The Early Middle Ages, Paul Freedman

I can’t seem to finish any books because I am spending all of my spare time on Academic Earth..I just finished Professor Freedman’s course The Early Middle Ages, 284 – 1000 A.D.  

As the title of my blog suggests, I harbor no small fear that – as my 8th grade teacher suggested – civilization is descending into the Next Dark Age.  One of the first things Freedman does is say that “we” don’t like the term.  Another is that 470 A.D., when the Roman Empire is generally agreed to have fallen, was really only when the western part fell.  Constantinople hung in there quite well for awhile and Byzantium is one of the “heirs of the empire” (the other two being Christianity and Islam, if memory serves).

Freedman seems to think the Middle Ages rock because anything can and does happen.  He asserts that the people living in this time didn’t think of themselves as living in a “Dark Age”.  They merely led simpler lives in smaller spheres than in the great days of Rome.  Although it was admittedly rather more violent.

He warns us in the beginning that there is a lot of material on the Christian Heresies that not all students appreciate.  We know about the many, many rulers and battles and assassinations and this course does a lot to dispel some old mythology from my high school recollection about how and why it all happened.

But yeah.  A lot on religion.

My favorite statistics were regarding books and I wish I had written them down.  Apparently, around the time of Charlemagne there were only a few hundred book titles in existence.  Of those, something like 25 were not religious texts.  Rather startling until you remember that the monks are pretty much the only literate people.

I particularly enjoyed the lectures on Byzantium and then the birth of Islam.  Freedman tells a good story and I could watch him again.  But I don’t feel any better about the state of western civilization.

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