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Ravenna Reviews

Ravenna by Judith Herrin

Ravenna

Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

Judith Herrin

4.00 out of 5

5 reviews

Imprint: Allen Lane
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publication date: 27 Aug 2020
ISBN: 9781846144660
4 stars out of 5
Michael Kulikowski
9 Feb 2021

"(A) lively, and long overdue, treatment of this subject."

The mosaics, however, remained and remain still, a permanent memorial to the last flowering of antiquity in the Latin West. Another virtue of Herrin’s book is the specially commissioned photography by Kieran Dodds. These bring out angles and details missed in the usual stock photos and their significance is well integrated in Herrin’s narrative. It is a pity that the plate captions do not tell you where in the text the image is discussed, but that is a minor quibble in an otherwise lively, and long overdue, treatment of this subject.

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
Ian Thomson
19 Sep 2020

" Herrin’s is not a story of decline, she insists, but one of rebirth"

Herrin’s book, though dense with mention of Theodores, Theodosiuses, Theodoras and Theoderics, is eminently worth reading. The colour plates are so sumptuous that the Ravenna mosaics fairly glow on the page. History teaches us that it is on the margins that the greatest change often occurs. Ravenna was on such a margin. Now, perhaps for the first time, the city emerges triumphant from the shadow of the so-called Dark Ages.

4 stars out of 5
1 Sep 2020

"Herrin triumphantly guides the reader"

Herrin’s book is not a biography of Ravenna – she rightly concludes her narrative when the town’s star began to fade after the Frankish conquest of 774 – but it is all the better for that. We learn much of the life of a city where local dignitaries still signed wills in Greek letters in the eighth century, the one place in the west where, long after the fall of Rome itself, Rome’s rule was still fully felt. If not quite the crucible of modern Europe, it offered a pattern for others to follow and a model of both continuity and transformation. Of that, and of course its splendid mosaics, any town could feel proud.

4 stars out of 5
Dominic Sandbrook
23 Aug 2020

"each of Ravenna’s ancient monuments tells a more complicated tale"

Herrin’s book is often formidably demanding. The index boasts no fewer than 14 Theodores, as well as five Theodosiuses, three Theodoras, a Theoderic, a Theodoret and a Theodorus. But it is worth reading for the sheer weirdness of the details: the bizarre schisms about the nature of Christ; the furious punch-ups between rival Ravenna gangs; the wild passions of the chariot races; the deadly feuds about the sanctity of icons. Above all, though, the book is absolutely gorgeous, with magnificent colour reproductions of Ravenna’s churches and mosaics. Relics of an age that seems almost impossibly remote, they are the foundations on which modern Europe stands.

4 stars out of 5
23 Aug 2020

"How the Western Roman Empire’s glittering capital absorbed the new barbarism to emerge as a model for Christian Europe"

It would be worth travelling to Ravenna to see this alone. But half a dozen more churches of the fifth and sixth century glow with mosaics. Why were they built here, and how have they survived? Judith Herrin’s book explains by recounting the city’s life from 402, when it became the capital of the Roman Empire in the West, to 751, when the Lombards took over.