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Is this era neglected by Historians?

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  • Is this era neglected by Historians?

    I think that there is a bias against the medieval era as a backwards time when everything that civilization had gained was lost, and so our understanding of the social AND military aspects has suffered because of the bias. Personally I think that is nonsense: it acted as a bridge between a world we still know less about than we would like to think (the ancient world) and our modern world. It also gave rise to the modern concepts of labor, trade, law (the Magna Carta was no small event), and of course, warfare. But somehow the details of battles and campaigns are a little fuzzy. We know that there was no shortage of fighting but there aren't nearly as many records as there should be. Yet there is still a fascination with the arms and tactics of the era among some people today. Is there really a big blank spot here or are we just not looking close enough? Is there any hope for real historical study because of the touch nature of this period's conflicts and beliefs?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Swampwolf View Post
    I think that there is a bias against the medieval era as a backwards time when everything that civilization had gained was lost, and so our understanding of the social AND military aspects has suffered because of the bias. Personally I think that is nonsense: it acted as a bridge between a world we still know less about than we would like to think (the ancient world) and our modern world. It also gave rise to the modern concepts of labor, trade, law (the Magna Carta was no small event), and of course, warfare. But somehow the details of battles and campaigns are a little fuzzy. We know that there was no shortage of fighting but there aren't nearly as many records as there should be. Yet there is still a fascination with the arms and tactics of the era among some people today. Is there really a big blank spot here or are we just not looking close enough? Is there any hope for real historical study because of the touch nature of this period's conflicts and beliefs?
    The are plenty of books in my local Waterstones covering the middle ages particularly the Hundred Years War. Where there does seem to be a gap is the early middle ages, what used to be called the Dark Ages, the 3/4 hundred years after the fall of the Western Empire in 476AD. The fairly obvious reason for this gap I would imagine is the lack of records for this period and the unreliabilty of those that do exist.

    If your looking for books on the Hundred Years war than Sumpton's 3 volume work 'Trial by Combat' is particulaly comprehensive but is heavy reading. A more specific work on the Agincourt campaign was recently published by Barker which is a good read.
    Last edited by Surrey; 24 Jul 07, 04:48.
    "To be free is better than to be unfree - always."

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Swampwolf View Post
      I think that there is a bias against the medieval era as a backwards time when everything that civilization had gained was lost, and so our understanding of the social AND military aspects has suffered because of the bias. Personally I think that is nonsense: it acted as a bridge between a world we still know less about than we would like to think (the ancient world) and our modern world. It also gave rise to the modern concepts of labor, trade, law (the Magna Carta was no small event), and of course, warfare. But somehow the details of battles and campaigns are a little fuzzy. We know that there was no shortage of fighting but there aren't nearly as many records as there should be. Yet there is still a fascination with the arms and tactics of the era among some people today. Is there really a big blank spot here or are we just not looking close enough? Is there any hope for real historical study because of the touch nature of this period's conflicts and beliefs?
      They don't call 'em the Dark Ages for nothing. But not many people know what that term refers to. The period was "dark" because it lacked the light of literature and education. The "mass media" enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans was gone, and about the only writing taking place was in monasteries. Ordinary people got their news by word of mouth or traveling minstrels and such. And that wouldn't change much till the advent of the printing press.

      So, it can be a very difficult period to study. But you're no doubt right about it being well worth studying.

      Part of studying this period involves separating myth and legend from historical fact. Extant literature includes everything from Norse sagas to folk tales to wildly biased and inflated partisan chronicles. Often it's hard to gauge what's fact and what's fiction.

      I seem to recall reading in B. H. Lidell Hart's Strategy that there's not much worth noting about medieval military science/art. Nevertheless, he goes on to describe some medieval engagements and comment on them. I'm not sure I'd agree with his assessment, though; it could be that there's a lot of noteworthy stuff yet to be uncovered from the medieval period.

      I don't think it's a period being neglected by historians. I've seen quite a bit of interest in it; it's many people's favorite period. But it is a tough period to study.
      --Patrick Carroll


      "Do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other persons or their property." (Richard Maybury)

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      • #4
        I don't think it is neglected by historians, but more by the people in general. am trying to think why this may be. Many of the writers who lived in the period saw themselves as lesser in comparison to the Roman Empire. I think this idea got stuck in the mind. The middle ages is a period in between greater ages. It was a period viewed by writers during and after it as a lesser period. Maybe one with adventures in them, but dominated by barbarians, illiteracy, primitivism, plague, serfdom, bigotry etc. Indeed the other name is the dark ages, a name that invokes a feeling of discomfort. The dark is not a nice place.

        Personally I like the period, especially the early dark ages because of the powerful vitality. But maybe most because my father bought me these books about the middleages with beautiful pictures in them.



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        Dearest of all my Friends(Vlad in max payne 2)

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        • #5
          Well it was always hard for me to understand how Charlemagne is a side note in history while Frederick the Great (whose Kingdom was much less signifigant) is legendary. I don't know if they were similar people but I look at Charlemagnes accomplishments and I'm thinking that this man should at least be used to sell wine or something.

          As far as the tactics I don't think it's something that can all be written off as feudal stupidity. Studying Crecy (and the 100 Years War is the one period I have the most knowledge of, as there are the most detailed books on it), I'm looking not at the failure of heavy cavalry but at the French having to endure some of the absolute worst commanders of any major battle in history. What sticks in our heads are all of these cavalry failures so we write off the military structure (resting entirely on a horse-riding class) as being the product of a stupid society and a stupid time. What we forget are the successes of the Heavy Cavalry tactic and instead assume that it (and heavy armor) was only kept around because these people weren't smart enough to come up with anything better. But just like it is widely believed that the bathtub was invented in 1840 (which is a complete hoax), so could the image of the moronic feudal charger also be largely an invention. I think Hastings, if anything, showed that there was nothing that could break the shield and spear wall (which had blunted the world's most successful light cavalry at Tours-Poitier) except for a well trained Heavy Cavalry force. In a way, we remember the flukes because they were so shocking, or perhaps we put too much stock in the big battles and not the sporadic warfare that made up most of the 100 Years War (and made it so terrible).

          I read the book Battle by Mr Lynn (I think was his name) and he said that the age had a certain ideal, resembling the tournament - a melee between heavily armed soldiers - and the Raid, where there was no respect for anything or anyone. I think that you can't simplify it either way. Sure there were idealists here and there just as there were devils. The time led to all sorts of characters. You can't look at today's ideals and worst examples only either. I know a Marine morale poster that showed a fit Sergeant with the words "Real Marines are tobacco free, don't drink, and always speak the truth." You walk through an infantry camp and you see how far fetched that is - but you can find some real clean guys out there and real heroes who don't necessarily cut a statuesque figure.

          Really I think misunderstanding (by the majority) of this era comes from two places: A kind of post-enlightenment disdain for the period and a Victorian romanticization and whitewashing of it all. And then the cycle starts over again, with the age of cynicism following WW1 leading to another period of neglect.

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