Descent into the Dark Age
In the fifth century, western Europe descended into a ‘Dark Age’. In my terminology, this means that it went from civilisation to barbarism and it thus forms one of the most significant episodes in our whole story. Indeed as we revel in the delights of our own civilisation we need to be aware that it is possible for civilisation to slip back into barbarism. So what happened? Why was the ‘fall’ so complete? And above all, why did it last so long – for it was not for another thousand years that there was a Renaissance, and Western Europe began to achieve once more some of the characteristics of civilisation.
It is interesting in this era to compare Europe with China. In China, the Han dynasty is often compared to the Roman Empire. The Han came to an end in around A.D. 200 and was followed by five centuries of chaos. But then China revived and in the Tang Dynasty achieved one of the most dazzling episodes of prosperity that the world has ever seen. Why was it that China revived when Europe didn’t?
We start by looking at the West and asking the question what is a Dark Age, concentrating in particular on the area that I know best, that is Britain. But the story in the Eastern empire is different, for Constantinople continued with considerable success in the sixth century. But we then look at the problems raised by Mohammed and Charlemagne, and ask whether this period was responsible for the long obsolescence of the West
And finally, what was life really like? I look at the age of Arthur, an age when history turned into mythology and Arthur is barbarism personified. Here, if anywhere, we should look for the essence of barbarism. The period is indeed a fascinating one, for this is the age of the barbarism that we know best – roll on the Vikings! But this is another story, and it is not until the 16th or 17th century that West begins its dazzling rise to its present remarkable achievements. But will they last?
On to the Dark Age in the West