Friday, April 15, 2016

Don't blame the Middle Ages

The Middle Ages, so named during the Renaissance, get a bad wrap.  Especially from our age that - for reasons I can't fathom - believes we are so superior to the caricatures of Medieval Europe. Partly due to the polemics that arose during the Reformation, partly egged on by Enlightenment thinkers, and capped off by lazy Hollywood script writing, many believe that the Middle Ages were the era of stupid superstitious people torturing innocent victims when they couldn't take part in genocidal wars of religion and conquest.

Fact is, many of the things we attribute to the Middle Ages didn't happen then, but happened later.  Just like, on the Christian theology front, many of the doctrines the Church is accused of inventing during the Middle Ages were already up and running from the early days of the Church, many of the atrocities and horror stories attributed to that period come much later.

Take the witch burnings.  This is not to say that nobody was ever executed for witch craft during that vaguely defined era known as the Middle Ages.  It is to say that the worst documented cases of mass witch hunts and executions happened after the beginning of the era known as the Renaissance.  Or take European Imperialism.  Hardly a Medieval phenomenon.  Apart from the Crusades, which were understood by Medievals as a defensive maneuver against growing aggression from the Islamic world, the age of exploration and conquest happened well after the end of the Middle Ages.

The same thing goes with torture devices.  Go into any museum of the period, or go to a Renaissance festival, and expect to see displays of all the neat and cruel little instruments of torture that those barbaric Catholic Medevials used on endless armies of hapless victims.  Except, many didn't actually exist in the Middle Ages, if they existed at all.  A fine piece on the phenomenon of faux history versus the real thing over at is worth your time.  

Hat tip to Michael Flynn for the link.

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