The Medieval Ages that descended upon the Europeans following the deconstruction and devolution of the formerly grand institutions of the Roman Empire left a world darkened to the eyes of history. The world lost touch with simple concepts to a modern history student of writing, economy, culture, and government—the mainstay of that which we cannot see ourselves without—civilization. What was left of Europe was a state of chaos. In all other periods of human history I have studied there were similarities among them from which I could draw conclusions upon the condition of the respective times. The Text helped to give order to the progression of European history from the ancient to the modern drawing from the former to explain the thoughts and traditions that carried through the dark times as the only ruminants of civilization.
The dark ages didn’t come to dominate the era for which it is named like the flip of a switch or by the sacking of Rome by Alaric, or any other German Chief. It wasn’t a single force; such as the struggle with the Germans or the ineptitude of Roman Emperors or the breakdown of political processes it was all of these influences and more combining to strangulate the social institutions of their Stability. Without stability security is harder to maintain and both are needed to promote profitable economic activity.
Roman society in the western Empire had slowly developed into a subsistence plantation society comparable to the American antebellum southern society of the 19th century. Government institutions slowly died out, as did any form of an economic market. The majority of the population was enslaved. There was little civilization save the aristocracy for the Germans to destroy even when they came to the area.
Rome had become a corrupt political center, to become Emperor was to sign your own death warrant, therefore the only people interested were the most unskilled the empire had yet seen.
When the Germans finally came to dominate Western Europe there was virtually no academics or literacy. The historical record from this point is cloudy. The main source of knowledge comes from the church and its scribe monks. This obviously gives their interpretation of the events of the time a less than secular point of view. The church in fact quickly assumed the reins of a European political vacuum. Churches and monasteries usually were the only centers of knowledge and trade and of community.
Eventually a reorganization of the political order developed locally with feudalism. It was a cheap, local and efficient from of government. It didn’t offer much more than order and protection from invading barbarians by creating a system of lord and vassal military relationships for defense. Economically, the majority of people were serfs bound to their land. The lords owned the courts of justice.
This new stability allowed for the opportunity of savvy individuals to carve out the first semblances of a state since ancient Rome, however, they wouldn’t even come close to its sophistication. The Carolingian Empire under Charles Martel, Charlemagne, was the most prominent. IT however, was just an extension of the feudal notion of military alliances in the lord vassal arrangement, and remained impoverished. The peoples still remained loyal to their local leaders. Charlemagne, however, became an exemplar to future European state builders.
The Carolingian dynasty was short-lived due to an ineffective German tradition of splitting the inheritance and, therefore, the empire among Charlemagne’s three sons who soon lost influence. However, the die was cast, a future German state would later form with almost the exacting borders as the Carolingian Empire.
The real centers of western civilization that flourished were in the Byzantine Empire, and later in the Arab Caliphates. They remained centers of high culture and learning. Civilization flourished and both empires were involved greatly in trade reaching as far as the other side of the Asian continent. The Byzantines escaped the fate of their Latin cousins by maintaining a profitable economy that allowed them to pay tributes to the bordering Barbarians and that allowed for their culture to flourish.