Background to the Dark Ages series
This collection of history articles is to help serve as a background to my Dark Ages series of novels.
Periods of history are easier to visualise and analyse if they are cut into segments and given names, even if these names are unfair or wrong. The Dark Ages is the perfect example. Immediately we conjure up images of ignorant people, living in a gloomy, oppressive, sinister and obscure world with little joy. The symbolism of light and dark adds to image. Light represents knowledge, goodness and purity; dark signifies ignorance, evil and sin.
So why is my specialist period of history called the 'Dark Ages'?
The significant point is that the era, for Britain, is between the departure of the Romans in 410 and the arrival of the Normans in 1066. In Europe the timing is a little different, between the fall of the Roman Empire and the period known as the Renaissance in the fifteenth century. The Romans were famous for their writing and have left us a great insight into their societies and the lands they discovered. The peoples who followed them, such as the Anglo-Saxons, Jutes and Barbarians, were not writers so we have no records of their thoughts and ideas.
The way of life was another factor. The Romans brought Christianity and viewed the beliefs of the northern Europeans as inferior. They were the powerful rulers and therefore better, at least according to them. Pagan and heathen still carry the stigma of ignorance and inferiority even today. The light versus dark theme continued.
The term 'Dark Ages' was coined by the Italian scholar, writer and poet, Petrarch (1304-1374). Some of his quotes about the Dark Ages are quite poetic. The term held both religious and secular connotations and obviously it caught on.
"Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius; no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom".
Petrarch, Italian scholar
Is Dark Ages a fair description though?
For a very long time it seemed to be the case. However, over the last century new technology and discoveries has challenged this idea. There has been evidence of trade between distant countries as grave goods have been found to have been made in Mediterranean, Indian, African and Chinese lands. The discovery of burial mounds at Sutton Hoo proved that the folk in Anglo-Saxon England were not ignorant peasants but merchants, travellers and craftsmen. The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009 demonstrated that the folk were skilled artisans too. Unfortunately, unlike the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, nobody took an interest in writing or drawing. But no one can say that their art was any less.
Modern historians frown upon the term 'Dark Ages' with good reason. The official terms vary between Early Medieval (which applies to most of Europe and the Far East) and the Migration Period in relation to the great movements of people in Europe following the fall of the Roman Empire. I often use 'Anglo-Saxons' to encompass the settlers of England, but recently the term has been associated with some racist aspects.
As for me and those like me, Dark Ages is a romantic term that evokes ideas of mystery, depth and things to be discovered. It is a blank canvas for a writer...
My Dark Ages books cover the seventh century although the posts include features from throughout the whole period. There are over a hundred articles including the significant places such as the ancient kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex and Northumbria as well as Viking York; people like Alfred the Great, Canute and Saint George; folklore and legendary tales, like The Cheese and the Sword, England's Original Saint and England's First Poet; battles, such as the Battle of Hastings, Winwaed and Val-de Saire; food, such as sausages and briw; native fauna, including wolves, cats, dragons and the Loch Ness Monster, and the essential maps from the Dark Ages. I hope you find them interesting.
select the articles from the following categories:
Plus separate in-depth articles about Castles and Swords. To see a brief glimpse of the rest of the world at this time, see the Golden Age and the Dark Age.