A thousand years ago. One thousand years ago our forbears lived in the so called “Dark Age.” They themselves did not think it was dark, and they were only half wrong….
…That was all to the good, in the view of those of us who are not of Saracen stock. There were other alleviations in life in the tenth-century world. Few plagues and epidemics are reported. Neglected land was brought back into cultivation, new agricultural techniques improved the yield of thin, exhausted fields. Population increased, with an increase in food production, but usually at a faster rate. The population growth and the physical and spiritual betterment of the people may be traced to a new profusion of proteins, in the form of broad beans, peas, chick peas, and lentils. Some scholars perceived a mysterious demographic pulse in the world, for a similar population explosion was also evident in China, Islam, and the Scandinavian north.
The Western world of 1000 was fragmented, atomized; it was a bundle of localisms. England, to be sure, enjoyed a brief cohesion under Edgar the Pacific ( 959-975 ). After pledging allegiance to Edgar at Chester eight lesser kings manned the oars of his boat to row him, as coxswain, down the River Dee. But Edgar died young, and troubles aplenty awaited his successors, including Ethelred the Unready, or the Stupid.
France was a collection of baronies and dukedoms, mutually hostile, united chiefly by opposition to their king. The nominal king of France was Lothair, next to last of the line of Charlemagne; he ruled precariously only over Paris and the Ile-de-France, and hardly dared venture beyond the limits of his royal domain.
Italy was a power vacuum. The north was a congeries of nearly independent city-states, imperial fiefs, bishoprics wielding temporal rule. Rome and the surrounding Papal States were the property of the Church Calabria, Apulia, and the south belonged to the Eastern Empire, Sicily to Islam.
Only in Germany was there a national unity, under Otto I, properly termed the Great. Duke of the Saxons and King of the East Franks, he checked the invading Hungarians, Slavs and Danes, fostered the Christian faith, and made alliance with Byzantium. In 962 he revived the Roman Empire, with himself as emperor. In 973, his son Otto II became emperor. But his empire was a hollow thing; it had no imperial administration and little control over the mighty dukes,barons, and prelates of Germany. As yet it occurred to no one to call the new Roman Empire holy. ( to be continued)…