I came to this book with great anticipation having read "Rubicon" (about the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire) and "Persian Fire" (about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians) by the same author. The latter of these was particularly brilliant, engrossing and informative.
I suppose that with such high Expectations "Millennium" was bound to disappoint. It rambled. Having started with the humbling of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV by Pope Gregory at Canossa, which Holland believed to have been a turning-point in the fortunes of Europe, it then took over 350 pages to get back to it. I was never quite certain whether this was his theme or whether it was the concept that Europe was conditioned by the belief that the Millennium would see the appearance of the Anti-Christ (even more than 50 years afterwards) or whether everything was leading up to the Crusades (he ends with the massacre when the Crusaders take Jerusalem).
Nevertheless, "Millennium" has loads to enjoy. Like a Hollywood epic it has a cast of thousands, including the pope, Octavian, elected at 16, notorious for promiscuity who installed a brothel in his palace and died "from a stroke, the result of overly strenuous grapplings with a married woman" (p69, well it had to be!). We also discover that King Harold (a Saxon with a Viking name) was much less entitled to the throne of England than either Harald Hardrada or William the Conqueror and that Hardrada, who was killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge, made a fortune in Constantinople, married the daughter of the Prince of Kiev and then became King of Norway. The town of Verdun, meanwhile, was famous for gelding Wends and then selling them as slaves to the Saracens of Spain They specialised in carzimasia who were eunuchs deprived of their penises as well as their testicles; the considerable medical risks causing wastage which "served only to increase the survivors' value" (p102). Ethelred the Unready became king aged 10 when his half-brother was assassinated, probably at the command of his mother. England was a united, stable, prosperous kingdom (apart from the Viking raids) whereas France was ruled by warlords who set up castles for their own defence and to terrorise and rule the peasantry; at this time the peasants declined from being fairly independent farmers to being robbed and taxed until they were forced to sell themselves into serfdom.
So actually it was a cracking read but still not as good as "Persian Fire".
September 2009, 413 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57