by Will Kalif
The Dark Ages were a period of great upheaval, constant war, horrendous plague, and stagnant cultural growth. But through these difficult centuries new ideas and a new culture was born. And in today’s world we still feel the effects of these changes that were brought about during these Dark Ages.
The Dark Ages is a period that is generally accepted as having begun in the year 410 with the fall of Rome and ending in 1095 with the launch of the first Crusades. The fall of Rome sets a good understanding for what the Dark Ages were all about because for centuries the Roman Empire was a unified force that brought stabilization to most of Europe. It had a vibrant trade and commerce industry that supported a reasonably secure lifestyle for millions of people. When Rome fell, this network of trade and commerce collapsed and the European World was set into chaos. It took seven hundred years of wars, plague, and poverty before the continent came out of it and was moved into the Renaissance.
Medieval Warlords and the struggle to be emperor
Before it fell, Rome had been the center of the European world for seven hundred years. The emperor ruled over everything and when this all fell the concept of one man ruling the world still remained. It was this aspiration to rule over everything that perpetuated the darkness of the times. Lords from all over Europe were engaged with each other in battles for land and power. This battling lasted literally centuries and it meant a constant drain of resources and a standstill in cultural growth.
Outside Forces make it worse
This constant struggling for power within the continent of Europe made it very easy for outside forces to penetrate into the continent and further wreak destruction and drain wealth and resources. From the north Vikings constantly invaded and plundered and from the south Moorish invaders brought war and the word of their prophet. The whole continent was under the constant pressure of three points of attack -from within and from both the north and south.
The Plague negates all progress
Throughout the first century of the Dark Ages Europe made slow but tangible progress and Emperor Justinian was on the verge of reuniting the continent when the bubonic plague hit and killed tens of millions of people. This destroyed all hope of reunification and kept the continent in chaos for several more centuries.
The Force that brought us out of the darkness
Christianity was an ideal that rose to power during the dark ages and many warlords of the time embraced it. This had a unifying force on the entire European continent and even though there were many kingdoms they all swore allegiance under the pope. This brought an end to the internal fighting that had been going on for centuries and this unification was solidified with the launching of the Crusades beginning in 1095. This gave all the various warlords and kings a common religious goal and a foe they could join together and focus on.
The Crusades, while being for the most part a failure in that they held very little of the land they attempted to conquer, were a significant factor in the rebirth of Europe in that Europe was reunited under a common religion and returning crusaders brought back with them to Europe a wealth of new information in architecture, medicine, philosophy, mathematics and many other areas. This infusion of ideas, paired with the end of constant war within Europe set the stage for the Renaissance.
The Dark Ages were an extraordinarily difficult period in the story of humanity. It is estimated that 100 million people died at the hands of war, poverty, and plague. But during this time new ideas and ideals were born and much of the groundwork was laid for the world we know today.
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