The Dark or Middle Age is usually the time that stretches from year 400 to 1000 which, historically speaking, points us to the European Early Middle Ages. The Italian scholar Francesco Petrarca coined the idea of a dark age. Though it was originally projected as a comprehensive critique of the nature of Latin literature in later times, later historians stretched the concept to contain not only the insufficiency of Latin literature but also a lack of present-day written historical accounts and material cultural achievements in the larger context.
The term itself has been further enlarged by popular culture as a means to clearly illustrate the Middle Ages as an age reeking of backwardness, lengthening its pejorative practice and increasing its span. In the 20th century, the consequent emergence of archaeology and other related field in the sciences has removed much dust on the period and provided a more nuanced comprehension of its positive and contributory advancements. Other expressions of periodization were put forward: the Early Middle Ages, Late Antiquity, and the Great Migrations, depending on what fraction of culture is being highlighted.
Petrarca noted that even though Classical Antiquity lacked the sense of Christianity it nevertheless had much of advancement in terms of culture whereas in Petrarca’s time was now labeled as the age of darkness because of the lapse in such cultural achievements.
Humanists such as Leonardo Bruni believed they had attained this new age during the late 14th and early 15th century, and that a third, Modern Age had commenced. With Petrarca labeling their age as “dark”, the age before their own had in effect become a “middle” age sandwiched between the classic and the modern. Around 1439, the first use of the term “Middle Age” appears with Flavio Biondo.
The very definition of feudalism calls for the use of many qualifiers primarily because there is no broadly established agreement of what it stands for. A working definition is desirable in order for one to start to comprehend feudalism.
During the middle ages, the idea of Feudalism points to a general and broad set of reciprocal legal and military obligations and responsibilities among the warrior nobility of Europe which revolved around the three major concepts of vassals, fiefs, and lords and on how these three crucial elements fit together inn the society. A lord was a noble who possessed land, a vassal was an individual who was permitted or rewarded custody of the land by the lord, and the land was branded as a fief. The vassal would present military service and assistance to the lord in exchange for the fief. Thus, the very obligations and connected relations between lord, vassal and fief form the structural basis of feudalism.
The lord should have to make a certain individual a vassal before the former could grant the fief to the latter. Composed of the two-part act of homage and oath of fealty, this was practiced at a formal and symbolic ritual called a commendation ceremony. The vassal would give his word to battle in the side of and for the lord at his command during homage. Fealty is rooted from the Latin fidelitas, or faithfulness. Hence, the oath of fealty is seen to be a promise that the vassal will be faithful and devoted to the lord. The lord and vassal were now in a feudal relationship with agreed-upon mutual obligations to one another right after the completion of the commendation.
Granting a fief, or its revenues, to the vassal is one of the lord’s major obligations in a feudal system inasmuch as the fief is primary reason as to why the vassal preferred to engage himself into the relationship with the lord. Moreover, the lord from time to time had to accomplish other responsibilities to the vassal and fief which includes, among other else, the maintenance of such a relationship. It was still the lord’s responsibility to sustain and keep the land in good condition since the lord had not given the land away but merely loaned it to the vassal while the latter had the privilege to amass revenues produced from the fief. The protection of the land and the vassal from harm is another rightful responsibility of the lord.
On the other hand, the core obligation of the vassal towards the lord was to impart “aid” mostly in the form of military service through the utilization of available equipment the vassal could get hold of through the revenues generated from the fief. In essence, the vassal was responsible to take heed of the calls for the service in the military on lord’s behalf. It is quite notable that this guarantee and protection of military assistance was the ultimate motivation the lord preferred to form a junction with the vassal into the feudal relationship.
Likewise, the vassal also had to fulfill other obligations to the lord from time to time which includes providing the lord with “counsel” so that the lord, when faced a major decision, would summon all his vassals and hold a council. One common illustration to this is when the lord had to decide whether or not to go to war. Moreover, the vassal may have been mandated to offer a consented quantity of his farm’s produce to his lord, and that the vassal was occasionally prescribed to grind his wheat in the mills and bake his bread in the ovens owned and taxed by his lord.
During the medieval times, there was a conception of three orders in the medieval society. These three can be briefly identified as those who work or the peasants, those who fight or the warring class, and those who pray or the members of the clergy.
For the most part, the peasants provide the manpower in the upkeep or maintenance of the whole system through their labor in the fields and other economic institutions within the feudal system in the middle ages. These are the men and women who comprise the bulk of the system who toil not only to sustain their existence in the smaller scale but also to provide the necessary development of the system right at its very foundation.
The estate of warriors in the system naturally has the obligation of fulfilling the task of protecting the system from outside invasion which may root from other systems in its proximity, or from internal disputes which may range from the peasant class up to the nobles. Their role is crucial in the sense that their responsibility is crucial to the safekeeping of the entire system by regulating the possibility of intrusion which can inevitably lead to the collapse of the ruling men and of the feudal system in general.
Lastly, the clergymen were tasked to look after the spiritual life of the people within the medieval manor. A few of these duties include the administration of the needed sacraments with steadiness and to function as an ideological guardian of the ruling order, the absolution men and women from their sins through confession, and proclaiming secular and ecclesiastical pronouncements. In essence, the function of the clergymen in the medieval village was well beyond the ordinary functions of peasants and of the warriors for the reason that it was the village priest with whom medieval men and women identified the Church, reflecting its teachings, and authority as an utmost concern of the medieval people within the system.
Apparently, there are strands of similarities which can be observed from this class distinction between the medieval times and the contemporary generation. For the most part, the contemporary age also has within it counterparts of the medieval clergymen (priests in the Roman Catholic Church or elders in several other religious faiths), peasants (the modern working man and woman), and warriors (the military forces of nations). However, the structure of the contemporary society does not merely revolve around this three classes. Quite on the contrary, the contemporary society has a bounty of classes from which the structure of almost every nation is reflected. We now have, among other things, Non-Government Organizations which seems not be fit in any of the medieval classes.
In a society based on class hierarchy, it is expected that roles are quite distinct and the functioning of every individual is separate from those of the rest. Roughly speaking, the hierarchy of classes entails the supremacy of one over the other in both economic and social terms where the distribution of power and obligations are directly proportional the attainment of classes. To live in a hierarchy is to basically involve oneself in a system where tasks are delegated accordingly depending on the roles imminent to the class one might fall under. In contemporary society, there is a striking and undeniable existence of a hierarchy which is based on several factors such as economic, legal, and political elements to name a few.
Maliszewski, James, Lisa J. Steele, and C. A. Suleiman. Dark Ages: Europe. 160 vols: White Wolf Publishing, 2002.
Russell, Frederick H. The Just War in the Middle Ages. New Ed ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.