Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

  • Phyllida Nash

A riveting history of the city that led the West out of the ruins of the Roman Empire


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Oct 27, 2020
65 color illus. 4 maps
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At the end of the fourth century, as the power of Rome faded and Constantinople became the seat of empire, a new capital city was rising in the West. Here, in Ravenna on the coast of Italy, Arian Goths and Catholic Romans competed to produce an unrivaled concentration of buildings and astonishing mosaics. For three centuries, the city attracted scholars, lawyers, craftsmen, and religious luminaries, becoming a true cultural and political capital. Bringing this extraordinary history marvelously to life, Judith Herrin rewrites the history of East and West in the Mediterranean world before the rise of Islam and shows how, thanks to Byzantine influence, Ravenna played a crucial role in the development of medieval Christendom.

Drawing on deep, original research, Herrin tells the personal stories of Ravenna while setting them in a sweeping synthesis of Mediterranean and Christian history. She narrates the lives of the Empress Galla Placidia and the Gothic king Theoderic and describes the achievements of an amazing cosmographer and a doctor who revived Greek medical knowledge in Italy, demolishing the idea that the West just descended into the medieval “Dark Ages.”

Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological findings, this monumental book provides a bold new interpretation of Ravenna’s lasting influence on the culture of Europe and the West.

Awards and Recognition

  • Winner of the Pol Roger Duff Cooper Prize
  • Winner of the PROSE Award in European History, Association of American Publishers
  • Shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize, Wolfson Foundation
  • Shortlisted for the London Hellenic Prize, The Hellenic Centre
  • Longlisted for the Cundill History Prize, McGill University