Dark Ages - A term worth using?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
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.



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.



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.

Again, I can't agree with you. The changes and institutions developed in France, Itlay, England in the 5th, 6th cenfury, and 7th century spread throughout Europe. We most certainly can talk about a Western Europe in that time period, even though the geographical boundaries of "Western Europe" expanding. And the 4th century is well within the late Classical/Antiquity time period, not Dark Ages or Middle Ages. Again you seem to be looking at things from Byzantine centric view point, but since what was happening in what is now Western Europe ultimately had far greater global impact than what was happening in Byzantine and its neighbors. The centuries off he Dark Ages/Early Middles helped shaped Europe and ultimately the world. The centuries that you want to use Late Antiquity for (expand it to include most of the early middle ages) are not applicable to Western or most of Eastern Europe for that matter.

The concern I have with your use of Late Antiquity is that there is a Late Antiquity period in Western Europe starting from around the time of Constantine and the Christianization of the Empire to the fall off the empire in the west, but extending it to the include the early middle ages as well creates ambiguity as to where you mean the late Classical Period in the West, or the early middle ages which had very different social structures and organizations in.Western Europe

As I said , late Antiquities as you use it makes a lot of sense for the are of Byzantine Empire and surrounding areas, but not so Western Europe. Replacing one term with anothet term equally inappropriate just for different regions is not progress.

Ultimately, it comes down to you want to replace a Western Europe centric term with a Bzyantium centric term. At the time, Byzatium and it's surrounding g covered more area, but had less importance and significance worldwide than Western Europe.

Or we keep the Dark Ates for Western Europe, and use Late Antiquity for the area of Byzantine and it's neighbors. When we want to include both regions, use the term Early Middle Ages.

I would like to point out the are of the Byzantine Empire and its neighbors were not unified it either religion , language or culture, the Persians having distinct religion, language and culture, and the Arabs as well. So by your standards Late Antiquity really only applies to the area of the Byzantine Empire.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
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.
Even to 750 the term Late Antiquity is inappropiate when applied to Western Europe, even Italy, less accurate than even the term Dark Ages. The culture of antiquity just no longer existed in Western Europe by then, even in Italy.

There is a mostly French School of history that states the societL.and economic collapse of the Early Middle Ages was due to the the Arab conquest, which left Western Europe largely isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean world, leading to the collapse of cities and urban areas in Western Europe. Vast majority of scholars reject the theory, and it was never popular among the English world (I have forgotten the historian's name who proposed this theory). I bring it up, because if the theory was valid, in t would support the idea of using the term Late Antiquity to 750, but as I said , historians have overwhelmingly rejectednthd idea.
 
Nov 2010
7,514
Cornwall
There is a mostly French School of history that states the societL.and economic collapse of the Early Middle Ages was due to the the Arab conquest, which left Western Europe largely isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean world, leading to the collapse of cities and urban areas in Western Europe. Vast majority of scholars reject the theory, and it was never popular among the English world (I have forgotten the historian's name who proposed this theory). I bring it up, because if the theory was valid, in t would support the idea of using the term Late Antiquity to 750, but as I said , historians have overwhelmingly rejectednthd idea.
It's an interesting take. I have read that during the later years of the Visigothic kingdom the spread of Islam cut off formerly active trade between Hispania and their religious 'friends' across the Eastern Med and North Africa - one of the many economic woes it suffered. And trade routes went from the east to Spain and thence to Britain and France (as they were then) However this is paired with the disenfranchisement of the jewish communities who actually carried out this trade so.......

However one of my own little theories is that the pre-crusading period is severly coloured in the opinion of many - even eminent historians - by what has followed. The world between 700 and say, 1100, was more about territory, poltics and families/ruling clans than religion. The Franks traded slavic slaves to the Caliphate of Cordoba, the Almoravids used Greek and Turkish slaves - somebody must have sold them. In the 12th century El Rey Lobo of Murcia and Valencia not only used Christian mercenary soldiers but had a massive trade network as far as Genoa

Tiny examples for sure but this great imaginary wall between Christianity and Islam just wasn't there.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,669
Blachernai
Even to 750 the term Late Antiquity is inappropiate when applied to Western Europe, even Italy, less accurate than even the term Dark Ages. The culture of antiquity just no longer existed in Western Europe by then, even in Italy.

There is a mostly French School of history that states the societL.and economic collapse of the Early Middle Ages was due to the the Arab conquest, which left Western Europe largely isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean world, leading to the collapse of cities and urban areas in Western Europe. Vast majority of scholars reject the theory, and it was never popular among the English world (I have forgotten the historian's name who proposed this theory). I bring it up, because if the theory was valid, in t would support the idea of using the term Late Antiquity to 750, but as I said , historians have overwhelmingly rejectednthd idea.
You're probably thinking of Pirenne, and while virtually every facet of his thesis has been critiqued, it has yet to be entirely falsified. It's hard to deny that long-distance contacts ebbed with the end of the Roman Empire in the west. What you want to read today on the subject are two expensive and extremely long books, Michael McCormick's Origins of the European Economy: Communication and Commerce AD 300-900 and Chris Wickham's Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800.
 
Jan 2010
4,365
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Even to 750 the term Late Antiquity is inappropiate when applied to Western Europe, even Italy, less accurate than even the term Dark Ages. The culture of antiquity just no longer existed in Western Europe by then, even in Italy.

There is a mostly French School of history that states the societL.and economic collapse of the Early Middle Ages was due to the the Arab conquest, which left Western Europe largely isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean world, leading to the collapse of cities and urban areas in Western Europe. Vast majority of scholars reject the theory, and it was never popular among the English world (I have forgotten the historian's name who proposed this theory). I bring it up, because if the theory was valid, in t would support the idea of using the term Late Antiquity to 750, but as I said , historians have overwhelmingly rejectednthd idea.
I’ve cited Peter Brown, who I admit is more concerned with the East than with Western Europe and for the period before the 8th But now, it is your turn to cite some authority for your opinions re Brown and Pirenne.
 
Jan 2016
1,099
Victoria, Canada
Again, I can't agree with you. The changes and institutions developed in France, Itlay, England in the 5th, 6th cenfury, and 7th century spread throughout Europe.
True in the case of the Franks, but not Italy or England, which, in the centuries following the collapse of the western Empire, had very little in common with both each other and what they would become from the 8th century onward. England, northern Gaul, and Italy in this period were very different civilizations, with very different histories and trajectories of institutional, cultural, and religious development. Their paths only began to merge in the mid-late 7th century, with the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and Lombards to Chalcedonian Christianity, which just so happens to be exact same time the rest of the antique world was undergoing a complete collapse in most areas and radical transformation in others. The mid 7th through 8th centuries are thus most accurately seen as a period of transition from Late Antique to medieval norms across western Eurasia, entailing vastly increased connections and commonalities between the inhabitants and kingdoms of northern Italy, Asturias, Frankia, and England, culminating in Charlemagne and the emergence of a unified medieval Catholic civilization; vastly decreased connections and commonalities between the Romans and their former countrymen in the east and west, also culminating in Charlemagne and eventually the Great Schism; and the creation of a distinct Islamic civilization stretching from Andalusia to India, the implications of which have already been explored above.

This is the turning point to which we can date the true foundations of a meaningfully "medieval" period stretching into the 15th century, defined by more or less common elements of political, social, religious, cultural, technological, artistic, architectural, diplomatic, and educational development across Catholic Europe. The peoples and polities of 5th, 6th, and 7th century Europe simply don't fit within the fundamentally unified civilizational framework which defines the medieval period in the first place. To describe the inhabitants of 6th century Britain and Italy as "medieval" is as anachronistic as describing the Mediterranean of the 3rd century BC as "Roman"; the seeds of that future reality had been planted, but had not yet sprouted, let alone borne fruit.

Again you seem to be looking at things from Byzantine centric view point
Yes, I'm viewing things from the Roman viewpoint because "Late Antiquity" describes the Roman world, which still encompassed most of what had been the western Roman Empire and huge swathes of what would be medieval Europe -- the vast majority of the Antique world was still intact and still Roman-dominated, that's the point! It was the late period of the Antique epoch. No, the term doesn't accurately describe Germany, Britain, or northern Gaul, and it isn't meant to, because those regions had either never been Roman in the first place or had been largely un-Romanized after their loss to Germanic invaders. The Germanic world had expanded and the Roman world had contracted, but they were still very distinct apart from some comparatively isolated examples of local cultural synthesis, particularly around the future Ile de France-- it was a world divided between Beowulf and Boethius, not Eadmer, Avicenna, and Attaleiates.

but since what was happening in what is now Western Europe ultimately had far greater global impact than what was happening in Byzantine and its neighbors. The centuries off he Dark Ages/Early Middles helped shaped Europe and ultimately the world. The centuries that you want to use Late Antiquity for (expand it to include most of the early middle ages) are not applicable to Western or most of Eastern Europe for that matter.
It's been a while since I've seen such naked Eurocentrism; "what was happening in France and England should override and define everything happening in the rest of the Antique world because I think they're intrinsically of more historical importance". I'm fundamentally opposed to any historical methodology that categorizes and analyses global developments based on the perceived "impact" or "importance" of places and peoples -- that is, in 90% of cases, Europeans -- 1000+ years down the line. They're relics of an ugly, nationalistic, self-important period in European historiography whose last remnants died out in serious academia decades ago.

Ultimately, it comes down to you want to replace a Western Europe centric term with a Bzyantium centric term.
Capital W "Western Europe" didn't exist in the 5th, 6th, or 7th centuries. There were Italy, coastal Iberia, and southern Gaul, which remained integral parts of a Roman civilization (not "Byzantine", an inaccurate term in general but especially useless in a Late Antique context) also encompassing North Africa, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean; there were Anglo-Saxon Britain, Scandinavia, Anglia, and Saxony, which were integral parts of the Pagan Germanic world; and there were the Franks and mid-late 7th century Lombards, who found themselves caught in the middle. "Late Antiquity" is designed to apply to Roman and Persian civilization, which undeniably existed in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries, but a distinct medieval civilization as it defines Western European history up to the 15th century would only develop in the 8th; to apply "early medieval" to the future territories of that civilization 300 years before then robs the term of any actual meaning.

At the time, Byzatium and it's surrounding g covered more area, but had less importance and significance worldwide than Western Europe.
Here again we have egregious Eurocentrism. The idea that some Germanic warlords ruling over a war-ravaged, depopulated, city-less England, Germany, and northern Gaul could even begin to come close to comparing to the Roman, Persian, and Axumite empires of the 6th century is, quite frankly, laughable. The Axumite Empire alone was larger than all the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon realms combined, and was busy erecting the largest obelisks of the ancient world, building great palaces, and carving monumental church complexes into stone while those realms fought petty wars and watched Roman cities fall into ruin.

I would like to point out the are of the Byzantine Empire and its neighbors were not unified it either religion , language or culture, the Persians having distinct religion, language and culture,
They were not, but together they made up a wider, deeply connected cultural, economic, technological, religious, and diplomatic milieu -- the Antique world -- of which, by the 6th century, Italy and Iberia but not England or Germany were a part, and of which no equivalent existed north of the Alps. The Nubians, Axumites, and much of Arabia adopted Christianity under Roman influence, and Nestorian Christians made up a large portion of the Mesopotamian/Persian population; the Romans adopted the squinch from the Persians and the Persians adopted domes and pendentives from the Romans; the Nubians adopted the Greek alphabet (and continued to use Greek as a language of court into the 10th or 11th century, actually); Roman art and material culture heavily influenced those of Persia, Nubia, Axum, Armenia, etc., and Persian textiles heavily influenced Rome; Roman clothing was adopted by the Persians and Persian clothing by the Romans; and, of course, Roman cultural influence proliferated in Visigothic Iberia and southern Gaul, while Africa, Italy, and Dalmatia were as beholden to cultural and technological developments in Constantinople as any Roman province.
 
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Here again we have egregious Eurocentrism. The idea that some Germanic warlords ruling over a war-ravaged, depopulated, city-less England, Germany, and northern Gaul could even begin to come close to comparing to the Roman, Persian, and Axumite empires of the 6th century is, quite frankly, laughable. The Axumite Empire alone was larger than all the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon realms combined, and was busy erecting the largest obelisks of the ancient world, building great palaces, and carving monumental church complexes into stone while those realms fought petty wars and watched Roman cities fall into ruin.
Man, I would love to visit the Axumite and Cushite sites in Ethiopia and Sudan. They look spectacular.
 
Nov 2010
7,514
Cornwall
I agree that 'Europe' didn't exist. Nor 'Western Europe' - there were separate areas/regions/states. Though we've got another rash of threads at the moment saying 'Did Europe do this, did Europe do that?' etc
 
Jan 2010
4,365
Atlanta, Georgia USA
True in the case of the Franks, but not Italy or England, which, in the centuries following the collapse of the western Empire, had very little in common with both each other and what they would become from the 8th century onward. England, northern Gaul, and Italy in this period were very different civilizations, with very different histories and trajectories of institutional, cultural, and religious development. Their paths only began to merge in the mid-late 7th century, with the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and Lombards to Chalcedonian Christianity, which just so happens to be exact same time the rest of the antique world was undergoing a complete collapse in most areas and radical transformation in others. The mid 7th through 8th centuries are thus most accurately seen as a period of transition from Late Antique to medieval norms across western Eurasia, entailing vastly increased connections and commonalities between the inhabitants and kingdoms of northern Italy, Asturias, Frankia, and England, culminating in Charlemagne and the emergence of a unified medieval Catholic civilization; vastly decreased connections and commonalities between the Romans and their former countrymen in the east and west, also culminating in Charlemagne and eventually the Great Schism; and the creation of a distinct Islamic civilization stretching from Andalusia to India, the implications of which have already been explored above.

This is the turning point to which we can date the true foundations of a meaningfully "medieval" period stretching into the 15th century, defined by more or less common elements of political, social, religious, cultural, technological, artistic, architectural, diplomatic, and educational development across Catholic Europe. The peoples and polities of 5th, 6th, and 7th century Europe simply don't fit within the fundamentally unified civilizational framework which defines the medieval period in the first place. To describe the inhabitants of 6th century Britain and Italy as "medieval" is as anachronistic as describing the Mediterranean of the 3rd century BC as "Roman"; the seeds of that future reality had been planted, but had not yet sprouted, let alone borne fruit.



Yes, I'm viewing things from the Roman viewpoint because "Late Antiquity" describes the Roman world, which still encompassed most of what had been the western Roman Empire and huge swathes of what would be medieval Europe -- the vast majority of the Antique world was still intact and still Roman-dominated, that's the point! It was the late period of the Antique epoch. No, the term doesn't accurately describe Germany, Britain, or northern Gaul, and it isn't meant to, because those regions had either never been Roman in the first place or had been largely un-Romanized after their loss to Germanic invaders. The Germanic world had expanded and the Roman world had contracted, but they were still very distinct apart from some comparatively isolated examples of local cultural synthesis, particularly around the future Ile de France-- it was a world divided between Beowulf and Boethius, not Eadmer, Avicenna, and Attaleiates.



It's been a while since I've seen such naked Eurocentrism; "what was happening in France and England should override and define everything happening in the rest of the Antique world because I think they're intrinsically of more historical importance". I'm fundamentally opposed to any historical methodology that categorizes and analyses global developments based on the perceived "impact" or "importance" of places and peoples -- that is, in 90% of cases, Europeans -- 1000+ years down the line. They're relics of an ugly, nationalistic, self-important period in European historiography whose last remnants died out in serious academia decades ago.



Capital W "Western Europe" didn't exist in the 5th, 6th, or 7th centuries. There were Italy, coastal Iberia, and southern Gaul, which remained integral parts of a Roman civilization (not "Byzantine", an inaccurate term in general but especially useless in a Late Antique context) also encompassing North Africa, the Balkans, and the eastern Mediterranean; there were Anglo-Saxon Britain, Scandinavia, Anglia, and Saxony, which were integral parts of the Pagan Germanic world; and there were the Franks and mid-late 7th century Lombards, who found themselves caught in the middle. "Late Antiquity" is designed to apply to Roman and Persian civilization, which undeniably existed in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries, but a distinct medieval civilization as it defines Western European history up to the 15th century would only develop in the 8th; to apply "early medieval" to the future territories of that civilization 300 years before then robs the term of any actual meaning.



Here again we have egregious Eurocentrism. The idea that some Germanic warlords ruling over a war-ravaged, depopulated, city-less England, Germany, and northern Gaul could even begin to come close to comparing to the Roman, Persian, and Axumite empires of the 6th century is, quite frankly, laughable. The Axumite Empire alone was larger than all the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon realms combined, and was busy erecting the largest obelisks of the ancient world, building great palaces, and carving monumental church complexes into stone while those realms fought petty wars and watched Roman cities fall into ruin.
F


They were not, but together they made up a wider, deeply connected cultural, economic, technological, religious, and diplomatic milieu -- the Antique world -- of which, by the 6th century, Italy and Iberia but not England or Germany were a part, and of which no equivalent existed north of the Alps. The Nubians, Axumites, and much of Arabia adopted Christianity under Roman influence, and Nestorian Christians made up a large portion of the Mesopotamian/Persian population; the Romans adopted the squinch from the Persians and the Persians adopted domes and pendentives from the Romans; the Nubians adopted the Greek alphabet (and continued to use Greek as a language of court into the 10th or 11th century, actually); Roman art and material culture heavily influenced those of Persia, Nubia, Axum, Armenia, etc., and Persian textiles heavily influenced Rome; Roman clothing was adopted by the Persians and Persian clothing by the Romans; and, of course, Roman cultural influence proliferated in Visigothic Iberia and southern Gaul, while Africa, Italy, and Dalmatia were as beholden to cultural and technological developments in Constantinople as any Roman province.
Bravo! The more I study history—especially the period under discussion—the more necessary I find it to make geographical distinctions. As Duby says in France in the Middle Ages, the territory south of the Loire was totally different from that to the north. I’ve been thinking that this may be part of the confusion on the Pirenne thesis and in our discussion in this and similar threads. And Duby was writing about the true Middle Ages—late 10th to mid-15th centuries.
 

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