The Dark Ages are considered by many to be the downfall of many classical Western-European elements in society. However, many think of the term as an exaggeration on what really occurred, as well as the Dark Ages occurring at different times and places to the original definition. Consequently, it will be shown that the Dark Ages, occurring from roughly 476 AD to 1000, were indeed not as ‘dark’ as the original definition expresses and thus wasn’t a real thing.
It is important to comment on the time frame of the Dark Ages in order to assess why the Dark Age is fiction. While many consider the Dark Ages and Middle Age’s time frames to coincide, it is widely believed that the Dark Ages stopped at around 1000 AD, encapsulating the early medieval era. By this time, the Carolingian Empire led by Emperor Charlemagne had risen, which ended Europe’s division since Rome’s falling and started a new chapter leading up to the Renaissance. Although some consider the end of the Dark Ages to be when King Charlemagne took over the Roman Empire, political downfall was still occurring and the renaissance was not yet arising until just after the 1000s.
The original definition of the Dark Ages stemmed from Italian scholar Francesco Petrarch, better known as Petrarch, who biasedly reflected that during the Middle Ages Western Europe lacked the same quantities and quality of Latin literature he had seen in prior years. After the fall of Rome, he believed society had lost Roman traditions, such as producing great art works and great leaders. Historians adapt his main point from his quote from 1367 in the Opera Omnia (translated to English), ‘amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius, no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom’. His definition later expanded into thinking that the Dark Ages were lacking scientific expansion, no technological advancements were made and literature and learning were not of great importance. However, none of these things actually occurred, and the Dark Ages are ‘dark’ for several other reasons that do not align with the mainstream definition.
There are many contributing reasons that disprove the concept of the Dark Ages, a prominent one being the continuation of the will to learn despite the myth created by Petrarch of there being no learning being accomplished or no new literature was produced during this time. This myth is commonly thought of as true as compared to prior eras, there was in fact a de-escalation in those learning. However, the idea of learning and studying was still highly sought after and encouraged by the Christian monastery-led government and the elitist classes. Even in the later years of the Dark Ages, Emperor Charlemagne’s government lead a short-lived resurgence of learning, which in turn ensured that new literature was being produced as well as old literature was being valued. Another reason why Petrarch might be inclined to say the Dark Ages were lacking in learning and literature was because it was not the Latin literature he was interested in and valued. Instead, the literary world at the time was filled with texts by religious figures such as monks, priests, and archbishops due to the take-over by the church in the early Middle Ages. This caused a boom in an alternative subject matter of literature that had not been seen in this extent. In a broader sense, a lack of literature recounting events at the time prove as difficult to many historians, making it more labourious to study this period. However, it is just assumed by many that writers at the time had a different agenda in their work, as the era was better known for their poetry, with authors such as an abbess called Saint Edburga who showed both the religious influence of Middle Age’s literature and distinctiveness in the era’s poetry. The writing of these literatures and the ongoing pursuit of knowledge through learning during the early Middle Ages show that Petrarch’s theory of the Dark Ages being disproved, hence the concept not being a real thing.
The improvements surrounding agriculture in the Middle Ages show how the Dark Ages as a broader concept was an inaccurate name. The practice of farming had become a more popular industry after the fall of Rome, with over 80% of western Europe being in the farming industry. Due to crops increasing in demand despite the technologies being primitive to its time, particularly beginning in around 700 AD, new innovations in farming were needed in order to obtain an adequate yield. At this time during the Middle Ages, a decline in trade was seen with agricultural products and population was decreasing due to minor famines and events such as the Plague of Justinian, so farmers had to be self-sustaining and effective. Consequently, new agricultural technologies were created to limit the labour intensity while increasing production. Technologies that displayed this were innovations such as the horse collar which was placed on the horse’s shoulders and neck and proved more effective that prior methods due to its ability to carry more and plough land more timely. Systematic developments such as the three-field crop rotation system in the 800s improved from the two-field system in that it allowed a higher number of crops to be farmed while reducing the risk of future famines by ensuring there was an excess of crops in case of a single crop failure. This combined with the horse collar that came about around the 1000s by being able to feed the increasing amount of horses working on these farms. Even earlier than both of these was the heavy plough, produced in the fifth century and later improved in the sixth century to be more sturdy, assisted in increasing food production and is attributed to a major cause in population increase at the end of the early Middle Ages. These improvements to agriculture show how peasant farmers during the early Middle Ages battled the agricultural slump after Rome’s falling by creating new technologies, which caused population growth and increased food production. These innovations contribute to the reasoning behind why there was never a Dark Age, as these creations were a major player in improving broader European society and allowing future expansion.
The innovation made in the science and mathematics world brought light to society in the early Middle Ages, disproving the Dark Ages theory. It was believed by some historians that the Christian church governing Europe restrained the work of scientists due to clashing beliefs on the sacrality of the human body before and after death. In actuality, the church did not conceal scientific discovery in western Europe, rather progress decreased in pace which defeats the attitude of the era being a Dark Age for science. While little of the work done was ground-breaking, it became a basis for future scientists to build from. In addition to this, the church actuality supported scientific advancements as they viewed it as a way to connect to God. Still, when looking at to why the early Middle Ages are considered the Dark Ages, most look to western Europe only and not the areas surrounding it. However, while Europe was experiencing a somewhat slow-moving moment in science, the Arabic nations were experiencing a time of scientific and mathematical greatness, commonly known as the ‘Islamic Golden Age’. Building off the work already done by the Greek, Romans, and other ancient documents, the Arabic revolutionized what modern-day western mathematics knows as its basis, such as the numeral system and algebra. In addition to this, Arabic scientists made major discoveries in scientific fields such as astronomy, medicine, and physics, of which most were studied in the desire to connect with God more alike the western Europeans. This period of Arabic greatness was too influential to society then and now to consider the early Middle Ages a Dark Age for science and mathematical studies.
As the early Middle Ages from around 476 AD to 1000 brought light to many common areas of society, it disproves that the Dark Ages were a real concept. The original, as well as the broader definition of the Dark Ages, was disproved by the period’s advancements in everyday life. Western Europe’s innovations within agriculture revolutionized the farming world to help population growth, which in turn assisted in the late Middle Ages and onwards. Although the literature and learning at the time decreased slightly, the work produced was unique and learning was still widely encouraged. Also, the scientific and mathematical discovered in western Europe and Arabic nations laid a foundation for major breakthroughs in the future while also cementing in everyday method that are used in the modern-day. These events proved that the said Dark Ages were actually very enlightened, demonstrating how the term wasn’t a real thing.