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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Truth About the So-Called "Dark Ages"

Like so many eras of history, the period known by most as the "Dark Ages" is one of the most (if not THE most) misunderstood moments in the annals of humanity. The simple fact that we label these years (roughly 400-800 A.D.) with the idiotic label of "Dark Ages" shows just how little most of us know about a period of time that is shrouded with more legend and lore than actual fact.

For whatever reason(s), the "Dark Ages" have come to symbolize a terrible time in the history of mankind, in which savagery, brutality, ignorance and religious intolerance were the name of the game.  We clothe the "Dark Ages" with the robes of wicked men, hell-bent on world domination and the subjugation of all within their realm, having their hands and garments drenched in the blood of those who stand in their way.

And while it is true that the "Dark Ages" had their fair share of evil doers and tough life circumstances, the reality is the years between 400-800 were quite liberating, enlightening and peaceful when compared to other eras of human history.  Contrary to the generally accepted stereotypes, the "Dark Ages" were a time of human progress and improvement in which its citizens experienced more "light" than they did "dark."

It was the Italian scholar and philosopher Petrarch who first coined the term "The Dark Ages" in the early part of the 14th century.  He did so because of his erroneous belief that these years were marked by the illiteracy and ignorance of the masses who roamed the earth aimlessly in the wake of the "fall" of the Roman Empire.  Later, Protestant reformers, who were more than happy to label any and all things with a Catholic bend as being "heresy," embraced the term "Dark Ages" as the perfect moniker for a world that was almost entirely Catholic.  The derogatory term "Dark Ages" came to signify the epitome of Catholic ignorance, human depravity, intellectual idiocy and dictatorial brutality.  But as is often the case, those who levy unjust accusations are usually the ones who deserve to be accused, and those who jumped on the early "Dark Ages" bandwagon did so at the cost of their own ignorance.

In reality, the "Dark Ages" (hereafter referred to as the Early Middle Ages) were a period of remarkable progress and light.  As Historian Jamie Frater has pointed out, the Early Middle Ages are marked by some remarkable advances in human society.  For example, the Early Middle Ages witnessed the dawn of the university.  It was within these early universities that the foundations for science were laid. Contrary to popular belief, the Church did NOT censor science during this period.  As Historian Ronald Numbers states, the battle between religion and science was an invention of the later Middle Ages.  The "Dark Ages" were actually okay with the idea of science and religion existing together.  In addition, these universities became the incubators for the birth of fields like Algebra, architecture and art, which became the foundations of the later Renaissance and Enlightenment eras.

The Early Middle Ages also saw the dawn of new literary styles.  Contrary to what Petrarch believed, the "Dark Ages" witnessed at least two literary periods that could and should be called a "Renaissance" of their own.  The "Carolingian Renaissance" and "Byzantine Golden Age," both of which came to fruition during those dreadful "Dark Ages," were defined by their advancements in literature, writing, arts, the development of laws, and perhaps most important, dramatic developments in theology and scriptural study. Men like St. Augustine and Pelagius gave the world profound insights into Christian theology, most of which remain with us today.  In the East, men like Justinian were laying the foundations of jurisprudence and other legal protections that provided for many people a world that was relatively free and safe (at least more so than it had been or would be in the centuries to come).  The implementation of new laws eliminated (for the most part) slavery and gave even common citizens more rights than many even experienced during the heydays of the Roman Republic/Empire.


The Early Middle Ages also enjoyed the fruits of a better climate and advancements in agriculture. Contrary to what most probably think, the "Dark Ages" were not dark, cold and empty of food. Quite the opposite is the case. The Early Middle Ages actually enjoyed a climate that was extremely friendly to agriculture.  The warming of the North Atlantic region is what allowed "barbarian" nations to thrive.  The ability of the Vikings to prosper in Greenland and sail into the Atlantic with such ease is a perfect illustration of this warming trend. Increased food production meant that humanity was able to flourish and spread into the frontiers of Europe, and this is precisely what took place during the "Dark Ages."

As you can plainly see, the "Dark Ages" were anything but "dark."  The Early Middle Ages were a period of tremendous prosperity, growth and innovation that set the stage for many of the advances of later movements like the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment and even the Scientific Revolution.  Can we now PLEASE do away with the archaic nonsense that continues to perpetuate the myth surrounding the "Dark Ages?"  It's time to get rid of this History Channel-type crap once and for all.

1 comment:

Brian Tubbs said...

Wait....are you saying that not everything on the History Channel is accurate?