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Timelines of Ancient Europe => the Dark Ages => Topic started by: Sun Goddess on February 19, 2007, 12:29:55 am

Title: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on February 19, 2007, 12:29:55 am

Petrarch, who conceived the idea of a European "Dark Age". From Cycle of Famous Men and Women, Andrea di Bartolo di Bargillac, c.1450

In historiography, the term Dark Ages or Dark Age most commonly refers to the European Early Middle Ages, the period encompassing (roughly) 476 to 1000.

This concept of a "Dark Age" was created by the Italian scholar Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and was originally intended as a sweeping criticism of the character of Late Latin literature. Later historians expanded the term to include not only the lack of Latin literature, but also a lack of contemporary written history and material cultural achievements in general. Popular culture has further expanded on the term as a vehicle to depict the Middle Ages as a time of backwardness, extending its pejorative use and expanding its scope. The rise of archaeology and other specialties in the 20th century has shed much light on the period and offered a more nuanced understanding of its positive developments. Other terms of periodization have come to the fore: Late Antiquity, the Early Middle Ages and the Great Migrations, depending on which aspects of culture are being emphasized.

In Britain and the United States, the phrase "Dark Ages" has occasionally been used by professionals, with severe qualification, as a term of periodization. This usage is intended as non-judgmental and simply means the relative lack of written record, "silent" as much as "dark."

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on February 19, 2007, 12:32:02 am
Petrarch and the "Dark Ages"

"Triumph of Christianity" by Tommaso Laureti (1530-1602), ceiling painting in the Sala di Constantino, Vatican Palace. Images like this one celebrate the destruction of ancient pagan culture and the victory of Christianity. See also iconoclasmIt is generally accepted that the concept was created by Petrarch in the 1330s. Writing of those who had come before him, he said that "amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius, no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom"[1]. Christian writers had traditional metaphors of "light versus darkness" to describe "good versus evil." Petrarch was the first to co-opt the metaphor and give it secular meaning by reversing its application. Classical Antiquity, so long considered the "dark age" for its lack of Christianity, was now seen by Petrarch as the age of "light" because of its cultural achievements, while Petrarch's time, lacking such cultural achievements, was now seen as the age of darkness.

Why did Petrarch call it an age of darkness? An Italian, Petrarch saw the Roman Empire and the classical period as expressions of Italian greatness.[2]. He spent much of his time traveling through Europe rediscovering and republishing the classic Latin and Greek texts. He wanted to restore the classical Latin language to its former purity. Humanists saw the preceding 900-year period as a time of stagnation. They saw history unfolding not along the religious outline of St. Augustine's Six Ages of the World, but in cultural (or secular) terms, through the progressive developments of Classical ideals, literature and art.

Petrarch wrote that history had had two periods: the Classic period of the Romans and Greeks, followed by a time of darkness, in which he saw himself as still living. Humanists believed one day the Roman Empire would rise again and restore Classic cultural purity. The concept of the European Dark Ages thus began as an ideological campaign by humanists to promote Classical culture, and was therefore not a neutral historical analysis. It was invented to express disapproval of one period in time, and the promotion of another.

By the late 14th and early 15th century, humanists such as Leonardo Bruni believed they had attained this new age, and a third, Modern Age had begun. The age before their own, which Petrarch had labeled "Dark," had thus become a "Middle" Age between the Classic and the Modern. The first use of the term "Middle Age" appears with Flavio Biondo around 1439.

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on February 19, 2007, 12:33:03 am
Modern academic use

When modern scholarly study of the Middle Ages arose in the 19th century, the term "Dark Ages" was at first kept, with all its critical overtones. Although it was never the more formal term (universities named their departments "medieval history", not "dark age history"), it was widely used, including in such classics as Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, where it expressed the author's contempt for "priest-ridden", superstitious, dark times. However the early 20th century saw a radical re-evaluation of the Middle Ages, and with it a calling into question of the terminology of darkness. A.T. Hatto, translator of many medieval works for the Penguin Classics series, exemplified this when he spoke ironically of "the lively centuries which we call dark". It became clear that serious scholars would either have to redefine the term or abandon it.

When the term "Dark Ages" is used by historians today, it is intended to be neutral, namely to express the idea that the events of the period often seem "dark" to us, due to the paucity of historical records compared with later times. The darkness is ours, not theirs. However, since there is no shortage of information on the High and Late Middle Ages this required a narrowing of the reference to the Early Middle Ages. Late 5th and 6th century Britain for instance, at the height of the Saxon invasions, might well be numbered among "the darkest of the Dark Ages," with the equivalent of a near-total news blackout, in terms of historical records, compared with either the Roman era before or the centuries that followed. Further east, the same was true in the formerly Roman province of Dacia, where history after the Roman withdrawal went unrecorded for centuries as Slavs, Avars, Bulgars and others struggled for supremacy in the Danube basin, and events there are still disputed. However, at this time the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate experienced Ages that were Golden rather than Dark; consequently, this usage of the term must also differentiate geographically. Ironically, while Petrarch's concept of a "Dark Age" corresponded to a mostly "Christian" period following pagan Rome, the neutral use of the term today applies mainly to those cultures least Christianized, and thus most sparsely covered by the Church's historians.

However, from the mid-20th century onwards an increasing number of scholars began to critique even this non-judgmental use of the term. There are two main criticisms. Firstly, it is questionable whether it is possible to use the term "dark ages" effectively in a neutral way; scholars may intend it that way, but this does not mean that ordinary readers will understand it so. Secondly, the explosion of new knowledge and insight into the history and culture of the Early Middle Ages which 20th-century scholarship has achieved means that these centuries are no longer dark even in the sense of "unknown to us". Consequently, many academic writers prefer not to use the phrase at all.

Modern popular use

In modern times, the term "Dark Ages" is still used in popular culture. Petrarch's ideological campaign to paint the Middle Ages in a negative light worked so well that "Dark Ages" is still in popular use nearly 700 years later. The humanists' goal of reviving and revering the classics of antiquity was institutionalized in the newly forming Universities at the time, and the schools over the centuries have remained true to their humanist roots. Students of education systems today are familiar with the canon of Greek authors, but few are ever exposed to the great thinkers of the Middle Ages such as Peter Abelard or Sigerus of Brabant. While the classics programs remain strong, students of the Middle Ages are not nearly as common: for example the first medieval historian in the United States, Charles Haskins, was not recognized until the early 20th century, and the number of students of the Middle Ages remains to this day very small compared to the classics. Film and novels often use the term Dark Age with its implied meaning of a time less civilized than our own. The movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously portrays knights and chivalry, following the tradition begun with Don Quixote.

Historians today consider the negative connotations of the word "dark" in "Dark Ages" negates its usefulness as a description of history. Yet Petrarch's concept of it, like that of other early humanists after him, as a discrete period distinct from our "Modern" age, has endured, and the term still finds use, through various definitions, both in popular culture and academic discourse.

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on February 19, 2007, 12:34:21 am
•   "What else, then, is all history, but the praise of Rome?"—Petrarch
•   "Each famous author of antiquity whom I recover places a new offence and another cause of dishonour to the charge of earlier generations, who, not satisfied with their own disgraceful barrenness, permitted the fruit of other minds, and the writings that their ancestors had produced by toil and application, to perish through insufferable neglect. Although they had nothing of their own to hand down to those who were to come after, they robbed posterity of its ancestral heritage."—Petrarch
•   "My fate is to live among varied and confusing storms. But for you perhaps, if as I hope and wish you will live long after me, there will follow a better age. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants can come again in the former pure radiance."—Petrarch
•   "The Middle Ages is an unfortunate term. It was not invented until the age was long past. The dwellers in the Middle Ages would not have recognized it. They did not know that they were living in the middle; they thought, quite rightly, that they were time's latest achievement."—Morris Bishop, The Middle Ages (1968)
•   ". . . if it was dark, it was the darkness of the womb."[3] — Lynn White

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Shawnadithit on May 08, 2007, 09:14:32 am
I do not like the term "Dark Age". THis period was a time of profound change, disturbance, recolonization and growth.

First of all, the Romans ruled western Europe very well and protected people, built infrastructure promoted trade. Life, for that time was very good.

Then the Romans abandoned the area to the fate of eastern tribes pressing at the borders. A massive influx of new people came in with different languages, cultures. Trade was disrupted. No doubt there was conflict and violence.

After several hundred years of this, the Moors invaded Spain and southern France. They raided up to the outskirst of Paris. They occupied much of Italy. They even occupied the Alps for a time. All this was very disruptive.

Finally, Charlemagne was able to consolidate the peoples of western Europe for a time as well as his offspring and repel the Moorish threat.

What was a messy polyglot of latin, local and german languages began to consolidate into distinct languages like french, italian, german and english. People now could communicate with one another.

Finally, the Church began its ascendency. A lot of people resent this. But the fact is that the Church, by promoting Latin as the lingua franca and as a superior ruling force was able to facilitate communication among disparate groups and mediate and broker between warmongering ruling thugs posing as kings.

The church developed an educated class of scribes and started universities and institutions of learning. Were it not for the church, there would be no stability to permit trade, for intelligent people to rise to elevated positions and for intelligent people to have the freedom to investigate the works of God.

I am frankly surprised that all of this reconsolidation was able to take place in such a short time.

With the development of more or less standarized languages, the printing press brought the written word to every man and woman who wished to read. The scientific method developed from the womb of the church itself (not without a little rebellious teenage angst, of course) and all of this despite devastating plagues that set back progress for generations.

So I hate the term Dark Ages. I would call it The Age of Consolidation for it led to all the preconditions needed for the Age of Dicovery, The Age of Nations, The Reformation and the Renaissance to occur and ultimately for the Modern Age to begin.


Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on May 09, 2007, 10:54:31 pm
That was a very well thought out response, Shawnadithit, and one in keeping with the view some scholars are revisiting with today.  I suppose, when it's all said and done, one person's Dark Age is another's age of Enlightenment. To all the people that hated Rome and suffered under it, no doubt the period when Rome thrived could also be termed, a Dark Age, or an Age of Opression.

In yet, in the 600 years or so after Rome fell, short of the Consolidation that you speak of, what did Europe really accomplish?

There was one war after another, lines of kings rose, one after another, and, rather than accumulate knowledge, people did their best to tear the old knowledge that they accumulated down - witness, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, also during the Dark Age.

Mankind fell back in terms of what it did know. A good comparison can be when all the colonies the Europeans held in Africa were finally freed, and they took their first. often bloody steps to freedom and self-determination.  Every child has to make mistakes as it grows.

So, even though I see your point, I actually do still think of this time as a Dark Age.


Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Shawnadithit on May 09, 2007, 11:21:48 pm
yes. There were lines of kings. But what occurred was the development of clear and coherent nations which exist in Europe today. These were formed at that time. We saw the formation and standardization of french, spanish, german and italian. We saw the emergence of a scholarly class that was not beholden to a local king. We saw all of Europe united in its efforts to repel the Moors. This was the first time Europe was able to repel an Asian threat in thousands of years. In a short 600 years, Europe transformed itself despite unbelievable trials to ready itself for even greater transformations, that is the birth of the Modern Age in which we are now today. This happened in the Dark Ages. The Sumerians didn't achieve this. The Chinese didn't the Incans didn't the Persians didn't the greeks didn't and the Romans didn't. But Europe did!

Thank you for your nice comments Sun Goddess!

Shawnadithit (Google my alter ego ShaNaWdithit when you have a chance!)

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Sun Goddess on May 09, 2007, 11:48:43 pm

Statue of Shanawdithit, at the Boyd's Cove Beothuk Site, Newfoundland.

Shanawdithit (1801 – June 6, 1829), also referred to as Nancy April, is believed to have been the last surviving member of the Beothuk people of Newfoundland.

She is thought to have been born in 1801. After the capture of Shanawdithit's aunt, Demasduwit, also Mary March in 1819, the few remaining Beothuk people had fled. In the spring of 1823 her father had died when he fell through the ice while trying to escape from a group of hunters. Hungry and without protection Shanawdithit, her mother and sister felt they had no choice but to go to the nearest settler, a trapper named William Cull, and beg for mercy. The three women were taken to St. John's, where Shanawdithit's mother and sister died of tuberculosis.

Shanawdithit, renamed Nancy, was then taken to Exploits Island and worked as a servant in the household of John Peyton Jr. In September 1828, she was taken back to St. John's by William Cormack, who was able to write down much of what she told him about her people. Shawnadithit remained in Cormack's care until his departure from Newfoundland early in 1829; she was then transferred to the care of the attorney general, James Simms where she spent the remaining nine months of her life.

Her health, precarious for a number of years, continued to deteriorate, and she was seen a good deal during this period by William Carson, who tended her in her last illness. She died in a St. John's hospital of tuberculosis in 1829.

When she died, her skull was presented to the Royal College of Physicians in London for study. In 1938, they turned it over to the Royal College of Surgeons; subsequently it was destroyed during the Blitz of World War II. The rest of her remains had been buried in the old graveyard on the south side of the city.

The graveyard was dismantled for railway construction in 1903. There is a monument on the site which reads: "This monument marks the site of the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin during the period 1859 - 1963. Fishermen and sailors from many ports found a spiritual haven within its hallowed walls. Near this spot is the burying place of Nancy Shanawdithit, very probably the last of the Beothuks who died on June 6, 1829."

Shanawdithit is well known to Newfoundlanders; in 1851, the local paper the Newfoundlander called her a princess of Terra Nova. In 1999, The Telegram readers voted her the most notable Aboriginal person of the past 1,000 years; she captured 57% of the total votes.

Nice choice of historical figures, EG, I had never heard of that one before.

Title: Re: the Dark Ages
Post by: Shawnadithit on May 10, 2007, 09:26:36 am
I simply adore this woman. I have read as much about her as I can. She was very beautiful, noble and elegant. She was thoughtful and quiet and very intelligent. She was an excellent communicator and artist.

But she embodies tragedy not just for her own persoanal situation which was indeed tragic for she lost her children, husband, friends and family to violence, butchery, privation and disease but she also lost her entire people. Imagine if you were the last caucasian (assuming you are cuacasian). How alone you would feel. She carries this weight of tragedy and she was a symbol of the violence and thoughtlessness of man and of the dignity of man. I always come to tears when i think of her and indeed I am wiping them away as I write this!!! For these reasons she is now adored by the people of Newfoundland

Anyway. If you love Shanawdithit, by contrast you will also love Kahina or Kahena. Google her and tell me what you think of her! Here is one site I have bookmarked: