The Dark Ages were Dark

It is currently deeply unfashionable to state that anything like a ‘crisis’ or a ‘decline’ occurred at the end of the Roman empire, let alone that a ‘civilization’ collapsed and a ‘dark age’ ensued.  The new orthodoxy is that the Roman world, in both the East and the West, was slowly, and essentially painlessly, ‘transformed’ into a medieval form.  However, there is an insuperable problem with this new view; it does not fit the mass of archaeological evidence now available, which shows a startling decline in western standards of living during the fifth to seventh centuries.  This was a change that affected everyone, from peasants to kings, even the bodies of saints resting in their churches.  It was no mere transformation — it was decline on a scale that can reasonably be described as ‘the end of a civilization.’

That is from Bryan Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.  This recent book is the best integration of archaeology and economics I have seen; it is also a first-rate economic history in its own right, as well as a history of pottery.  Highly recommended for those who think they might like it.


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