Dark Ages

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History 304: The Dark Ages

Professor William A. Percy III Fall 2007

Class Meeting Times: Tuesday and Thursday, 7:00-8:15 PM Class Location: McCormack, 2nd Floor, Room 423 Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:55-5:25 PM, and by appointment. I usually have lunch at the Faculty Club on Tuesday and Thursday from 12:15 PM to 2:15PM and you are welcome to join me. Office Location: McCormack, 4th Floor, Room 634 Office Phone: 617-287-6879 Home Phone: 617-262-2101 (7:00AM-1:00PM MWF; emergency only) E-Mail: williamapercy@comcast.net

Course Description

The course describes the decline of the Roman Empire and the triumph of barbarism and Christianity over civilization and rational law. German tribes overran the enervated, Christianized, and multi-cultural western half of the Roman Empire in the fifth century and established kingdoms there, leaving the weakened Orthodox Greek eastern half fanatic and backward-looking, until the Moslems gradually reduced and conquered it during the next thousand years. Meanwhile the weak Catholics in the West barely survived those Moslems and Viking onslaughts, descending into a -Dark Age when half of the population and almost all cities, learning, and wealth perished. Inspired by Islam, the Arabs created the largest, richest, and most scientifically advanced society the world had ever seen.

The ignorant, priest-ridden, and impoverished Roman Catholics, who survived only in north Western and Central Europe, crafted a feudal system to survive the triple invasions of Saracens, Norsemen, and Magyars. Tiny minorities of knights and clerics from castles and cathedrals enserfed the rest while Moslems, though splitting between Sunni and Shiite, dominated world trade and advanced learning. Amazingly Catholicism survived. Around 1000 A.D., helped by better weather and agricultural and commercial revolutions that increased affluence and political reforms, which in turn boosted security, the Roman Catholics began to multiply and expand. The Western Slavs, Magyars, and Norsemen converted to Roman Catholicism, and the Eastern and Southern Slavs to Orthodoxy. Cities grew and learning increased. England, France, and Germany formed under monarchs.

About Me

I am a Southerner; an Episcopal atheist; a Naderite who first began as a Democrat backing civil rights and opposing the Vietnam War, then became a Reagan-supporting Republican, and finally left the GOP due to George W. Bush’s crusading policies; a capitalist; a refugee from the Ku Klux Klan, the Southern Baptists, and other members of the fundamentalist Protestant right; and a gay activist. I am also the senior professor of history and the senior pre-law advisor at UMB. I attended nine universities and have taught in nine. I have published 5 books, a dozen articles, about 100 notes (short articles), and 100 book reviews. From me you will gain a different perspective. On this politically-correct campus I am diversity itself: a semi-expired white male of the old school.


The lectures, general syntheses or explanations of particular points of view, will normally be followed by discussion periods. Students are encouraged to ask questions and make comments. It is most helpful if they complete the reading assignment before the lecture. In addition, students should seek to enhance their command of geography and chronology by memorizing the three or four crucial places and dates for each topic. For the former purpose a paperback atlas will be helpful. Also read as many of the documents that pertain to each lecture as possible.


The grades will consist primarily of an average of the hour exams (25% each) and the comprehensive 3-hour final (50%). The essay part of these exams will be graded on organization and style as well as historical theory and command of facts. Students will find it advantageous to read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style (in 78 brief and witty pages). A version of the book can be found online at <www.bartleby.com/141/> (thanks to James Thayer for finding and providing the link). Extra credit is allowed for rewriting the essays on each of the hour exams in light of my comments, and further research on your part. Notable contributions to classroom discussion will also be weighed; failure to participate in discussions, however, will not detract from a student's grade. The rewritten papers, together with quizzes, and classroom participation may help raise the grade. Lastly, students who attend classes regularly, pay attention to lectures and discussions, and take notes should do well in this course.


Disseminating scholarship on the printed page in the twenty-first century is analogous to publishing it on manuscripts during the sixteenth century. The Internet is now no longer like Cunabula (books printed before 1500)—rare commodities even then. It is in fact now rapidly displacing print on paper. Look at what Wikipedia is doing to the Encyclopædia Britannica! Printed dictionaries and bibliographies likewise are becoming obsolete because their online counterparts are so easy to update. Expenses, delays, and storage problems are also forcing scholarly journals to go online. Why not monographs (which sell too few copies to be cost-effective), syntheses, and textbooks, as well? In light of the changing publishing landscape, the formerly required texts listed below are now optional:

Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin; Dero A. Saunders) Hitti, Philip K. Islam and the West (Krieger) Vasiliev, A. A. History of the Byzantine Empire, Vol. I (AMS Press) Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Barbarian West (Basil Blackwell/Harper & Row) Ward-Perkins, Bryan The Fall Of Rome And The End Of Civilization SUGGESTED: Bloch, Marc. Feudal Society, Vol. 1 (University of Chicago). Any edition of the books above is suitable for this course. They can be found, at great discount, online on Amazon, (see used prices for each book), Ebay, and half.ebay.com. In addition, all editions (including those from 60 years ago) of The Encyclopedia of World History, whether by William L. Langer or Peter N. Stearns, are highly recommended.

Contact Policy

Although I have provided my e-mail address and home telephone number, please e-mail or call me only if you have an urgent matter to discuss with me (MWF 7AM-1PM). Understand that if you e-mail me, it may take me several days to see your e-mail as I am computer illiterate and must rely on others to access my e-mail. Therefore, call me in case of an emergency. There is, however, no need for you to e-mail or call me to let me know that you will miss or have missed a class. I fully understand that events out of your control will arise from time to time and may cause the occasional absence. So explanations are unnecessary. If you would like to find out what you missed in class while you were absent, ask a classmate.

Class # Date Topic(s) of Lecture Readings 1 4 Sept. Pax Romana

2 6 Sept. Twelve Caesars Gibbon 27-49

3 11 Sept. Good Emperors [Add/Drop Period Ends] Gibbon 50-112

4 13 Sept. Crisis of the Third Century Gibbon 113-180

5 18 Sept. Recovery under Diocletian Gibbon 181-214

6 20 Sept. Thursday Conversion of Constantine Gibbon 215-259, Vasiliev 1-64

7 25 Sept. Tuesday Monks and Fathers; The Christian Empire Gibbon 260-384 and/or Vasiliev 65-128

8 27 Sept. Heretics and Councils Gibbon 385-467

9 2 Oct. Tuesday Huns and Primitive Germans Gibbon 468-549, “Germany" (until medieval history) - Encyclopaedia Britannica and/or Wikipedia

10 4 Oct. Barbarian Kingdoms Gibbon 550-630

11 9 Oct. Tuesday Justinian and Theodora Gibbon 631-649, Vasiliev 129-192

12 11 Oct. FIRST EXAM

13 16 Oct. Tuesday The Slavs Vasiliev 193-221; "Slavs” - Encyclopaedia Britannica and/or Wikipedia

14 18 Oct. Heraclian Epoch and Iconoclasm Vasiliev 222-299

15 23 Oct. Conversion of Slavs; Macedonian Dynasty Vasiliev 300-374

16 25 Oct. Thursday Muhammad and Islam Gibbon 649-662; Hitti 1-23, 95-107

17 30 Oct. Arab Conquests Hitti 23-33, 108-113

18 1 Nov. Thursday Islamic Culture and Religion: East goes West – Jihad Hitti 33-63, 113-179

19 6 Nov. West goes East – The Crusades Hitti 78-86, 179-187

20 8 Nov. Thursday Pirenne's Thesis and Review Pass/Fail & Course Withdrawal Deadline

21 13 Nov. SECOND EXAM

22 15 Nov. Fall of Western Empire and Italy under the Lombards Wallace-Hadrill 1-63

23 20 Nov. France and the Merovingians Wallace-Hadrill 64-86 22 Nov. NO CLASS – Thanksgiving

24 27 Nov. Early Carolingians Wallace-Hadrill 87-100

25 29 Nov. Thursday Charlemagne/Carolus Magnus/Karl der Große/Charles the Great; Louis the Pious Wallace-Hadrill 100-114

26 4 Dec. The Visigoths in Spain Wallace-Hadrill 115-139

27 6 Dec. Thursday Later Carolingians and Triple Invasions of Saracens, Norsmen, and Magyars Encyclopaedia Britannica and/or Wikipedia

28 11 Dec. Holy Roman Empire Wallace-Hadrill 140-163

29 13 Dec. Review and Questions 17-21 Dec. FINALS PERIOD (Monday – Friday)

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