Let’s Define the Iranian Medieval Times

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Medieval times which are the subject of study in this website seem to be an ambiguous concept. To define medieval times, we should have specific criteria to determine its boundaries with the ancient and contemporary times.

Comparative studies are one of the basic methods via which we can define medieval times. Of course, referring to other studies does not mean that we are going to use their criteria to define our medieval times; however, it will help us learn about their criteria in defining historical periods.

The concept of medieval is defined as “antiquated, archaic, superannuated, antique, obsolete, old-fashioned, behind the rimes, antediluvian, outmoded, passé, backward, undeveloped, underdeveloped, unprogressive, unsophisticated, rustic, uncultured, unintelligent, and unenlightened”.[1] Hence, the word medieval has negative meanings of undeveloped and unprogressive thoughts and circumstances. Old fashioned, barbarous activities and cruelty are other terms used to describe medieval times.[2]

The Medieval or Middle Ages is referred to as “Post-classical, pre-Renaissance, Gothic, barbarous, and rude. The unpleasant attitude toward medieval times is so much that the medieval age is called the “Dark Age”.[3] But many scholars believe that the term Dark Age is misleading because of its negative implications. It underestimates very real achievements notably in religion, learning, and government, and how far the period can be studied and understood.

The term “middle age” or “medieval age” was used by European scholars to define the period inEuropean historyfrom the collapse of Roman civilization in the 5th century to the period of theRenaissance(variously interpreted as beginning in the 13th, 14th, or 15th century, depending on the region ofEuropeand on other factors).[4] Therefore, medieval times in Europe is the period the intermediate time between ancient and modern times. In earlier use, it is commonly taken as extending from 500 to 1500 CE. Even though it is used without a precise definition, most frequently it is with reference to the four centuries after 1000 AD.[5] There are many controversies about the end of middle age; however, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 is commonly accepted by scholars as to the end of middle age in Europe.

The term and its conventional meaning were introduced by Italian humanists with invidious intent; thehumanistswere engaged in a revival of Classical learning and culture, and the notion of a thousand-year period of darkness and ignorance separating them from the ancient Greek and Roman world served to highlight the humanists’ own work and ideas. In a sense, the humanists invented the Middle Ages in order to distinguish themselves from it. The Middle Ages nonetheless provided the foundation for the transformations of the humanists’ own Renaissance.[6]

Regarding the definition of medieval times in Europe, we can conclude that there is no common idea for the beginning and particularly the end of medieval times. Moreover, we must have our own criteria for determining medieval times and its peculiarities. In reality, we have never defined the medieval times of Iran. Some scholars like Ahmad Eghtedari and Ali Anooshahr do not believe in categorizing the history of Iran into distinguished periods. Instead of assigning any exact dates for the opening and closing of such a period, history is regarded as a continuity of circumstances.

However, for those scholars like Rasoul Jafarian who believe in classifying history into different chapters the term “medieval times” must include not only the political phase but also economics, religion, law, science, and literature. The Iranian medieval times are commonly the period from the Sassanid decline, however, we have not defined any specific time for its end; so, it has no obvious beginning, still, it has the less obvious end. We would like to have your scholarly definitions of medieval times and the criteria you have in this regard. Please feel free to send us your opinions and suggestions via email.

Maryam Kamali

[1] . Longman Synonym Dictionary, Rodale Press, 1986, p. 714.

[2] .ibid.

[3] .The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner. V. IX., Oxford University Press, 1098, p. 743 .

[5] . The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, vol. IX, Look-Mouke Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 743.

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