Dark Ages

When the roman empire crumpled, Europe was besieged with war, famine, plague and persistence war that was merely interrupted with short periods of peace. This is said to have persisted for over 1000 years. The Roman Empire was under siege by thugs from the Northern European frontiers and this was rare since it had never been attacked. Slaves rose to enslave their own masters and the cities in Rome overflowed with blood of its own citizens (Gibbon 35). Friends became foes and the siege for Rome was perceived as a profit making undertaking and the need for power. Carolus and his rebel army was the pioneer for the war on Rome and in order to conquer the city they strangled it from outside and controlled the supply of its food (grains) and eventually the city began to die from within due to insufficient supply of food (YouTube, 2012).

There was intense starvation and death of people turning the initially powerful and glorious Roman empire into a city of hunger and corpses of the dead people. Buildings were burnt to the ground making the Roman citizens helpless as the great monuments of Rome were destroyed and the initial stones from the ruins of the buildings were used to make other forms of shelter. The dark ages was first used by scholars by comparing it to the classical periods in which it was stated that the classical period was better, brilliant and better unlike the time during the fall of Rome in which the people’s lives were destitute and dark, unimaginable. It is mentioned that during the dark ages, the emperor at the time was Jesus Christ. There seems to be continued allusion to religion, specifically Christianity as the hope for the hopeless during the dark ages.

Religion is presented as a core facet that could have played an integral role in the fall of the Roman Empire. Christianity offered some source of peace and given that during the dark ages people were angered, grieved and disillusioned, it is stated that Christianity was the only hope for most people during the dark ages (Durant 443) Irrespective of these assertions, the early Christians were faced with persecutions as most of them were killed. Columbus was also a Christian and he understood that through having more people converted as he attributed his success as an emperor and this implied that Nazi’s success in his leadership had to be endorsed by resilience. Columbus’ brutality was stated to be legendary and for many centuries after the fall of the Rome the Western Europe remained in thick shadow of chaos and death of people.

During these dark ages, it was assumed that almost half of the population perished making it completely difficult to bury them. A notable aspect in the videos is when Justinian (the emperor of Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire) was trying to reunite the Old Roman Empire. The population of Italy then (who had now been successfully intermingled with Germanics for about 100 years), saw the Byzantines as invading Greek-speaking conquerors but not as well-intentioned kinsmen (Durant 446). This was ironic since the emperor intended to unite them and create cohesion among people through having them interact freely and without any form of feat of attacks. In spite of these assertions the Western Europe part was divided by Barbarians and this made it to remain in darkness, hunger and lack of peace due to continued fights.

It is imperative to note that the attacks to the Roman empire that resulted in the dark age were engineered by the barbarian soldiers who by definition, are an illiterate group of warriors, directed by tribal chiefs or warlords, whose main intention is to take from others what they can, just as it was the case during the initial attack to the Roman empire. War, plunder, and rapine were their modes, primarily out of need (and often out of desperation). However, it is stated that in repeated historic examples when the barbarians invade and conquer rich, agricultural and urbanized lands, it scarcely takes one generation for the barbarians to adopt the culture of the conquered. This was the case with these attackers who are said to have wanted to be ‘Romans’ themselves (Gibbon 39).

One of the great surprises the video sets the student up for is the truth about Charlemagne’s rise to power during the 8th Century. The movie presents his rise as a singular accomplishment, hinting that he may have killed or employed someone else to kill his brother, Carloman II in order to consolidate power. In fact, Durant notes, his predecessors, Pepin I and Pepin III laid the political groundwork Charles built upon (461), and speculation about Carloman’s death is meaningless without documentation. Pepin I and Pepin III were the great leaders who unified Gaul, establishing France as a kingdom to be reckoned among the powers of the time (461).

Gibbon pays special attention to Pepin I as having taken the blessing of the Church in his coronation as king of the Franks after the fashion of the Old Testament kings of Israel, establishing his state as submissive to the Roman Pope (23). However, it was especially Pepin III who had the insight that the Church would be a useful ally in ruling the newly unified people (Durant 461). This crafty pose put the influence of the Church behind the military and political advances of the later Carolingians, a position Charlemagne was especially successful in using to his advantage (467).

None of this, however, detracts from Charlemagne’s greatness. His conquests in the name of Christianity unified central Europe from Germany to Italy for the first time in hundreds of years. Mayr-Harting suggests that Charlemagne’s imperialist campaigns were as likely conducted on the basis of what today we might call homeland security, as protecting one’s allies may involve conquering their enemies (1113 – 4). Another compelling reason for Charlemagne’s European campaigns had to do with access to valuable trade, especially the wine trade of the Rhine, which was very profitable, yet required expansive conquest for its protection from the Saxons (1114 – 5). As The Dark Ages video celebrates and Airlie confirms, Charlemagne engineered military success with craft, ruthlessness, and skill (94). While he often cited his mission as one of spreading Christianity, the brutality of his treatment of captives argues for a measure of disbelief on that issue.

For instance, slaughtering 4500 captives in the name of Christ (Mayr-Harting 1116) might not convince anyone to believe in the mercy of the Christian God, but it could very well convince people that they should do whatever such a vicious conqueror instructed. But, setting aside his motives and methods in warfare, his success remains indisputable, and that success led, eventually to his crowning as Emperor of Rome on Christmas Day, 800 (Durant 469, Mayr-Harting 1121, Gibbon 33). That the details of that coronation remain unclear (Durant 469), and the motives of both Pope Leo III and Charlemagne himself seem divergent (Mayr-Harting 1123), there is little argument that it was effectively the beginning of Holy Roman Empire (1132).

Charlemagne’s greatness extends beyond his coronation, though, into the arena of domestic programs that show a remarkable degree of character for such a merciless oppressor (Gibbon 34). Even Gibbon, whose regard for Charlemagne is often apparently reserved, acknowledges Charlemagne’s aspiration to develop schools and generalize education in his empire worthy of praise. He says of this noble motive: “the curiosity of the human mind must ultimately tend to its improvement, and the encouragement of learning reflects the purest and most pleasing luster on the character of Charlemagne” (36). Even so, his laws and martial attentiveness leave room for criticism, the laws, if noble and complex, being strung together rather than systematic (35), and the military successes were at the same time inconsistent with any claim to Christian loyalty and marred by unfortunate losses (37).

Works Cited

Airlie, Stuart. “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s

Mastering of Bavaria.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6.9 (1999):

93 – 119. JSTOR. Web. 4 Dec 2012.

Durant, Will. The Story of Civilization (Vol. 4). New York: Simon and Schuster, 1950.


Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Vol. 3). New York:

Random House, n.d. Print.

Mayr-Harting, Henry. “Charlemagne, the Saxons, and the Imperial Coronation of 800.”

English Historical Review 111.444 (1996): 1113 – 1133. JSTOR. Web.

4 Dec 2012.