The Dark Ages are generally considered the early medieval period in the history of Europe spanning from the 5th century to the 10th century. The period began with the collapse of the Roman Empire in early 5th century and continued until the Norman invasion of England in the 11th century.
The Dark Ages were marked by many developments of immense significance in the history of Europe. These included the decisive emergence of Christianity as the major religion in the region, the influx of Germanic tribes who would define the power-balance in Europe during the period, and the rise of Byzantine Empire as the predominant political entity in Eastern Europe.
Rise of Byzantine Empire
The Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western portions as early as the 4th century. When the Western Roman Empire fell in 5th century, the Eastern half of the Empire survived. Centred at the old city of Byzantium which was renamed Constantinople, this Empire came to be called the Byzantine Empire. From 5th century onwards, the Byzantine Empire emerged as the true inheritor of Rome’s cultural and political legacy.
The Empire drew on the administrative prowess of the original Roman Empire, the classic Greek heritage of its heartland in the Asia Minor and the coherence granted by Christianity which was the official religion of the Empire. It remained the most important and powerful political entity in Eastern Europe during the Dark Ages, effectively halting Muslim advancement into Europe from the East.
Influx of Germanic Tribes
The Germanic tribes, originally established in the northern regions of Europe, were forced to emigrate at the beginning of the Dark Ages as Central Asian tribes such as Huns overtook their original homelands. These tribes then took to Western Europe where they played a vital part in the 5th century collapse of the Roman Empire.
Notable Germanic tribes pouring into Western Europe during this period include the Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Lombards, Burgundians, Franks, Angles and Saxons. All of these would play critical roles in the subsequent political developments in the region.
Vandals established a kingdom in North Africa before being defeated by the Byzantine Empire. Goths sacked Rome in 410 and marked the end of the great Empire. Lombards carved a kingdom in Italy from 6th to 8th centuries. Anglo-Saxons took over England from the Bretons and established their kingdoms. Franks went on to emerge as the most powerful entity in Western Europe by 9th century, defeating most of the other Germanic tribes.
The Rise of Christianity
It was during the Dark Ages that Christianity became the key identity of the Europe at large. At the beginning of the Dark Ages, Christianity had already gained influence in the Roman Empire. It became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire in its Orthodox form.
In Western Europe, Rome became the heart of Christendom. From Rome, the Church was able to send missionaries to different parts of Europe and bring the incoming Germanic tribes into the fold of Christianity. This helped Christianise the Anglo-Saxons in Britain.
On the mainland of the continent, Franks became fervent supporters of Christianity and helped halt the advance of Muslims into Western Europe, as well as this they helped subdue pagan Saxons in Saxonia. Christianity also became the key preserver of the Latin traditions of the now-defunct Roman Empire, thus also preserving the Latin culture over the centuries.