the Dark Ages?

by timspauwen on October 29, 2009

Germanic belt buckle, 6th century
In more then one place one can read about the Middle Ages being the ‘Dark Ages’, a time where intellectual progress stagnated, even regressed. Knowledge became the possession of the church and anybody disagreeing with the catholic dogma was prosecuted. Artwork took a fall compared to the antique world of the Romans and Greeks. But, is this the whole truth? Were the Middle Ages a completely uninteresting period in which no innovations took place and no beautiful jewelry was produced?

Find the answer on AJU




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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Johnson January 6, 2010 at 11:56 am

The AJU website is amazing.

I am one of those that just loved studying the Middle Ages in Art History. Although, I hope we never have to suffer the oppression of religious rule again, it was quite an innovative period, despite the preconception that new ideas were suppressed. Crafts seemed (IMO) to have had the most innovation, while the “fine arts” were stumbling around with techniques, stylization, and systematic formulas. For example, I tended to be awed more by the frames of paintings during this period as opposed to the actual work within the frame, ha ha.

I would love to see more decorative artifacts from this period. Is there an online collection? Or, could you suggest a museum?

Thanks, I’m enjoying your blog :o)

timspauwen November 2, 2009 at 5:32 am


It seems we are on the same page, that definition exemplifies exactly what I tried to accomplish with my article.

The Renaissance view on the Middle Ages is still alive with many, I used it as a question to get people interested in finding out the opposite. I never called the Middle Ages the ‘dark ages’, I questioned the negative view on them to give an introduction to the article…

laurie kern October 30, 2009 at 2:05 pm

I still disagree – Having done quite a bit of study in History, the term has fallen out of use in historiography but here is a definition:

The term “Dark Ages” was originally intended to denote the entire period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance; the term “Middle Ages” has a similar motivation, implying an “intermediate” period between Classical Antiquity and the modern era. In the 19th century scholars began to recognize the accomplishments made during the period, thereby challenging the image of the Middle Ages as a time of darkness and decay. The term “Dark Ages” is now rarely used in scholarship, and when used, it is often restricted to the Early Middle Ages

Back to you Chet!

timspauwen October 30, 2009 at 4:11 am

I respectfully disagree with your ‘general consensus’. The Middle Ages start at the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire in every periodization I ever laid my eyes on. My referral to ‘Dark Ages’ has the intention to bring accross the negative image the Middle Ages have gotten by the writings of 16th and 17th century writers who wanted to distance themselves from the era.

That said, periodization is always a feeble attempt to group certain characteristics of a time period with plenty of exceptions making the rule.

all the best,


laurie kern October 29, 2009 at 6:07 pm

The Dark Ages came before the Middle Ages. The Dark Ages are generally considered the time AFTER the Roman Empire fell.

[But as a child I thought it really was “Dark” – and there was a lack of daylight!]

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