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What should we call that period between roughly 500 and 1000, which includes the setting of my novels?

In my scholarly-like moments, I say early medieval times, but often, I’ll type Dark Ages.

That term riles some readers, and I can understand why. Dark Ages conjures a stereotype of a dim, smoky hall with a bunch of drunken, grunting guys who’d start knife fights at the slightest offense. While early medieval times were hardly ideal by my 21st century standards, I don’t like this oversimplified version of history, and I get irritated with questions like, “But how could those barbarians have art?”

True, most of the population couldn’t read, many children died of disease before age 5, teenage girls were married to older men, and wars were common. But we could say that about a lot of societies and eras. This time period did have its share of intellectuals, trade, art, poetry, and complicated politics, and its women were far from weak willed—they were protectors of their sons’ rights, supporters of political alliances, diplomats, and missionaries.

So why do I use Dark Ages while railing against the connotations? Readers recognize the term easily, especially in the limited space of a title or a social media post, and Dark Ages is more likely to get attention.

9th century illustration

From the ninth century Folchard Psalter (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)