View Poll Results: Balance of the Middle Ages

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  • Great Historical Period

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Thread: Middle Ages Appreciation Thread

  1. #11
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    I read that Irish monks were reviving European culture from the ashes. Also, the rise of al-Andalus was first described by August Mueller in the book "History of Islam". He is not a Nazi ideologue, because he lived in the time of Bismarck.
    Al-Andalus really flourished and many Europeans studied there. Soviet scientists wrote about it, Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about it.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Nykyus View Post
    Also, the rise of al-Andalus was first described by August Mueller in the book "History of Islam". He is not a Nazi ideologue, because he lived in the time of Bismarck.
    Al-Andalus really flourished and many Europeans studied there. Soviet scientists wrote about it, Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about it.
    The Orientalism of the XIXth century is full of Romantic fantasies (concerning tolerance, moral superiority, the originality of artistic forms like the horseshoe arch, which was very present in Wisigothic art…) and there was in that period a strong atmosphere of anti-Christian positivism. All of that is now out of date in the historiography.

    The dynamism of the “Islamic civilisation” was largely due to the non Muslim elements it counted. The Muslim Arabs conquered lands from the Iberian Peninsula to the Indus, that were very dynamic culturally and scientifically during the pre-Islamic period. The population of the Muslim empire was in majority composed of non Muslims until the Xth century, so there is nothing strange to that.

    As Islamic dogmatism got the upper hand, as the dogma of the uncreated Quran was established, the Islamic society ground to a halt.

    There are maybe mainly two ways to close one’s spirit to reality:

    -To negate the capacity to know anything with reason.
    -To negate that the reality is knowable.

    The Islamic weltanschauung has adopted both ways. God’s reasons are then unknowledgeable, as God acts the way he wants. Furthermore, nature doesn’t have stable laws, because its existence and its prolongation illustrate a permanent miracle. This philosophical option is known as voluntarism and it affirms that God is the direct cause of everything. Because it results from will and not from reason, the universe can’t be known: will is its own finality. Seeking to understand the divine will is then already seen as impiety.

    Al-Ghazali, known as one of the greatest philosophers of Islam, has particularly extreme views. The world can’t be known at all, no more than ethics (apart from the Revelation): no act is moral or immoral, compulsory or prohibited as long as Allah didn’t decide it.

    Without an independent moral guide, pious Muslims have been reduced to base their behaviour on the one of Muhammad and his companions, to limit their legislative creativity on jurisprudence and their education, on learning by heart.

    With his work “The incoherence of the philosophers”, Al-Ghazali brought a fatal blow to the Islamic philosophy, exposing that the only purpose of reason is to demonstrate its own worthlessness. A century later, in Al Andalus, Averroes wrote “The incoherence of the incoherence” to refute Al-Ghazali, but it was too late and the philosophical works of Averroes were burned. The irony is that Averroes is still a reference in Islam, but only for his works as a jurist (among which the ones advocating jihad against the disbelievers). His philosophical works had much more impact in the West (for ex. on Thomas Aquinas) than in the Muslim world.

    I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie “Destiny”, by the Melkite Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine. It’s about Al Andalus and Averroes, evoking the autodafe of his philosophical books.


    And from the XIIth century, it’s Christian Europe that will dominate intellectually and scientifically.

    Could you also bring precisions on what you say concerning "the fact many Europeans would have studied in Al Andalus"?
    Last edited by Laly; 09-17-2020 at 01:15 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nykyus View Post
    I read that Irish monks were reviving European culture from the ashes.
    It’s true that there was an incredible cultural blossoming in Ireland during the Middle Ages. The particularity of Ireland is that it was Christianised without being Romanised. There were very original forms of monachism and of asceticism in Ireland. Indeed, as they didn’t have the same environment as the Desert Fathers in Syria or Egypt, they let themselves go in small boats with the waves. And many Irish monks came on the continent to evangelise. The most prominent one is certainly Saint Columban (VIth century), who founded monasteries in Gaul and further to the east.

    The Christian art in that region is very influenced by the Celtic ornamental traditions, including Celtic interlacings, like in the book of Kells, a great masterpiece:



    Then, in the IXth century, there was indeed the great Irish philosopher and theologian John Scotus Eriugena.

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    Technology in the Middle Ages Drives Growth By Thomas F. X. Noble, PhD, University of Notre Dame;


    (...) A second element of the growth and expansion of Europe in this period is technological innovation and dissemination. The Romans were not interested in technological gains; there wasn’t much in the way of important technological achievement during the Roman period.

    The medieval period, on the other hand, was one that was fairly rich in technological innovation. Stereotypes contribute to the idea of the Middle Ages as the Dark Ages, as having descended from the heights of classical antiquity. If we were talking about technology, we’d have to flip the polarity of that old equation and say that the Middle Ages were rather cleverer.

    The clearest indicator we have of medieval technology, of its application and its connection to this population increase, is in the realm of cereal production, where medieval farmers vastly expanded it. But how?



    They laid down most of the fundamental ways: By getting maximum cereal production out of the soil, before the advent of modern chemical fertilizers. This has been the greatest change in modern times, not anything else—not even, for example, the use of motor-driven tractors. How did medieval people increase cereal production, thus making it possible to feed a larger population? It was through greater use of horses as draft animals. A horse is significantly more efficient than an ox. He does more work for the same amount of food, perhaps even a little bit less. He is stronger, thus larger fields can be plowed, or fields can be plowed more times, and the soil can be turned more carefully.

    A horse requires very different harnessing than an ox, and so we see, from about the year 1000 or a little after, the proliferation of the horse collar. In a sense, when a horse pulls a plow or wagon, the horse is driving the horse collar forward, and it’s the horse collar that’s pulling the wagon or plow. If a horse were simply harnessed the way an ox was, with leather traces across its chest, it would immediately choke him; he’d stop and be unable to work.

    New harnessing was required. The hooves of horses are particularly sensitive, and therefore they had to be shod. This virtually universalized the use of horseshoes in Europe. It protected the horse’s hooves and provided a bit of traction as well.

    If you’re going to shoe all of those horses, you’re going to be involved in iron and smithing. Certain other things have to develop, as horse harnessing and the use of horses as draft animals increases.


    The new heavy, wheeled plow, with an iron plowshare, fits into this picture as well. This type of plow appears to be an invention of the Slavic world and came into Western Europe in the Carolingian period. It was used on large estates: On the estates of the Carolingian family and the greatest churches and monasteries. But it wasn’t widely used, perhaps, until the 11th century when it finally began to proliferate throughout Europe.

    The heavy, wheeled plow played a significant role in changing how farming was conducted. Once again, using horses to pull it allowed more work to be completed. A heavy iron plowshare can cut much more deeply into the soil than can the older forms of the aratrum, the Roman scratch plow, which didn’t do much more than just disturb the surface.

    The soils of northern Europe are very good, but they’re damp and heavy. The heavy, wheeled plow was able to turn the soil, which aerates it. This new plow with its iron plowshare also called for a greater proliferation of iron in this society leading to more smithing. We can see connections between the use of the plow, the advantages that it brought, and then some of the requirements that flowed from its development.

    Watermills were widely used in the 11th century. In some parts of northern Europe, for example, in the Low Countries windmills were used, but watermills were fairly common. Mills demanded engineering gains, in terms of gearing. If we had a flow of water, a water wheel could be laid parallel to that flow of water, which makes the gearing turn a mill wheel fairly easily. However, that’s an inefficient way to turn a water wheel. If I sent the water wheel perpendicular to the flow of water, it is a much more efficient way to turn the water wheel, but I now have to turn vertical motion into horizontal motion. I have to engineer some elaborate gearing.

    The mill wheel also has to run at a common speed, whether the water is running very fast or very slow. If the water itself is running very slow, or if the water supply is somewhat unpredictable, I’ve got to engage in a little hydraulic engineering and create millraces. Engineers had to make the water go past the water wheel, whether the water wanted to or not, to do the milling at the convenience of the miller, and not by the movements of the river naturally. A variety of technologies were spawned by the need to use more mills.




    Mills were imperative because there was an increase in grain. As more and more land was brought under cultivation, the new technological inputs made the land that was being plowed and farmed more productive, producing yet more grain. A rising population needs more food. Bread is the staple of the diet and is baked from flour. To make flour, all the grain must be ground. One factor drives another factor that drives another factor. We begin to see the interconnectedness of the elements of this economy.
    "I do not see happier peoples than those governed by the Spanish Empire."
    Alexander Von Humboldt


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