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What Caused the Dark Ages?

Why did European civilization fall apart after the collapse of Rome?

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After the Roman Empire collapsed, Europe entered an era called the Dark Ages. Written language and global trade almost disappeared from Western Europe. This period lasted for centuries – but was it as bad as we thought?

St. Augustine

St. Augustine lived in the fourth century. He thought that the world we live in is impure and imperfect compared to the world of ideas.

He steered people’s focus away from the physical world and toward a spiritual outlook. Understanding things like science, math, and medicine just wasn’t important to Augustine and his followers. This is one reason it took so long for Europe to recover from the fall of Rome.

Christians in the western part of Europe turned away from earthly learning, but the Christians in the eastern part kept writings, buildings, and technology. The eastern group formed the Byzantine Empire in the city of Constantinople.

Volcanoes and Plagues

Two huge volcano eruptions in A.D. 536 and A.D. 540 caused global cooling that ruined crops and caused starvation.

As if that weren’t bad enough, in A.D. 541, the greatest pandemic in the ancient world came. It is known as the Plague of Justinian and was the first in a series of deadly pandemics.

The Conquest of Islam

A new religious group from the Arabian deserts soon became powerful: Islam. In 20 years, between A.D. 630 and A.D. 650, Muslims conquered half of Christendom, including what is today known as Egypt, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and large parts of Turkey.

In the end, Islam won against the Byzantine Empire, and in 1453, Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.

Christian Europe fought Islam for about a millennium, but the Muslim world also brought benefits. The Arab world brought scientific advancements to Europe, like the Hindu-Arabic numbers which we still use today. It also brought many ancient Greek texts back to Europe.

Were the Dark Ages Real?

Were the Dark Ages actually that dark? Today’s historians aren’t so sure the “dark ages” were that bad. Some point out achievements of the time, and others say that we don’t know enough about the period to say what it was really like.

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