The Dark Ages is the period in European history ushered in by the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Britain was thrown into a period of tribal conflicts and desperate resistance to invaders from the year AD410, when the last legion sailed away and Roman administration ceased. Early Briton kings, Vortigern and Ambrosius battled each other for the traumatised island, whilst what was left of the remaining Western Roman legions tried to stem the tide of Franks rampaged across Gaul.
This was also the year that Rome was sacked by the Visigoths under their king, Alaric, as barbarian tribes from the east swept across Europe. Roman authority was briefly restored after paying off the barbarians, but they would not go away, and the final collapse came in 476 when the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by Odoacer, whose father was purported to have been an adviser to Attila the Hun. The sun had set on a civilised and ordered way of life, to be replaced with tribal warfare, economic ruin and insecurity for the peoples of Europe.
Initially, historians used the term ‘dark’ to denote the fact that little was known about this period as there was a lack of written history, and it was felt there was little order or human development. It was the Italian Scholar, Petrarch, who first coined the phrase, ‘Dark Ages’. He used it to express frustration with the lack of Latin literature during this time or other cultural achievements. The Dark Ages were a tumultuous time: roving horse-borne invaders charged about the countrysides, slaughtering villagers and taking what they wanted. As a result, fewer crops were grown and famine and disease followed.
To some extent, the period of the Dark Ages remains obscure to modern onlookers. The term employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the ‘darkness’ of the period in question with earlier and later periods of ‘light’. The tumult of the era, its religious and tribal conflicts and debatable time period, all work together to obscure it from our eyes. Scarcity of sound literature and cultural achievements marked these years, and barbaric practices prevailed. The leaders of the time are merely names without faces; nor are there accurate records of their deeds.
However, stuffy university academics, in a move to justify their status, have decided it wasn’t such a dark age after all. Plenty was going on, between the running and screaming (in isolated enclaves) as they uncover some evidence of art, culture and learning. It is now thought that some of the barbarian leaders, when taking time out from torture, rape and executions, became patrons of the arts (amassing treasures looted from palaces and churches) and in time converted to Christianity, embracing more civilised values. This has altered perceptions of this difficult period and some historians now prefer to used the term, ‘Early Middle Ages’ to denote the post-Roman period in Europe. Bully for them.
In our own time, some believe we are entering a new dark age, characterised not by the absence of written records, but by a plethora of false information aimed at confusing and distracting us from real events. The World Wide Web was given to us by its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to encourage the free exchange of information. But we have failed to safeguard it, and it has now been hijacked by thieves and those with extreme political agendas whose aim is to enslave us and strip us of our rights and dignity. ‘Fake News’ is a tactic used by unscrupulous politicians to terrify and confuse, leaving us susceptible to exploitation and undermining our democratic systems with lies and false promises.
Our age may be characterised by intellectual and technological advances, but our moral framework, egalitarian and empathetic values, are being eroded by the new cult of the individual that has replaced self-policing family and community groups. Socially, we are regressing as economic priorities trump those of citizen welfare. Corporate bullies have replaced barbarian warlords as we are brow-beaten, exploited and driven into poverty.
We live in an all-consuming media age, but we are blind to the dangers around us that are undermining our society, leaving us vulnerable to exploitation. Personal wealth accumulation and the trappings of a privileged lifestyle are dangled before us to tempt and incite us to embrace a culture built on greed and one-upmanship. Are we defeating ourselves, as loneliness, emotional repression and lack of purpose dog our ‘progressive’ secular societies? Our self-destruction seems assured.
Where is the new Ambrosius to organise us to resist the forces of darkness? Who will ride to our rescue and flush our enemies out into the open where we can confront them? Whilst pondering these questions, look for inspiration in this new action-packed historical fiction novel – Ambrosius: Last of the Romans. History comes in cycles – we are challenged to read the signs and be ready to oppose tyranny…
Part One of A Light in the Dark Ages series, Abandoned! Is a free download from Amazon Kindle on Wednesday 8th March…
Part Two, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans has just been released and is at the discount price of £1.99/$2.99