Women in the Dark Age
by Bonnie Moss (c) 2010 -06
A Woman's Place in Ancient Times to the Dark Age
"Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.
Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts
a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity."
- Thomas Paine
The fabric of time interweaves history. Sometimes, there are no definite parameters
as to where it starts or where it ends. Historians unfold events of a time - some
facts are timeless, some do come to an end.
Were women always in the background? This presents a very interesting study on
womens' place in history. Recorded history proves that many women ruled alongside their
husbands from Asia Minor, to the Far East ( Orient in ancient times) - China, Japan,
Vietnam, Cambodia to name a few cultures. History proves that being born to a privileged
class is indeed a privilege.
Petrach is believed to have defined the Dark Ages in 1330. He wrote of those before
him: Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius, no less keen were their
eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom. He considered
the previous 900 years as a time of stagnation.
In the dark age, there was a lack of recorded cultural achievement. There was no widespread
means of disseminating information, much less the current events of the time. Most of
tradition and history were passed on by word of mouth through generations. Literacy
belonged to the very few, mainly to theologians, the scholars of the time, to the nobility
and to the aristocrats. Classical antiquity, according to Petrach, was actually the age of
light due to its cultural achievements, although lacking in Christianity.
Does the Dark Age only refer to Europe? Some historians consider the start of the dark age
when Rome left England, or at the start of Christianity or when the Goths conquered Rome.
How long did it last? The rise of Christianity brewed a cauldron of troubling social and
political turmoil in every facet of human behavior - actions, thoughts, and beliefs. It
left a society divided and absorbed in crime and punishment based on religious beliefs
This truly reflects a dark age in human history. It was a time when any part of the world
is up for grabs by the strongest conqueror who devised the best strategy. Many wars were
fought over/or in the name of religion. It was a time when recorded materials were burned
or destroyed. A lot of important data of the era were lost forever.
Did the Crusades have some influence on the timeline of the dark ages? What defines Antiquity,
Paganism and the dawn of Christianity? What are their specific contributions or lack of it
to current history?
Christianity gained a foothold on society. It defined the established guide for the general
population- peasants and nobles.This was the feudal times.This was a time that Christianity
preached that women were to blame for life's miseries. This concept, sadly, carried through
to later periods of history.
Women did have some personal freedoms, but they had little chance for individuality or
personal choice. They were under the constant supervision of their fathers, male relatives
and husbands. The Roman women moved freely in society, especially among the nobility. They
had certain duties to perform and deliver. Men believed that women should not be hampered
by being shut out of society. In many cultures, marriage was arranged for political or
economic reasons. Women married men who were much older and they had no choice in the matter.
Women did not have their own identity, they were not allowed to take their own names.
There are many women of note during these times, and there were saints among them too.
921 Regent Dowager Duchess Ludmila of Bohemia (Czech Republic) Widow of Prince Borivoj,
the first Christian ruler of the area. She raised her oldest grandson, Wenceslas as a
Christian, and her daughter-in-law raised the younger, Boleslav, as a pagan. After the
death of her son, Bratislav I, the anti-Christian Faction attempted to seize control, but
she urged Wenceslas, who was around 13, to take power in the name of Christianity. She
acted as regent, but her daughter-in-law, Drahomira, had her strangled. She became a martyr
and was later declared a saint.
1013-85 Sovereign Countess Irmgardis of Aspel (Germany) Also known as Saint Irmgardis von Köln,
the sources show her as Reigning Countess. After her parents died, she distributed her wealth
among hospitals, churches and social institutions. She lived a simple life in solitude
and went on three pilgrimages to Rome. She spent her last years in Köln, where she supported
Chapters and Convents.
936-66 "Regent" Queen Mathilda of Quedlinburg (Germany) Widow of Emperor Heinrich I;
she was also Head of the Chapters of Winithusen, Nordhausen, Richeberg and Pölden. Later
declared a saint.
Hypatia - 415. Cyril the bishop of Alexandria gave in to the mob demand to cut to
punish the famous philosopher days before the Christian Pascha( Easter). Her body was cut
to pieces, and carried around in the streets and later burned along with her books in
Cynaron.She wrote about science and mathematics.
The Byzantine Era
Constantine established Constantinople, start of the Byzantine Empire. It was the seat of
Christianity. Constantinople was one of the most elaborate and civilized cities of its
time. For over 800 years, Constantinople enjoyed growth and stability- till the
Helena mother of Constantine
The Christian church made her a saint for supposedly discovering the cross on which Christ
had been crucified. Her real contribution to history, however, lay in her talent for drawing
people to her cause, building churches to her religion, and working for the poor.
Constantine, her son, made her an Augusta. This gave her unlimited access to the imperial
treasury, with the intention of finding the relics of Judeo-Christian tradition. On her
trip to Jerusalem , she had a church built to identify the burning bush of Sinai. Despite her
piety, she was not able to stop Constantine from killing his eldest son and suffocating his
wife in a heated bath.
Christianity gave a new meaning, a renewed purpose to life. Society was getting away from
the belief in fickle and whimsical gods and goddesses. It started a social revolution
where social status was not a criteria to be a Christian. So humanity marches on in
the unlit world of the dark age.
Historian Karen Armstrong, in her book, The History of God, writes that this new religion
drew in women because the scriptures taught that in Christ, there was no distinction
between male and female. It instructed men to cherish their wives as Christ cherished his
church. Women were the backbone of the church for many generations. Meetings and services
were conducted in private homes where women were the main leaders. This did not stop men
from expressing their disapproval and resentment.
In the New testament, Paul and Timothy wrote that women should be silenced in the
church. By the second and third centuries, as Christianity was more established, a male
heirarchy evolved and women were getting more and more excluded. Female ministers were
Leonard Swidler writes that as Christianity became male dominated, the status of
Christian women got very restricted. The fathers took a superior male attitude that was
often misogynistic. This trend continued to the middle ages to the modern era.
Who was worthy to speak of Jesus?
325 C.E. Council of Nicea decreed that women were no longer to be ordained along with the
clergy for leadership roles, but were to remain among the laity.
352 C.E.Council of Laodicea forbade women from priesthood and presiding over churches. It
also barred women from approaching the altar.
398 CE The Fourth Synod of Carthage said that women may not teach men in assembly and may
451 CE Council of Chalcedon ruled that no woman under forty can be ordained a deacon and
only under close scrutiny.
There were prominent writers and thinkers of that time that were vehement in degrading
womenhood. Tertullian – 160- 230 C/E referred to women as vipers.He was against women
preaching, baptizing and teaching. Tertullian was a theologian. He believed that every woman
carries the curse of Eve.
These views are in contradiction of what and who Jesus was. It is documented that:
Jesus travelled with women who supported his ministry.
Jesus taught women at a time when women did not study with rabbis.
Jesus reached out in compassion to the woman with the issue of the blood.
Jesus trusted the woman at the well to tell others who he was.
Jesus trusted Mary Magdalene to take the news of his resurrection.
Rena Pederson, in her book, The Lost Apostle, asks this question: Can we
really understand where we are at the journey if we don't look at the beginning with
clear eyes? Her questions are tough. Why is it that some believers cling to scriptures
that limit the role of women in faith, yet turn a blind eye to all those that include
women in leadership roles?
Is the role of the bible to teach us about patriarchy- or salvation? She writes that
the church may be looking at the Church Fathers' as role model that emerged hundreds of
years after Jesus' death, not at the way Jesus brought women into his ministry
during his lifetime. Women have served as an outward and visible signs of an inward
and spiritual grace. ( quotes from Rena Pederson's book)
This is a rewarding research. There is so much to learn about the journey of women
through the pages of history. It is not about passing judgment. It is not about
condemnation. There would always be short-sightedness, narrowmindedness, cruelty
and bigotry in the struggle for power. History depicts the evolution of society, for
good or evil, where the good comes through, amid unimaginable struggles, injustice and
unfathomable reasons. Mankind will keep on weaving a most interesting tapestry on the
fabric of history. Every generation will leave their marks, their own designs.
A walk through time is fascinating - amid the mists, storms and chaos, the bright
rays of hope and enlightenment comes shining through. This article hardly touches
the events of women's role in the dark age.
References: Karen King- Women in Ancient Christianity
The Gospel According to Woman- Karen Armstrong
Pope Joan - Peter Stanford
Notable Women of Medieval Europe - John Johnson Lewis
The Lost Apostle- Rena Pederson
On-line resources: worldwide guide to WomenLeadership.com