Monday, February 2, 2009

The Dark Age, 500 - 1000

With the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europe fell into a period of sharp decline. In every aspect of life - commerce, culture, public safety - the quality of life declined. Every decade, every century, new generations grew to expect life to get harder and harder. Writing and other basic skills retreated to a few monasteries. As Kenneth Clark said in his epic TV series, Civilization, "Civilization survived by the skin of its teeth."

This was not true of the rest of the world. The Eastern Roman Empire survived but did not prosper. From the sands of Arabia, the followers of Mohammad erupted. They took most of the lands of the Empire and the Persian Empire to the east. The Mohammedans were no respecters of learning during this period. They destroyed the Great Library of Alexandria upon the grounds that if the books did not agree with the teachings of the Koran, then they were pernicious and if they did, then they were superfluous.

This wasn't true of the whole world, of course. China reached a peak in the 8th. Century. These were good times for India and Japan, too. In the 10th. Century, the Mongols invaded China in the east and the Vikings rampaged throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. While "the skin of its teeth" figure of speech may be too much, this age was not civilization's best.

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