Why Are the Middle Ages Often Characterized as Dark or Less Civilized?

Good article by Tim O’Neill, M.A. in medieval literature, regarding several misconceptions about the medieval period.

It’s clear that there was a collapse in learning and much technical capacity as a result of the fragmentation and chaos that followed the fall of the Roman Empire in Western Europe. In places such as southern Gaul or northern Spain, this collapse was a slow decline over several hundred years. In others, such as Britain, it was much more sudden and catastrophic. Modern surveys of archaeological and documentary evidence, such as those summarized by Bryan Ward-Perkins in The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization show that this means a clear decline in material culture and technical capacity between the later Roman era and the seventh century.

The myth of the Middle Ages as a “dark age” does not lie in the fact that things declined markedly after the fall of Rome—they did. It lies in the idea that this situation persisted until the dawning of something called “the Renaissance,” which somehow rescued Western Europe from the clutches of the Catholic Church, revived ancient Greek and Roman learning, reinvented “good” (i.e. realistic) art and made everything OK again.

This is the part of the story that is the myth.

Read the full article: “Why Are the Middle Ages Often Characterized as Dark or Less Civilized?

*Cover photo by Wigulf, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License

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