The "DARK AGES" is a historical periodization traditionally referring
Middle Ages . It emphasizes the demographic, cultural and
economic deterioration that supposedly occurred in Western Europe
following the decline of the
The term employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the era's "darkness" with earlier and later periods of "light". The concept of a "Dark Age" originated in the 1330s with the Italian scholar Petrarch , who regarded the post-Roman centuries as "dark" compared to the light of classical antiquity . The phrase "Dark Age" itself derives from the Latin saeculum obscurum , originally applied by Caesar Baronius in 1602 to a tumultuous period in the 10th and 11th centuries. The concept thus came to characterize the entire Middle Ages as a time of intellectual darkness between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance ; this became especially popular during the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment .
As the accomplishments of the era came to be better understood in the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars began restricting the "Dark Ages" appellation to the Early Middle Ages (c. 5th–10th century). Many modern scholars avoid the term altogether due to its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate. The original definition remains in popular use, and popular culture often employs it as a vehicle to depict the Middle Ages as a time of backwardness, extending its pejorative use and expanding its scope.
* 1 History
* 2 Modern academic use * 3 Modern popular use * 4 See also * 5 Notes * 6 External links
The term was originally intended to denote the entire period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance , similarly to ' Middle Ages ' and implying an intermediate period between Classical Antiquity and the Modern era . In the 19th century scholars began to recognize the accomplishments of the period, which challenged the image of a time exclusively of darkness and decay. Nowadays the term is not used by scholars to refer to the entire medieval period; when used, it is generally restricted to the Early Middle Ages .
The rise of archaeology in the 20th century has shed light on the period, offering a more nuanced understanding of its achievements. 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. Today, on the rare occasions when the term is used by historians, it is intended to be neutral and express the idea that the period often seems 'dark' from the scarcity of historical record, and artistic and cultural output.
Triumph of Christianity by Tommaso Laureti (1530–1602), ceiling painting in the Sala di Constantino , Vatican Palace . Images like this one celebrate the triumph of Christianity over the paganism of Antiquity.
The idea of a Dark Age originated with the Tuscan scholar Petrarch in the 1330s. Writing of the past, he said: "Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius; no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom". Christian writers, including Petrarch himself, had long used traditional metaphors of 'light versus darkness ' to describe 'good versus evil '. Petrarch was the first to give the metaphor secular meaning by reversing its application. He now saw Classical Antiquity, so long considered a 'dark' age for its lack of Christianity, in the 'light' of its cultural achievements, while Petrarch's own time, allegedly lacking such cultural achievements, was seen as the age of darkness.
From his perspective on the Italian peninsula, Petrarch saw the Roman and classical period as an expression of greatness. He spent much of his time travelling through Europe, rediscovering and republishing classic Latin and Greek texts. He wanted to restore the Latin language to its former purity. Renaissance humanists saw the preceding 900 years as a time of stagnation, with history unfolding not along the religious outline of Saint Augustine 's Six Ages of the World , but in cultural (or secular) terms through progressive development of classical ideals, literature, and art.
Petrarch wrote that history had two periods: the classic period of
Greeks and Romans , followed by a time of darkness in which he saw
himself living. In around 1343, in the conclusion of his epic Africa ,
he wrote: "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. This sleep of forgetfulness will not
last for ever. When the darkness has been dispersed, our descendants
can come again in the former pure radiance." In the 15th century,
During the Reformations of the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestants generally had a similar view to Renaissance Humanists such as Petrarch, but also added an Anti-Catholic perspective. They saw classical antiquity as a golden time, not only because of its Latin literature, but also because it witnessed the beginnings of Christianity. They promoted the idea that the 'Middle Age' was a time of darkness also because of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church, such as: Popes ruling as kings, veneration of saints\' relics , a celibate priesthood, and institutionalized moral hypocrisy.
In response to the Protestants, Catholics developed a counter-image
to depict the High
Middle Ages in particular as a period of social and
religious harmony, and not 'dark' at all. The most important Catholic
reply to the Magdeburg Centuries was the
Annales Ecclesiastici by
Caesar Baronius .
Baronius was a trained historian who
produced a work that the
Volumes of Patrologia Latina per century CENTURY MIGNE VOLUME NOS VOLUMES
7th 80–88 9
8th 89–96 8
9th 97–130 34
10th 131–138 8
11th 139–151 13
12th 152–191 40
13th 192–217 26
"The new age (saeculum) which was beginning, for its harshness and barrenness of good could well be called iron, for its baseness and abounding evil leaden, and moreover for its lack of writers (inopia scriptorum) dark (obscurum)".
Significantly, Baronius termed the age 'dark' because of the paucity of written records. The "lack of writers" he referred to may be illustrated by comparing the number of volumes in Migne 's Patrologia Latina containing the work of Latin writers from the 10th century (the heart of the age he called 'dark') with the number containing the work of writers from the preceding and succeeding centuries. A minority of these writers were historians. Medieval production of manuscripts. The beginning of the Middle Ages was also a period of low activity in copying.
There is a sharp drop from 34 volumes in the 9th century to just 8 in the 10th. The 11th century, with 13, evidences a certain recovery, and the 12th century, with 40, surpasses the 9th, something the 13th, with just 26, fails to do. There was indeed a 'dark age', in Baronius's sense of a "lack of writers", between the Carolingian Renaissance in the 9th century and the beginnings, some time in the 11th, of what has been called the Renaissance of the 12th century . Furthermore, there was an earlier period of "lack of writers" during the 7th and 8th centuries. So, in Western Europe, two 'dark ages' can be identified, separated by the brilliant but brief Carolingian Renaissance .
Baronius's 'dark age' seems to have struck historians, for it was in the 17th century that the term started to proliferate in various European languages, with his original Latin term 'saeculum obscurum' being reserved for the period he had applied it to. But while some, following Baronius, used 'dark age' neutrally to refer to a dearth of written records, others used it pejoratively, lapsing into that lack of objectivity that has discredited the term for many modern historians.
The first British historian to use the term was most likely Gilbert Burnet , in the form 'darker ages' which appears several times in his work during the later 17th century. The earliest reference seems to be in the "Epistle Dedicatory" to Volume I of The History of the Reformation of the Church of England of 1679, where he writes: "The design of the reformation was to restore Christianity to what it was at first, and to purge it of those corruptions, with which it was overrun in the later and darker ages." He uses it again in the 1682 Volume II, where he dismisses the story of "St George's fighting with the dragon" as "a legend formed in the darker ages to support the humour of chivalry". Burnet was a bishop chronicling how England became Protestant, and his use of the term is invariably pejorative.
Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, many
critical thinkers saw religion as antithetical to reason. For them the
Middle Ages, or "Age of Faith", was therefore the opposite of the Age
of Reason . Kant and
Consequently, an evolution had occurred in at least three ways. Petrarch's original metaphor of light versus dark has expanded over time, implicitly at least. Even if later humanists no longer saw themselves living in a dark age, their times were still not light enough for 18th-century writers who saw themselves as living in the real Age of Enlightenment, while the period to be condemned stretched to include what we now call Early Modern times. Additionally, Petrarch's metaphor of darkness, which he used mainly to deplore what he saw as a lack of secular achievement, was sharpened to take on a more explicitly anti-religious and anti-clerical meaning.
Nevertheless, the term 'Middle Ages', used by Biondo and other early
humanists after Petrarch, was in general use before the 18th century
to denote the period before the Renaissance. The earliest recorded use
of the English word "medieval" was in 1827. The concept of the Dark
Ages was also in use, but by the 18th century it tended to be confined
to the earlier part of this period. The earliest entry for a
capitalized "Dark Ages" in the
Oxford English Dictionary is a
Henry Thomas Buckle 's History of Civilization in England
in 1857. Starting and ending dates varied: the Dark Ages were
considered by some to start in 410, by others in 476 when there was no
longer an emperor in Rome, and to end about 800, at the time of the
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Romantics reversed the
negative assessment of Enlightenment critics with a vogue for
medievalism . The word "Gothic " had been a term of opprobrium akin
Vandal " until a few self-confident mid-18th-century English
Just as Petrarch had twisted the meaning of light versus darkness, so the Romantics had twisted the judgment of the Enlightenment. However, the period they idealized was largely the High Middle Ages , extending into Early Modern times. In one respect, this negated the religious aspect of Petrarch's judgment, since these later centuries were those when the power and prestige of the Church were at their height. To many, the scope of the Dark Ages was becoming divorced from this period, denoting mainly the centuries immediately following the fall of Rome.
MODERN ACADEMIC USE
The term was widely used by 19th century historians. In 1860, in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy , Jacob Burckhardt delineated the contrast between the medieval 'dark ages' and the more enlightened Renaissance, which had revived the cultural and intellectual achievements of antiquity. However, the early 20th century saw a radical re-evaluation of the Middle Ages, which called into question the terminology of darkness, or at least its more pejorative use. Historian Denys Hay spoke ironically of "the lively centuries which we call dark". More forcefully, a book about the history of German literature published in 2007 describes "the dark ages" as "a popular if ignorant manner of speaking".
When the term is used by historians today, therefore, it is intended
to be neutral, expressing the idea that the events of the period seem
'dark' to us because of the paucity of historical record. The term is
used in this sense (often in the singular) to reference the Bronze Age
collapse and the subsequent
Greek Dark Ages , the dark ages of
Cambodia (c. 1450-1863), and also a hypothetical Digital Dark Age
which would ensue if the electronic documents produced in the current
period were to become unreadable at some point in the future. Some
Byzantinists have used the term "Byzantine Dark Ages" to refer to the
period from the earliest
Since the Late
Middle Ages significantly overlap with the Renaissance
, the term 'Dark Ages' has become restricted to distinct times and
places in medieval Europe. Thus the 5th and 6th centuries in Britain ,
at the height of the Saxon invasions, have been called "the darkest of
the Dark Ages", in view of the societal collapse of the period and
the consequent lack of historical records. Further south and east, the
same was true in the formerly Roman province of
However, in the later 20th century other historians became critical even of this nonjudgmental use of the term, for two main reasons. Firstly, it is questionable whether it is ever possible to use the term in a neutral way: scholars may intend this, but ordinary readers may not so understand it. Secondly, 20th century scholarship has exploded understanding of the history and culture of the period, and so it no longer so 'dark' to us. To avoid the value judgment implied by the expression, many historians now avoid it altogether.
MODERN POPULAR USE
Medieval artistic illustration of the spherical Earth in a 14th-century copy of L\'Image du monde (c. 1246) Further information: Medievalism Further information: Science in the Middle Ages
The medieval period is frequently caricatured as supposedly a "time of ignorance and superstition" which placed "the word of religious authorities over personal experience and rational activity." However, rationality was increasingly held in high regard as the Middle Ages progressed. The historian of science Edward Grant writes that "If revolutionary rational thoughts were expressed , they were made possible because of the long medieval tradition that established the use of reason as one of the most important of human activities". Furthermore, David Lindberg says that, contrary to common belief, "the late medieval scholar rarely experienced the coercive power of the church and would have regarded himself as free (particularly in the natural sciences) to follow reason and observation wherever they led". Lindberg recognizes, however, that the late medieval rejuvenation of science and scholarship was due in large part to the new availability of Latin translations of Aristotle during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
The caricature of the period is also reflected by more specific notions, such as the mistaken claim first propagated in the 19th century, and still common in popular culture, that everyone in the Middle Ages thought the world was flat . In fact, lecturers in medieval universities commonly advanced the idea that the Earth was a sphere. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers write: "There was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge sphericity and even know its approximate circumference". Other misconceptions such as: "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages", "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science", and "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of natural philosophy", are cited by Numbers as examples of myths that still pass as historical truth, although unsupported by current research.
Conflict thesis and
* Crisis of the Late
* ^ A B C D E Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. a term sometimes applied to the period of the Middle Ages to mark the intellectual darkness characteristic of the time; often restricted to the early period of the Middle Ages, between the time of the fall of Rome and the appearance of vernacular written documents. * ^ A B "Dark age" in Merriam-Webster * ^ A B C Mommsen, Theodore (1942). "Petrarch's Conception of the 'Dark Ages'". Speculum . Cambridge MA: Medieval Academy of America . 17 (2): 227–228. JSTOR 2856364 . doi :10.2307/2856364 . * ^ Thompson, Bard (1996). Humanists and Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Erdmans. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-8028-6348-5 . Petrarch was the very first to speak of the Middle Ages as a 'dark age', one that separated him from the riches and pleasures of classical antiquity and that broke the connection between his own age and the civilization of the Greeks and the Romans.
* ^ Dwyer, John C., Church history: twenty centuries of Catholic
Christianity, (1998) p. 155.
Baronius , Caesar.
Annales Ecclesiastici , Vol. X. Roma, 1602, p. 647
* ^ Mommsen, Theodore (1942). "Petrarch's Conception of the 'Dark
Ages'". Speculum . Cambridge MA:
Medieval Academy of America . 17 (2):
JSTOR 2856364 . doi :10.2307/2856364 .
* ^ Ker, W. P. (1904). The dark ages. New York: C. Scribner's Sons,
p. 1. "The Dark Ages and the
Middle Ages — or the Middle Age —
used to be the same; two names for the same period. But they have come
to be distinguished, and the Dark Ages are now no more than the first
part of the Middle Age, while the term mediaeval is often restricted
to the later centuries, about 1100 to 1500, the age of chivalry, the
time between the first Crusade and the Renaissance. This was not the
old view, and it does not agree with the proper meaning of the name."
Syed Ziaur Rahman , Were the "Dark Ages" Really Dark? In: Grey
Matter. The Co-curricular Journal of Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College
Aligarh Muslim University , Aligarh, 2003: 7-10.
* ^ 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 . . In explaining
his approach to writing the work, Snyder 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."
* ^ A B C D E F Jordan, Chester William (2004). Dictionary of the
Middle Ages , Supplement 1. Verdun, Kathleen, "Medievalism" pp.
389–397. Sections 'Victorian Medievalism', 'Nineteenth-Century
Medievalism in America 1500–1900', 'The 20th Century'.
Same volume, Freedman, Paul , "Medieval Studies", pp. 383–389.
* ^ Raico, Ralph . "The European Miracle". Retrieved 14 August
2011. "The stereotype of the
Middle Ages as 'the Dark Ages' fostered
Renaissance humanists and Enlightenment philosophes has, of course,
long since been abandoned by scholars."
* ^ A B C Franklin, James (1982). "The
Renaissance Myth". Quadrant.
26 (11): 51–60.
* ^ A B Tainter, Joseph A. (1999). "Post Collapse Societies". In
Barker, Graeme . Companion Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Abingdon,
England: Routledge. p. 988. ISBN 0-415-06448-1 .
* ^ Clark, Kenneth (1969), Civilisation (BBC Books)
* ^ A B C D Mommsen, Theodore (1942). "Petrarch's Conception of the
'Dark Ages'". Speculum . Cambridge MA:
Medieval Academy of America .
17 (2): 226–242.
JSTOR 2856364 . doi :10.2307/2856364 .
Petrarch (1367). Apologia cuiusdam anonymi Galli calumnias
(Defence against the calumnies of an anonymous Frenchman), in
Petrarch, Opera Omnia, Basel, 1554, p. 1195. This quotation comes from
the English translation of Mommsen's article, where the source is
given in a footnote. Cf. also Marsh, D, ed., (2003), Invectives,
Harvard University Press, p. 457.
Petrarch (1343). Africa , IX, 451-7. This quotation comes from
the English translation of Mommsen's article.
* ^ Albrow, Martin, The global age: state and society beyond
modernity (1997), p. 205.
* ^ F. Oakley, The medieval experience: foundations of Western
cultural singularity (University of Toronto Press, 1988), pp. 1-4.
* ^ Daileader, Philip (2001). The High Middle Ages. The Teaching
Company. ISBN 1-56585-827-1 . "Catholics living during the Protestant
Reformation were not going to take this assault lying down. They, too,
turned to the study of the Middle Ages, going back to prove that, far
from being a period of religious corruption, the
Middle Ages were
superior to the era of the Protestant Reformation, because the Middle
Ages were free of the religious schisms and religious wars that were
plaguing the 16th and 17th centuries."
* "Dark Ages" in Encyclopædia Britannica