How the Christian Revolution Remade the World


By Tom Holland

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A "marvelous" (Economist) account of how the Christian Revolution forged the Western imagination.
Crucifixion, the Romans believed, was the worst fate imaginable, a punishment reserved for slaves. How astonishing it was, then, that people should have come to believe that one particular victim of crucifixion-an obscure provincial by the name of Jesus-was to be worshipped as a god. Dominion explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated throughout history. Today, the West remains utterly saturated by Christian assumptions. As Tom Holland demonstrates, our morals and ethics are not universal but are instead the fruits of a very distinctive civilization. Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, Dominion tells the story of how Christianity transformed the modern world.


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Some three or four decades before the birth of Christ, Rome’s first heated swimming pool was built on the Esquiline Hill. The location, just outside the city’s ancient walls, was a prime one. In time, it would become a showcase for some of the wealthiest people in the world: an immense expanse of luxury villas and parks. But there was a reason why the land beyond the Esquiline Gate had been left undeveloped for so long. For many centuries, from the very earliest days of Rome, it had been a place of the dead. When labourers first began work on the swimming pool, a corpse-stench still hung in the air. A ditch, once part of the city’s venerable defensive system, was littered with the carcasses of those too poor to be laid to rest in tombs. Here was where dead slaves, ‘once they had been slung out from their narrow cells’,1 were dumped. Vultures, flocking in such numbers that they were known as ‘the birds of the Esquiline’,2 picked the bodies clean. Nowhere else in Rome was the process of gentrification quite so dramatic. The marble fittings, the tinkling fountains, the perfumed flower beds: all were raised on the backs of the dead.

The process of reclamation, though, took a long time. Decades on from the first development of the region beyond the Esquiline Gate, vultures were still to be seen there, wheeling over a site named the Sessorium. This remained what it had always been: ‘the place set aside for the execution of slaves’.3 It was not—unlike the arenas in which criminals were put to death for the delectation of cheering crowds—a place of glamour. Exposed to public view like slabs of meat hung from a market stall, troublesome slaves were nailed to crosses. Even as seedlings imported from exotic lands began to be planted across the emerging parkland of the Esquiline, these bare trees remained as a token of its sinister past. No death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. To be hung naked, ‘long in agony, swelling with ugly weals on shoulders and chest’,4 helpless to beat away the clamorous birds: such a fate, Roman intellectuals agreed, was the worst imaginable. This in turn was what rendered it so suitable a punishment for slaves. Lacking such a sanction, the entire order of the city might fall apart. Luxury and splendour such as Rome could boast were dependent, in the final reckoning, on keeping those who sustained it in their place. ‘After all, we have slaves drawn from every corner of the world in our households, practicing strange customs, and foreign cults, or none—and it is only by means of terror that we can hope to coerce such scum.’5

Nevertheless, while the salutary effect of crucifixion on those who might otherwise threaten the order of the state was taken for granted, Roman attitudes to the punishment were shot through with ambivalence. Naturally, if it were to serve as a deterrent it needed to be public. Nothing spoke more eloquently of a failed revolt than the sight of hundreds upon hundreds of corpse-hung crosses, whether lining a highway or else massed before a rebellious city, the hills all around it stripped bare of their trees. Even in peacetime, executioners would make a spectacle of their victims by suspending them in a variety of inventive ways: ‘one, perhaps, upside down, with his head towards the ground, another with a stake driven through his genitals, another attached by his arms to a yoke’.6 Yet in the exposure of the crucified to the public gaze there lurked a paradox. So foul was the carrion-reek of their disgrace that many felt tainted even by viewing a crucifixion. The Romans, for all that they had adopted the punishment as the ‘supreme penalty’,7 refused to countenance the possibility that it might have originated with them. Only a people famed for their barbarousness and cruelty could ever have devised such a torture: the Persians, perhaps, or the Assyrians, or the Gauls. Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross—a ‘crux’—was repellent. ‘Why, the very word is harsh on our ears.’8 It was this disgust that crucifixion uniquely inspired which explained why, when slaves were condemned to death, they were executed in the meanest, wretchedest stretch of land beyond the city walls; and why, when Rome burst its ancient limits, only the planting of the world’s most exotic and aromatic plants could serve to mask the taint. It was also why, despite the ubiquity of crucifixion across the Roman world, few cared to think much about it. Order, the order loved by the gods and upheld by magistrates vested with the full authority of the greatest power on earth, was what counted—not the elimination of such vermin as presumed to challenge it. Criminals broken on implements of torture: who were such filth to concern men of breeding and civility? Some deaths were so vile, so squalid, that it was best to draw a veil across them entirely.

The surprise, then, is less that we should have so few detailed descriptions in ancient literature of what a crucifixion might actually involve, than that we should have any at all.* The corpses of the crucified, once they had first provided pickings for hungry birds, tended to be flung into a common grave. In Italy, undertakers dressed in red, ringing bells as they went, would drag them there on hooks. Oblivion, like the loose earth scattered over their tortured bodies, would then entomb them. This was a part of their fate. Nevertheless, amid the general silence, there is one major exception which proves the rule. Four detailed accounts of the process by which a man might be sentenced to the cross, and then suffer his punishment, have survived from antiquity. Remarkably, they all describe the same execution: a crucifixion that took place some sixty or seventy years after the building of the first heated swimming pool in Rome. The location, though, was not the Esquiline, but another hill, outside the walls of Jerusalem: Golgotha, ‘which means the place of a skull’.9 The victim, a Jew by the name of Jesus, a wandering preacher from an obscure town named Nazareth, in a region north of Jerusalem named Galilee, had been convicted of a capital offence against Roman order. The four earliest accounts of his execution, written some decades after his death, specify what this meant in practice. The condemned man, after his sentencing, was handed over to soldiers to be flogged. Next, because he had claimed to be ‘the king of the Jews’, his guards mocked him, and spat on him, and set a crown of thorns on his head. Only then, bruised and bloodied, was he led out on his final journey. Hauling his cross as he went, he stumbled his way through Jerusalem, a spectacle and an admonition to all who saw him, and onwards, along the road to Golgotha.* There, nails were driven into his hands and feet, and he was crucified. After his death, a spear was jabbed into his side. There is no reason to doubt the essentials of this narrative. Even the most sceptical historians have tended to accept them. ‘The death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross is an established fact, arguably the only established fact about him.’10 Certainly, his sufferings were nothing exceptional. Pain and humiliation, and the protracted horror of ‘the most wretched of deaths’:11 these, over the course of Roman history, were the common lot of multitudes.

Decidedly not the common lot of multitudes, however, was the fate of Jesus’ corpse. Lowered from the cross, it was spared a common grave. Claimed by a wealthy admirer, it was prepared reverently for burial, laid in a tomb and left behind a heavy boulder. Such, at any rate, is the report of all four of the earliest narratives of Jesus’ death—narratives that in Greek were called euangelia, ‘good news’, and would come to be known in English as gospels.* The accounts are not implausible. Certainly, we know from archaeological evidence that the corpse of a crucified man might indeed, on occasion, be granted dignified burial in the ossuaries beyond the walls of Jerusalem. Altogether more startling, though—not to say unprecedented—were the stories of what happened next. That women, going to the tomb, had found the entrance stone rolled away. That Jesus, over the course of the next forty days, had appeared to his followers, not as a ghost or a reanimated corpse, but resurrected into a new and glorious form. That he had ascended into heaven and was destined to come again. Time would see him hailed, not just as a man, but as a god. By enduring the most agonising fate imaginable, he had conquered death itself. ‘Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…’12

The utter strangeness of all this, for the vast majority of people in the Roman world, did not lie in the notion that a mortal might become divine. The border between the heavenly and the earthly was widely held to be permeable. In Egypt, the oldest of monarchies, kings had been objects of worship for unfathomable aeons. In Greece, stories were told of a ‘hero god’13 by the name of Heracles, a muscle-bound monster-slayer who, after a lifetime of spectacular feats, had been swept up from the flames of his own pyre to join the immortals. Among the Romans, a similar tale was told of Romulus, the founder of their city. In the decades before the crucifixion of Jesus, the pace of such promotions into the ranks of the gods had begun to quicken. So vast had the scope of Roman power become that any man who succeeded in making himself its master was liable to seem less human than divine. The ascent into heaven of one of those, a warlord by the name of Julius Caesar, had been heralded by the blaze across the skies of a fiery-tailed star; that of a second, Caesar’s adopted son, who had won for himself the name of Augustus, by a spirit seen rising—just as Heracles had done—from a funeral pyre. Even sceptics who scorned the possibility that a fellow mortal might truly become a god were happy to concede its civic value. ‘For the human spirit that believes itself to be of divine origin will thereby be emboldened in the undertaking of mighty deeds, more energetic in accomplishing them, and by its freedom from care rendered more successful in carrying them out.’14

Divinity, then, was for the very greatest of the great: for victors, and heroes, and kings. Its measure was the power to torture one’s enemies, not to suffer it oneself: to nail them to the rocks of a mountain, or to turn them into spiders, or to blind and crucify them after conquering the world. That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque. The ultimate offensiveness, though, was to one particular people: Jesus’ own. The Jews, unlike their rulers, did not believe that a man might become a god; they believed that there was only the one almighty, eternal deity. Creator of the heavens and the earth, he was worshipped by them as the Most High God, the Lord of Hosts, the Master of all the Earth. Empires were his to order; mountains to melt like wax. That such a god, of all gods, might have had a son, and that this son, suffering the fate of a slave, might have been tortured to death on a cross, were claims as stupefying as they were, to most Jews, repellent. No more shocking a reversal of their most devoutly held assumptions could possibly have been imagined. Not merely blasphemy, it was madness.

Even those who did come to acknowledge Jesus as ‘Christos’, the Anointed One of the Lord God, might flinch at staring the manner of his death full in the face. ‘Christians’, as they were called, were as wise to the connotations of crucifixion as anyone. ‘The mystery of the cross, which summons us to God, is something despised and dishonourable.’15 So wrote Justin, the foremost Christian apologist of his generation, a century and a half after the birth of Jesus. The torture of the Son of the Most High God was a horror simply too shocking to be portrayed in visual form. Scribes copying the gospels might on occasion draw above the Greek word for ‘cross’ delicate pictograms that hinted at the crucified Christ, but otherwise it was left to sorcerers or satirists to illustrate his execution. Yet this, to many across the Roman world, was not as deep a paradox as perhaps it might have seemed. So profound were some mysteries that mortals had no choice but to keep them veiled. The naked radiance of the gods was far too dazzling for the human eye. No one, by contrast, had been blinded by the spectacle of the Son of the Most High God being tortured to death; but Christians, although accustomed to make the sign of the cross as a gesture of piety, and to contemplate with wide-eyed reverence the gospel accounts of their Saviour’s sufferings, seem to have shrunk from seeing them represented in physical form.

Only centuries after the death of Jesus—by which time, astonishingly, even the Caesars had been brought to acknowledge him as Christ—did his execution at last start to emerge as an acceptable theme for artists. By AD 400 the cross was ceasing to be viewed as something shameful. Banned as a punishment decades earlier by Constantine, the first Christian emperor, crucifixion had come to serve the Roman people as an emblem of triumph over sin and death. An artist, carving the scene out of ivory, might represent Jesus in the skimpy loincloth of an athlete, no less muscled than any of the ancient gods. Even as the western half of the empire began to slip away from the rule of the Caesars and fall to barbarian invaders, so in the eastern half, where Roman power endured, the Cross provided assurance to an embattled people that victory would ultimately be theirs. In Christ’s agonies had been the index of his defeat of evil. This was why, triumphant even on the implement of his torture, he was never shown as suffering pain. His expression was one of serenity. It proclaimed him Lord of the Universe.

So it was, in an empire that—although today we call it Byzantine—never ceased to insist that it was Roman, a corpse came to serve as an icon of majesty. Byzantium, though, was not the only Christian realm. In the Latin-speaking West, a millennium and more after the birth of Christ, a fresh revolution was brewing. Increasingly, there were Christians who, rather than keeping the brute horror of crucifixion from their gaze, yearned instead to fix their eyes fully upon it. ‘Why, O my soul, did you fail to be there, to be stabbed by a sword of bitter grief, that you could not endure the piercing of your Saviour’s side by a spear? Why could you not bear to see the nails violate the hands and feet of your Creator?’16 This prayer, written some time around AD 1070, was not just to the God who reigned in glory on high, but to the condemned criminal he had been when he suffered his humiliating death. Its author, a brilliant scholar from northern Italy by the name of Anselm, was a man of noble birth: a correspondent of countesses, an associate of kings. Such it was to be a prince of the Church: the ecclesia or ‘assembly’ of the Christian people. Anselm was a man who combined birth, ability and a famous name. Nevertheless, even as he laboured to sway the destiny of Christendom, he could not help but find in his own eminence a cause of dread. So upset was he when appointed to lead the English Church that he promptly suffered a spectacular nosebleed. ‘The very name of private property was to him a thing of horror.’17 Seeing a cornered hare, he burst into tears, and bade the terrified animal be set free. No matter how high in the affairs of the world he rose, he never forgot that it was in lowliness, and nakedness, and persecution that his Saviour had redeemed him. In his prayer to the crucified Christ, copied as it was and read across the whole of the Latin West, Anselm articulated a new and momentous understanding of the Christian God: one in which the emphasis was laid not upon his triumph, but upon his suffering humanity.

‘With this lament, suddenly, shockingly, we are in the presence of rupture…’18 The Jesus portrayed by medieval artists, twisted, bloody, dying, was a victim of crucifixion such as his original executioners would have recognised: no longer serene and victorious, but racked by agony, just as any tortured slave would have been. The response to the spectacle, however, was far removed from the mingled revulsion and disdain that had typified that of the ancients to crucifixion. Men and women, when they looked upon an image of their Lord fixed to the cross, upon the nails smashed through the tendons and bone of his feet, upon the arms stretched so tightly as to appear torn from their sockets, upon the slump of his thorn-crowned head onto his chest, did not feel contempt, but rather compassion, and pity, and fear. There was certainly no lack of Christians, in medieval Europe, to identify with the sufferings of their God. Rich still trampled down poor. Gibbets stood on hills. The Church itself, thanks in large part to the exertions of men like Anselm, was able to lay claim to the ancient primacy of Rome—and uphold it, what was more. And yet, for all that, something fundamental had indeed changed. ‘Patience in tribulation, offering the other cheek, praying for one's enemies, loving those who hate us’:19 such were the Christian virtues as defined by Anselm. All derived from the recorded sayings of Jesus himself. No Christians, then, not even the most callous or unheeding, could ignore them without some measure of reproof from their consciences. That the Son of God, born of a woman, and sentenced to the death of a slave, had perished unrecognised by his judges, was a reflection fit to give pause to even the haughtiest monarch. This awareness, enshrined as it was in the very heart of medieval Christianity, could not help but lodge in its consciousness a visceral and momentous suspicion: that God was closer to the weak than to the mighty, to the poor than to the rich. Any beggar, any criminal, might be Christ. ‘So the last will be first, and the first last.’20

To the Roman aristocrats who, in the decades before the birth of Jesus, first began to colonise the Esquiline Hill with their marble fittings and their flowers beds, such a sentiment would have seemed grotesque. And yet it had come to pass. Nowhere bore more spectacular witness to this than Rome itself. In 1601, in a church that had originally been built to exorcise the ghost of Nero, a particularly flamboyant and malignant Caesar, a painting was installed that paid homage to the outcast origins of the city’s Christian order. The artist, a young man from Milan by the name of Caravaggio, had been commissioned to paint a crucifixion: not of Christ himself, but of his leading disciple. Peter, a fisherman who, according to the gospels, had abandoned his boat and nets to follow Jesus, was said to have become the ‘overseer’—the episcopos or ‘bishop’—of the first Christians of Rome, before being put to death by Nero. Since Peter’s execution, more than two hundred men had held the bishopric, an office that brought with it a claim to primacy over the entire Church, and the honorary title of Pappas or ‘Father’—‘Pope’. Over the course of the fifteen centuries and more that had followed Peter’s death, the authority of the popes had waxed and waned; but it remained, in the lifetime of Caravaggio, a formidable thing. The artist, however, knew better than to celebrate its pomp, its splendour, its wealth. The earthly greatness of the papacy was turned literally on its head. Peter, the story went, had demanded to be crucified upside down, so as not to share in the fate of his Lord; and Caravaggio, choosing as his theme the very moment when the heavy cross was levered upwards, portrayed the first pope as he had authentically been—as a peasant. No ancient artist would have thought to honour a Caesar by representing him as Caravaggio represented Peter: tortured, humiliated, stripped almost bare. And yet, in the city of the Caesars, it was a man broken to such a fate who was honoured as the keeper of ‘the keys of the kingdom of heaven’.21 The last had indeed become first.

The relationship of Christianity to the world that gave birth to it is, then, paradoxical. The faith is at once the most enduring legacy of classical antiquity, and the index of its utter transformation. Formed of a great confluence of traditions—Persian and Jewish, Greek and Roman—it has long survived the collapse of the empire from which it first emerged, to become, in the words of one Jewish scholar, ‘the most powerful of hegemonic cultural systems in the history of the world’.22 In the Middle Ages, no civilisation in Eurasia was as congruent with a single dominant set of beliefs as was the Latin West with its own distinctive form of Christianity. Elsewhere, whether in the lands of Islam, or in India, or in China, there were various understandings of the divine, and numerous institutions that served to define them; but in Europe, in the lands that acknowledged the primacy of the pope, there was only the occasional community of Jews to disrupt the otherwise total monopoly of the Roman Church. Such exclusivity was sternly guarded. Those who disturbed it, and refused to repent, might expect to be silenced, expelled or put to death. A Church that worshipped a God executed by heedless authorities presided over what has aptly been termed ‘a persecuting society’.* Here, in the conviction that beliefs served to define a man or woman, was yet a further index of the transformative impact of the Christian revolution. That Christians had been willing to die as witnesses for their beliefs, as martyrs, was precisely what had marked them out to the Roman authorities as sinister and aberrant. All that, though, had changed. Time had seen the subversive prevail. In medieval Christendom, the bones of martyrs were treasured, and it was the Church that patrolled belief. To be human was to be Christian; to be Christian was to believe.

Well might the Roman Church have termed itself ‘catholic’: ‘universal’. There was barely a rhythm of life that it did not define. From dawn to dusk, from midsummer to the depths of winter, from the hour of their birth to the very last drawing of their breath, the men and women of medieval Europe absorbed its assumptions into their bones. Even when, in the century before Caravaggio, Catholic Christendom began to fragment, and new forms of Christianity to emerge, the conviction of Europeans that their faith was universal remained deep-rooted. It inspired them in their exploration of continents undreamed of by their forefathers; in their conquest of those that they were able to seize, and reconsecrate as a Promised Land; in their attempt to convert the inhabitants of those that they were not. Whether in Korea or in Tierra del Fuego, in Alaska or in New Zealand, the cross on which Jesus had been tortured to death came to serve as the most globally recognised symbol of a god that there has ever been. ‘Thou hast rebuked the nations, thou hast destroyed the wicked; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.’23 The man who greeted the news of the Japanese surrender in 1945 by quoting scripture and offering up praise to Christ was not Truman, nor Churchill, nor de Gaulle, but the Chinese leader, Chiang Kaishek. Even in the twenty-first century, as the tide of Western dominance palpably retreats, assumptions bred of Europe’s ancestral faith continue to structure the way that the world organises itself. Whether in North Korea or in the command structures of jihadi terrorist cells, there are few so ideologically opposed to the West that they are not sometimes obliged to employ the international dating system. Whenever they do so, they are subliminally reminded of the claims made by Christianity about the birth of Jesus. Time itself has been Christianised.

HOW WAS IT THAT A cult inspired by the execution of an obscure criminal in a long-vanished empire came to exercise such a transformative and enduring influence on the world? To attempt an answer to this question, as I do in this book, is not to write a history of Christianity. Rather than provide a panoramic survey of its evolution, I have sought instead to trace the currents of Christian influence that have spread most widely, and been most enduring into the present day. That is why—although I have written extensively about the Eastern and Orthodox Churches elsewhere, and find them themes of immense wonder and fascination—I have chosen not to trace their development beyond antiquity. My ambition is hubristic enough as it is: to explore how we in the West came to be what we are, and to think the way that we do. The moral and imaginative upheaval that saw Jesus enshrined as a god by the same imperial order that had tortured him to death did not bring to an end the capacity of Christianity for inspiring profound transformations in societies. Quite the opposite. Already, by the time that Anselm died in 1109, Latin Christendom had been set upon a course so distinctive that what today we term ‘the West’ is less its heir than its continuation. Certainly, to dream of a world transformed by a reformation, or an enlightenment, or a revolution is nothing exclusively modern. Rather, it is to dream as medieval visionaries dreamed: to dream in the manner of a Christian.

Today, at a time of seismic geopolitical realignment, when our values are proving to be not nearly as universal as some of us had assumed them to be, the need to recognise just how culturally contingent they are is more pressing than ever. To live in a Western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions. This is no less true for Jews or Muslims than it is for Catholics or Protestants. Two thousand years on from the birth of Christ, it does not require a belief that he rose from the dead to be stamped by the formidable—indeed the inescapable—influence of Christianity. Whether it be the conviction that the workings of conscience are the surest determinants of good law, or that Church and state exist as distinct entities, or that polygamy is unacceptable, its trace elements are to be found everywhere in the West. Even to write about it in a Western language is to use words shot through with Christian connotations. ‘Religion’, ‘secular’, ‘atheist’: none of these are neutral. All, though they derive from the classical past, come freighted with the legacy of Christendom. Fail to appreciate this, and the risk is always of anachronism. The West, increasingly empty though the pews may be, remains firmly moored to its Christian past.


  • "This lively, capacious history of Christianity emphasizes the extent to which the religion still underpins Western liberal values."—New Yorker
  • "A galloping tour of Christianity's influence across the last 2,000 years, with vivid vignettes scattered across the centuries, and a concluding argument the Christian faith, 'the most influential framework for making sense of human existence that has ever existed,' still shapes the way that even the most secular modern people think about the world."—Ross Douthat, New York Times
  • "A sweeping narrative.... [Holland] is an exceptionally good storyteller with a marvelous eye for detail... excellent fun."—The Economist
  • "An absorbing survey of Christianity's subversive origins and enduring influence is filled with vivid portraits, gruesome deaths and moral debates...Holland has all the talents of an accomplished novelist: a gift for narrative, a lively sense of drama and a fine ear for the rhythm of a sentence."—the Guardian (UK)
  • "An engaging book."—The Times (UK)
  • "Christianity may not be on the march, but its principles continue to dominate in much of the world; this thoughtful, astute account describes how and why... Holland delivers penetrating, often jolting discussions on great controversies of Western civilization in which war, politics, and culture have formed a background to changes in values... An insightful argument that Christian ethics, even when ignored, are the norm worldwide."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
  • "An exhaustive, demanding and hugely impressive interpretation of our past, bursting with fresh ideas and perspectives on every page."—The Sunday Times
  • "An ambitious account of the history and enduring influence of Christianity. Holland argues that the modern world has been shaped by the consequences of the life and death of Jesus."—Daily Mail ("The Year's Most Essential Books")
  • "What in other hands could have been a dry pedantic account of Christianity's birth and evolution becomes in Holland's an all-absorbing story.... It takes a master storyteller to translate the development of a philosophical notion into a captivating story, and Holland proves to be one.... Holland offers a remarkably nuanced and balanced account of two millennia of Christian history -- intellectual, cultural, artistic, social and political. The book's scope is breathtaking."—The Literary Review
  • "A masterpiece of scholarship and storytelling, Dominion surpasses Holland's earlier books in its sweeping ambition and gripping presentation.... Dominion presents a rich and compelling history of Christendom."—The New Statesman
  • "This is popular history and readable. It has passages of striking writing and...lots of substance. It's imagery and points of modern comparison often have the vividness that makes excellent broadcast documentary. So there is a good read here."—The Church Times
  • "Readers of Dominion will find themselves better informed, but they will also be repeatedly disturbed and provoked and driven to rethink just how they understand the relationship between religion and the development of culture. I mean that as high praise."—Christianity Today
  • "Tom Holland has a grand thesis. He explores it with energy, ad­vances it with panache, and pulls it off with a flourish. His lively and absorbing project is at once a serviceable church history, a studied engagement with Christianity's finest and darkest hours, and a compelling argument.... Above all, Holland portrays a legacy and a history boundlessly enjoyable and consistently provocative."—Christian Century
  • "[B]ig and richly satisfying new history of Christianity, ...Dominion is superior even to Holland's much-loved earlier book Rubicon and every bit as crowded with vividly-drawn personalities."—Open Letters Monthly
  • "An engaging work...Holland exhibits a wide and deep historical knowledge...even readers who might not agree with Holland's thesis will enjoy his take on key periods of Western history."—Library Journal (starred review)
  • "With characteristic expertise and panache, Tom Holland shows in Dominion that the most distinctive fruits of Christian piety in the West have been unparalleled industry, liberation, and charity."
    Claremont Review of Books
  • "Historian Tom Holland's new blockbuster, Dominion makes clear that what we're undoing, in our current moment of cultural crisis, is Christianity."—Angelus
  • "Tom Holland, has done a great service to current discussions on the relationship between Christianity and Western civilization."—Providence Magazine
  • "The history of Christian influence could not be better served than with Tom Holland's Dominion.... Holland's exploration of Christianity's notion of inherent worth in all humans is deftly handled, and at times it rises to something akin to greatness....This latest work elevates him to the front of the top ranks of our scholarly, yet popular, historians."—LA Daily Journal
  • "Terrific: bold, ambitious and passionate."—Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
  • "Tom Holland is fun to read, monstrously erudite, wickedly joyful, and ahead of the established consensus, on average, by 4 years, three months, and 2 days."—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan
  • "This extraordinary book is vintage Tom Holland: history boldly and elegantly retold, with fascinating interconnections traced to create a narrative that cannot fail to stimulate, for it leads to a never-ending question."—Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of The Reformation: A History and Christianity: The First 3000 Years
  • "At a moment when popular debates over 'faith' and 'reason' have become fashionable, Tom Holland brilliantly reminds us that the most essential values claimed by all sides arise from a long and complex cultural history of Christian moral imagination -- one we would do well to remember."—David Bentley Hart, author of The Experience of God

On Sale
Oct 29, 2019
Page Count
624 pages
Basic Books

Tom Holland

About the Author

Tom Holland is an award-winning historian of the ancient world, a translator of Greek and Roman classical texts, and a documentary writer. He is the author of six other books, including Rubicon, Persian Fire, and Dominion. He contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He co-presents the podcast The Rest Is History. He lives in London.

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