12

How accurate were histories thought to be by medieval historians? What constituted the historical record? Did folk lore and songs carry as much weight as the churches' histories or other written documents?

  • 1
    This is a very complex question. Having said that the Crusades did not go well...and this was noted in the Historical Record of both sides and is duly noted even today. There was blame laid upon a certain Christian group but I can't think of their name right now. What happened to them was also duly noted in the Historical Record. Both accounts (of the War and the Blamed) I believe to be quite accurate. – Doctor Zhivago Nov 24 '16 at 4:10
  • 1
    "The Knights Templar." History seems pretty clear they were blamed for the defeat...one of the most powerful Military Orders in all of European History...and eradicated. One might look at the current US Military as a similar equivalent...professional, ruthless, extremely capable and an extreme minority...and therefore very dangerous. Certainly unique in the annals of US History...all of US History I might add. Some might view them as a modern day Knights Templar...and react accordingly. This "internet thing" does not help as so many false narratives get fed "through it" to the Mainstream Media – Doctor Zhivago Nov 24 '16 at 4:24
  • @user14394 I'm broadly aware of those events, but I'm not clear on the relevance. Did doubt or trust of some histories play an important role? Maybe I have some thinking to do on the implications of slow traveling information, but I was thinking previous generations' stories, not news a few years old. – user22111 Nov 24 '16 at 15:36
  • Well...I would define "History" as a noted event denoted by a noted outcome. You can point to a litany of other aspects of the Medieval Age if you like and question how said "event" was written for posterity. But since that is not done here the reader is forced to specify. – Doctor Zhivago Nov 24 '16 at 16:35
  • There is not a single answer. First off, as with most questions re Middle Ages, do you mean early, mid, or late? In England, the continent, or elsewhere? But short answer: to monks (aka most of the people writing histories, at least at first), it depends. Someone like Bede had more authority than others and historians (which was not a professional class) favored some sources over others. – rougon Oct 1 '18 at 3:08
2

When you state medieval historians, what you really mean are Catholic monastery monks who would transcribe the old pagan stories, myths, and histories onto paper with an agenda (often with plenty of Christian embellishment).

Many of the natural histories during the Early and Middle Ages were suppressed and repurposed to serve the Church's political interests. The Medieval times begin with the fall of Roman decadence, generations of war and suffering. Accuracy wasn't at the forefront of the Christian monks' minds, as were their beliefs of improving upon a failed society. With the fall of Rome, the great migrations occurred- bringing with it more war, destruction, and famine. An intellectual and social belief vacuum opened up and now there was a market for new ideas that could shape the world. Mysticism and folklore were still very fresh amongst the nomadic tribes, and it was incorporated together as generations passed and Christianity spread throughout Europe by conquerors such as Charlemagne. ("The Vanishing Paradigm of the Fall of Rome")

Most literature during this time would often have a mix of history, myths, and Christian dogma, typically describing a conflict between man and nature ("Beowulf") until we reach the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. This doesn't mean that the Church didn't entirely care for history or science for that matter (science is based on historical evidence), but they mostly kept that to themselves till the late middle ages. Monks had to be careful not to show signs of heresy and it was not easy for them to share their work until the invention of the printing press.

Despite the failures of the Crusades, it also brought with them the trade of ideas with Muslum countries, they were far more advanced in terms of the humanities, recorded histories, mathematics, and sciences. This connection helped spark curiosities within Christian scholars and paved the way for the rediscovery of the lost Greco-Roman humanities, philosophies, and histories. This is when a period of seeking historical accuracy would occur. ("The History of the Renaissance World")

-1

Medieval historians were not very accurate. I don't think accuracy and history were linked yet. History was about imparting a message the historian wanted to relate. The best way to interpret their writings is to consider their biases and take them into account. Two biases (institutional and personal) include what organization they belong too ( church, kingdom etc.. ) and their relationship they had with who they were writing about. Authorial Intention in Medieval Historiography

As for folk lore and songs, yes they are part of the historical record as were tapestries; but again you consider the source, consider their bias's because what passed for historians in the ancient times (even Medieval times) were absolutely biased. History as a impartial retelling of events is a relatively modern thing. Last hundred years or so. You don't think George Washington actually threw coins across the Potomac river at Mount Vernon, the river is half a mile wide there.. Nor did he chop down a cherry tree, nor was he known to have never told a lie.

  • Close, but I am asking for a version from around a thousand years ago. – user22111 Oct 30 '17 at 14:39
  • 4
    You ascribe malice where mere incapability is sufficient explanation. Medieval and ancient historians laboured without a wealth of additional knowledge and techniques available today. To claim without evidence that they didn't care (because "accuracy wasn't linked yet") to work diligently and conscientiously within the bounds of contemporary knowledge is totally without merit. – Pieter Geerkens Jan 6 '18 at 12:32
  • It seems more to be an evaluation of pre-Ranke history by Rankean standards. You are right in protesting there was no malice: to tell the story of revelation's action in the world was an honest position for a scholar. More troubling is the declining standards of textual interpretation and reception in the West. – Samuel Russell Oct 1 '18 at 6:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy