Enter the world of 1000 A.D., when Vikings, Moors, and barbarians battled kings and popes for the fate of Europe.


It is largely the fallout of the reformation and enlightenment – and in no small part the fault of a Church that was too much of the world rather than in it – that the history of the  medieval world is so often referred to as the Dark Ages or, almost as a condescension, as the Age of Faith. Given the difference of circumstance  we might not a recognized the people of the age but human nature being a constant since Adam we would have certainly understood them and if we think of the Church as a sort of early European Union – one that had the good sense not to micromanage everything – we may begin to understand its accomplishments. Certainly Sylvester II has more to do with why we are free to enjoy our patrimony today than any other man of his age. Maybe when, and if, we ever take a serious look at our past we will finally understand what is still worth preserving against more or less the same group of barbarians that were threatening it then.

Marauding expedition of Northmen AKA Vikings

The last apocalypse: Europe at the year 1000 A.D. James Reston, Jr. Europe, History , 476-1492 New York: Doubleday, c 1998 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 299 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 282-287) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

As the millennium approached, Europeans feared the world would end.  The old order was crumbling, and terrifying and confusing new ideas were gaining hold in the populace.  Random and horrific violence seemed to sprout everywhere without warning, and without apparent remedy.  And, in fact, when the millennium arrived the apocalypse did take place; a world did end, and a new world arose from the ruins.

In 950, Ireland, England, and France were helpless against the ravages of the seagoing Vikings; the fierce and strange Hungarian Magyars laid waste to Germany and Italy; the legions of the Moors ruled Spain and threatened the remnants of Charlemagne’s vast domain.  The Western church was overshadowed by glorious Byzantium.  Yet a mere fifty years later, the gods of the Vikings were dethroned, the shamans of the Magyars were massacred, the magnificent Moorish caliphate disintegrated: The sign of the cross held sway from Spain in the West to Russia in the East.

Reston’s saga of how the Christian kingdoms converted, conquered, and slaughtered their way to dominance brings to life unforgettable historical characters who embodied the struggle for the soul of Europe.  From the righteous fury of the Viking queen Sigrid the Strong-Minded, who burned unwanted suitors alive; to the brilliant but too-cunning Moor Al-Mansor the Illustrious Victor; to the aptly named English king Ethelred the Unready; to the abiding genius of the age, Pope Sylvester II – warrior-kings and concubine empresses, maniacal warriors and religious zealots, bring this stirring period to life.

Although the Last Apocalypse is the equivalent of the Classic Comic Books as serious history it is still a book rich in a lurid flavoring of detail that gives a nearly magical sensibility of an apocalyptic age. Well worth reading for a chuckle or two but no more accurate than a Hollywood portrayal.

19th-century illustration, "Baptism of St. Stephen by Sylvester II." Stephen I (AKA Stephen the Great, St, Stephen), the first king of Hungary.  He was crowned king in A.D. 1000 by Pope Sylvester II, and was made a saint posthumously for his role in the Christianization of Hungary.

19th-century illustration, “Baptism of St. Stephen by Sylvester II.” Stephen I (AKA Stephen the Great, St, Stephen), the first king of Hungary. He was crowned king in A.D. 1000 by Pope Sylvester II, and was made a saint posthumously for his role in the Christianization of Hungary.

 

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