Dark Ages Redux?

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Dr. Judith A. Klinghoffer is a senior research associate in the department of Political Science at Rutgers University, Camden. She was a senior Fulbright fellow in Denmark and is the co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences. She runs the HNN blog, Deja vu.

It would be, oh, so comforting to assume that civilization is destined to march on regardless of the best efforts of its opponents. I watch Islamist anti-democratic, anti-freedom forces threaten novelists like Salman Rushdie, Danish Cartoonists and even the Pope. I recognize the strategic manner in which Muslim states help intimidate “infidels” and their governments. I am alarmed by the appeasement-dominated responses of the intellectual elites, the free media, democratic governments and international organizations. Still, it all seems so passé. It seems much more reasonable to heed Bill Kristol’s advice to stop agonizing and be happy for ultimately civilizations prevail. Haven't they so far?

No. Not in cases in which they were defeated militarily. History is written not only by the winners but also by surviving civilizations. A lost civilization hardly leaves any traces. It is usually followed by a Dark Age. Consider the drastic consequences of the end of the Bronze period in the Eastern Mediterranean also known as the Greek Dark Ages. Recent scholarship attributes it to the military defeat of “high tech chariot” armies by “low tech” barbarian foot soldiers of uncertain origin. Egypt alone escaped the devastation though it also suffered decline. That Dark Age lasted 400 years and included the loss of written language. Consequently, the era has no history, only archeology:

The great palaces and cities of the Mycenaean were destroyed or abandoned. The Hittite civilization collapsed. Cities from Troy to Gaza were destroyed. The Greek language largely ceased to be written. . . . The Greeks of the Dark Age lived in fewer and smaller settlements, suggesting famine and depopulation, and foreign goods have not been found at archaeological sites, suggesting minimal international trade.

The Roman Civilizations similarly ended with a barbarian conquest ushering in the Dark Age with which we are most familiar. It, too, lasted hundreds of years and persisted in some parts of Europe for longer than generally assumed. And yet, as Edward Deering Mansfield (writing under the pseudonym “A Veteran Observer”) noted in a New York Times article on July 3, 1863, to ask "Shall the Dark Ages Return?" as he himself did, seemed audacious:

What an audacity! Ask wonderful Europe, in this wonderful age of wonderful things, whether it may not return to the Dark Ages? Ask an American, in this best, greatest and most glorious country which ever floated on the tide of time, whether it may not go back to the Dark Ages? The very question startles us with its audacity.

Still, should it have then, or now? Not if we understand that a Dark Age does not mean a return “to the days of cowled priest, belted knights and feudal barons.” Instead, it means a return to an era when people “were straitened by the limitation of thought”; when “the thought and feelings of men worked in the same groove, and everything outside was ignored.” The groove to which he refers was set by the Catholic church whose claims to universal superiority were backed by the state. Hence, the Dark Ages were not all dark but the light was constricted. Consequently, Mansfield points out, “the Latin Church, the Latin law and scholastics were well enough, to be believed and confided – while outside of them was a wilderness of heresy and barbarism.” Think inquisition then; Communists, Fascist and Islamist ideological/religious police yesterday and today.

Dark Ages do not end abruptly or peacefully. Thought police periodically expand and contract but once entrenched may take decades, indeed, centuries to eradicate. Military victory often precedes their demise. The powers that be in Italy or Spain (which had wide ranging colonies) did not decide that the Inquisition has outlived its usefulness. It was Napoleon’s soldiers who finally opened its Spanish prisons. A look at Goya’s drawings or a glance at the testimony of Colonel Lehmanowsky should convince doubters that the dreaded institution had not become a kinder, gentler one by 1809:

These cells were places of solitary confinement, where the wretched objects of Inquisitorial hate were confined year after year, till death released them from their sufferings, and there their bodies remained until they were completely decayed, and their rooms had become fit for others to occupy. Flues or tubes, extending to the open air, carried off the effluvia. In these cells we found the remains of those who paid the debt of nature: some of them had been dead apparently but a short time, while of others nothing remained but their bones, still chained to the floor of the dungeon. . . .

In other cells we found living sufferers, of both sexes and of every age, from three score years down to fourteen or fifteen years, all naked as when born into the world, and all in chains! Here were old men and aged women who had been shut up for many years. Here, too, were the middle aged and the young man and the maiden of fourteen years old!"

The Colonel goes on to describe the liberation:

In the meantime it was reported through Madrid that the prisons of the Inquisition were broken open, and multitudes hastened to the fatal spot. And, oh, what a meeting was there-it was like a resurrection! About a hundred, who had been buried for many years, were now restored to life. There were fathers who had found their long-lost daughters, wives were restored to their husbands, sisters to their brothers, and parents to their children; and there was some who could recognize no friend among the multitude. The scene was such as no tongue can describe.

If any of this sounds familiar. It should. The scene is recreated in Milos Forman’s movie, Goya’s Ghost. Apparently, Forman was thinking about the Prague spring which like the Spanish one was followed by another “winter.” The only difference was that the inquisitors returned to Prague with the help of Soviet tanks and to Madrid with the help of British guns. They also returned to Italy where as late as 1858, Italian police kidnapped a Jewish six year old on the order of the grand inquisitor. Oh, yes, his parents like other Jews lived in a Ghetto. The defeat of Napoleon and the French revolution also meant that Jews who were let out of the Ghettoes by Napoleon were returned to them by the “Holy Alliance.” They were freed by the new unified Italian army in 1870 though returned to it and "liquidated" by the Fascists and Nazis. One can only speculate of the effect these centuries of living under thought police had on Catholic populations around the world. The Museum of the Inquisition Lima is the most popular in Peru.

History books may not dwell on the subject but Western thinkers living in the middle of the 19th century knew all too well the sorry state of freedom in Europe and, hence understood just how important the survival of real democracy in America was. And real democracy cannot have slavery of any kind as a basis of its institutions. Mansfield writes:

In America we have no philosophy but the philosophy of politics; but in that, we are superior to all the world; and it is that which keeps the American mind alive. But we are going back in time. This rebellion is a consequence of the reaction against freedom. If it were confined to the mere masters of Negroes, and to an attempt to secure them where they are, it would not be unnatural, nor would it necessarily react upon free thought in the North. But this is not the fact. It is an attempt to make Slavery (whether of white of black) the foundation of political institutions. It is, therefore, a direct and positive reaction against the principles of the American Revolution.

Nor is it confined to Slave States. Every man in the Free States, of any intelligence, who engages in the peace party and sympathizes with Southern institutions, is a reactionist against American institutions. It is a reaction against real Democracy. The Roman Emperors were formally elected as Roman Consuls, keeping the name of the old Roman magistracy, when the thing itself had ceased to exist and only Emperors ruled. Such is the exact fact with those who, under the name of Democracy, are seeking the overthrow of Democracy by the overthrow of Freedom. This is the undisguised fact. Do you wonder, then, that men ask: Are we to have a return of the dark Ages?

No. I am not surprised. The Dark Age did not return because Abraham Lincoln did not flinch. He won the ideological battle in the only way it can often be won, militarily. Since then astute observers have asked the question when they contemplated Communist and Fascist victories and they may as well be asking the question now. For liberty, hence, civilization is currently under a three prong attack.

One prong consists of Islamist barbarians, Al Qaeda types, who, like barbarians from time immemorial, excel in exploiting the military and institutional weakness of civilized democracies.

The second prong consists of Fascist/Communist/Islamist tyrannies such as China, North Korea or Iran who feel threatened by the success of democracies. They enjoy sitting back, watching the barbarians soften up the democracies despite knowing that they are bound to be the barbarians' next victims.

The third prong consists of transnational elites who assume that the Islamist barbarians do not pose a real threat. Their goal is to bring about a world run by international institutions not directly accountable to the “uninformed masses.” Indeed, as they consider powerful civilized democracies, most especially the US, to be their most formidable opponent, these transnational elites do not shy from cooperating with Islamists and tyrannies by legitimizing their demands that free speech, i.e., thought be circumscribed.

It should not be forgotten that previous dark ages were limited geographically, a future one may not be. In the past, enlightenment in one part of the world helped end a dark ages in another. But in the age of globalization this may prove much more difficult. Hence, the stakes today are higher than they have ever been. So, following Mansfield one may ask, shall we go backwards? Shall free institutions fall? Shall the world and its hopes fall with us? In other words, will the Dark ages return? In 2004, I would have answered the question similarly to the way Dean Acheson answered it in 1951:

It seems to me ... that we are better off than we were a year ago . . . But there are no grounds for complacency . . . The outcome in the contest between a better future and a return to the Dark Ages is still undetermined.

Unfortunately, in 2007 we are worse off than we were three years ago. I still hold on to the belief that the American people love liberty too much to give it up and, as they have done before, they will snatch victory from the jaws of current defeats. So, why can't I be happy? Because with each and every passing day the price for defeating the forces of darkness is getting higher and higher and ultimate victory less and less certain.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

It is totally within the realm of the expected ,and the "deja vu", for all those that are familiar with Klinghoffer , and what she stands for, that her essay ,seemingly, on the dark ages shall, from its very first sentences, define the prime enemy, the motive force towards the Dark Ages as the:
".... Islamist anti-democratic, anti-freedom forces "
whose major effort towards this retrogression is that they:
"...threaten novelists like Salman Rushdie, Danish Cartoonists and even the Pope. "

In an era that has witnessed Mai Lai massacre , the ferocious, and ongoing, battle of the African American to achieve equality after centuries of slavery , Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the glorification of the Zionist neo colonialist onslaught on Palestine and the wanton aggression , and willful, conscious destruction, of Iraq starting with the intentional dismantlement of the Iraqi state...

In such an era threatening a novelist, a cartoonist and responding to an openly hostile principal of a major Christian Church hell bent on reviving a major inter religious conflict seem to be, by any objective criterion , the mild symptoms of a revivalist malaise when contrasted with Some of the doings of an other country ..the presumed leader of the “free world” and the major advocate of western “democracy”!

BUT, patently, the whole and sole objective of Professor Klinghoffer is the demonization of Islam , the nemesis of her aggressive , racist and neocolonialist Zionist doctrine and movement and the deepening and the further intensification of the eagerly sought after ,by Klinghoffer &Co, alienation between the Moslem World and the West, starting with the USA!

A genuine, honest ,objective and less self/doctrine serving effort into the feared retrogression into the Dark Ages would have found other starting points.
But it is Klinghoffer and that would have been asking for the impossible.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

It is more than “birds of a feather…” it is unity in complicity that brings Aaron Green to cheer on the dubious, and racially imbued, scholarship of the unabashed propagandist of the racist/neocolonialist Zionist cause; Professor Klinghoffer!
What we have here are two eminent advocates of the doctrine which springs from a deep seated sense of racial/racist exclusiveness, and prerogatives, the implementation of which led to the “dislocate, dispossess, subjugate, an indigenous population, and replace with ,racially screened and filtered, colons ” nation building model in the twentieth century, AD.

Both these proponents seriously pretend to be concerned about the threat of mankind’s retrogression into the Dark Ages without, first, honestly appraising what they stand for and ceaselessly warmly applaud.

Their failure to note that their ideal; the Zionist/Jewish racial/racist colonization of Palestine and their cherished model for nation building that led to the establishment of the super racist state of Israel are, by any objective standard, the most telling portents of such a retrogression tells us a great deal about their intellectual honesty and the selfless “objectivity” of their scholarship!

Zionism has not only blinded its adherents (?) to the crimes committed by its implementation but has equally managed to conceal its innate racist/retrogressive nature, the truly telling portent of such a retrogression into the Dark Ages, to the extent that embolden both Klinghoffer and Green to shamelessly assert their contrived concern to an unknowing, but generally well meaning , Western audience.
Herein lays the tragic comedy of the whole situation!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

What Green has to say boils down to:
” You (Arabs/Moslems) did worst"!
Which, coming from Green and his ilk, is only to be expected and, as such, does not bother me in least (what else to expect from Irgun/Stern/Likudnik "scholarship" and morality ?).

The interesting point here though is that he neither denies nor apologizes for the Zionist/Israeli model, that he implicitly concedes, of nation building of:
DISLOCATE, DISPOSSESS, SUBJUGATE and SUPPLANT an indigenous, native population (who has dwell ed in Palestine for a minimum of 14 centuries) and replace by an amalgam of, his racially screened and selected coreligionists…in the 20th century AD

That these supplanting usurping colons have the "divinely promised right/prerogative /privilege ", according to Green &ilk, to dwell, uninvited and unwelcome, in others' homes, till others' lands and farmlands etc and establish their own nation/state while denying the native population the right to return to their homes and regain their properties...
That all that does not seem to bother Green( and Klinghoffer ) who feigns concern about human progress, nor is perceived and acknowledged by him as the gravest portent of human retrogression into the DARK AGES is as much an indication of his "intellectual honesty" , moral/ethical standards as it is of the genuinety of his concern.

Arnold Shcherban - 7/20/2007

It used to be, agreed, but hardly anymore.

A system is only a tyranny if the majority of a native populus and of the political observers AMONG THEM consider it a tyranny, not 'cause the ideologues with different cultural and historical heritage (or their proxies) define it as one.
Further, if it is deserved (based on a statistical evidence) to be called a tyranny along with North Korea and Iran, then any objective observer has to throw into the same list such dear US allies, as Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Philipinnes, US satellite governments in Kabul, and Bahgdad, and many others.
Chinese people experience now much more economic and social freedoms than ever in their long history.
These acquired freedoms are fruits
of their own struggles and historico-cultural heritage and ever evolving economic and technological
climate of the world at large.
If the great majority of China's population considered their system a tyranny they would get rid of it years ago (as it happenned recently in the former USSR and other, so-called, "socialist" countries), since the Army and security apparatus consists of the same people (not taken from Mars), as well.

The Chinese system has a long way to go towards truly democratic society, if it ever reaches that state, and perhaps it looks quite tyrannic from the Western point of view, but any one who writes on the issues of tyranny and democracy, should remember the elementary truth/fact that the views on those issues differs even from nation to nation, not speaking of race to race.
Let Chinese populus decide what's good for them.

Arnold Shcherban - 7/16/2007

What real, not corporate-bribed, Western civilization and general populace would say:
Oh, Holy Spirit!
Protect me from such friends as Ms.
Klinghoffer and Mr. Green; Muslim and all other enemies I'm quite capable to easily manage myself.

Andrew D. Todd - 7/13/2007

One point to be kept in mind is that the Eurasian barbarians had the use of millions of square miles of grasslands and forests. In short, they had very considerable ecological-economic power. When they did not invade the civilized lands, they traded with them instead. Here is an old reading note about a book dealing with the cross-frontier trade at one place and time, China during the Ming Dynasty.


Henry Serruys, Trade Relations: The Horse Fairs, (1400-1600), Sino-Mongol Relations During the Ming, Melanges Chinois et Buddiques, XVII, Institute Belge Des Hautes Etudes Chinoises, Brussels, 1975

The Sino-Mongol trade was highly political in the sense that one key, player, the Chinese government viewed it only as a political enterprise. The Ming officials viewed trade as a means of buying off the threat of border raids by the Mongols. Conversely, cutting off of the trade could be a punishment for raids. On the other hand, the failure of the Chinese government to permit trade could be a cause of raids, as the nomads did need certain manufactures, which they had to get one way or another. On at least one occasion, the nomads made war as a means of forcing open the trade, and compelling the Chinese to set up a market.

The trade was a mixture of official trade, consisting of the purchase of horses for the Chinese army, and unofficial trade conducted by merchants.

In the original form the trade took the form of tribute missions. The representatives of a nomad ruler would bring a gift of horses to the capital. They would then be given a reciprocal gift, consisting of such things as silk clothing for their master. That was the theory, according to the Chinese.

But in practice, things were somewhat different. The ambassador's entourage would contain a number of frankly professional merchants, and would take its time traveling to and from the capital. On the inbound trip, they would trade many of their goods to ordinary Chinese. Once at the capital, they would trade with merchants, who were supposed to be brought into the envoys' lodging to trade, a rule more honored in the breach that in the observance. Finally, on the outbound leg of their journey, they might trade, to the Chinese, some of the gifts they had been given by the emperor. Under the circumstances, the gifts, such as silk clothing, might beconsidered as a form of money. It will be seen that the tribute was really government to government trade, with a side operation going on that was not even governmental. Diplomacy was a mere pretext for trade, and, as the trade apparently grew exponentially due to comparative advantage, it was an increasingly flimsy pretext.

Chinese officialdom was deeply concerned at the numbers of barbarian traders flowing through large sections of the empire. There was a pervasive distrust of the Mongols, who were feared to be spies, or worse. Officials wanted to isolate the Mongols, to prevent any unnecessary contact between them and Chinese. The horse fairs were a means of localizing trade at a few points on the frontier where it could be controlled. Most of the traders would stop at the fair site, where the Chinese government would buy horses, and only a handful of genuine envoys would go on to the capital.

This desire to isolate barbarians from Chinese probably accounts for why the government discouraged proposals for continuous (weekly ar monthly), rather than annual markets. Continuous markets had been proposed as a means of limiting the disorder attendant on an annual market. One infers that the government found a risk of riot more acceptable than a situation in which contact with barbarians merged into daily life. A thousand barbarians stay in the market ground. One barbarian gets invited into someone's house to incalculable ends. There is nothing to stop his Chinese host selling him anything: weapons, even military intelligence.

Officials tended to belittle the desire of ordinary Chinese to trade. This is reflected in the items traded. The Chinese officials insisted on trading in horses, which meant dealing with the mongol upper classes and were reluctant to conduct the trade along lines suited to the lower classes, which would have meant china buying sheep, goats, etc, in exchange for grain and beans. There was a prohibition on selling metals, farming implements, war materiel etc to the nomads, but it is probable that there was widespread evasion.

Other items traded included skins of various kinds on the Mongol side, cloth, finished leather, and similar manufactures on the Chinese side.

It seems that the price of mongol horses tended to be much lower than that of Chinese horses. Given that it was the Mongols who took the initiative in trade, and had recourse to violence to keep the trade flowing, this suggests that the price of horses was comparative advantage, rather than net payment either way. The Mongols would hardly have invaded china for the privilege of being taxed.

Nancy REYES - 7/13/2007

The cycles of civilization and fall are something for philosophers to discuss, but you need to remember that many ancient empires with high civilizations were static tyrannies as to thought, whether it be China or Egypt.

The inquisition was a lot less evil to the freedom of thought than the Chinese emperor killing all intellectuals, Stalin's purges or the jailing of Chinese intellectuals in the "thousand flowers" purges.

Second, By concentrating on the Latin church, which was responsible for keeping Roman wisdom alive when civilization fell, you are mistaking the effect with the cause. Thought was not constricted by the church, but by poverty. People used up all their energy just staying alive. The monasteries, by keeping the classics alive, by schools, and by sponsoring art, actually kept civilization alive. When things got rich enough, the dogmatic stuff was discarded, but the ideas were allowed to bloom.

Three: malaria and Justinian's plague have as much to do with the depopulation of Europe and fall of Rome as anything else.

Four:The barbarian migration, like today's Islamic immigrants, wanted to live comfortably. Islamofascism is not compatible with peace, and will fall just like athiestic communism, and probably be replaced by a more benign version within a hundred years.

Andrew D. Todd - 7/11/2007

Well, the view of the classicists seems to be that Robert Drews is rather forcing his evidence.


Occam's Razor, as applied to prehistory or "eo-history" is that one should not postulate economic, technological, or social revolutions which do not turn up in unequivocal form later on. Now, the big long-term military change in the middle east as a whole at the general time was the emergence of the horse archer. That is, train your horse to the point that he relates to you like a dog, ride on his back, use your knees to tell him where you want to go, and let him worry about the details of getting there. That leaves your hands free to handle a bow and arrow. From an archer's point of view, fifty yards or so is point-blank range (the Asiatic composite bow can reach out to five hundred yards in high trajectory). By 500 BC, Persian horse archers were very definitely in evidence. The classic horse archer tactic was to sort of swirl around the edges of enemy formations, popping in arrows. When horse archers were systematically organized, the way the Mongols did, they could carry out deep envelopments, and annihilate whole armies.

I think what Robert Drews is trying to do is to anachronistically apply the Macedonian "peltast revolution" of the fourth century BC to the Iron Age. By the fourth century, Greek warfare was conducted by "hoplites," what one might call "foot-knights," heavily armored men charging on foot in neat ranks with long spears, but no archery. A peltast was a kind of light infantryman, with much the same armament as a Roman legionary, who could move inside the hoplite's turning circle, and get inside his defenses. In the first place, this is dubious as applied to the Iron Age because there is no very credible evidence that peltasts could have defeated mobile archers. A mobile archer simply backs off to a safe distance and pops in arrows. In the hands of an expert, a composite bow is approximately as good a weapon as a Winchester 45-70 rifle. Certainly, the Roman performance in the Parthian Wars was broadly mediocre. To the extent that the Romans succeeded in Gaul and Germany, they did so mostly by a kind of evolution of siege warfare, building large numbers of forts as they moved, so that it was very difficult for an enemy to impose a decisive battle on open ground. The legions won their battles with the shovel, not the sword. Another point is that the population density and ecological conditions of Classic Greece were obviously rather different from those of Iron-Age Greece.

Elliott Aron Green - 7/11/2007

I wrote above that the dhimma system practiced in Arab/Muslim states "was based . . . more on religion than on biological race." I did not exclude the existence of color and biological race prejudice in the Arab/Muslim domains. Bernard Lewis has covered this area with two books, Race and Color in Islam [NY 1971; also published in French] and Race and Slavery in the Middle East [New York 1990].

Oppression of non-Muslim peoples in Arab lands continues, particularly Christian Copts in "moderate" Egypt and Assyrians in Iraq.

Judeophobia in Arab lands today is fanatic, blatant, extreme. It pervades mosque preaching, school instruction, TV, radio, newspapers, etc. Hitler's Mein Kampf and the forgery-cum-plagiarism called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are perennial best-sellers in Arab countries. At the same, traditional Muslim Judeophobia is commonplace. The Hamas charter [Norway, heir to the Quislings, is already fawning over Hamas] contains the old Muslim fable that at Judgement Day the Muslims will fight the Jews. Jews will hide behind rocks and trees. The rocks and trees will cry out: O Muslim, a Jew is hiding behind me. Come kill him [Hamas charter, Article 7].

It is fitting to point out that the Arab nationalist movement collaborated with the frankly racist Nazis [inc. Anwar Sadat] and that the chief leader of the Palestinian Arabs, Haj Amin el-Husseini, collaborated in the Holocaust, working to have Jewish children murdered in Poland, inter alia.

Elliott Aron Green - 7/11/2007

Shukrun, `Umar. Ana b'hebik kaman.

What `Umar should start doing is to acknowledge that traditional Arab/Muslim society has been very similar to the South African apartheid society, although group oppression was based, to be sure, more on religion than on biological race. Jews, Christian nations, and other subject peoples in Arab/Muslim domains lived under a regime of legislated oppression, pecuniary exploitation, humiliation, social inferiority and inequality [for example, the lesser weight of a dhimmi's testimony in court], prohibitions, etc. Bat Ye'or, Norman Stillman, Andrew Bostom, and other scholars have assembled documents on the oppression of dhimmis in the Arab-Muslim state throughout the ages. Perhaps `Umar could stop projecting the oppression [call it "racism" if you like] practiced by Arab-Muslim societies onto Israel for long enough to read some of Bat Ye'or, Stillman, and Bostom's books.

By the way, Moshe Gil and Jacob Barna'i, two Israeli historians, have uncovered documents [from the Cairo Geniza, in Gil's case] that illustrate pecuniary exploitation of Jews going beyond the jizya & kharaj prescribed by Muslim law. The documents studied by Gil and Barna'i illustrate this extra-legal [that is, beyond shari`ah] exploitation of Jews precisely in Jerusalem by Arab-Muslim officials for periods both before and after the Crusades.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer - 7/10/2007

A few weeks ago I watched a program on the subject on on of the History channels but I cannot find it. I did add a link to a recent book by Robert Drews.

Andrew D. Todd - 7/10/2007

How Much of a Step Backwards Was The Volkswanderung?

Well, here's a doubtless uninformed speculation from a nonmedievalist. During the Volkswanderung, the church seems to have re-established itself in most areas within a hundred years or less, mostly because it had been achieving the voluntary conversion of barbarians at a rate greater than the barbarians could invade. That worked out to someone like St. Patrick going out and talking to the barbarians. I was looking through an encyclopedia of the saints, trying to find missionaries who had gotten eaten during the Volkswanderung period, but they seem to be far and few between, far fewer than the martyrs of the secret church period in the first to third centuries.

For what it is worth, historians of the organization of the Roman Army in the imperial period are forced to rely heavily on archaeological evidence, for want of anything better. For practical purposes, the latter Roman Army seems to have been a nearly illiterate institution. I think there is one surviving chit which a recruiting sergeant got for delivering a draft of men, and a hopelessly theoretical manual written by the armchair general Vegetius at the time when the Western Roman Empire was collapsing.

Take a look at Leslie Alcock's _Arthur's Britain: History and Archeology, AD 367-634_ (1971). A couple of things come across. First is the extremely fragmentary and conjectural character of the evidence. The second is the extremely meager character of Roman civilization as it existed north of the Alps. These are related. It is not possible to say with any confidence whether a place-name is Saxon or not if the place was too small to figure in the Antonine Itiniary. There is apparently no surviving Roman-British document comparable to the Domesday book, which the historian could use as a base for determining what happened. What this would indicate, of course, is that the Roman administration never succeeded in taxing land or income per se (too many chances to ambush tax gatherers), but was forced to collect taxes in customs houses at ports, bridges, markets, etc. That is a well-known phenomena in the third world today. The consequence, of course, is that no one buys anything which he can make at home, and trade is effectively confined to a narrow range of luxury goods.

Most of what you would probably recognize as Roman Civilization was only found in the Mediterranean Littoral. It continued there with no great interruption, at least no more than had resulted from the periodic Roman civil wars. The Franks and the Goths, and the Vandals and the Lombards and the Burgundians were more or less rapidly assimilated, to the point of losing their German.

Flavius Vegetius Renatus, _The military institutions of the Romans_, translated from the Latin by Lieutenant John Clark, edited by Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phillips, U.S.A., Harrisburg, Pa., The Military Service Publishing Company, 1944.,

G. R. Watson, _The Roman Soldier_, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 1969.

Frank E. Adcock, _The Greek and Macedonian Art of War_, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1967, orig. pub. 1957.

Frank E. Adcock, _The Roman art of War under the Republic_, Martin Classical Lectures, Volume VIII, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1940.

Bernard S. Bachrach, _Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751_, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press [1972]

Graham Webster, _The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D._ 3rd ed., London : A &C Black, 1985.

Michael R. Davidson - 7/10/2007

Not merely looked down upon Jonathan - sent to the historiographical dustbin, and well before my graduate work in early medieval history in the 1990s.

Literacy? Odd that I have so many sources to read. Law? Odd that law codes are one of the most important sources I utilize. Economic cohesion? Odd that there is so much numismatic evidence to utilize. Social cohesion? Is empire really necessary to have that? Or do you mean something else here?

Mike Davidson

Elliott Aron Green - 7/10/2007

Bravo, Judith!
Yes, civilization is heading downhill. Worst of all, it's being pushed by politicians, sometimes masquerading as "statesmen" & "peacemakers."

Hence, it's appropriate to have Omar Bakr here with us. The Arab-Muslim invasions, that he fondly looks back to, did much to wreck the ancient East and its civilizations, submerging peoples, languages, cultures, religions, etc. Marhaba, ya `Umar la Habibna!!

When I mentioned civilization being pushed down the stairs, I had in mind the State Dept as well. Condi Rice is winding herself up for another Middle Eastern "peace mission." The yo yo State Dept spokesman, MacCormack, declared that now is just a swell time for making pieces between Israel and those Arabs called "palestinians." It seems that Rice & Co. have a tenuous hold on reality, on the conditions really needed for lasting peace. Condi called Hamas "a resistance movement" just a few weeks ago. No doubt Hamas is just like the French Maquis, only a little bloodier. But maybe the fellows and gals at State figure: What's a little blood, just as long as it's Jewish.

I would disagree with you, Judith, on only one point: the historicity of the Dark Age of Greece. Among other difficulties raised by this notion is when and if there was a Trojan War, some assigning that war to before the so-called Dark Age, and others assigning it shortly afterwards. It seems odd that there was a well documented period followed by one with no documentation, and then another fairly well documented period. The archeological dating too leaves something to be desired.

Louis N Proyect - 7/9/2007

I would say that given a choice between George W. Bush and Attila the Hun, I'd go with the Hun.

Jonathan Dresner - 7/9/2007

I know that the term "dark ages" is looked down upon by many medievalists, but there really is something to it: a loss of literacy, a loss of law, a loss of economic and social cohesion. Human societies do not just advance: the progressive fallacy needs to be abjured.

That said, it's also worth noting that the old theories about Rome's fall being due to "cultural aridity" etc, are just that: old theories, supplanted by lots of new evidence and thought about political structures, disease, invasion, trade and religion. And the old theories about the end of medievalism in Europe are also out of date: the simplistic equation of political violence with reform (when it's not associated with barbarism) overstates the historical position of Napoleon considerably.

Andrew D. Todd - 7/9/2007

It is worth looking at Hans Georg Wunderlich, _The Secret of Crete_ (Wohin der Stier Europa Trug), 1972 (English translation, 1974-75). Wunderlich, who was professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Stuttgart, analyzed the Minoan ruins from the point of view of a civil engineer, and found that all kinds of things did not make sense in terms of the conventional narrative. The builders used types of materials which were not suitable for the stated uses. The fires which were supposed to have destroyed the buildings had not produced the effects on the stones which an actual fire would produce. And so on and so forth. Wunderlich pointed out that Sir Arthur Evans had done a lot of "imaginative reconstruction" on the palace of Knossos, to the point that it was very largely a late Victorian artifact. Wunderlich's conclusion was that the buildings were not habitations at all, but necropolises, of substantially the same type as those found in Egypt at the time, and that they had simply fallen out of use after Greece had outgrown them, as a child outgrows dolls and similar toys. As Wunderlich argues, the Greeks began cremating their dead and then telling stories about them ("let us now praise famous men"). Instead of playing undertaker's games with the decaying bodies of Heracles or Achilles, they told stories about the things Heracles and Achilles were supposed to have done. These stories, and the custom of reciting them, became a form of rhetorical education which enabled Greece to break out of a sterile near-eastern death-cult. Eventually, a "second generation" of authors consolidated the stories into epics. Someone like Homer, or Geoffrey of Monmouth (Arthurian literature), or Snorri Sturluson (Icelandic Sagas and Norse Mythology) could not produce a finished work unless he had grown up in an oral culture resonating with a couple of hundred years worth of raw tales, in much the same way that it took a hundred years of printing to produce a man like William Shakespeare.

Fahrettin Tahir - 7/9/2007

To all this must be added the dark age for European Moslems which began with the demise of the Ottoman Empire, cost 5 Million European Moslems their lives and continues with events like the genocide against cypriot Moslems in the 1960ies and the Bosnian Moslems in the 1990ies. The European Union, descendants of the inquisition, today supports the Turkish Islamists, who wand to end European Islam by turning Turkey into a virtual Arab country.

Ronald Dale Karr - 7/9/2007

Prof. Klinghoffer may not be aware of it, but the field of medieval studies has made some advances since the days of Edward Deering Mansfield! "Cowled priest, belted knights and feudal barons" indeed.

For one thing, few historians of medieval Europe use the term "Dark Ages" these days. As used, it referred as much to our ignorance (due to lack of written sources) as it did the supposedly dark conditions under which people lived.

At any rate, Dark Ages used to be applied to the period between the Fall of the Roman Empire (traditionally, 476) and 1000. The Inquisition (and many other medieval institutions, such as knights in armor and the so-called Feudal System), however, came later. The term is first used to describe the so-called Episcopal Inquisition of Lucius III in 1184, and more broadly, the tribunals in Germany and France in the 13th century. The most infamous, the Spanish Inquisition, didn't get under way until 1478. It was the first to be directed primarily (although hardly exclusively) at crypto-Jews and Muslims (Marranos and Moriscos), rather than Christian heretics like the Cathars and Waldensians. It was a direct consequence of the reconquest (or liberation) of Spain from Muslim control. It also differed from the other inquisitions in that it was under the control of the Spanish government rather than the papacy.

Confusing the Dark Ages with the entire Medieval (or even Early Modern) period is only one of many problems with Klinghoffer's overdrawn analogy.