The History of Candy: The Dark Ages

(NOTE: Most of this post will have very little to do with candy, but it’s still an important bridge between when we last saw sugar – in India, roughly between 500 BC to 500 AD – and how it ended up in Europe in around the eighth century)

If ever you want to demonstrate how little you know about history, by all means, use the phrase “the Dark Ages”. This terminology that is meant to represent the period of time from the fall of Rome to roughly the start of the Renaissance. It is called the “dark ages” because it is said to represent the period of time when little cultural improvements were made, and in fact, many institutions and improvements that were discovered under the Greeks and Romans had regressed or even vanished.

The problem with this terminology is that, despite historians pointing out that…

a) …the Dark Ages only represents an era of time as recorded in Western Europe,


b) Even in Western Europe, a lot of cool and interesting things were happening, even if there were precious few strong, centralized governments,

those of us who grew up under Western Culture has a very strong blind spot to many of the world events that took place between the death of Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 395AD, to the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066. That’s almost a seven-century black out in our collective subconscious.

Which is sadly, quite a shame, because many of the events that occurred post 1066 have a direct correlation to events that happened in the centuries prior. The two big items that need to be addressed, at least from my point of view are as follows:

1) The rise of Constantinople, and the economic and trade powerhouse that this empire became.
2) The founding of the Islam and Muslim cultures, and subsequent Muslim expansionism.

Both of these topics are intergral to European development, for both brought in trade and ideas from the lands of the far east. Venice, which plays a major role in European trade for the first four centuries of the second millenium, could not have exerted as much power as they did without the weight of the Eastern Roman Empire behind them.

The Muslims? I’ve talked a small bit about their contributions before. For our purposes surrounding candy, what you need to know is the following – both modern day pharmacology as well as the importation of the sugar cane into Europe, happened due to the Muslim expansionism into the Mediterranean. Had these events happened differently, our view of candy would be far different today.

It is at this point where my book is going to start. The Muslims found themselves on Europe’s doorstep, making inroads into the Iberian peninsula in 711, and, after a few false starts, Sicily in 902. And with them, the brought the sugar cane, which they had procured from the Persians. This is when everything starts to change.