How and when did people come up with the names for ages, and what age did people say they were living in?

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This is a great question, and one that people could and probably have written entire books on. This is a very summarized and Western-centric view of history, since that’s all I’m qualified to speak of. For most people, history and myth were intertwined. Most mythologies had a version of a Golden Age when people were wise and loyal and lived in plenty, and a Heroic Age, when brave men and demigods fought monsters. The present usually was seen as a fallen and lawless time, without the wisdom of the Golden Age or the bravery of the Heroic Age. Unlike our modern theory of history where the future is seen as an improvement on the past, the past was usually seen as better than the future. To specifically answer how the middle ages saw themselves… educated people knew they were culturally descended from Rome and Greece, and those times were seen as better than their present era, especially when grand and mighty Roman architecture was all around them. There was a sense that something has been lost since Rome, hence the renewed interest in Classical art and literature that led to the Rennaissance. That said, most people didnt have a keen sense of daily life in the Classical Era and largely assumed daily life in the past was like their present daily life. One final note on ages: medieval Christians believed that time was leading to a glorious Second Coming that would end all time, and that they were closer to the end of time than the beginning time of Adam. Their current era had started with Christ’s birth and would end with his return. There’s some historians who believe this helped develop a sense of the progression of time to a better era that led to our current views.


Wasn’t the Antiquity / Middle Ages / Modern Age scheme created in the Enlightenment era? Which is how come the 3rd period got called “Modern”, even though it’s no longer the current one? I don’t know when or how people decided we had crossed over to a new period after that and set the boundary at the French Revolution though.


This needs to be thought of as why. Each culture does the naming of periods a little differently. Some don’t name their periods. Period naming is part of the telling of a people’s history. Eastern Periods tend to be named in a contemporary fashion, The Chinese for example have their periods fashioned after various dynasties. The Japanese have different periods listed similar to the geo political climate of the time. Western periods tend to be named by the historians and archaeologists that come after. It’s not like Michelangelo was thinking to himself, Gee, I’m in the renaissance, thank god we are out of the middle ages.” Nor did the Romans or the Greek think of themselves as having been part of antiquity. Archeologists like to classify the bronze, stone, copper, and iron ages because while there isn’t much about a specific time frame—there are lots of overlap with these ages—but rathe what the ages themselves say about a specific cultures technological, and societal make up exhibits. Certain artifacts are unique to the era they belong to. For example you wont find farming implements in early stone age sites. Since Archaeology is a study centered around stratified discovery, Being able to fit a general timeline to each layer can help paint a better picture about the day to day lives of the people who once lived at a site. As far as your general question, the ages themselves in western culture really do follow a flow of geo political influence. Why the period of 900 ACE to 1500 ACE are referred to strongly as a feudal age, simply put, after the fall of western civilization the dominant power in the west was the system of feudalism. After this era you have the age of exploration, the world was chaining again, and the primary push for this change revolved around exploration. After this comes the age of enlightenment. Take any philosophy 101 course and you will see that the majority of common philosophies come form the period of 1600-18000 ACE. Our “Modern age” will one day be renamed, and probably not “the age of technology” sine that’s not going away. But rather something closer to the age of globalization.


Like now, where we live in The Before Times.


The Italian poet Petrarch came up with the name of Middle Ages in the 14th century. He believed that the previous period had been on a decline since Antiquity, but was now starting to climb again to that past glory. Ironically, the 14th century is now considered firmly a part of the Middle Ages. Feudalism, as far as I’m aware, is a later term to describe the Middle Ages. They wouldn’t have been describing themselves that way in the period.