot. Knowing what had recently happened to her friend Orestes, she must have realized as she climbed down that her situation was a serious one. She cannot possibly have realized quite how serious. As soon as she stood on the street, the parabalani, under the guidance of a Church magistrate called Peter—“a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ”33—surged round and seized “the pagan woman.” They then dragged Alexandria’s greatest living mathematician through the streets to a church. Once inside, they ripped the clothes from her body and, using broken pieces of pottery as blades, flayed her skin from her flesh. Some say that, while she still gasped for breath, they gouged out her eyes. Once she was dead, they tore her body into pieces and threw what was left of the “luminous child of reason” onto a pyre and burned her.34” 10 likes
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