Ever feel like you’re living in the wrong era? Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of stuff I love about today, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that I was born too late. When I look back at the past, I get the sense that I truly belonged in those heady days of peace and love, back between the fall of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the High Middle Ages. That’s why, if I could live in any time period, I would definitely choose the 960s.
Something about those wild, revolutionary years really speaks to me. It seemed like everything was going on back then. The frocks looked good, the chants were amazing, and everyone who wasn’t suffering typhoid or acute vitamin deficiencies was just so alive with energy. The 960s just seemed like an electrifying time to be living.
The straight-laced 950s were over but the stirrings of feudalism were only just beginning. Everyone was in this vibrant period of transition between Byzantine autocracy and fealty to large landowners, just trying to discover themselves. For a brief moment you had this optimism that made you feel like you could just stick your thumb out, hop in a passing cart transporting waterfowl, and go. Didn’t even matter where—you’d just take it easy at the next fiefdom and figure it out. Who was going to tell you no? The king? Edgar the Peaceable was on the throne and he didn’t care. It was a simpler time.
There was just this laid-back, anything-goes culture in the 960s, what with the dissolution of the Carolingian dynasty, and I know I would have fit right in.
Plus, so much of my favorite music came out of 960s—the Gregorian chants, the atonal dirges. Before that, they just had plainsong. But then there was this surge of creativity and monks started adding another part to the chant, and boom, florid organum was born. And the sounds they were able to produce with their lutes and recorders were truly groundbreaking. Forget the crap you hear today; back then they knew how to write real hymns.
Can you imagine what it was like to have been around when Odo of Arezzo broke onto the scene? Or to have actually seen Reginold of Eichstätt live? It blows my mind that on any given weekend in the Abbey of St. Martial you could have seen St. Tutilo von Gallen, Ademar of Chabannes, or Hucbald. Hucbald! And just think how amazing it would have been to experience that unforgettable summer of 969, when it seemed like everyone gathered on the lea to circle-dance and intone around a communal fire. Yeah, it was muddy, and yeah, the food was almost assuredly rancid and diseased, but so what? Two words: Heriger and Wigbert!
I guess I was just born a few decades and a millennium too late.
Then there’s that iconic 960s fashion. Those tunics and stockings are totally my style. I would have loved to throw on a woolen doublet and cotte, fasten a scalloped chaperon cap on my head, and strut around the glen in my cowhide turnshoes. That’s just so me.
God, what I wouldn’t give to have been a vassal. Or even a peasant. Wouldn’t matter—everyone was cool back then. Primogeniture wasn’t even the law of the land yet, so a king’s death just signaled a free-for-all among his family and neighboring lords. Of course, the open and accepting culture would go completely downhill by the 980s, after the same live-and-let-live vassals of the 960s turned into the overbearing lords of feudal Christendom. But before they sold out, they were just a bunch of idealistic gentry drunk on peace and love and spiced wine.
And you can’t forget about the girls. Oh, man, I can picture them skipping around the Maypole on Michaelmas, their grease-caked hair flying, just being themselves and letting it all hang out. I’m a goner for that natural look, especially on the serf girls. The wimples, the coarse, gamey bodices—that really gets me going. I know it’s ultimately a matter of taste, but I don’t think it gets much sexier than a little unwashed skin peeking out from an otter-skin kirtle.
You may say I’m looking at the decade through rose-colored glasses. To a degree, sure. The 960s weren’t all liturgical dramas and bear-baiting; they were also turbulent, dangerous times. Leprosy ravaged the land, women were chattel, and the life expectancy was 32 years. But there was this energy, this crackle in the air and a sense of limitless possibility that makes me feel like all the negative aspects of that wild, radical decade would have been worth it.
I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be drafted into that controversial and interminable Byzantine-Bulgarian War, though. That thing was a completely mismanaged quagmire.