Princeton University Press, £41.95
Review by: Stuart Brookes
The central theme of this enthralling and beautifully produced book is that rulers designed the worlds around them to send messages of power. In the case of palaces, such a statement might seem self-evident, but David Rollason broadens his scope to consider how rulers also manipulated landscapes, cities, and inauguration sites to emphasise their authority. Take, for example, Charlemagne’s imperial capital at Aachen, where an imposing palace church formed part of a larger complex that included a Great Hall and atrium. Despite having designed his palace to cater for high-status pastimes like hunting, Charlemagne was careful to emphasise the supremacy of the Church through architecture and urban planning. The message of power was clearly that of a ruler whose authority depended on God.
Rollason deserves praise for broadening his analysis in a comparative way, taking in sites as widespread as the royal inauguration site of Tara (Ireland), the Alhambra (Spain), and Constantinople. Significantly, he suggests that rulers at different times and places often seem to draw on the same – relatively limited – grammar of power. Monumentality, design, even building materials were carefully harnessed to extend the personality of rulers, so, although this book aims mainly to generalise about power, one nonetheless glimpses something of the people who wielded it.