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Subject: Reading of Interest related to Pendragon rss

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Ladson
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I'm always on the lookout for something good to read and I like to tie it into the games I play as a way to interact with history. So please share books, articles, etc. you find edifying.

Strolling through my public library I found this recent acquisition:



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Ivor Bolakov
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Marc Gouyon-Rety
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Cool! There will be an extensive bibliography of those books I used for the game (which do not include either of the above, btw, got to find those). A preview can be found on the Facebook page of the game
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Rodger Samuel
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Read In the Land of Giants, a sort of walking tour of archaeology in the British Isles. Lots of fascinating observations.
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Greg Peterson
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When I first added the game to my p500 list I did some similar searching and came across. "Britannia: The Failed State: Ethnic Conflict and the End of Roman Britain" The paperback was hard to track down (for a reasonable price) so I ended up getting it on Kindle.

Read it during a business trip last fall and enjoyed it quite a bit.
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Gabriel Conroy
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It's a great topic, but there are a lot of poorly researched and unhistorical books written on the subject of Arthur and the Dark Ages, including some by practising historians. In fact pretty much any book that uses either of those terms uncritically is a bit suspect..
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achates wrote:
It's a great topic, but there are a lot of poorly researched and unhistorical books written on the subject of Arthur and the Dark Ages, including some by practising historians. In fact pretty much any book that uses either of those terms uncritically is a bit suspect..


Thanks for warning us of rotten eggs, but if you would please, lay us a good one. Thanks.
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Marc Gouyon-Rety
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PhalanxBGG wrote:
When I first added the game to my p500 list I did some similar searching and came across. "Britannia: The Failed State: Ethnic Conflict and the End of Roman Britain" The paperback was hard to track down (for a reasonable price) so I ended up getting it on Kindle.

Read it during a business trip last fall and enjoyed it quite a bit.
Yes, this is a good book, just like "Warlords" by the same author. Britannia the Failed State was one of 2 or 3 books that really got me on the track of understanding how the COIN engine would be great for simulating that period in a game.
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Marc Gouyon-Rety
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achates wrote:
It's a great topic, but there are a lot of poorly researched and unhistorical books written on the subject of Arthur and the Dark Ages, including some by practising historians. In fact pretty much any book that uses either of those terms uncritically is a bit suspect..
It is true that there is a lot of dubious material and interpretations out there, but your criteria seem a tiny bit extreme to me... :-)
 
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Gabriel Conroy
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GouyonRety wrote:
achates wrote:
It's a great topic, but there are a lot of poorly researched and unhistorical books written on the subject of Arthur and the Dark Ages, including some by practising historians. In fact pretty much any book that uses either of those terms uncritically is a bit suspect..
It is true that there is a lot of dubious material and interpretations out there, but your criteria seem a tiny bit extreme to me... :-)


The only exceptions I can think of would be a few rather old books, e.g. Alcock's book Arthur's Britain from 1971. Historians have increasingly avoided the term 'Dark Ages' over the last few decades.

Note that I'm talking about history books, not books about Arthurian literature and Arthuriana, and also I specified uncritical usage. If you are reading a recent book and it talks about the Dark Ages, or the Age of Arthur, or implies there is genuine evidence that Arthur & Camelot really existed, you should treat it with caution.
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achates wrote:
GouyonRety wrote:
achates wrote:
It's a great topic, but there are a lot of poorly researched and unhistorical books written on the subject of Arthur and the Dark Ages, including some by practising historians. In fact pretty much any book that uses either of those terms uncritically is a bit suspect..
It is true that there is a lot of dubious material and interpretations out there, but your criteria seem a tiny bit extreme to me... :-)


The only exceptions I can think of would be a few rather old books, e.g. Alcock's book Arthur's Britain from 1971. Historians have increasingly avoided the term 'Dark Ages' over the last few decades.

Note that I'm talking about history books, not books about Arthurian literature and Arthuriana, and also I specified uncritical usage. If you are reading a recent book and it talks about the Dark Ages, or the Age of Arthur, or implies there is genuine evidence that Arthur & Camelot really existed, you should treat it with caution.


In case of the book I mentioned, I suppose one could see the "Dark Ages" in the subtitle and jump up on the table holding up their skirt and going, "eeek! A term out of favor with academics!" But actually reading the book, he makes his criticism that by dark ages he means a time where there is a dearth of historical records, the archaeology uncertain, and dating, even radio-carbon dating, is difficult and unreliable.
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Gabriel Conroy
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Scottgun wrote:
achates wrote:


The only exceptions I can think of would be a few rather old books, e.g. Alcock's book Arthur's Britain from 1971. Historians have increasingly avoided the term 'Dark Ages' over the last few decades.

Note that I'm talking about history books, not books about Arthurian literature and Arthuriana, and also I specified uncritical usage. If you are reading a recent book and it talks about the Dark Ages, or the Age of Arthur, or implies there is genuine evidence that Arthur & Camelot really existed, you should treat it with caution.


In case of the book I mentioned, I suppose one could see the "Dark Ages" in the subtitle and jump up on the table holding up their skirt and going, "eeek! A term out of favor with academics!" But actually reading the book, he makes his criticism that by dark ages he means a time where there is a dearth of historical records, the archaeology uncertain, and dating, even radio-carbon dating, is difficult and unreliable.


Not sure why you are exaggerating what I said. It's not about being scared of terminology, it's about what it signals about the author and his or her familiarity with the latest research. The usage of 'Dark Ages' in your example is the same as its original use in the nineteenth century: a term to describe the absence of written narrative accounts or chronicles - which was the only evidence then considered by historians. In fact there is plenty of archaeology from the early medieval period, and as for radiocarbon dating, dating for the whole of the middle ages is in general much more accurately carried out using dendrochronology.

So there is lots of evidence, particularly material evidence, and written ecclesiastical records. What we don't have is details of the sorts of things that popular history books (and 19th century historians) like to fill their pages with, i.e. accounts of battles and political struggles.
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Gabriel Conroy
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One book which is almost a counter-example to my argument (in that it mentions Arthur in the title) is 'Worlds of Arthur' by Guy Halsall. The first few sections are a good survey of the evidence for the period in question. Later on he succumbs to the same tendencies as other people and starts propounding his own somewhat tenuous hypotheses, but it's a readable book.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Gabriel is correct. The term 'Dark Ages' should be avoided. If someone characterises that period as some kind of 'fall' rather than a change, it's a warning sign. Historians have avoided using and decried the use of the term 'Dark Ages' for decades now, but this takes a while to filter through popular history to the layman.

I think it was Petrarch that coined the term, because he loved Ancient Rome. Anything after that he considered a disappointment.

Like feudalism, it's going to take a while for the 'common knowledge' to change.

Edit: r/AskHistorians has an FAQ section on it: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/wiki/darkages#wiki_th...
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I have to eat some crow and apologize to Gabriel. I took your initial comments personally. My knee-jerk reaction to reading them was that you were gratuitously lecturing grown, intelligent adults who were fully aware of the problems attendant to terms like "Dark Ages" like an annoying schoolmarm. That was rash of me and I should have assumed in good faith that you were merely trying to be helpful. Then I just kinda kept digging, so I'm sorry for that and will try to behave better from here on.

And to be fair to the book I mentioned I'm not representing it very well as I have only briefly skimmed through it. On first appearance it is neither an academic history nor an archeology, etc. but rather more like a walking tour as the author lives near the area he is discussing. I suspect he is already aware of issues with the term (and I wouldn't be surprised if he has already received correspondence giving him an earful), but to know that I would have to, you know, actually read the book which I will try to even though it is on the back burner so to speak. I hope that's fair enough and looking forward to any other reading suggestions.
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If you get the chance at a cheap copy, jump at



It's old, and somewhat heavy going, but remains a fundamental work.
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Marc Gouyon-Rety
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I am extremely wary of sweeping statements such as "anyone using the terms "Dark Ages or hinting that Arthur may have been historical" should be taken with utmost caution. There is a tendency among pundits to over criticize anything related to this period, probably because it has been the subject of so much legendary material, which has, IMO, gone full tilt to the absurd in the opposite direction. At some point, if you are trying to fathom what may have happened back then, you have to make inferences and assumptions.
What we must be wary of is that this period, sitting as it does at the juncture of several civilizational spaces (Rome, the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons, Christianity, Paganism...) is very loaded symbolically and even politically, and that everyone, and by that I mean absolutely everyone, even those arch-doubters who will not believe anything ever written about this period, has some biases it not an agenda...
Re the use of the "Dark Ages" epithet, I do not shy from using it for several reasons:
1/ even if we do know more about this period than they did in the 19th century, there is still so much we do not know, and are reduced to trying to make sense of a tiny number of scraps of papers and archaeological remains, that they are still quite "dark" IMO. Which contributes to the fascination too, just like I love some bits of Hellenistic history where the records are missing
2/ there is a "Politically Correct" element to this disinclination to say "Dark Ages" which is partly justified (post-Roman Britain retained some significant elements of advanced civilization, Celtic and German societies were not all barbaric, etc.) and partly BS, because there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Germanic takeover of Western Europe resulted in catastrophic setbacks in terms of sciences, knowledge, prosperity, etc.
Re the use of "Fall", there is an element of cliche using it, for sure, but it still does make sense considering the above. My original subtitle was "The End of Roman Britain", precisely because I wanted to imply less of the conventional view, but I let myself be convinced that even if the traditional devastation and conquest narrative must be seriously tampered, for the locals, the Empire did indeed "fall" and they lost a lot because of it...
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Quote:
2/ there is a "Politically Correct" element to this disinclination to say "Dark Ages" which is partly justified (post-Roman Britain retained some significant elements of advanced civilization, Celtic and German societies were not all barbaric, etc.) and partly BS, because there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Germanic takeover of Western Europe resulted in catastrophic setbacks in terms of sciences, knowledge, prosperity, etc.


This is certainly a very persuasive viewpoint to many people. It's also wrong.

Our understanding of the past is skewed toward the great empires that produced monuments and works that last centuries or even millennia. But these empires were not necessarily what drove humanity forward. In fact, many of these empires stagnated significantly, both technologically and socially. They often had vested interests in the suppression of knowledge, practical, theoretical, and technical expertise, and social change.

To use Rome as an example: Rome made significant advances in civil architecture and legal doctrine, but in terms of labour-saving technologies and practices, there was significant stagnation (and regression, with regards to the growth of latifundia, which were reliant upon slavery). Neil Faulkner points out that advances in technologies such as water wheels and farming tools were not developed by Rome itself, but rather from smaller groups living on the edges.

As empires develop, the social layer at the top begins to invest less resources in developing new technologies, and instead begins to consume more surplus as luxuries. Look at Rome again. Abject slavery contrasted with consumption by the rich on truly staggering levels. Eventually, this over-consumption tends towards vulnerability to social crisis, uprising, environmental change, proclivity for increased warfare, etc.

These stagnating societies were then followed by long periods of decline where isolated communities did not have the surplus production needed to free members of the society from production so that they could pursue endeavours such as learning and inventing. It makes it impossible to respond effectively to sudden upheavals, there's no way for the society to adapt to new stresses, they simply break.

These great empires grow, and calcify, and then shatter. People use words like "decline" and "fall" with no knowledge or at least no acknowledgement that the context has changed for that society. The context of the world people lived in reduced the importance of the technology to the point it wasn't worth preserving. An "advanced" technology out of context may not be "advanced" at all.

To accuse historians of political correctness raises a smile, but that's all. It convinces no-one. It does, however, reveal an agenda. Just not necessarily the one on the part of the historians.

Additionally, the idea that societal development (whether it be scientific or technological) is linear is not only wrong, it is closing in on The Chart levels of stupidity.


All hail The Chart.
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Marc Gouyon-Rety
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OhBollox wrote:
Quote:
2/ there is a "Politically Correct" element to this disinclination to say "Dark Ages" which is partly justified (post-Roman Britain retained some significant elements of advanced civilization, Celtic and German societies were not all barbaric, etc.) and partly BS, because there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Germanic takeover of Western Europe resulted in catastrophic setbacks in terms of sciences, knowledge, prosperity, etc.


This is certainly a very persuasive viewpoint to many people. It's also wrong.

Our understanding of the past is skewed toward the great empires that produced monuments and works that last centuries or even millennia. But these empires were not necessarily what drove humanity forward. In fact, many of these empires stagnated significantly, both technologically and socially. They often had vested interests in the suppression of knowledge, practical, theoretical, and technical expertise, and social change.

To use Rome as an example: Rome made significant advances in civil architecture and legal doctrine, but in terms of labour-saving technologies and practices, there was significant stagnation (and regression, with regards to the growth of latifundia, which were reliant upon slavery). Neil Faulkner points out that advances in technologies such as water wheels and farming tools were not developed by Rome itself, but rather from smaller groups living on the edges.

As empires develop, the social layer at the top begins to invest less resources in developing new technologies, and instead begins to consume more surplus as luxuries. Look at Rome again. Abject slavery contrasted with consumption by the rich on truly staggering levels. Eventually, this over-consumption tends towards vulnerability to social crisis, uprising, environmental change, proclivity for increased warfare, etc.

These stagnating societies were then followed by long periods of decline where isolated communities did not have the surplus production needed to free members of the society from production so that they could pursue endeavours such as learning and inventing. It makes it impossible to respond effectively to sudden upheavals, there's no way for the society to adapt to new stresses, they simply break.

These great empires grow, and calcify, and then shatter. People use words like "decline" and "fall" with no knowledge or at least no acknowledgement that the context has changed for that society. The context of the world people lived in reduced the importance of the technology to the point it wasn't worth preserving. An "advanced" technology out of context may not be "advanced" at all.

To accuse historians of political correctness raises a smile, but that's all. It convinces no-one. It does, however, reveal an agenda. Just not necessarily the one on the part of the historians.

Additionally, the idea that societal development (whether it be scientific or technological) is linear is not only wrong, it is closing in on The Chart levels of stupidity.


All hail The Chart.

I do agree with a lot of what you say, and I certainly strive to eschew simplistic or linear views. The late Roman Empire from Diocletian's time at least was indeed strongly characterized by economic and social stagnation, with the attempt to address issues by locking families into professions from father to son a particular demonstration of futility and stupidity.

Historians such as Peter Heather have also convincingly demonstrated how the very interaction (and often heavy-handed interference) of Rome with its barbarian neighbours prompted the increasing sophistication and, resultantly, dangerousness, of the confederations that eventually brought the Western empire down.

And believe me, I have no love of Rome whatsoever.

However, there is abundant evidence that the disparition of Roman (or Romano-Celtic) order resulted in stark declines in living standards, literacy, and prosperity, and to what can only be described as political chaos and constant strife, resulting in many people losing their livelihood, having to flee and relocate, etc., particularly in Britain... Most people, many more than under the Empire, were reduced to minimal subsistence levels, a condition that certainly precluded them from pursuing any form of learning or innovation...
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