Novelist, journalist and historian Pye (The Pieces from Berlin, 2004, etc.) challenges all our notions of the Dark Ages and shows the vast accomplishments completed long before the Renaissance.
The author chronicles the enormous impact of the countries bordering the North Sea, showing how the light shining out of those dark years changed our attitudes about art, mathematics, engineering, science, society and even women’s rights. This book must be ranked right up there with the works of Mark Kurlansky and Thomas Cahill as a primer of the steps that led to modern civilization. Pye begins with the Frisians, who inhabited the areas along the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. They drained the salt marshes with dikes, ditches and windmills and created pastures for grazing. Their wide trading prompted the reintroduction of money and, most importantly, shared ideas. Learning was widespread during the Dark Ages, and countless universities were formed. The Venerable Bede wrote on nature and the tides and eventually became known as the “father of English history.” Throughout this time period, books were borrowed and copied, and the independent thoughts contained within often made them worth burning. As Pye demonstrates, the Vikings had the widest impact on the area. As the first to be able to tack into the wind, they could travel and trade to Iceland, through the Baltic and down the Volga River, bringing back food, slaves and goods. The laws of the North Sea communities were actually quite liberal. Women were allowed to inherit, which led to later, and consensual, marriages, as well as the institutions of pensions and annuities. Also common were béguinages, religious houses for women who moved to the cities where they could safely work, earn and learn.
A brilliant history of the Dark Ages showing the growth and development of science, business, fashion, law, politics and other significant institutions—a joy to read and reread.