Thursday, June 20, 2019

When the Middle Ages were Dark

Unauthorized professor Rachel Fulton Brown laments the colorization of what used to be known as the Dark Ages:
You remember, right? What it was like when the Middle Ages were Dark? The Roman Catholic Church made slaves of everyone, stripped them of their sense of dignity and independence and made social status a matter not of achievement, but birth. The Church hated science and industry and did everything in its power to keep people in chains. It guarded its authority with the sword and the stake, stifled all innovation, and fed the common people lies.

And why were these Ages so Dark? There were no universities, no towns, only castles with dungeons. Monks huddled in their cells thinking dark thoughts about sin, while Vikings stormed across the countryside, raping and pillaging and capturing Christians to sell as slaves. The Church refused to let anybody learn to read in case they got hold of the Bible and threatened its power.

Meanwhile, in the convents, women went mad, hysterically imagining themselves beloved by God, some even going so far as to have visions of being married to Christ. They were encouraged in these “absurd and puerile” delusions by their priests, themselves driven mad by their unnatural celibacy, who, when they were not seducing nuns, were inventing lies about witches having sex with the Devil, all the while blaming the women for inflaming their lust.

There was no commerce, no learning, no art. All was drab and colorless because the Church hated beauty. The kings were barbarians who knew nothing of law. The Church encouraged the worst superstitions so as to keep the laity bewitched and in fear of God. The barons thought nothing of torturing their own laborers, while the Church was ever on the lookout for heretics to burn at the stake.

Even the high culture was infected with superstition, as the Church coerced the laity into building great cathedrals simply in order to assert its power. Whereas the ancient Romans had build a great civilization (never mind the conquest and slaves), the Middle Ages knew only decadence and decline, thanks to the Church. There was no great literature or philosophy, only the demented ravings of the scholastics, who wasted their lives arguing such stupidities as how many angels could dance on the head of a pin and insisting that the world was flat.

And then along came Charles Homer Haskins (1870-1937) and ruined everything.
Prof. Brown's first Unauthorized video will be available on Unauthorized.TV later this month.

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Blogger Gregory the Tall June 20, 2019 8:00 AM  

Sounds mouth-watering

Blogger binks webelf June 20, 2019 8:16 AM  

Haskins wrote a well-regarded book which woke people up from their blind condemnation of the amazing 'Middle Ages':
The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century

Online & downloadable here:

Blogger The Observer June 20, 2019 8:51 AM  

The so-called intellectuals of the Enlightenment had to repeatedly and brazenly lie about the past in order to make the hell they created look appealing by comparison. With control over the printing press and media of the time, they could say almost fib from chastity belts to prima nocta to "yet, it moves" and still have it believed.

Blogger binks webelf June 20, 2019 9:04 AM  

@3 "The so-called intellectuals of the Enlightenment"

They were also the ones who gave the demeaning name "Middles Ages" to a thousand years of European faith, discovery, learning, building, beauty, truth, and goodness. Jealous liars.

Blogger Gettimothy June 20, 2019 9:13 AM

Blogger Gettimothy June 20, 2019 9:13 AM  

@2 thank you for the links

Blogger clar June 20, 2019 9:50 AM  

the church had a strong influence over the Early Middle

Blogger Miguel June 20, 2019 9:55 AM  

IQs have decreased so much today that college students might actually not see the humor in this excelent piece.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 10:00 AM  

The more you look into and know about the historiography of the Middle Ages, the more you realise that complaining about popular misrepresentations of the period is a pointless grievance.

Besides, sometimes the Middle Ages get pretty Dark in places. Sub-Roman Britain and most of Western Europe fell into a ‘dark age’ immediately after the fall of the Western Empire - and no-one is going to persuade me otherwise.

Blogger widlast washere June 20, 2019 10:04 AM  

Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" is a very good read about the 14th century. I Highly recommend it.
The "enlightenment" was anything but. The real dark ages is NOW.

Blogger Warunicorn June 20, 2019 10:06 AM  

One thing I learned about the Middle Ages is that Hildegard von Bingen (a woman of noble birth) was an abbess during that period. Though she had no formal musical education, she wrote beautiful a capella music and had visions (thought to be triggered from her intense migraines).

That doesn't sound to me like a woman going mad or some such. Von Bingen is even lauded to this day by the Church, both clergy and laity. (You can find her work being performed by period performers like Sequentia on YouTube. Look for "Canticles of Ecstasy", specifically.)

In short: So-called historians who rag on that period can kiss my ass.

Blogger Silent Draco June 20, 2019 10:11 AM  

cisbio, before complaining about power failures better stop and look at what Night really means.

If you can read this, thank St. Martin de Tours and Charles Martel.

Blogger xevious2030 June 20, 2019 10:19 AM  

Yep, then we got a vote for women, and universities of higher learning to propagate Social Justice Warriors, while enlightening humanity to the existence of 1,345,678,901,345,678,901,345,678,901,345 genders.

Blogger CM June 20, 2019 10:19 AM  

I'm not entirely certain where she's going with it.

It seems to me that while it was the "dark ages", the only people wanting any part of it were the die hard "my civilization" people, exercising apologetics and defenses of the age.

Now that it is enlightened, every barnacle is trying to claim their people played a role in it.

She seems to go with neo-nazis love it now, but it isn't just neo-nazis who romanticize the era... we have Spanish princesses with Moorish ladies in waiting just dying to explain how a black lord could possibly exist in 16th century England.

It is parasitical.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 10:20 AM  

If you can read this, thank St. Martin de Tours and Charles Martel

I credit Leo the Isaurian with more in that regard, whatever your point is.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 10:39 AM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger xevious2030 June 20, 2019 10:39 AM  

"And no-one is going to persuade me otherwise."
Now that, is Dark ages.

Blogger Michael S. June 20, 2019 10:41 AM  

Yes to the Enlightenment and no to Christianity and the Dark Ages!!
Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

P.S. Ok, ok, we admit that we created a modern dark age that spanned most of the twentieth century with hundreds of millions of innocents starving, being tortured, falsely imprisoned (Gulags) and murdered. But give us credit for trying!!!! Sheesh

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 10:42 AM  

Sure, the Byzantine survived that round, yet it later failed.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 10:58 AM  

I'm not sure what Draco is getting at, so may have 'mis-answered' for want of a better word. hey ho.

The term Dark Ages’ is not a moral judgement on the period in question. It’s just that literary sources dry up. Urban infrastructure decays. Power devolves to local war lords etc. Things get pretty tasty.

If it makes y’all feel better, most of the Middle Ages represent progressive improvement from those initial dark ages.

Blogger Nostromo June 20, 2019 11:17 AM  

The Dark ages sounds suspiciously what's occurring in the world, now.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 11:41 AM  

"Urban infrastructure decays. Power devolves to local war lords etc. Things get pretty tasty."

The empire fell. Evidences less necessarily related to something other than the topic would serve better.

"It’s just that literary sources dry up."

The entertainment dried up. The rest continued.

"If it makes y’all feel better,"

Don't pretend that we care overly about feelings like you do.

Blogger Silent Draco June 20, 2019 11:45 AM  

The Dark Ages were defined as the time before the birth of Christ, before Lux Deo entered the world.

Ye SJWes in the Renaissance redefined this and everything else they could get into print, to avoid personal bad feelings at having only republished what was saved and built on by the Church and her colleges and universities.

Something about: always lie, always double down, always project. Goes back to their dark Master, masquerading as the Light Bringer.

Blogger xevious2030 June 20, 2019 11:49 AM  

"Dark Ages’ is not a moral judgement on the period in question."
Sure it is, well a faux one. An attack on Christianity and the Church, with excuses. Of all the collapses and troughs of humanity, the horrors and butchering, across the globe, the term Dark Ages is primarily for when, where?

Anonymous Anonymous June 20, 2019 12:11 PM  

This sounds great. I look forward to it. I think we're heading into something of an actual dark age right now.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 12:13 PM  

One writer (I forget whom) has an evocative image that has always stayed with me.

He wrote that, to a monk in 10th century France, say, Strabo and Isadore of Seville alike were as two peaks of a distant mountain range. The comparative distance - in time- between those peaks was flattened in the haze.

That's the Middle Ages.

The 12th century Renaissance didn't really change that.

Blogger binks webelf June 20, 2019 12:17 PM  

Good thing we moderns don't have peasants working themselves to death for harsh taskmasters, like back in the evil medieval Before-Time.
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Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 12:49 PM  

"The comparative distance - in time- between those peaks was flattened in the haze."

Perceived interpreted as desired. Let him speak for someone else of their perspective after he can account for his own of them.

"The new leaves on the ends of the twigs of the branches are a major change worthy of celebration because no leaves have ever existed on this tree before. The fully developed branches themselves are colorless and therefore without relation and of no account."


Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 12:49 PM  

Evocative? How apt.

Blogger Damelon Brinn June 20, 2019 12:51 PM  

The term Dark Ages’ is not a moral judgement on the period in question.

It may not have been originally, but it's been used that way colloquially for at least the last 50 years. "OMG, Trump is taking us back to the Dark Ages!" That's how pretty much everyone understands and uses the term, as a morally and intellectually dark time. If you're trying to communicate with humans, that's what they will assume you mean by it.

Blogger Doktor Jeep June 20, 2019 1:12 PM  

There was no manorial court.
The oath of fealty actually stated "you can rape my wife and starve me to death on a whim and get away with it".
EVERYBODY had swords and would kill each other in 2 seconds over trivial things.
And wizards. Don't forget we had wizards.

Yeah I'm looking forward to real history on the "dark" ages. Especially since it's the pozzed democratic system that tells me it was dark. And whey they tell you something is dark, chances are you are being lied to.

Someday we'll have separation between school and state. Like we had in the DARK ages...

Blogger DonReynolds June 20, 2019 1:40 PM  

The Middle Ages were not unique nor were they unusual, but part of a regular, recurring cycle of 800 years, explained by a Swedish economist Sjoberg about 40 years ago. The cycle is fundamental to Western Civilization, consisting of 300 years of rapid urbanization, followed by 500 years of "Dark Ages". There is nothing particularly "dark" about the "Dark Ages". Mostly, the "Dark Ages" are very determined efforts to keep alive some of the achievements realized during the period of rapid urbanization/industrial revolution.

The present period of rapid urbanization began about 1750, so you can do your own maff on that one.

What we tend to call Western Civilization is primarily the fruit of a prolonged period of city building and political preferences are directly impacted. During the "Dark Ages", urban living is untenable and impractical, so the surviving population seeps into the surrounding rural country-side. What we know as feudalism is nothing more than a political adaptation to rural life, where power is measured in acres, rather than dollar bills or gold coins. Serfdom is common and largely acceptable as a peaceful and orderly means to access land and natural resources. Markets are smaller and more local. Knowledge is stored for safe-keeping in libraries and monasteries and universities are closed.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the roads still existed but went largely unused. Travel dried up, not because it somehow became more difficult, but because it was more dangerous and less rewarding. The Pax Roma was ended and cities built walls again. In scary places with difficult neighbors, they kept building them ever higher.

The Sjoberg cycle does not seem to coincide with global warming/cooling, but I expect it is a major factor in the background that could not be independent of the timeline. Cities are primarily markets and as long as much of that market is based on agriculture (the rest being finished good and services), then cooperating weather would seem to be a factor. But if travel is relatively cheap, such as sea-trade, then cities are still possible with extractive resources and finished goods trading for food. One need not grow their own food as long as they have something they can trade for it or they have a military that can take it from foreign places.

Blogger sammibandit June 20, 2019 1:51 PM  


That article was almost as disturbing as de Sade's Justine. Between the father who died at work and his passing ignored by management, the contractor who has PTSD from watching the iguana abuse for hours on end, and the combat soldier who also got PTSD I don't know how else to call this kind of employment other than sadism against trait conscientious people. The man in charge of helping the contractors "work/life balance"is an Indian.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 1:59 PM  

It may not have been originally, but it's been used that way colloquially for at least the last 50 years

I see your point. There is a Monty Python school of thought on the middle ages which is hard to dispel in the popular imagination.

Perhaps we can agree that the term nowadays is a lazy figure of speech denoting nothing more than 'primitive times'.

However, as an enthusiast of medieval history I will always object to the idea that:

A) historians themselves are prone to conflate the Dark ages with the Middle Ages as a whole. They don't.

B) That there was never such as thing as a Dark age. There was.

C) that the term is necessarily an insult to the Christian church. It isn't.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 2:09 PM  

"That there was never such as thing as a Dark age. There was."

It's only dark if the lights go out. They may have ceased to glow brighter, but they undeniably were kept alight. It's simply wrong. If there were a dark age where the lights were snatched away, it has been the "enlightenment" to the present.

"that the term is necessarily an insult to the Christian church. It isn't."

When it's not, it's an insult to the European ancestors.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 2:10 PM  

And an insult to the Byzantines and the Russians as well.

Blogger Kentucky Packrat June 20, 2019 2:19 PM  

The fundamental issue of using the term "The Dark Age" or The Dark Ages is that the term itself has a moral connotation that has absolutely nothing to do with what really happened.

Somewhere between 250 and 550 (you can argue exact dates until the cows come home), Europe entered the crash phase of an economic supercycle as the western Roman Empire burned out, and labor values crashed and burned.

You can also argue about when the next supercycle started in Europe. One candidate is the recovery of personal wages after the Black Death. Global trade and colonization in the 1600s is another. Either way, the Middle Ages ended when wealth started getting built again. "The Renaissance" was just a consequence of enough spare capital to support enough artists for innovation to explode.

90%+ of the "bad effects" of the post-Roman era can be traced to the economic effects of the loss of trade, wealth, etc.

Blogger xevious2030 June 20, 2019 2:42 PM  

#34 cisbio “Perhaps we can agree that the term nowadays is a lazy figure of speech.”

No, it is as antiChristian now as it was in the Renaissance. First saw it by Vox, but here is basically the same, below.

#23 Silent Draco
“The Dark Ages were defined as the time before the birth of Christ, before Lux Deo entered the world. Ye SJWes in the Renaissance redefined this and everything else they could get into print […].”

Blogger Ben Cohen June 20, 2019 3:19 PM  

There were dark periods such as the Merovingian dynasty before Charles Martel took the reign.

Charles Oman has a great book on this called The Dark Ages.

Blogger cisbio June 20, 2019 3:39 PM  

Europe entered the crash phase of an economic supercycle as the western Roman Empire burned out, and labor values crashed and burned.

Applying modern economic theories involving macro super cycles to Late Antiquity is a very uncertain enterprise, not least because everything we know about the subject is a matter of conjecture based on what we’ve dug out of the ground. Ancient writers hadn’t the faintest clue about economics or finance. There was no national debt. The fisc was literally pots of debased coinage and goods supplied in kind. ‘Labour values’ were distorted beyond recognition by industrial slavery and so on. As you suggest, a modern process of price discovery on labour only got going after the Black Death, arguably.

The fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t just a matter of economic downturn; it was far, far more serious than that. As the archeological record shows, there was a lot of material destruction and war involved. Widespread death, pestilence and famine, with some areas coming off better than others. Italy, for example, didn’t really get the message until the Gothic wars in the mid-6th century, which some historians have argued marks the actual, final collapse of the Roman Empire in the West.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 20, 2019 4:27 PM  

"There were dark periods such as the Merovingian dynasty"

Are you hoping we don't know about the Merovingians, Cohen?

Blogger Argus Bacchus June 20, 2019 6:50 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger English Tom June 20, 2019 7:18 PM  

@Kentucky Packrat

Rees-Mogg and Davidson (the Great Reckoning, 1992) identify the date as 1497, when (I think) Charles 12th of France invaded Italy with brand new cannons and reduced the walls of a castle to rubble in a few hours, walls that had previously withstood sieges lasting years.
Rees-Mogg and Davidson call this: the Gunpowder Revolution.

Blogger Ben Cohen June 20, 2019 7:25 PM  

Azure, no. That's why I cited the book.

Blogger tublecane June 20, 2019 8:02 PM  

I was watching the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon recently. St. Francis wasn't from the Dark Ages, exactly, but I guess what you'd call the Early High Middle Age. This production was from the early 70s and had a hippie-dippy feel. Directed by recently deceased homosexual Franco Zefferli, who professed admiration for the Catholic Church.

Anyway, there is a social and religious hierarchy on display. One the main character attempts to cut straight through, but there it is nevertheless. And frankly it makes sense, though they try to make it all appear to be based on avarice and blood.

As if ours isn't.

Blogger Richard Martel June 20, 2019 9:15 PM  

OT I tried to subscribe several times over the last few days and I wasn't able to. Every email address I tried was deemed "invalid". Anyone else having this problem?

Blogger Argus Bacchus June 20, 2019 9:58 PM  

@39 Ben Cohen

"There were dark periods such as the Merovingian dynasty before Charles Martel took the reign.

Charles Oman has a great book on this called The Dark Ages."

Oman's assessment of the Merovingians and their legacy is mostly uncomplimentary, to be sure, but also a bit more nuanced than you would have us believe.

There is no doubt that he was no champion of the dynasty. He writes that their reign is "the most hopeless and depressing page in the history of Europe. From generation to generation their story reeks with blood." Chapter X: Decline and Decay of the Merovingians, 561-656

However, he also has this to say about Clovis (Chlodovech), who is considered the founder of the dynasty: "The consequences of his conversion to the orthodox faith (Catholicism) were most important. He was the only Teutonic king to who adopted the faith of his Roman subjects, and was thereby served by them, and especially by their clergy, with a loyalty that no Goth, Vandal, or Burgundian prince could ever win...the permanence of his kingdom may be reckoned his adherence to Catholicism...Yet his work alone is destined to stand, not so much from his own abilities, though those were considerable enough, as from the happy chance which put his successors in religious sympathy with their subjects, and preserved the young kingdom, during the following generation, from any conflict with such powerful foes as those who were destined to overthrow the monarchies of the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and the Vandals." Chapter IV: Chlodovech and the Franks in Gaul, 481-511

Some might consider the long-term consequences of Clovis's conversion to be not quite "dark", and maybe even a good thing, not merely important.

Maybe even Charles Martel himself.

Blogger Voracious Reader June 20, 2019 10:12 PM  

I recall it was our gracious host VD who introduced many of us, including me, to the best conspiracy theory ever formulated by Western man: the phantom time hypothesis.

If true, Heribert Illig's theory would render any discussion of the Dark Ages obsolete...because it never happened.

"The phantom time hypothesis is a theory...which proposes that roughly 300 years of "phantom time" were inserted into the Western calendar in the Early Middle Ages, from AD 614 to 911."

Blogger xevious2030 June 21, 2019 12:18 AM  

Voracious Reader, you mean it might not have taken about 462 years to realize Christian Jerusalem fell, and raise forces/funds to launch the first Crusade to retake it? Interesting.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 21, 2019 2:41 AM  

My understanding of the Merovingians is that they would best be described as somewhat overly cunning and ambitious rather than necessarily malicious. While they ruled a large part of Europe, they didn't hold anywhere near all of it.

Dark ages based on only two countries? Dishonest, even if the Merovingians were as bad as you think, rather than protectors of the faithful.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine June 21, 2019 2:42 AM  

I'm not sure what Martel thought of the Merovingians, beyond that his father unseated them, and his sons re-seated them temporarily.

Blogger sammibandit June 21, 2019 9:34 AM  

Clearly, Merowich was a Pharonic lizard king. /s

Now that we're talking about missing time we could perhaps talk about the connection between Slavs and Celts (R1A and R1B) and why Merowich has a very Slavic-sounding name.

Blogger Vaughan Williams June 22, 2019 2:08 AM  

@47 from a Protestant point of view, Clovis conversion was the turning point that made the ages Dark. The Goths and Vandals were already Christians, of a more Protestant variety. Imagine if Clovis had remained a One God (not Three) variety of Christian. The Protestant Reformation would never have been needed.

Blogger Argus Bacchus June 22, 2019 1:25 PM  

"Imagine if Clovis had remained a One God (not Three) variety of Christian. The Protestant Reformation would never have been needed."

You might have needed a lot more "if's" for history to have played out like that, but your point is well-taken and an interesting one to ponder.

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