Myth Of Dark Ages

There’s No Such Thing as the ‘Dark Ages’

Who Started This Misunderstanding?
The 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch is the best-known medieval source for the idea that the period in Europe from around 500–1500 was “dark.”

But that phrase was a specific gripe. Petrarch was complaining about the general quality of literature in his own specific time and place: Italy in the 1300s (which makes him sound like a snob).

A 1602 text by Caesar Baronius used saeculum obscurum (the dark age/century) to refer to the 10th and 11th centuries as lacking in surviving historical sources. But dark really just meant that he didn’t know a lot about the time.

Unfortunately, the term persisted and historians started using “dark” as a pejorative term to mean a period of superstition and stagnation in art, literature, and science.


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