The Dark Ages
When Was the Dark Ages?
The Middle Ages is often subdivided into the Early Middle Ages, the High Middle Ages and the Late Middle Ages. In addition, some historians use the term Dark Ages which refers to the Early Middle Ages from the collapse of the Western Roman Empire to the 10th century but it can also refer to the period from the 5th century to the Carolingian Renaissance in the late 8th and early 9th century.
Origin of the Term Dark Ages
Both terms the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages were first used by Renaissance humanists in the 14th and 15th centuries. They wanted to underline the cultural and economic backwardness that followed the classical period of the ancient Greeks and Romans as well to to emphasize the beginning of a new era marked by revival of the classical world.
Modern Use of the Term Dark Ages
Today, most historians avoid using the term Dark Ages in order to avoid creating a negative perception of the period that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In rare cases, it is used to underline the paucity of historical records in the Early Middle Ages in compare to the later periods.
Decline of the Western Roman Empire
The period that followed the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 cannot compare itself with the achievements of the classical antiquity. On the other hand, many scholars believe that the economic and cultural crisis in the Early Middle Ages probably was not as severe as thought previously. In addition, many changes that marked the period from the 5th to the 10th century started long before the onset of the “Dark Ages”.
Crisis of the 3rd Century
The decline of the Western Roman Empire started with the so-called Crisis of the 3rd Century. The Roman Empire managed to survive the crisis marked by civil war, invasions, economic depression and spiritual crisis but it began to change in its character dramatically. The Crisis of the 3rd Century initiated a process which gradually transformed the world of classical antiquity into a world that resembled the later medieval Europe in many aspects.
The period between the Crisis of the 3rd Century and the Dark Ages referred to as late antiquity saw the collapse of trade networks, decline of cities as cultural and economic centers, rise of Christianity and dramatic social changes that provided the model for the medieval feudal society. Late antiquity was marked by the emergence of half-free Roman citizens known as coloni, tenant farmers who worked on large estates called latifundia and paid a rent to land owners.
Deposition of the Last Western Roman Emperor
The transition between the classical antiquity and the Middle Ages took place slowly over a longer period of time. Deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus by Germanic military commander Odoacer in 476 which is traditionally viewed as the beginning of the Middle Ages has not caused any major disruption at the time. The event became considered as the turning point in history only in the 15th century when it was proposed as the start date for the Middle Ages by Italian historian and humanist Leonardo Bruni in his work History of the Florentine People.
Europe During the Dark Ages
The Dark Ages was marked by continuation of the process that started long before the fall of the Western Roman Empire and eventually led to emergence of the “classic” medieval social, economic, cultural and political organization. It also saw the rise of numerous barbarian kingdoms few of which managed to retain themselves, most notably the Carolingian Empire.
The Byzantine Empire During the Dark Ages
While the Dark Ages in western part of the former Roman Empire was marked by a period of cultural and economic decline which was probably not as dramatic as often presented, the Eastern Roman Empire which came to be known as Byzantine Empire reached its golden age. Byzantine Emperors were regarded as Roman Emperors by the barbarian rulers in the West who were officially subjects of Byzantine Emperors.