HT to Internet Monk and specifically to Damaris Zehner for some good words about the so-called Dark Ages... I am not a fan of this derisive term for it is inaccurate as well as an easy way to write off this whole period in history. This little article raises not only some good points about the period, but lists some parallels for our own age and time -- would we characterize this age as dark?
Well, read for yourself..... Decline And Fall...
been a lot of discussion over the last 1500 years or so of what led to
the fall of the Roman Empire and ushered in the Dark Ages. Such
discussions are hard to conduct because already there are those (and I
am among them) who want to point out that the eastern half of the Roman
Empire survived until almost the time of Columbus and that the “Dark
Ages” is an unnecessarily condescending term for the years from oh, say
AD 500 through AD 800. But still, I am going to talk about the fall of
the Roman Empire and the advent of the Dark Ages, because the conditions
that prevailed then are eerily familiar to us now.
First, a rough collection of scholarly opinion about the fall of the
western half of the Empire would have to include the following points.
Immigration Conflict: Starting in the 300s, the
western Empire was overrun with immigration. Some of it was violent –
invasion, actually – while some was potentially peaceful. At one point,
the Germanic tribes on the other side of the Danube, squeezed by the
inroads of Asian nomads and attracted by Roman culture, petitioned to be
allowed to join the Empire. The petition was granted. But when the
Goths tried to cross the river, they were met with a fatal reception of
corruption and inefficiency, which resulted in warfare that killed the
emperor. Eventually the Goths entered the Empire anyway.
Environmental Disaster: It wasn’t really a
disaster, just a cold winter. But the winter of 406-407 was cold enough
that it froze the Rhine River, and Germanic warriors were able to cross
into Roman territory. Troops had to be pulled from other areas of the
Empire to defend the Rhine frontier, and as a result Britain was emptied
for good – one domino down.
Depopulation: The Goths were ultimately successful
in moving into western Europe because the Roman Empire was drastically
depopulated. There were several causes for this. There had been
outbreaks of what was probably the bubonic plague around the
Mediterranean world. There had been ongoing fighting around the borders
of the Empire for centuries, and both soldiers and civilians were
frequent casualties: army recruiters accepted more and more non-Romans
as soldiers because there simply weren’t enough Romans left to defend
the vast frontier. Finally, the population of the Empire consisted of
as much as thirty percent slaves. Roman slaves were largely
agricultural; some did heavy labor in other areas, such as mining. All
slaves, with the exception of household servants, lived in barracks and
were not permitted to reproduce themselves. The slave-owners and
slave-traders had to raid or finagle farther and farther afield to
acquire new slaves. (The profitability of slave-trading was what was
behind the corruption mentioned under Immigration Conflict.)
Rural Collapse: Because there were so few people,
whole villages and towns collapsed. Rural dwellers left the land and
moved to the cities. The Roman tax system, which was based on land
occupation, had a dramatically shrinking base, and the government could
no longer raise the revenues it needed.
Collapse of the Monetary System and Economic Recession:
By around the year 600, there was very little money in circulation in
western Europe. Local governments took their payment in goods or labor.
Negative Balance of Trade: Because of the increased
poverty and decreased population, Europeans produced no attractive
trade goods and had little ability to increase their wealth through
trade with the East or, soon, with the vibrant economies of North
Hypertrophy: Maybe the Empire was just too big, and
it was inevitable that it would collapse under its own weight.
Diocletian worried about that at the end of the third century, and from
that point on there were often two emperors. There were also two
languages eventually – Greek and Latin – and many diverse cultures,
customs, and religions.
Cultural Decadence: This one is a bit harder to
prove, but it’s probably the most frequently evoked in recent
centuries. Edward Gibbon thought that the cultural decadence that led
to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was Christianity. He
posited that after their conversion the Romans became so focused on the
other world that they were no good at defending their borders. Nowadays
you hear the opposite. People talk about the revolting and costly
entertainments in the latter days of the Empire – gladiator shows,
martyr burnings, orgies, what have you – as the root of the Empire’s
collapse. I’m sympathetic to the idea, but while I see correlation, I’m
not sure I see causation. But then, I’m not an evangelical preacher..."