Golden Ages and Dark Ages

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    Hans Hellinger

    (reposted from a forum I wrote this on back in 2017)

    We go through periods of technological, economic and cultural genesis, periods of stagnation, and periods of decline.

    Cultural genesis is often described (usually in retrospect by admirers of much later generations) as a “Golden Age”, so for example in and near Europe we have

    Some kind of “Minoan Golden Age” which seems to have been ended by a massive Volcano ~ 1200 BC
    the “Golden Age” of Athens and of many other Greek city states, kind of twinkling on and off in different polis like fireflies ~ 5th Century BC
    a smaller, sort of mini Hellenistic “Golden Age” triggered by the dissemination of Hellenistic culture in the wake of Alexander the Great (and influence of Persian, Egyptian etc. culture going back the other way) ~ 3rd Century BC
    A Roman “Golden Age”, or arguably two of them (one Republican one Early Imperial) ~ 2nd Century BC and ~ 1st Century AD
    The Muslim Golden Age – like the Greek one breaking out and then being suppressed in one place and then another; Persia, Damascus, Baghdad, Cordoba
    The High Medieval period ~11th – 14th Centuries
    The Renaissance starting in Italy in the late 14th Century and spreading to Flanders, Germany and beyond in the 15th
    A far more muted, Mini-Renaissance in France, England, Spain, Russia etc. in the 16th Century (largely triggered by imported Italian scholars)

    then some pretty intense periods of decline in the various wars of Religion and especially the 30 Years War 1620-1648, interrupted by short ‘Golden Ages’ and more generally, stagnation.

    and then more decline and stagnation, mostly, broken up by the enlightenment, short but intense ups and downs with the French Revolution, then the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in England and Flanders, the Belle Epoch in France and then the rise of the United States and Pax Americana (with more short but historically beyond catastrophic events of WW 1, WW2 and other mass murder / destruction eruptions of the20th Century)

    During periods of a Golden Age, the effects may be more technological, more cultural, or more economic + military. For example the Athens / Greek Golden Age was largely cultural and technological, but not as important economically and militarily, (the Greeks mostly continued to live pretty simple lives in spite of their great knowledge) while the Hellenistic and Roman were more about increasing technology and economic / military power.

    Periods of stagnation usually include continued technological development, but not necessarily in a way that is dissemminated efficiently. For example per your analogy, in the 17th and 18th Century firearms technology did increase rapidly, with fine tuning of wheellocks, rifling, metal cartridges, breach loading and the flint lock, even revolvers becoming invented, but most soldiers in the field were still being equipped with fairly crude muzzle-loading smoothbore match-lock weapons and knowledge of advanced techniques was not always shared.

    Meanwhile, I can show you breach loading firearms and rifled firearms from the 15th century, and i can show you revolvers and metal cartridges from the early to mid 16th.

    Kind of like, you can see devices like the Antikythera mechanism from the Greek Golden Age, which do not seem to be widely disemminated, and we can see the Persians, Arabs and Moors developing Greek ideas like the cam shaft, cam slider and reduction gear but not doing that much with them in the 8th-11th Centuries, while in Latinized zones of Catalonia and Italy these same techniques (derived from the Greeks via the Arabs) are almost overnight made into the basis of new mechanized iron, wood, textile and paper industries.

    In the US, we have been, since probably the 1850’s or 1830’s, in a pretty rapid and continuous period of technological innovation, a tech “Golden Age” if you will.

    When you have periods of rapid technological advancement without corresponding cultural development however, that can contribute to problems.

    I think you could make an argument that for example WW I is a good example of a situation in which economic and military / technological development outstripped cultural genesis.

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