The times of el Cid

The term “Middle Ages” refers to the period that started with the fall of the Roman Empire (476 A.D.) and ended with the capture of Constantinople by the Turks (29 May 1453). This brief definition in itself reveals just how specific and yet inaccurate this name was. It is true that the intellectuals of the Renaissance were responsible for giving such an unfortunate name to almost a millennium of history in referring to the period that existed between the splendour of the classic cultures and the new period that took them as a source of inspiration. The Renaissance described the Middle Ages as a dark period in history.

 

Nonetheless, above and beyond ideological reasons, the dates of the dawn and decline of this period refer to purely European events or rather to Euro-Asian events occurring since the falls of Rome and Constantinople were brought about by men from the East (both Barbarians and Moors) and obviously, both periods had an enormous impact on both continents. For this reason, it is impossible to understand the existence of a "Middle Ages” period in pre-Columban America or in what is now Oceania or the Sub-Saharan regions of Africa. In the latter case, contact between these regions and the mediaeval period took place only through Islamic regions that had relations or conflicts with countries in which the Middle Ages, as we know them, actually existed.

 

The mediaeval period, as such, is a historic Euro-Asian period, in which other cultures remained isolated and developed at their own pace until the arrival of discoverers and conquerors. Indeed, it has not been possible for us to know the history of these cultures with precision until their discovery, and unfortunately, in many cases, the history of their decline or corruption, due to the fact that the arrival of the Europeans inevitably altered the natural development of those native cultures. It is thanks to archaeology that a great deal of information about those cultures has come to light, and on more than one occasion, has resulted in a great surprise, either due to its artistic refinement or degree of technical and scientific development, or to any other aspect that could be fundamental for the successful development of a civilisation.

 

When referring to life in the Middle Ages, archaeology becomes more and more necessary as we move further away from the Euro-Asian context.  Indeed, mediaeval culture has left a considerable amount of information that has been collected in different ways: through architecture, manuscripts, arts... However, more distant cultures, in stages of development far more primitive than the mediaeval one, suffered a degradation that is to a certain extent, comparable with that of the ruins of the classic cultures that remain today. In short, archaeology is fundamental not only because it allows us to understand periods that are remote in time, but also in terms of space.

 

It is for this reason that the route that we are now starting through the world that existed from the 9th to the 13th century A.D. will start with the furthest countries and then gradually be taken closer to Europe and Asia, which, according to my estimate, constitutes the logical route, with the Middle Ages being the period of principal interest and the period and the one that will be treated in the greatest depth. Unfortunately the enormous number of cultures that existed in the world at that time would make it necessary to create a work that has nothing to do with our purpose, which is none other than to give an illustrative and general perspective of the cultures existing during those centuries, and we will refer only to the most important and representative of these.

 

Author: Alfonso Boix Jovaní