The Story of Democraczy: Chapter Seven
by Martin Gantman
High Middle Ages 1,000 AD
Early Middle Ages 400 AD
Pericles: 450 BC
Ephialtes: 465 BC
Cleisthenes: 500 BC
Solon: 600 BC
Hammurabi: 1,800 BC
Ur Nammu: 2,000 BC
Gilgamesh: 2,500 BC
Sumeria: 5,300 BC
Lascaux: 30,000 BC
Religious activity: 100,000 BC
Homo sapiens: 130,000 BC
Homo erectus: 1,500,000 BC
Homo habilis: 2,500,000 BC
The high middle ages was a time of absurd contradiction. Though the church increased its oppressive participation in and influence over daily life, it was also partially responsible, through the Bible and some of its tenets, for initiating ideas about natural and human rights. Similarly, though the feudal system was liable for maintaining serfs’ lives in a state of abject poverty and near slavery, the action of noble lords in successfully instituting the provisions laid out in the Magna Carta Libertatum was significant in moving the process within which all people were ultimately able – though not universally successful – to claim a stake in the process of obtaining some level of humanistic dignity.
One other noteworthy occurrence that influenced the movement toward rights was the role of the Byzantine Empire. It appears that when the Roman civilization collapsed in the late 5th century, the Byzantines became the library in which the accomplishments of Greco-Roman history were preserved. Most specifically in this case were the Roman laws as codified by Justinian. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Crusaders passed back and forth through Byzantium and brought these ideas and codes to the attention of western Europe.
The strange thing is that historians like to characterize this time as one of economic prosperity, political and social stability, refinement of the arts, and the development of law. Though that was true for a particular segment of the population, it is difficult for me to reconcile that attitude of intellectual sophistication when it went in hand with treating a significant portion of the population as less than human.
This tendency to particularize the intellectual accomplishments of the landed and wealthy as somehow separate and aside from their treatment of those whom they hold in subjugation does not rationally compute for me. It propagates an attitude that allows a population, or an entire era, for example, to escape accountability for its questionable practices and aberrant activities. Yes, there were brilliant individuals who advanced science and literature, but an accomplishment such as, say, the Magna Carta, was really an act of selfishness by the wealthiest nobles, whom I certainly doubt had intentions toward the future of civil rights with respect to anyone other than themselves.
Yes, one can say that the attainment of human rights is an arduous, difficult, and continuing process that no single era can be held accountable for; that people of different times were somehow ignorant of the plight of others and were correct, relative to their time, that these economic differences were acceptable.
I find it difficult to agree with that, and to the point, what does that say about those who still today postulate various rationale for maintaining the status quo; for preferencing their wealth over equality, distribution, and rights.
Really, while I seem to be in the midst of a continuing rant, which I wholeheartedly apologize for, how primitive are we still compared to any previous age: referencing and treating other people as we do. It is frightening to realize that, though we think we are somehow intellectually and emotionally advanced from these previous times, whether it is the middle ages, or Rome, or Greece, or Mesopotamia, how much are we really? If we look around we can see that many of our activities are pretty much the same.