The Dark Ages: A Historical Misnomer

The time in history between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance (usually interpreted as the period between the 5th and 15th century) is referred to by many as the “Dark” Ages. This period of time is often thought to be an age of ignorance in Europe, a time only ended by the “enlightenment” of the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance, the praised period of progress and free-thinking, is viewed to be far superior to the time of the Dark Ages.

The people of the Dark Ages are treated as if they were cave men; slow minded and stupid. The time period is thought to be a period of intense ignorance and utter gloom. It was only after the era of the Renaissance that man’s eyes were opened, and he was enlightened. The point that I wish to make is that the “Dark” Ages were not as dark as they are made to seem.

For instance, regarding the supposed ignorant people of the Dark Ages, what about all the great thinkers of that time? The philosophers, inventors, writers…

Bartholoneus Anglicus (13th century)

Franciscan who wrote the first medieval encyclopedia of science

Berthold Schwarz (13th century)

Inventor of firearms

Basil Valentine (14th century)

Founder of analytical chemistry

Fra Mauro (13 century)

Made the first geographical chart

Roger Bacon (13 century)

Father of experimental science

St. Bede (6th century)

Wrote first English history book: An Ecclesiastical History of the English People

St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century)

Catholic theologian and influential philosopher

Dante Alighieri (13 century)

Italian poet

Charlemagne (8th century)

Holy Roman Emperor who contributed much to the education system

Geoffrey Chaucer (12th century)

Poet and writer…Wrote The Canterbury Tales

Johann Gutenberg (15th century)

Inventor of the printing press

St. Bonaventure (13th century)

Catholic theologian and philosopher

John Duns Scotus (13th century)

Catholic theologian and philosopher

These people were brilliant thinkers in their own respects; unparalleled minds. They all made great contributions to history, did they not? These accomplishments are instead ignored, and their time period referred to as “dark”.

Inventors and philosophers were not the only contributors of the Dark Ages. Architects made great progress as well. A new style of architecture was developed: the Gothic. With many windows and high walls supported by flying buttresses, the Gothic style was a architectural breakthrough. The cathedrals constructed were miniature skyscrapers, with foundations underground as deep as a subway. How can this style be ignored?

In addition to accomplishments in architecture, there were many other positive occurrences in the Dark Ages. For instance, it was in the Dark Ages that universities were born. Higher education was being made available across Europe through the universities. The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, was the first university to grant degrees. Was this educational milestone to be considered “dark”?

Along with the opening of universities of the Dark Ages, there was the Byzantine Golden Age. In this time of the Byzantine Empire, many books were written — encyclopedias, dictionaries, and anthologies. These literary works paved the way for reference books as we know them today. Referring to an age of innovation as such as “dark” only discounts the time period’s accomplishments.

In the early part of the Dark Ages , there was even Church unity. A unified Church, an undisputed biblical canon, and well developed tradition were some things enjoyed in the Dark Ages before the Protestant Revolution.

Thanks to contributions from Islam, the first Algebra book was written. The Compendious Book on Calculation written by Al-Khw’rism (790-840) was the cornerstone to advanced mathematics as we know it today.

The first heavy plow, water mill, hour glass, water clock, liquor, eye glasses, and printing press were made in the Dark Ages. With all these accomplishments in the “Dark” Ages, how can people refer to the time period as dark, full of ignorance? With all the accomplishments and contributions of the time period, the Dark Ages should be considered no less innovative than the time of the Renaissance.

— Patrick E. Devens



5 thoughts on “The Dark Ages: A Historical Misnomer

  1. Pingback: The Legacy of the True (?) Historical Patrick: Catholic Thinker Commentary – The Catholic Thinker

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