In Dark Ages vs Middle Ages I considered whether it was appropriate to still use the term Dark Ages to describe the period from C500 – C1000. My feeling was that this period deserves it’s own term and not be lumped in with The Middle Ages and that although it was no more dangerous or unenlightened than the surrounding periods, the term Dark Ages is appropriate to describe a period which is obscure and hard to see.
The term Dark Ages to mean anything else could equally well be used to describe many another age. Hitler’s Germany, for example, was far darker than the Germany of Otto the Great.
The term ‘stuck in the Dark Ages’ is often used in a derogative sense as we like to think as time has moved on we have left such times behind. But have we? Could the term ‘Dark Ages’ be used to describe our own age?
Danger: We fear terror attacks just as the people of Athelwulf’s Wessex and Cinaed mac Alpin’s Dal Riata once feared the Norse raids. Head to places such as Syria and you will find a society affected by war in a way unheard of in those ‘uncivilised’ medieval times. Medical advances mean that a lot of the common causes of death in the medieval world no longer affect us… at least, they no longer affect us in the West. For much of the world death in childbirth is as common now as it was a thousand years ago. We have the means to prevent it but not, it seems, the will. Does this not make us even less civilised than those Dark Age people?
Enlightenment: We can shudder at the thought of teenage Frankish princess, Judith of West Francia given in marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather, but women remain second-class citizens in many of the countries of the world. In the West we like to think our attitudes have come a long way since the Dark Ages. But have they? Misogyny, racism and homophobia are just a few of the prejudices that still exist in Western society and judging by recent political decisions by the UK and USA, they not only exist, they are flourishing.
- Misogyny – judging a half of society as inferior based on their reproductive organs.
- Racism – judging a segment of society on the colour of their skin or their country of origin. (or in some cases the country of origin of their ancestors)
- Homophobia – judging a segment of society on their sexual orientation even though it is a) only one facet of who they are and b) as long as it only involves consenting adults sexual activity is a matter of personal taste and no one else’s business.
It’s hardly an enlightened attitude, is it?
Information: But surely our society has come a long way in its visibility hasn’t it? Surely the historians of the future will find it easy to understand our times, or will they? We live in an age of spin, post truths, alternative facts and media bias. It would not surprise me if the historians of the future who will have a wealth of books, articles, news clips, websites and tweets find it just as hard if not harder to decipher our age, as the historians of today trying to work out the past using just archaeology, the Anglo-Saxon chronicle and Asser’s Life of King Alfred.
Perhaps the question historians should ask is not “Is it acceptable to use the term Dark Ages to describe the period C500 – C1000?”. Perhaps the question should be
“Are the Dark Ages really over?”
Anyone wanting to escape from modern dark times into times gone by, check out my Women of the Dark Ages series.