Allan Massie

Otto’s Renaissance

The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages

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Basic Books 310pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

That the Dark Ages were not so dark as the historians of the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century believed is now a truism. As a result, the subtitle of Nancy Marie Brown’s biography of Gerbert, the tenth-century Archbishop of Reims who became a close adviser of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, and then pope, taking the name Sylvester II, seems dubious. For years historians have been writing of the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’ of the eighth and ninth centuries, and it has long been recognised that there was a cultural and intellectual exchange between Muslim Spain and France, Germany, Italy, and even England.

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