Christopher Kelly

Europe’s Growing Pains

Empires of Faith: The Fall of Rome to the Rise of Islam, 500–700


Oxford University Press 428pp £35 order from our bookshop

Peter Sarris’s splendid new book is a defiant act of intellectual imperialism. Under the triumphant banner of ‘The Oxford History of Medieval Europe’ it annexes four academic kingdoms: Rome, the early Middle Ages, Byzantium, and early Islam. The achievement is impressive, not least for its remarkable concision: nine chapters across 370 pages weld together sixty-nine separate sections, each elegantly conceived as a brief essay. This structure (dully presented on the contents page in tiresome textbook style: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc) gives Sarris the flexibility to balance the breadth of his treatment with the demands of detail. Indeed, in many ways, this book is a celebration of the essay as a means of rapidly and efficiently presenting information and ideas. There is room for economic analysis (2.5 ‘Continuity and Discontinuity in the Post-Roman Economy’), geo-politics (5.2 ‘The West Eurasian Steppe in the Mid-Sixth Century’), and good, solid narrative (4.3 ‘The Roman Response under Anastasius and Justin’).

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,