Medieval society was transformed by trade and “burgers.”

In medieval societies, the most widespread result of the revival of trade and urban life was the slow decay of federalisms and its inherent lack of loyalty and the infighting it promoted. Because of the increase in the power of the kings, countrywide courts were established that allowed the spread of “real” justice rather than piecemeal justice handed out by the local Baron. Increases in trade allowed for the creation of a money economy which promoted both the urban life and trade with other countries which increased the flow of ideas into Europe.

The developments of urban towns also created a new class of people — the burgers (from the German word Burg or Fortress) — who were entirely outside the feudal system. This gave them the power to change society. The burgers gained charters from the kings which they then used to free themselves from the remaining influences of the feudal system and allowed them to govern themselves which greatly increased individual freedoms. Because trade centered around the urban center, the cities themselves accumulated large amounts of money which were then used to build universities and cathedrals.

As a result of these developments the old systems such as feudalism, knights, barons, and feudal contracts were undermined and new systems grew to replace them — universities, guilds, cities, trade, and cathedrals.

The Germans did not destroy the world’s greatest civilization.

The Germanic tribes have been blamed for the collapse of the Roman Empire; however this is incorrect. For the most part the collapse of the Roman empire was not a collapse of an empire, but the slow integration of Germanic custom with Roman culture. This means the collapse of the Roman empire was a transfer of power from one ruling party to another. This transfer was neither peaceful nor quick, but it is the foundation of modern western society and Europe as we know it today. ((Editor’s note: This is just a sketch or an outline to introduce the topic.))

The Germanic tribes and Romans first interacted in 100 BC, and for the next 400 years there were many skirmishes with the Romans prevailing, but starting around 300 AD with the first Völkerwanderung or migration the Germans pushed hard on the Roman defenses and in many places began to merge with the existing Roman populations.

Germans were then, as today, divided into tribes: the major tribes that came into contact with the Roman Empire were the Franks, Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Lombards. The first of these Germanic tribes to enter into the Roman empire officially were the Visigoths who settled near the Danube frontier until they rebelled and sacked Rome in 410 AD, but they moved on and settled in Spain, and the Western Roman Empire was ruled by Proxy from the Eastern Roman Empire. However, while the Visigoths only sacked Rome, Theodoric the Great, leading the Ostrogoths, conquered Italy and set himself up as ruler of a post-Roman kingdom. Even though Theodoric conquered Italy he still respected the Roman institutions and everything about his government from the courts to the coins were Roman. He even appointed Roman aristocrats to help administrate the country in a very Romanesque way.

The integration favored the Roman traditions because the Ostrogoths and Visigoths where already exposed to Roman ideals. The didn’t want to conquer Rome. They wanted to be Roman. It was not until the Lombard invasions around 568 AD that purely Germanic ideals and culture began to be foisted onto the previous territories of the Roman Empire. The Lombards had no concept of a king and they were never exposed to Roman ideals, so they just pillaged, conquered and destroyed the last remnants of the Italian Western Roman Empire

While the Ostrogoths, Lombard and Visigoths had forced their way into the Roman empire, the Franks, beginning around 476, settled the area know as Gaul far more gently and although they stayed separate they merged into the area without using force. At first, the Franks kept many of the Roman traditions and structures of society, but slowly replaced them with Frankish analogues which were far more simplistic. Unlike the Goths who valued actual Roman Culture and traditions, the Franks kept them for show and under the Merovingian dynasty most of the Roman traditions and institutions were forgotten. In the 700-800s, under Charles the Great, there were brief moments of Roman ideas and classical knowledge, but it did not last long, and Rome was officially dead.

The Roman Empire was not conquered by the Germans nor was it conquered by avarice and greed. The two cultures merged; however, the merging of German and Roman societies was aided by external forces: the advance of the Huns forced the Germans into the Roman territories while simultaneously the advance of the Arabs weakened the Roman defenses and the constant civil wars weakened the Roman economy. Each of these helped weaken the cultural institutions of the Roman Empire which made its population susceptible to and willing to accept the German “invaders.”

Google Question and Answer: Religion in the Roman Empire

Some people search search engines by using a few keywords, but others ask entire questions. This series of posts is dedicated to them. Over the next couple weeks I’m going to pick full questions from my logs and answer them. It is the least I could do.

The first question in this series comes from an American using Windows and Internet Explorer, and they ask “What religion did the People of the Roman Empire follow?” Well I’m glad you asked that… um…let’s call you Fred… while your search landed on a very popular article entitled Causes and Effects of the Popularization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, I’m afraid that it won’t answer your question entirely.

Yes, for a portion of its history the Roman Empire was Christian, but for most of its history Rome itself (including the period of the Republic and the Empire) followed a mythopoeic religion that was closely related the classical Greek religion. It wasn’t until Constantine realized that a single unified religion could revitalize the Roman empire that Christianity actually became a quasi-official religion. Prior to this the Roman Empire as a whole did not have an official religion: each culture was allowed to worship their own gods as long as they paid tribute to the gods of Rome and did not deny their existence. Even this requirement was ignored for a time and the Jewish peoples were allowed to live peaceably under Roman rule for many years. However, as the Roman economy degraded and the Empire spread to encompass many different cultures, it began to fracture and there was little to integrate the different groups or the classes. Read that article if you want to know more.)

For the rest of Roman history, the Romans followed a pagan religion and allowed people to believe whatever they wanted. That was the long way of saying: there was no one religion of the Roman empire, there were many.

My next question comes from … let’s say Sarah … who hails from Canada and also uses Windows and Internet Explorer. Sarah asks Did the church unite the Roman Empire?” Sarah landed on the same page as Fred and again the question is not fully answered. The real answer is both yes and no because individually the Eastern Empire and Western Empire were united through Christianity, but because they both had a slightly different view of Christianity (this is the divide between the Greek Orthodox and Catholic sects) the two parts of the empire slowly separate because of the religion.

You see Sarah, as Christianity spread in its early days, certain cities became the founding cities of the religion think Québec and Toronto or New York City and Boston, so they had a relatively large Christian population with widespread influence. However, in what was to become the Western Roman Empire, there was only one city: Rome, but in the Eastern Roman Empire there were several cities such as Jerusalem and Antioch.

Each of these major cities basically had someone, think a bishop, who was sort of a guide to the people under their influence, so while the Eastern Empire had several religious leaders to look up to, the Western Empire had only one: the Pope. As the two empires split the Western side looked only to their Pope for religious guidance and over time the two churches separated because the Western Pope was seen as the single most influential person in the religion by his own people, but the Eastern Empire was used to following several different religious leaders, so the religious structure of the two sides slowly separated.

So the short and sweet answer is yes, Christianity did unite the Roman Empire, but it united it in two slightly different styles.

The power of the individual: The American Enlightenment and Romanticism

During the 18th century, scientific and social changes reshaped the concept of the self. The individual slowly separated from the collective and began to develop as an antithesis of the collective agrarian society of prior centuries; thus, giving rise to a wave of new philosophical thought that evolved into the popular movement of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment developed around the belief that scientific thought and expression should be free from religious interference and that the foundations of society should be human reason and logic. Over time, these ideals gave rise to Romanticism which introduced the contrast of nature and the self, the internal desires, feelings and beliefs, and juxtaposed Nature with science. Franklin, Poe and Thoreau each represent one of the three popular faces of Enlightenment and Romanticism: Franklin, a well-respected Enlightenment writer, focused his writings on the improvement of the social order through improvement of the self and the realization of a deistic world; Thoreau, an Emersonian or “bright” Romantic, merged Nature with science and allowed for both to work simultaneously while emphasizing the individual’s ability to remove themselves from the flow of society; Poe, a “dark” romantic, wrote mainly on the way the individual views his world and the way the nature of the mind can recreate the world. While they tended to disagree on the specifics, they each agreed that the inner self was more powerful than the external self, and through self inspection a person could change their world and become the purveyor of order in the universe replacing religion, monarchy “” and to some extent “” God.

Arguably the most important “power” that these writers attributed to the individual was the individual’s right to power over their own beings. The ability to self-determine one’s destiny was not only necessary to the underpinnings of enlightenment, but it was also necessary to advance society as a whole. By allowing individuals to have power over their individual being, they became their own masters: no longer subjected by the whims of a larger society. As an illustration of these principles, once released from the tenets of religion, Benjamin Franklin “conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection” (364). By believing in the power of the self and the equality of men he accomplished this without requiring a higher moral authority , Franklin defined his own moral perfection and strove to achieve it. The power the individual has over the self is absolute, but as Poe warns, this can be used for ill: in Poe’s tale of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” his protagonist envisions the world around him through the filter of his own demented mind. The conflicts in the character’s internal self become so profuse that he projects them externally and creates an old man whose eye haunts him, and he is eventually undone when he fails to recognize the beatings of his own heart. This absolute power is both the greatest curse and privilege of the Enlightenment and Romantic views of the self, so rather than leaving this power unchecked, they emphasized the power of Nature as both the antithesis to the self and the guide of the self.

Even though the release from mortal authority and the servitude of religion was central to the Enlightenment, they did not banish the Deities. Instead they either personified deities as part of the natural world which allowed the individual the opportunity to be “part or particle of God” (Emerson, 657) or defined the deities as separate from the world and as a creator but not a participatory member of the universe. Franklin was one of the original Deisitic writers in American Literature, and believed in the separation of religion from God because of the oppressive and meddlesome nature of churches which mixed their theology “with other Articles which without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm Morality, serv’d principally to divide us & make us unfriendly to one another” (Franklin, 363). As Romantic writing developed it moved the Enlightened Deity from the role of creator into the natural world by blending the deity into Nature and science. This natural view of God continued the deistic way of thinking, and removed much of the remaining power of the organized churches allowing people to find and define their own personal church, and while some created cathedrals out of mountains and trees, others made theirs out of numbers, facts and figures creating the first conflicts between the mystical nature and the exacting sciences.

While the individual had the power to determine their own personal beliefs, some found that they were still oppressed by things they could not control: science became increasingly important, and to some, this was as oppressive as the monarchs and gods of the past. Their objection was that in becoming the absolute authority, science created a monochromatic image of the world which stifled the individual’s ability to perceive the world around him for what he believed it was; however, others quickly realized that science allowed them to open their eyes and see the world both as it was and how it could be. Poe and Thoreau, in a clash between bright and dark romanticism, viewed science differently with the more middle-of-the-road approach being attributed to to the bright romantics. In Poe’s “Sonnet “” to Science” he attacks the mundane aspects of science and refers to it as a “Vulture! whose wings are dull realities” (1223), but Thoreau, in his journals, embraces science, but believes that one can only truly appreciate something when one “forget[s] all [their] learning and get[s] rid of what is called knowledge”. Poe believes that the science accosts his creativity and stifles his ability to be an individual and exercise his hard-won individualism, but Thoreau is capable of independently appreciating nature even if his opinions are invalidated by science because he believes that his power over his own perceptions is absolute, so balancing the science with the mystery of Nature and the joy of poetic expression is not difficult him or other “bright” romantics. These two different views of science are brought about by the way the writers treat science: Poe personified science and held it blamable rather than as a tool, but Thoreau treats science as a tool and because of this, he is able to cast it aside when it is unnecessary while Poe’s creations and imaginings are constantly surrounded, attacked and restrained by a personified science which replaces the monarchs and gods. For writers of similar beliefs to Poe, this restriction by science was contrary to the ideals of Romanticism, and created a stumbling block that hemmed in the powers of the individual.

The only restrictions on the individual, other than the perception of a restrictive science and or those self-imposed, were the restrictions of society itself. These societal restrictions are not the same as the restrictions of a Monarch, but are the attempts of society to control the individual and harness their powers for the good of society itself. To the Romantics, this acceptance of societal pressures was a sort of voluntary defeat which according to some, like Thoreau, was necessary because not all were capable of fully controlling their own lives (820). Thoreau believed that most people spent their lives “sleeping” only using their minds for menial pursuits and living lives “of quiet desperation” (813). However, while Thoreau allowed for control of these sleepers, he believed that should a man wish to remove themselves from the societal order, they should be allowed to: regardless of its effects on the society itself. Thus, the individual is simultaneously an integral component of society, but also transcends such mean concerns when it is necessary for the individual to exercise their powers of reason, imagination, logic and creation.

The writers of the the Enlightenment and Romantic period defined the individual as the reasoning and logical self which interacts with the larger external world, and the powers they attributed to their creation were immense, but they tempered the powers of the individual with the power and mystery of nature. This individualistic view of the self replaced the mean collectivism of European society and formed the foundation of modern perceptions of the individual.

The rise of deism in western society

During the Age of Enlightenment, western society examined itself through religious texts; it found that the religious doctrines of the past lacked unchanging principles and most of them hearkened to a more mystical mindset and flew in the face of scientific thinking. For some, this demonstrated that the religious texts themselves were flawed: it was in this mindset that the concepts of deism — a religious belief that if there is a god, he is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of human lives, and any human attempts to create rules and rituals concerning this god are corrupted by human nature — were first accepted as, partially, acceptable in mainstream thought. ((It was never accepted by the majority, but in certain intellectual circles it was.)) In Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason he advocates deism because its concepts allow for religious thought and morals based on the belief in a god and afterlife while still allowing society to not be “hemmed in” by religious doctrine. These ideas were especially important during the Age of Enlightenment because scientific advances and societal changes were invalidating thousands of years of religious dogma.

While Thomas Paine was referred to as a “a dirty little atheist” by Theodore Roosevelt, he did not disbelieve in a supreme god as the creator of everything: he believed that man could not be trusted with religion; therefore, any religions texts written down by humans were also contaminated by them. ((“His historians, having brought him into the world in a supernatural manner, were obliged to take him out again in the same manner, or the first part of the story must have fallen to the ground.”)) Paine also argued that “it is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second hand,” so rather than believing in adhering to a particular religious doctrine, he believed, as stated by Thomas Edison, “[that the] Bible was the open face of nature, the broad skies, the green hills.” Paine believed that “[his] own mind is [his] own church” and required no religious texts to indicate how he should live nor did he require four thousand year old scrawlings to dictate his morality. He believed that morality comes from within. ((“I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”))

We can see the rise of deism in western societies by taking America as a middle-of-the-road country. ((Yes, I know that most of us consider America to be very religious, but it really isn’t 100% true.)) The majority of Americans today also tend towards these ideas— the recent Baylor Religion Survey conducted by the Gallup Organization found that 88% of those living in America believe in a God. Of that 88%, 75% absolutely believed totally and 13% believed that it was probable that a God exists; however, a Gallup poll in 2006 found that only 43% of residents actually attended religious services more frequently than “almost weekly.” While these numbers could be indicative of any number of causes, the most obvious is a lack of belief that attendance in religious services, as required in religious texts, is required to live a moral life. Americans are beginning to see that weekly church services and a devout belief in god does not make men infallible and those who profess themselves to be religious leaders can have flaws whose consequences reverberate within an entire religion. While many Americans profess to believe in God, or the concept of a god, most see rituals as meaningless and the countless stories in the bible as stories meant not literally, but as a way to demonstrate morals.

These new tenets are demonstrated by the continued relaxing of America’s attitude towards other religions ((Of course, we must exclude religious animosity caused by non-religious events.)) and sects of Christianity, but the continued idea that atheism is the cause of most of societies ilks. The majority of Americans still value a belief in a god, but what god and how one worships the god is less important as long as the principles in the religion intersect with American cultural values and teach people moral behavior. The separation of religious morals from religion is not new: in the 1830’s Horace Mann argued, as part of the Board of Education for Massachusetts, that teaching religion in schools was not required to teach religious morals, but America’s separation of religious morals from religious belief has always had cycle and peaks and valleys based on events of that and the previous generation. However, it seems that religious doctrine is again giving way to scientific thought—evidenced by the continually changing tactics of those who want religion taught in classrooms—similarly to the way this occurred during the Age of Enlightenment.

The myth of primitive societies.

Humans who live in technologically primitive societies aren’t as intelligent as those who live in advanced societies…or so some of histories most influential personalities thought. The reasoning behind their thinking, when it was used as an honest theory and not a egocentric attack on another culture to legitimize their enslavement or destruction, is that primitive societies just harvest what is naturally provided, so while they have to physically work for their resources, there isn’t much innovation in the techniques used to collect and store it, and because there is no innovation the brain doesn’t develop all the skills that it would have if the person was forced to innovate–in short making the person less intelligent.

However, theoretically, in technologically advanced societies, which don’t provide for human needs as readily as harvesting fruits in the rainforest, an individual has to work harder to achieve their goals, so are more prone to innovate just to have the possibility of acquiring even basic things like food, and, as the assumption goes, this must make these people more intelligent and that, over time, they would be also be genetically more intelligent.

While to a point they were correct: a society that innovates would be more advanced and would seem to be more intelligent to some tests. However, if you were to trade a few children and raise them in their new society you would find very little difference intellectually between them and the members of their adopted society.

Although tests were used to prove that individuals from these “primitive” societies were indeed less intelligent, most times these tests were flawed in that they test the wrong things, or were specifically stacked against the taker through cultural biasing.

As a human brain develops, it will develop the parts of it that are needed: for example the brain of a rainforest inhabitant perceives depth differently than someone who lives in open plains, and if you were to have these people switch places, they would both have problems just seeing the environment the same way as an inhabitant would, but over time they would adjust.

Similarly, on tests that resemble IQ tests people from different regions and backgrounds test differently. These test traits such as spacial orientation and problem solving are tested, but on badly designed tests, these are biased towards one way of thinking, and because they are designed to test only one way of thinking, anyone who does differently will fail it. So a person raised in an environment where technological innovation is not needed will use most of their brain-power for different things, so even though they are just as intelligent as other children, they won’t find these tests, as easy.

Modern society has proven that these regionally and societally influenced differences were only in the imaginations of these personalities by allowing people to easily move from one society to another rapidly–individuals of a “primitive” society can easily walk into a “more advanced” society, live for a few years and the return home. Unfortunately, some people like to believe it is still the time of the Conquistadors, and assume that those who are different or less advanced, must be less intelligent, but the assumptions of such differences is more evident of cultural bias than anything else.

Of course, this thinking is nothing that hasn’t been in the mainstream thought for the past half a century, but this post is a direct response to a debate I had with someone recently where they argued that people that live in hot climates were categorically less intelligent than those who live in colder climates because the warmer climates have historically had less technologically advanced civilizations. (For those that care, I won that one.)