Dark Ages - A term worth using?

Jan 2010
4,262
Atlanta, Georgia USA
What was late "antique" about it? Dark ages at least hints at the almost complete absence of written sources.
That’s why the term is accurate when applied to British Isles 400-600 but not so much to the rest of Western Europe or at other times. “Late Antiquity” is more descriptive and does not lend itself to extension beyond, say, 800, as does “Dark Ages”.
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
4,598
Netherlands
That’s why the term is accurate when applied to British Isles 400-600 but not so much to the rest of Western Europe or at other times. “Late Antiquity” is more descriptive and does not lend itself to extension beyond, say, 800, as does “Dark Ages”.
But it suggests being antique before as well. That isn't the case for whole swats of western Europe. Now I know Holland is the center of civilization now, but over half our country has never been roman and we are stuck with mysteries such as why the 50 BC Frisians are different from the 7th century Frisians, without any real clues.
 
Oct 2009
3,416
San Diego
I never understood it to mean the European world was a not great place- I understood it to mean UNILLUMINED.... that is- with virtually no written history.
Dark as in hard to make out... not that there ins't plenty there- just that we have no clear sight of most of what occured.

And I don't think it refers to the entire medieval period... but to the period of time between Roman governance, and the rise of Feudal Europran aristocracy and the emergence of more stable boundaries and cultural identities. From about 500 thru to around 900- during which time most of europe experienced Cultural displacements from mass migrations, resulting in the chaos that led to the rise of local strongmen and the establishment of the protection rackets that evolved into the Earl and Dukedoms that would eventual coalesce into national Identities under national Kingships.

Medieval period I always took to be the period After the establishment of a recognized aristocratic order thru the emergence of Stable national identities.
 
Jan 2016
1,043
Victoria, Canada
But it suggests being antique before as well. That isn't the case for whole swats of western Europe. Now I know Holland is the center of civilization now, but over half our country has never been roman and we are stuck with mysteries such as why the 50 BC Frisians are different from the 7th century Frisians, without any real clues.
"Late Antiquity" as a periodization and descriptive applies first and foremost to Persia, Arabia, Nubia, Ethiopia, and the Mediterranean world, and in a somewhat restricted sense to inland/Atlantic Iberia and inland southern-central France -- it's not meant to apply globally, and only very, very partially extends to northern and north-western Europe from the 5th through 7th centuries. The status of the Frisians isn't really a consideration in marking out Late Antiquity any more than it is in marking out Classical Antiquity. Anglophone historians especially have a tendency to extrapolate conditions and periodizations in Britain onto the rest of the continent; but if you look at the year 600, for example, the economic, political, societal, ideological, and cultural drivers, trends, and institutions of the Roman, Persian, and Axumite worlds are still very much alive and kicking throughout the majority of those worlds' centers, with cataclysmic declines and shifts such as those experienced in England and northern Gaul standing out far more as exceptions than the rule.
 
Jan 2016
1,043
Victoria, Canada
To illustrate, compare these two generally accurate maps (cropped, from here) of the area under consideration in 400 and 600:

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Things have certainly changed, particularly in western Europe, but the world-system as a whole is still fundamentally intact, and so are the religious, cultural, economic, and political elements which form its backbone, so they can meaningfully be brought under the larger descriptive of "Late Antique". It was only the Islamic conquests which truly caused this status quo to come crashing down, particularly after the wide-ranging reforms of the mid 8th through early 9th centuries, resulting in the development of a distinct Islamic civilization with very distinct social structures, religious structures and beliefs, governmental and military apparatuses, political ideologies, literary traditions, articles of clothing, familial structures, artistic and architectural styles, etc. 200 years down the line from the previous map again and you can see how the Romano-Persian world-system has completely fallen apart, as well as how Western and Central Europe are well on their way to merging into a single distinct civilization, signalling a radical and permanent move away from Late Antique norms and towards a distinctly medieval status quo:

East-Hem_800ad.jpg
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
That’s why the term is accurate when applied to British Isles 400-600 but not so much to the rest of Western Europe or at other times. “Late Antiquity” is more descriptive and does not lend itself to extension beyond, say, 800, as does “Dark Ages”.
Late antiquity is a far more confusing and actually less descriptive term, since it included Europe that was still under Roman rule and Europe when Roman rule had disappeared. Gaul under an united rule of Constantine is a very different place than France under Clovis, a totally different beast. Extending Late Antiquity well beyond the period when the empire had ceased to exist and the social landscape had dramatically changed is just as bad as the term Dark Ages.

If you want to avoid using the term Dark Ages then use the far better term early Middle Ages, which is both more neutral and less ambiguous.

While I like the term Dark Ages when used appropriately, to refer to the early middle ages, because it gives you an idea of the kind of collapse that occurred when the Roman Empire in the West fell. Every major city in Western Europe outside Iberia experience declines of 90% or greater. Rome went from a city of 400,000 or so in the early 6th century to a mere 50,000 a century later, London went from 40,000 to all but abandoned by the 7th century. Late Antiquity doesn't begin to give the idea of the collapse and economic regression that was occurring.

Late Antiquity to me , has traditionally been the late Roman period in the last couple of centuries before the empire collapsed in the West. Is Italy in the 600 AD the same thing as Italy in the 300' AD under Constantine? The term Late Antiquity as you use it says that it is.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
To illustrate, compare these two generally accurate maps (cropped, from here) of the area under consideration in 400 and 600:

View attachment 15032
View attachment 15033

Things have certainly changed, particularly in western Europe, but the world-system as a whole is still fundamentally intact, and so are the religious, cultural, economic, and political elements which form its backbone, so they can meaningfully be brought under the larger descriptive of "Late Antique".
In North America, South America, Australia, or East Asia, neither the terms Dark Ages nor Late Antiquity have any real.relevance. Late Antiquity I see is a useful term for the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa up until the Islamic Conquest, but it isn't any more applicable to Western Europe after the fall off the Western Roman Empire than Dark Ages is outside of Europe.

A more useful and generic term is "Early Middle Ages" , since it does not carry the cultural baggage that both Dark Ages and Late Antiquity have when covering the same period.

It was only the Islamic conquests which truly caused this status quo to come crashing down, particularly after the wide-ranging reforms of the mid 8th through early 9th centuries, resulting in the development of a distinct Islamic civilization with very distinct social structures, religious structures and beliefs, governmental and military apparatuses, political ideologies, literary traditions, articles of clothing, familial structures, artistic and architectural styles, etc. 200 years down the line from the previous map again and you can see how the Romano-Persian world-system has completely fallen apart, as well as how Western and Central Europe are well on their way to merging into a single distinct civilization, signalling a radical and permanent move away from Late Antique norms and towards a distinctly medieval status quo:
The rise of Islam only had periphial effect on Western Europe and Eastern Europe, and minor effect on East Asia.

You are looking at things from a middle east view point. It certainly was not as important as the Germanic migrations and the expansion of Christianity in Europe, and since Europe had a far greater worldwids impact than the Byzantine Empire ever had, I don't see the use of extending the time period of Late Antiquity into the middle ages. The use of the Late Antiquity is inaccurate in its way when applied to Western Europe as Dark Ages is to apply to the areas of the Byzantine Empire.

If we want to drop term "Dark Ages", which is admittedly really only applicable to Western Europe. then it would be better to use a term like Early Middle Ages, which is technically correct and does not have the same cultural baggage either.
 
Jan 2016
1,043
Victoria, Canada
In North America, South America, Australia, or East Asia, neither the terms Dark Ages nor Late Antiquity have any real.relevance. Late Antiquity I see is a useful term for the areas of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa up until the Islamic Conquest, but it isn't any more applicable to Western Europe after the fall off the Western Roman Empire than Dark Ages is outside of Europe.

A more useful and generic term is "Early Middle Ages" , since it does not carry the cultural baggage that both Dark Ages and Late Antiquity have when covering the same period.
Yes, that first bit's the point. You can't use the lack of Roman culture or institutions in 6-7th century Britain, Northern Gaul, Germany, etc. to argue that "Late Antiquity" isn't applicable, because it isn't meant to apply to them in the first place once they become disconnected from the still very much existent Antique world. It's the equivalent of arguing against the term "middle Byzantine" because central Anatolia and southern Italy are excluded from the last 130 years of the period -- yes, these territories were important, and it's important to note their loss, but major continuities elsewhere make the term a continuingly useful and applicable one even after they fall out of its scope. Here are some rough maps of the Late Antique world-system around 400 ad compared to the Late Antique world-system around 560:





And now here are the disconnected preserves of that world-system around 800 ad:



Northwestern Europe might have experienced some societal, linguistic, cultural, and political developments in its immediate post-Roman period which to an extent justify placing it in the same period as the Carolingian Empire and Viking invasions, but this is absolutely not the case for the rest -- that is, the vast majority -- of the antique world, which transitioned to its "medieval" status quo over the mid 7th through 8th centuries. Even in western Europe Italy, Iberia, and southern France in the 6th century were many things, but remotely similar to Italy, Iberia, and southern France in the 9th century they were not -- to lump them in alongside England and Germany under one monolithic "early medieval" label is both pointless and incredibly misleading.

The rise of Islam only had periphial effect on Western Europe and Eastern Europe, and minor effect on East Asia.

You are looking at things from a middle east view point.
Modern classifications like "Western Europe", "Eastern Europe", and the "Middle East" are utterly useless as lenses through which to view polities, cultures, economies, etc., until around the 11th century at the very earliest, and even then they almost invariably do more harm than good. Citizens of London circa 400 ad had infinitely more in common with citizens of Carthage, Alexandria, and Constantinople than with the Picts to their immediate north and the Franks to their immediate east, and citizens of Ravenna circa 650 had infinitely more in common with the Orthodox Romans of Serdica and Trebizond than the weregild-paying, raid-conducting, Arianism-praciticing Lombards 50 km up the road, never mind their fellow "Western Europeans" in Pagan Saxony.

It certainly was not as important as the Germanic migrations and the expansion of Christianity in Europe, and since Europe had a far greater worldwids impact than the Byzantine Empire ever had, I don't see the use of extending the time period of Late Antiquity into the middle ages. The use of the Late Antiquity is inaccurate in its way when applied to Western Europe as Dark Ages is to apply to the areas of the Byzantine Empire.
There's absolutely no justification for lumping Western Europe together into a single unit and periodicizing it as such in a 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th century context -- it was unified in literally nothing. Western Europeans didn't practice similar religions, didn't follow similar laws, didn't hold similar values, didn't have similar governments, didn't live in similar societies, didn't speak similar languages, didn't write in similar alphabets, didn't dress in similar clothes, and didn't build in similar styles. Western Europe was not affected by any societal, economic, or cultural trends in any collective way -- with the sole exception of the plague -- but starkly divided between the Roman and Romanizing south, the ruralized heartland of the recently Christianized Franks in northern Gaul and western Germany experiencing a Germano-Roman cultural synthesis, and northern lands dominated by Germanic Pagans, old and new. These three strata only started to converge in force in the 8th and especially 9th centuries, marking the true beginning of a unified medieval Catholic European civilization as we might understand it, and thus laying the early foundations of the medieval period. Europe's "worldwide impact" 1000 years later is completely irrelevant to all of this in any case, which should be obvious.
 
Jan 2010
4,262
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Late antiquity is a far more confusing and actually less descriptive term, since it included Europe that was still under Roman rule and Europe when Roman rule had disappeared. Gaul under an united rule of Constantine is a very different place than France under Clovis, a totally different beast. Extending Late Antiquity well beyond the period when the empire had ceased to exist and the social landscape had dramatically changed is just as bad as the term Dark Ages.

If you want to avoid using the term Dark Ages then use the far better term early Middle Ages, which is both more neutral and less ambiguous.

While I like the term Dark Ages when used appropriately, to refer to the early middle ages, because it gives you an idea of the kind of collapse that occurred when the Roman Empire in the West fell. Every major city in Western Europe outside Iberia experience declines of 90% or greater. Rome went from a city of 400,000 or so in the early 6th century to a mere 50,000 a century later, London went from 40,000 to all but abandoned by the 7th century. Late Antiquity doesn't begin to give the idea of the collapse and economic regression that was occurring.

Late Antiquity to me , has traditionally been the late Roman period in the last couple of centuries before the empire collapsed in the West. Is Italy in the 600 AD the same thing as Italy in the 300' AD under Constantine? The term Late Antiquity as you use it says that it is.
I’m using it in the sense that Brown The World of Late Antiquity uses it: roughly 150 to 750. I think that is better than extending it to the Carolingians. I don’t like ‘Middle Ages” for that periiod as I would say they begin with the Carolingians and extend to around 1000. But I think we’re both in agreement that Dark Ages for this entire period is misleading.
 

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