The Dark And Incrivilized Time Of The Middle Ages

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Historically, the Middle Ages has been seen as a dark and unlocated era of our past, between the classical world and the Italian rebirth, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Protestant reform, having feudalism as a conductive thread of this whole period. The books speak of a dark era, ravaged by wars, diseases and with a very rigid social structure, however, the reality was very different, because this nebulous and sacristan period, which lasted more than 1000 years, left us a cultural legacy aboutwhich was built the Western Christian civilization, from various cultural contributions of the Greco-Latin, Judeo-Christian and Germanic world, left us through the literature and music of the troubadours, a real life that escaped that rigidity.

Today we have evidence that testifies not only the cultural diversity of that time, but also a world full of nuances, approaching artistic talent, intellectual progress and political, economic and religious changes that made it possible to end hostility, and even contempt, who experienced many times in historiography.

We cannot deny that the term "medieval" is connoted from prejudices, simplifications and generalizations;where they are capable of encompassing the "medieval" of Charlemagne and the "medieval" Saint Thomas under the same prism, where the "medieval" man of the sevent is the same "medieval" man of the twelfth century. Where the prejudice of barbarism and darkness was imposed with such force that, even today, many continue to think that way, and even when historians defend that it is a wrong idea, the negative connotation of the Middle Ages continues to generate concern. In fact, its antinomic value continues not resolved in each of us and in our shared imaginary;and possibly will never disappear. Anyone who has to see them with the concept of Middle Ages will attribute, as the case may be, one of the two value judgments that have been affirmed: “The average age of fairies and castles with torrels collides, in ourmind, with the bonfire of witches and heretics ”. This double idea has undoubtedly deep backgrounds, the forge of concepts and attitudes in the popular ideology is very strong and it is difficult, if impossible, to modify from scientific knowledge. 

However, this essay is not intendedSome;but in elucidating where this "historiographic pollution" comes from. Know how and why the concept of “Middle Ages” was born, who were the main authors involved in this work and, above all, what were the reasons that took them this term and tragic connotation.

There have been several historiographic studies, where they have tried to analyze all those texts in which the derogatory notion of medieval centuries appears, not only from historical discipline, but also from other disciplines whether philosophical, artistic or literary.

The different authors always reach the same conclusions. On the one hand, it is in the seventeenth century when the Middle Age concept acquires a historiographic category, being used by German professor, historian and philologist Cristoph Keller [Footnoteref: 5] [Footnoteref: 6], although similar expressions were already brewingSince the fifteenth century, but it has the merit of having exposed and disseminated in a definitive way. For Cellarius, according to his Latinized name, it was a sterile period, where humanity plunged into ignorance;“It would be a deep hole in which only negative elements prevail;v. gr. ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, religious tyranny, etc. This means that the so -called "average age" lacks its own content, but that it only constitutes a long parenthesis between two valuable times. This vision led to the term "average age" or the adjective "medieval" acquire a strong pejorative character, meaning the worst;v. gr. barbarism, darkness, intolerance, etc ". After Keller, the illustration heroes were responsible for spreading it, and from there, he went to the entire western world.

On the other hand, and for chronological reasons, it is indisputable that they were the authors of the Italian rebirth that shaped the concept of average age. The "heirs of antiquity" necessarily condemned this medieval period so that they could return to that long.

While it is true that the term as such does not arise until the end of the 15th century, already in the mid -14th century we find references to the idea that after the fall of the Roman Empire, the splendor of classical culture had been replaced by a dark period, undesirable and that it should not be repeated again. Specifically, the figure of Francesco Petrarca has been chosen as the first author and architect to develop this thesis of derogatory connotation.

Finally, the authors agree that the German reformists of the 16th century would have collected that interested conception of a gloomy medieval world and barbarism and would have used it for their own nationalist and religious claims. Indeed, it is here when we find important Lutheran historiography, which presents the Middle Ages as a dark period in which the Catholic Church, its great rival at all levels, in addition to “oppressing the people tyrannically, had perverted the message of Christ,giving rise to a corrupt church and in need of a deep and radical renewal ”

However, as I have already pointed out, the notion of "Middle Ages" was not an invention that appeared from nothing by the Italian humanists;In fact, it began to be used by philosophers from the end of the Roman Empire as St. Augustine, and that would be developed throughout the entire Middle Ages, until it became a basic historiographic and theological conception within the thought of the time of the time. Do not think that the people who lived in the Middle Ages were aware that they would be called their time.

The first medievalist man to use the term as it is known today was the bishop of aleria, Bossi. In a letter towards a deceased cardinal, in which he exalts his virtues, he outlines the times in which the cardinal lived: Medium Aedium – the middle times.

For their part, St. Augustine and the philosophers who followed him, describe the stage between the principle of things to modernity as a "dark" and "dark" time: early intermediate. The Middle Ages would be seen by San Agustín as a permixes civitas, as an intermediate city between the city of God and the city of men. As a city in tension, because earthly existence would be nothing more than a step prior to true life.

Following San Agustín, the majority of medieval thinkers had the theological-historiographic idea, which concerns the sense of history, in which it was divided into six ages, which cover from creation to the end of this world.

The incarnation and death and resurrection of the Son of God, there would be the sixth and last age, which in the end would produce the second coming of Christ to the earth- the Parousia- and, subsequently, the end of the times. It is this intermediate moment, between the first coming of Christ and the second, which constitutes an important precedent for the subsequent notion of Middle Ages. San Agustín permeates the idea that the age they were living was nothing more than a mere intermediate step prior to the true heavenly life. That same idea was used by medieval authors in numerous texts, and permeated the theological and historiographic mentality of an entire millennium

At the same time, these Augustinian philosophers echoed a series of precedents in the form of historiographic terms and ideas that sink their roots in the same Bible. Qualifications such as "dark" and "dark", are found in several New Testament verses, in this case these adjectives served to define the era of pagan domain. According to this idea, this era would have been replaced by a new initiated with the coming of Christ, who illuminated the life of men. Examples of them are, the verse of the Gospel of St. Luke: “Thanks to the merciful tenderness of our God, who will bring us from heaven the visit of the rising sun, to illuminate those who are in the darkness and in the shadow of death, and guide our steps along the path of peace ". Or the words that appear in the epistles of St. Paul, which would reinforce that idea when addressing the Christian community of Ephesians with the following words: “Before, you were darkness, but now they are light in the Lord. Live as children of light "

Keep in mind that Greco -Roman culture represented a problem from the religious point of view for medieval thought – Pagan antiques-. He not only did not ignore his existence and value, but he frequently toured her and gave him continuity. This double or ambiguous position is natural from the moment the medieval clergymen made St. Augustine the Latin lawyer, turned to Christianity, their great teacher.

Making me the words of Lee Goff, "The Middle Ages feels, herself, the bases of her depreciation";Medievalist thinkers without wanting, undervalued their own time and contributed to the subsequent denigration of it by the Italian humanists, for whom, I think, that it was not difficult to misunderstand medievalist theology and historiography and make them a legitimate argument.

Similarly, these Italian humanists also had their own motivations for the condemnation of the "Middle Ages", where associated with the absence of classicism, highlighted by the Italian poet Fraz. That longing for the greatness of classic Rome, expressed by Dante Alighieri in his divine comedy, in contrast to the decline of Rome of his own era, with a fragmented territory in multiple republics, often in wars together, and many ofwhich were controlled by foreign powers;And with a church that was in a disastrous religious and moral situation, whose Pope resided in Avignon. We should not forget the terrible black plague epidemic, which devastated with a good part of Italy.

It is perhaps the complexity of the period lived by these humanists in all areas that caused their words to always be surrounded by a pessimistic vision both in the cultural and artistic field, and even personal. And we return to the case of Petrarca where his epistle there posterità testifies his vision to the era: "If the love of mine did not prevent me, I would always have wanted to be born at any other time, and forget this"

That conviction of recovering classic knowledge, seeking a new scale of values for the individual;In front of medieval society, in which everything revolved around the idea of God, it would be one of the great ideological engines of the Italian rebirth. In fact, the authors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the words of Eduardo Baura, would end up contemplating themselves as the calls to restore the muses to the place that corresponded to them, and of which they supposedly had left centuries removed. And so, the dark Middle Ages was born, that we want or not, our current era is resembled.

We would have to wait for the Romanticism of the nineteenth and twentieth century, to see how a rediscovery of a previously not recognized era occurs;When the Middle Ages becomes visible. When like this, a slow but progressive valuation of the medieval world. But what allowed the interest of appreciating the Middle Ages? First, in Europe the effort to find an identity is generated, after the failure of the Napoleonic Empire. It is the birth of nationalisms, especially in Germany and Italy;and under the desire to create national unity through language;They find the origin of their language in the Middle Ages, now becoming a desirable past. Second, the gaze to the native floor, the floor of the peasants;A look at oral traditions: stories and stories. As the collection of popular stories of the Grimm brothers, where we find a medieval landscape. It is here, when they discover in the oral tradition of the Middle Ages: a wisdom, a memory.


  • BACA GARCÍA, Eduardo. "The origin of the historiographic concept of the dark Middle Ages. Petrarca’s work ". Hispanic medieval studies. 2002: 7 – 22.
  • BACA GARCÍA, Eduardo. "Aetates Mundi Sunt …" The division of history during the Middle Ages (IV to XIII centuries). Madrid: La Ergástula, 2012.
  • Bloch, m. Apology for the history or trade of the historian. Mexico: FCE, 2002.
  • Di Carpegna Falconieri, Tommaso. The medieval present. Barbarians and crossed in current politics. Trad. Sara Alcina Zayas. Barcelona: ed. Icaria, 2015.
  • Duby, g. Europe in the Middle Ages. Barcelona, Paidós: 2007.
  • Eco, Umberto. The Middle Ages (I): Barbarians, Christians and Muslims. Mexico: Economic Culture Fund, 2016.
  • Gilson, Ethienne. Philosophy in the Middle Ages. From the patristic origins until the end of the fourteenth century. Madrid: ed. Gredos, 1976.
  • Lee Goff, Jaques. Think about history: modernity, present, progress. Barcelona: Paidós, 1991.
  • Lee Goff, Jaques. Is it really necessary to cut the story into slices? Mexico: ed. Economic Culture Fund, 2016.
  • Bank, r. To end the Middle Ages. Barcelona: Medievalia, 2003.

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