How did Europe emerge from Dark Ages?

The Middle Ages were one of the darkest periods in world history – rife with disease, poverty and human cruelty. The previously enlightened civilizations of Rome and Constantinople – and their legendary armies of soldiers in Roman armor – had fallen victim to the bubonic plague, rampaging barbarian hordes and dangerous superstition.

Few people could be said to enjoy life during this era: kings and land barons had it pretty good, but what about all the illiterate peasants forced to grind out a subsistence lifestyle?

Monks and other members of the clergy were often the only ones afforded a chance to learn. Of all the people alive in Europe between 700 and 1100 AD, most were unable to read and write. Monks and some enlightened kings were the rare exception, and they kept the light of logic and reason burning for future generations.

Medieval Christmas Traditions

Many pagan cultures played a very important role in Christmas celebrations from Medieval Europe until December 25, 2008.  Their rituals may have been reworked and glossed to fit our present day interpretation of the holiday, but the fact remains that the Vikings, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and other ancient cultures played a very significant role in the Christian celebration.

The Romans which are so influential in anything of any consequence in the Medieval and post Roman occupation of the European world also put their stamp on the Christian holiday.  In Rome pagans celebrated three important Roman festivals, Saturnalia (December 17-23), the Kalends (January 1-5), and Dues Sol Invictus, which we celebrate as the twelve nights of Christmas.  This celebration to the sun was December 25.  The citizens would light bonfires, decorate buildings with evergreens as  encouragement for the sun to return.

If the Vikings had seen pictures of Santa Claus cruising the skies in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, they probably would have assumed he was catching a ride with Thor, the Norse god of thunder.  According to Viking traditions, Thor’s personal transport was a flying wagon pulled by a team of horned goats.  The ancient Viking god, Odin, also brought gifts to good little Viking boys and girls.

The Roman Church designated December 25 as the  date of the birth of Christ in the fourth century.  Some early Christians did not celebrate Christmas, because they felt that the celebration had too many pagan practices.  In Roman occupied England the Catholic church banned mumming (masquerades) and wassailing (Anglo-Saxon for good health) as pagan practices, but the common people still celebrated with enthusiasm.  When the Vikings invaded, they would reinvigorate pagan practices.  In the rural areas pagan traditions remained very strong.  When the Roman troops were recalled in the fifth century, it was very common that Thor and Christ were worshipped side by side.

What is a Rapier?

A rapier is a slender, sharply pointed sword with a long blade and a complex, sometimes embellished hilt primarily used for thrusting attacks in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The hilt of the rapier is made to protect the hand that wields it. Also called a hilt rapier, this thrusting sword was called other things as well due to the tendency of sword masters of the time using description of a sword’s function as a method of naming it.

It is thought that the rapier began to develop in Spain around the year 1500 as a type of dress sword for civilians and duels. It became increasingly fashionable over time in Europe among the wealthier classes, but always had its detractors.

With its long reach, the rapier allowed for fast reactions suitable for civilian combat in the 16th and 17th centuries. Military-style swords for cutting and thrusting purposes continued to evolve to meet battlefield needs, and rapiers continued to change with the times as well, becoming lighter and shorter and eventually succumbing to the widespread use of the small-sword in the 1700s.