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Is there any difference between the "Middle Ages" and the "Dark Ages"?

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3 Answers 3

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The "Middle Ages" or medieval period generally refers to the entire time span between classical antiquity and the modern era in Western history. The Middle Ages lasted approximately AD 500 - 1500, from the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire to the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the discovery and colonization of the New World. The Middle Ages are often partitioned into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.

The "Dark Ages" in the context of medieval Europe refers to a period roughly synonymous with the Early Middle Ages, AD 500 - 1000, but exact limits changed reflecting developments in the related historiography. The centuries immediately following the fall of Rome were marked by barbarian invasions, population decline, and cultural and economic deterioration, hence the "dark" moniker.

The idea originated with the Italian poet Petrarch in the 1330s.

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And here I always thought that the time of the Inquisition was the dark ages... –  noocyte Oct 12 '11 at 5:07
Well, if you look at the Wikipedia article, "Dark Ages" in its modern use includes everything up to the 13th century. It is a period with only few written records so that it is "dark" to historians (which is the primary reason for th ename). But that is connected to a general cultural decline of course. –  Wladimir Palant Oct 12 '11 at 8:21

Note that "Dark Ages" is a therm with high ideological charge. Is the manichaean historical vision of the "enlightened" ilustrated from the XVIII century that oposses the Middle Ages (supposedly an age of barbarism) to the movement initiated by the french revolution, as if the Ilustrated Movementet had arisen by spontaneous generation.

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Dr. Susan Snyder, my medieval and ancient history professor, argued that the term "Dark Age" was inappropriate for the early Middle Ages because we still have some records from it and some innovation took place. If we said "Dark Age" in class, we had to be referring to the Greek Dark Age, a period with some actual gaps in the historic record. We lose track of almost all connection between pre- and post-Dark Age writing forms, almost as though people lost the ability to write during that period. (Linear B disappeared entirely, Linear A influences later writing in Cyprus.)

Regarding the Middle Ages, Snyder is an enthusiastic Medievalist, thus her offense to the term "Dark" in reference to it. But most people probably mean the early Middle Ages when they say it.

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