#2. The Dark Ages Were an Intellectual Abyss
Ultimately, the Dark Ages weren't called that just because a few barbarians marauded their way across Europe. The real reason the era was so devoid of all light is because people were, for the most part, dim as hell. Superstition and illiteracy ruled. Scholars -- let alone people who could read -- were few and far between, and literary ambitions were actively discouraged because that shit ain't helping us with farm work, son. Actually writing things down probably got you burned as a witch.
"No! I swear, I was just drawing dicks! Uncircumcised, Christian dicks!"
The problem with writing off centuries of human history as a giant brain fart is that it overlooks literally everything that happened during said period. The image of the Dark Ages as an intellectual Twilight Zone is no different. Sure, the general public was largely unable to read or write, but that has been the case with every single era until recent history. Scholars, on the other hand, were actually having a ball during the Dark Ages.
Thanks to a combination of diligent scholarship and mescaline.
Carolingian minuscule, the standard handwriting script introduced by Emperor Charlemagne in the eighth century, revolutionized the whole concept of reading and writing. Prior to Carolingian minuscule, handwriting was a wild, lawless, anything-goes field. Uppercase, lowercase, and random spacing ran rampant, and individual scholars treated the rules of spelling and alphabet mostly as polite suggestions. The standardized, fast, effective Carolingian minuscule introduced revolutionary concepts such as cases, punctuation, and spaces between words. This dramatically sped up both writing and reading, because it turns out reading sucks a lot less when you don't have to stare at each absurd squiggle for hours.
"Fuck it, I'll just write my own Bible."
The introduction of Carolingian minuscule enabled quick production of documents and books, and is also possibly the biggest reason why so many ancient texts have survived: Carolingian scholars and translators tracked down all of those errant books, plays, and documents, painstakingly cleaning, copying, and reproducing them with their new super handwriting.
As far as major innovations in the history of communication go, making documents legible and relatively fast to produce should probably be regarded on par with Gutenberg's printing press and the Internet -- yet no one ever remembers Carolingian minuscule because, hell, it was the Dark Ages. Wasn't nobody inventing jack shit back then.
Big whoop, Middle Ages. Call us when you invent Comic Sans.
But that finally brings us to ...
#1. The Dark Ages Were a Real Thing
OK, so maybe there were some bright spots during the Dark Ages, but even the most horrible eras are bound to have a few. On the whole, there must be a pretty good reason for throwing a name like that on an entire era. So the historians originally coined the term "Dark Ages" for a reason, right?
Above: Europe, for 1,000 straight years.
Ha, of course not! In a shocking twist, historians never had anything to do with "the Dark Ages," although some were fooled into adopting the term. As we mentioned earlier, these days, medieval historians tend to avoid it, preferring more neutral terms such as "Migration Period," "Early Middle Ages," or just "Middle Ages," depending on which of the hundred different meanings of the "Dark Ages" they're referring to.
Spencer Arnold / Stringer / Hulton Archive / Getty
We prefer the "Viking Murder Parade" chunk of the Middle Ages.
This is because the Dark Ages were never a thing. The entire concept is complete and utter horseshit cobbled together by a deluded writer. The term "Dark Ages" was first used in the 14th century by Petrarch, an Italian poet with a penchant for Roman nostalgia. Petrarch used it to describe, well, every single thing that had happened since the fall of Rome. He didn't rain dark judgment over hundreds of years of human achievement because of historical evidence of any kind, by the way; his entire argument was based on the general feeling that life sucked absolute weasel scrotum ever since Rome went belly-up.
Petrarch took the view that the only way to improve the world was to imitate the ancient Romans and forget the barbaric years that separated his contemporaries from the Rome of the past. Sure, he conveniently forgot a couple of things. Namely, the widespread slavery, slaughter, and oppressive taxation of the ancient Romans, which were nowhere to be found in his visions, as were the countless achievements of the "age of darkness" he was so gleefully vilifying.
More like Petrarsehole, right, British guys?
And that's the funny thing about history, really. Anyone can rewrite it under the right circumstances; all it takes is some asshole with a catchy term and an audience to defile an entire era. So, when you finally finish that time machine and decide to check out the future, don't be surprised if some random 26th century Victorian England fetishist has labeled our time "the Poop Ages."
We have some bad news: Ninjas never dressed in badass all-black outfits, Napoleon was a perfectly normal height for his time, and your favorite book sellers are now taking pre-orders for a text book written and illustrated entirely by the Cracked team! Hitting shelves in October, Cracked's De-Textbook is a fully-illustrated, systematic deconstruction of all of the bullshit you learned in school.
It's loaded with facts about history, your body, and the world around you that your teachers didn't want you to know. And as a bonus? We've also included the kinkiest sex acts ever described in the Bible.
Related Reading: There are plenty more middle age myths where those came from! People weren't much stinkier back then, and they had access to the earliest version of My Little Pony! It was a brighter age than you'd expect, in terms of everything but contraceptives. Weasel testicles definitely don't qualify as "enlightened".