In the sixth century AD, the Near East was divided between two great empires: Persia and Rome. A hundred years on, and one had vanished, while the other was a dismembered, bleeding trunk. In their place, a new superpower had arisen: the empire of the Arabs.
But the changes that marked the period were more than merely political or even cultural: there was also a transformation of human society. Today, over half the world's population subscribes to one of the various religions that took form during the last centuries of antiquity. Wherever men or women are inspired by belief in a single god, they bear witness to the abiding impact of this extraordinary, convulsive age - yet as Tom Holland demonstrates, much of what Jews, Christians and Muslims believe about the origins of their religion is open to debate.
Holland explores how a succession of great empires came to identify themselves with a new and revolutionary understanding of the divine. This is a tale of wars and plagues, emperors in golden palaces and ulcerous saints on pillars, teeming cities and empty deserts. "In the Shadow of the Sword" is a story vivid with drama, horror and startling achievement.
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