Friday, May 20, 2011

The so-called Dark Ages

Someone added this to the Wikipedia List of common misconceptions:
The classification of the European era between the decline of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance as the "Dark Ages" is now rejected by most modern historians.[4][5][6] During the early Middle Ages, significant literary and educational advances (especially during the period known as the Carolingian Renaissance) were made, including the foundations of the modern university, as well as scientific advancements in the fields of physics, astronomy, medicine and surgery, agriculture, architectural engineering, logic, mathematics, optics and biology. It is also erroneously claimed that the Roman Catholic Church suppressed scientific advancement during this era, however a great deal of advancements were on the behalf of Catholic priests, monks and friars. There is also no evidence of any scientist during the Middle Ages incurring infractions only for their research. See: List of Roman Catholic cleric–scientists.

[4] ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400–600. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. xiii–xiv. ISBN 0-271-01780-5, for example. This work contains over 100 pages of footnoted citations to source material and bibliographic references (pp. 263–387). In explaining his approach to writing the work, he refers to the "so-called Dark Ages", noting that "Historians and archaeologists have never liked the label Dark Ages ... there are numerous indicators that these centuries were neither "dark" nor "barbarous" in comparison with other eras."

[5] ^ Jordan, Chester William (2004). Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Supplement 1. Verdun, Kathleen, "Medievalism" pp. 389–397. Sections 'Victorian Medievalism', 'Nineteenth-Century Europe', 'Medievalism in America 1500–1900', 'The 20th Century'. Same volume, Freedman, Paul, "Medieval Studies", pp. 383–389.
[6] ^ Welch, Martin (1993). Discovering Anglo-Saxon England. University Park, PA: Penn State Press.
This probably won't stick, as the editors have other axes to grind. Some people even claim that the Dark Ages never happened.

It is a common misconception that Roman Catholic Church suppressed scientific advances. These silly claims are possible because we don't have a lot of written records about the Dark Ages.

Today's AAAS Science has an article (not online yet) on Alchemy, and how medieval alchemists were really doing a lot of legitimate science.


  1. "One of those things". (quote from Gattaca). I used to think of The Dark Ages as dark due to the alleged suppression of free thought by folks ranging anywhere betwixt doddering churchmen OTOH, and rampaging Vikings on the other. Now what I read is that a lot of great intellectual work was actually accomplished in those days (no big surprise), but that it is still appropriate to think of those days as "dark" simply because of the destruction of so many records which were created back then. Sounds good to me.

  2. Yes, the Dark Ages are called dark because we do not have many records about the period.