The Dark Ages…How Dark Were They, Really?: Crash Course World History #14

Hi there my name’s John Green, this is Crash
Course World History and today we’re going to talk about the Dark Ages, possibly
the most egregious Eurocentrism in all of history, which is really saying something. (We’re Europe! The Prime Meridian Runs Through
us; We’re in the Middle of Every Map; and We Get To Be a Continent Even Though Were
Not a Continent.) But let’s begin today with a pop quiz: What was the best year of your life, and what
was the worst year? Mr. Green, Mr. Green: Best 1994, Worst 1990. Oh, me from the past. It gets so much better,
and also so much worse. For worst year I’m gonna go with 2001; best
year 2006. Alright now it’s your turn, dear pupils: share your
best and worst years in comments during the intro. [theme music] Right, so what you will quickly find is that
your worst year was someone else’s best year. So, too, with history. The period between 600 and 1450 CE is often
called the Middle Ages in Europe because it came between the Roman Empire—assuming you
forget the Byzantines—and the beginning of the Modern Age. And it’s sometimes called the Dark Ages,
because it was purportedly unenlightened. But was the age so dark? Depends on what you find depressing. If you like cities and great poetry, then
the Dark Ages were indeed pretty dark in Europe. But if like me your two favorite things are
Not Dying From Wars and not dying from anything else, the Dark Ages actually weren’t that bad— at least until the plague came in the 14th
century. And meanwhile, outside of Europe, the Dark Ages were truly an Age of Enlightenment.But
we’ll get boring Europe out of the way first. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Medieval Europe had less trade, fewer cities, and
less cultural output than the Original Roman Empire. London and Paris were fetid firetraps with
none of the planning of sewage management of places 5,000 years older like Mohenjo Daro
in the Indus Valley Civilization, let alone Rome. But with fewer powerful governments, wars were at least smaller, which is one reason
why Europeans living in Medieval Times— Uhh THOUGHT BUBBLE I KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO
DO THAT. Anyway, people in Medieval Times lived slightly
longer — life expectancy was 30 — than Europeans during the Roman Empire — when life expectancy was 28. Instead of centralized governments, Europe in the middle ages had feudalism, a
political system based on reciprocal relationships between lords, who owned lots of land, and
vassals, who protected the land and got to dress up
as knights in exchange for pledging loyalty to the lords. The lords were also vassals to more important
lords, with the most important of all being the king. Below the knights were peasants who did the actual work on the land in exchange
for protection from bandits and other threats. Feudalism was also an economic system, with the peasants working the land and keeping
some of their production to feed themselves while giving the rest to the landowner whose
land they worked. The small scale, local nature of the feudal
system was perfect for a time and place where the threats to peoples’ safety were also
small scale and local. But of course, this system reinforces the status quo – there’s little freedom and absolutely no
social mobility: Peasants could never work their way up to
lords, and they almost never left their villages. Thanks, Thought Bubble. One more point that’s very interesting from
a world history perspective: this devolution from empire to localism has
happened in lots of places at lots of different times. And in times of extreme political stress, like after the fall of the Han dynasty in
China, power tends to flow into the hands of local lords who
can protect the peasants better than the state can. We hear about this a lot in Chinese history
and also in contemporary Afghanistan, but instead of being called feudal lords,
these landlords are called warlords. Eurocentrism striking again. The other reason the Dark Ages are called
Dark is because Europe was dominated by superstition and by boring religious debates about like
how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. And while there’s something to that, the Middle Ages also saw theologians like
Thomas Aquinas, who was quite an important philosopher, And women like Hildegard of Bilgen, who wrote all this important liturgical music and also
basically invented the genre of the morality play. All that noted, things were certainly brighter
in the Islamic world, or Dar al Islam. So when we last left the Muslims, they had expanded out of their homeland in
Arabia and conquered the rich Egyptian provinces of the Byzantines and the entire Sassanian
empire, all in the space of about 100 years. The Umayyad Dynasty then expanded the empire
west to Spain and moved the capital to Damascus, because it was closer to the action, empire-wise but still in Arabia. That was really important to the Umayyads because they’d established this hierarchy in the
empire with Arabs like themselves at the top and in fact they tried to keep Arabs from fraternizing
with non-Arab muslims throughout the Empire. This of course annoyed the non-Arab Muslims, who were like, “I don’t know if you’re reading the
same Quran we are, but this one says that we’re all supposed to be equal.” And pretty quickly the majority of Muslims
weren’t Arabs, which made it pretty easy for them to overthrow
the Umayyads, which they did in 750 CE. Their replacements, the Abb(ah)sids, Abb(uh)sids? Hold On… D’ahh, I’m right twice! Right, so the Abbasids were from the Abb(ah)si or
the Abb(uh)-see family which hailed from the Eastern and therefore
more Persian provinces of the Islamic Empire. The Abbasids took over in 750 and no one could
fully defeat them — until 1258, when they were conquered by — wait for it — the Mongols. The Abbasids kept the idea of a hereditary
monarchy, but they moved the capital of the empire to
Baghdad, and they were much more welcoming of other
non-Arab Muslims into positions of power. And under the Abbasids, the Dar al Islam took on a distinctly Persian
cast that it never really lost. The Caliph now styled himself as a king of
kings, just like the Achaemenids had, and pretty soon the caliph’s rule was a
lot more indirect, just like the original Persians’. This meant that his control was much weaker, and by about 1000CE , the Islamic Caliphate
which looks so incredibly impressive on a map had really descended into a series of
smaller kingdoms, each paying lip-service to the caliph in Baghdad. This was partly because the Islamic Empire
relied more and more on soldiers from the frontier, in this case Turks, and also slaves pressed into military service,
in order to be the backbone of their army, a strategy that has been tried over and over
again and has worked exactly zero times. Which you should remember if you ever become
an emperor. Actually our resident historian points out
that that strategy has worked– if you are the Mongols. More important than the Persian-style monarchy
that the Abbasids tried to set up was their openness to foreigners and their ideas. That tolerance and curiosity ushered in a golden age
of Islamic learning centered in Baghdad. The Abbasids oversaw an efflorescence of culture unlike anything
that had been seen since Hellenistic times. Arabic replaced Greek not only as the language
of commerce and religion, but also of culture. Philosophy, medicine, and poetry were all
written in Arabic (although Persian remained an important literary
language.) And Baghdad was the world’s center of scholarship
with its House of Wisdom and immense library. Muslim scholars translated the works of the
Greek Philosophers including Aristotle and Plato as well as scientific works by Hippocrates,
Archimedes and especially the physician Galen. And they translated and preserved Buddhist and
Hindu manuscripts that might have otherwise been lost. Muslims made huge strides in medicine as well. One Muslim scholar ibn Sina, wrote the Canon
of Medicine, which became the standard medical textbook
or centuries in both Europe and the Middle East. And the Islamic empire adopted mathematical
concepts from India such as the zero, a number so fascinating
and beautiful that we could write an entire episode about
it but instead I’m just gonna write it a little love poem: Oh, zero. Pretty little zero. They say you’re nothing but you mean everything
to mathematical history…and me. Oh it’s time for the Open Letter? An Open Letter to Science and Religion: But first lets see what’s in the Secret
Compartment. Oh, champagne poppers? Stan, what am I supposed to do with these? Dear Science and Religion, You’re supposed to be so irreconcilable
and everything, but not so much in the Abbasid Empire. I mean, Muslim mathematicians expanded
math to such a degree that we now call the base ten number system and the symbols we use to denote it “Arabic
numerals.” And religion was at least part of what pushed
all that learning forward. Like the great philosopher Ibn Rushd argued
that the only path to religious enlightenment was
through Aristotelian reasoning. And Muslim mathematicians and astronomers
developed algebra partly so they could simplify Islamic inheritance
law. Plus they made important strides in trigonometry so that people understand where to turn when trying to turn toward Mecca. You were working so well together, science
and religion, but then like Al and Tipper Gore, just couldn’t
last forever. Nothing gold can stay in this world, nothing
gold can stay. Best wishes,
John Green Baghdad wasn’t the only center of learning
in the Islamic world. In Spain, Islamic Cordoba became a center
for the arts, especially architecture. This is perhaps best exemplified by the Great
Mosque at Cordoba, built by the Umayyad ruler Abd al-Rahman I
In 785-786 CE. That’s right, this building, still standing today and one of the most amazing
mosques in the world, was built in a year, whereas medieval cathedrals typically took,
like, a million years to finish. The Muslims of Spain were also engineers who
rivaled the Romans. Aqueducts in Cordoba brought drinkable water
into the city, and Muslim scholars took the lead in agricultural
science, improving yields on all kinds of new crops, allowing Spanish lives to be longer and less
hungry. Everybody wanted to live in Spain, even the greatest Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, wanted to live in Spain, but sadly he was
expelled and ended up in Alexandria Egypt. There he wrote his awesomely titled defense
of rationality, A Guide for the Perplexed. I’m translating the title, of course, because
the original text was written …in Arabic. Meanwhile, China was having a Golden Age of
its own: The Tang Dynasty made China’s government
more of a meritocracy, and ruled over 80 million people across four
million square miles. And they might’ve conquered all of Central
Asia had it not been for the Abbasids, whom they
fought at the most important Battle You’ve Never Heard
Of, the Battle of the Talas River. This was the Ali-Frasier of the 8th century. The Abbasids won, which ended up defining
who had influence where with the — with the Abbasids dominating to the west of
the river and China dominating to the east. The Tang also produced incredible art that
was traded all throughout Asia. Many of the more famous sculptures from the Tang
Dynasty feature figures who are distinctly not-Chinese, which again demonstrates the diversity of
the empire. The Tang was also a golden age for Chinese
poetry with notables like Du Fu and Li Bo plying
their craft, encouraged by the official government. And the Song Dynasty, which lasted from 960
to 1258, kicked even more ass-it’s-not-cursing-if-you’re-talking-about-donkeys. By the 11th century, Chinese metalworkers were producing as much
iron as Europe would be able to produce in the
18th century. Some of this iron was put to use in new plows, which enabled agriculture to boom, thereby supporting population growth. Porcelain was of such high quality that it
was shipped throughout the world, which is why we call it “china.” And there was so much trade going on that
the Chinese ran out of metal for coins, leading to another innovation – paper money. And by the 11th century, the Chinese were
writing down recipes for a mixture of saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal, that we now know as gunpowder. That becomes kind of a big deal in history, paving the way, as it does, for modern warfare and arena rock pyrotechnics,
and— ohhhh, THAT’S WHY. Not so dark after all. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next
week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The graphics team is Thought Bubble, and show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Last week’s Phrase of the Week
was also good advice: Quit Smoking! If you want to suggest future Phrases of the Week
or guess at this week’s, you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s
video that will be answered by our team of historians. If you liked today’s video please click the thumb’s up button. You can also follow us on Twitter @thecrashcourse
or on Facebook. There are links in the video info. Our writer and historian, Raoul Mayer, also tweets awesome Crash Course pop quizzes,
so there’s a link to follow him as well, and me, you know, because I’m a narcissist. [music outro] We get to be a continent, even though we’re not a continent…

100 thoughts on “The Dark Ages…How Dark Were They, Really?: Crash Course World History #14

  1. Worst year – 1177 bc, civilization collapsed throughout the known world.
    Best year – 1969 ce, humans learn that space (Heaven) is accessible.

    Everything the Arabs take credit for, they stole from someone else, and what they "saved" is what they didn't destroy. Just think how far humanity would have progressed if Muhammad had never lived.

  2. We Get To Be A CONTINENT…..

  3. Hardly any mention of Byzantium. Typical of Western pop historians.

  4. worst: 2017, my school wanted me to die and they raped me
    best: 2019m my school was great and I got a 3.92/4 GPA

  5. I am from Algeria north Africa and still in the middle of every map hhhhh

  6. The dark ages supposed to be about Europe not about the Islamic world

  7. You ameri americunts are the only ones calling names tojujudgamental everyone and to everything. You people are sick.

  8. John Green: Watch as I redefine the Dark Ages into a topic about non-European history.

  9. worst year… hmmmmmmmmmmmm. When was trump alected? Best year is 2019 my bros

  10. worst year 2018:I was hit by a car

  11. 1993 – daughter born
    2013 – lost house and youngest daughter (one born in 2002) was in Plaza Towers during May 20 tornado.

  12. best year : 2017 finding crash course

    worst year : 2019 watching all crash course videos

  13. Best year: 2019
    Because of the amount of education given by crash course

    Worst year: 2019
    Because some of the playlists have ended

  14. The Chinese and Muslims straight owned the dark ages. Now Chinese Muslims are being held in concentration camps. Full circle

  15. Best: 2018, because I got my Nintendo Switch.

    Worst: 2016, because Trump.

  16. My worst year was 2017, a year where idiocy and anxiety almost took over.
    I'm still looking for a best year, since the rest were mostly good.

  17. Tipper Gore sucks. Her only lasting legacy are parental advisory labels

  18. Worst year = 2018
    Best year = 2019 and i'll make sure to make the following years equally good 💪

  19. Your videos are often pretty good. This particular one was not one of those times.

  20. Worst year either my birth year when my exfamily started to systematically erode my sense of self before it was formed or 2008. In 2008 3 relatives died and two more from my social circle, one friend was potentially terminally ill (they survived) and due to stupid reasons I couldn't visit them. I was involved in a minor car crash, broke up with my partner and bonded with a new person over the grief only to be stood up at my birthday for no reason.

    Best year: 2017 when I just came out of another grieving, started to heal from my abusive past, my abusers didn't know where I lived and most importantly I was well enough to adopt my cat.

  21. so west did nothing in the beginning other then being lords and kings and working slaves …….lmfao ya all copied

  22. The Abbasids hailed from Mecca , they were the prophet's cousins

  23. Just to put it out there, from 1985-c.1997 were decent years from me, but after a family tragedy, the next 22 years were the Dark Ages for me, as was often cut off from a lot of people, but this year thanks to good technological advancement have certainly entered a new era of remaining in touch with people, good friendships etc, so this is kind of like the Communication Age. Like, we did have internet for a long time, but it's only recently that it's pretty safe to say that reliable internet with decent speed is more the norm now.

  24. How in the name of all mongols do they know the life expectancy in ancient rome.

  25. Worst year? 2001- When I was born. Best year? ???-When I die.

  26. Best: 2018 Earned the trust of a mama cat and she was so cuddly and meowed at me and followed me everywhere I went
    Worst: 2019 Got accepted into the University of Miami, but turned out it was without even a cent of financial aid and that was so heartbreaking because I've put so much effort into getting there and my dreams have all crashed because I'm poor and live in a shithole country

  27. Worst: 2010 – moved to a different town cause my parents divorced and a lot of moving schools and adjusting
    Best: 2016 – Was 16 yrs old, grade 10, had the most fun, school was easy cause wasn't too serious then, went to heaps of parties and had best friends and hobbies and had an amazing summer and everyone got cars

    now i'm in college, it's good but not as fun as 2016

  28. I always thought it was called the Dark Ages because we had very little recorded history of the time.

  29. best year will be:2068 because i wont be alive 🙂
    worst year:today

  30. 1:35 cow sound effect from minecraft
    2:01 sheep sound effect from minecraft

  31. Wow, Muslims isn't as barbaric as Christians try to make them huh??

  32. Out of the blue question! Here it goes…..could Superman really exist?

  33. I wish I grew up in the dark ages because I wouldn't have to learn anything,Because nobody knew anything!

  34. Worst: 2012 – had my first panic attack, diagnosed w/ an anxiety disorder, had to drop out of college briefly due to daily panic attacks in class

    Best: 2017 – girls, parties, girls, met my girlfriend

  35. I came here searching for dark ages after watching hellboy 2019.
    Bad idea.

  36. Best year is 2012
    Worst year is 2014

    I only had 2 yrs of happiness

  37. I think the best year and the worst year of my life was the same year.

  38. worst: 2018, i mean it got so negatively insane on the internet that all the places I used to feel like was a safe community to escape from the real world just kind of became the real world. We lost so many great celebrities like Avicii, Arethra Franklin, Stan Lee, Stephen Hawking, Mac Miller, X, and that's only like half of them. And I just had a lot of personal problems going on. 2012 was probably the best, not just because I was pretty blissfully ignorant about the real world but it just a banger, we had so many good movies come out like The Drak Knight, the first Avengers, The Hunger Games, Django Unchained. I had a lot of good friends and family that helped me get through a lot of tough times I was dealing with.

  39. Best Year: 2016 – got a really high paying job and Donald Trump was elected

    Worst Year: 2008 – parents lost their jobs and we lost our home

  40. worst: 2016 when I was all alone with my depression
    best: 2011 when i was still young and innocent and was able to spend 12 hours a day watching anime

  41. Worst: tie between 2003 swan dived into depression and 1996 my mom remarried ending any concept of family for me.
    Best: 2015 lovely gf, zero debt, hope for the future.

  42. Worst: 2016 Grade 5- We all know how that goes
    Best: 2011 Prep- Life was simple

  43. Best year is 1980 because I got my first dog Worst year 2013 he got hit by a car and died

  44. my best year was when i was 3 bcz that was the year when GOD put some kind of power in me and now i learn everything by reading it just 2 times……OOO MY GOD, BTW my worst year was when i was 6… no need to talk about it

  45. I'm watching these even though I'm waaayyy past university and you really should be a singer! 😆

  46. “Was the age really so dark? Depends on what you find depressing : )”

  47. best: 2004 because i was born and i had zero responsibilities

    worst: 2018 because I had anxiety attacks throughout the whole year and I lost two of my pets and one of them was abducted

  48. The Mayans were in their little corner of Central America. The Incans had not risen yet, the Chinese were being smug and self satisfied, the Japanese were developing their own system but still being extremely insular and the Koreans were feuding among themselves. Even ignoring Europe it seems like a dark age, and Europe matters.

  49. My understanding of the dark age in Europe is from approximately 500 to 1000, due to the dearth of written records not synonymous with the Middle Ages.

  50. Worst, 2025. So much studying.
    Best 2026-2015. When I finally finished the time machine and invested in Bitcoin. Man, it was a weird year.

  51. Worst year: every half year before now
    Best year: the other half of each year… give or take

  52. Europe: Oh what a horrible age
    Muslims: We’re doing really well right now
    Europe: Oh what a dark time for humanity
    China: We’re in a golden age

  53. I spat out my cereal when he said 30 year life expectancy was not bad.

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