From Discover (hat tip: Tom MacMaster):
Just How Dark Were the Dark Ages?
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe wasn’t quite the horrible and backwards place earlier historians would have you believe. Modern scholars now look at the Dark Ages in a whole new light.
Whether it’s the idea of barbarian hordes run amok across a continent ruled by the Romans for centuries, or the notion that science and the arts went through a 300-year freeze, the concept of the Dark Ages has always titillated the imagination.
In truth, a big part of what makes the era dark to modern eyes is the relative lack of surviving information. But what we don’t know has always been at least as interesting as what we do know. Did King Arthur really exist, let alone send his knights on a quest to find the Holy Grail? Was there ever a legendary hero named Beowulf, and how long had his story existed before the oldest known surviving manuscript appeared in roughly the 10th century?
Of course, the Dark Ages also refers to a less-than-heroic time in history supposedly marked by a dearth of culture and arts, a bad economy, worse living conditions and the relative absence of new technology and scientific advances. While the period continues to fascinate history buffs, scholars and fantasy fans looking for some tangible link to their favorite mytho-historical heroes, the term “Dark Ages” has largely fallen out of use among serious researchers, due to some of the implications and assumptions made by those who first propagated its use.
“No academic uses it today — because it’s actually one of the most fascinating and vibrant periods about which we are discovering new knowledge every year,” says Julia Smith, a professor of medieval history at the University of Oxford’s All Souls College.
Let’s take a closer look at those aspects of the period that scholars typically refer to now as the Early Middle Ages to separate, the dark from the light.
Click the link to read more.