TV Review – ‘The Dark Ages’

This History Channel documentary is very similar in flavor to “Rome – Rise and Fall of an Empire” that I enjoyed enough to buy a copy, and I added this DVD to the package.  The history is presented by the narrator over live action vignettes interspersed with historians giving commentary to give context.

Since the Dark Ages span a longer period than the individual shows in “Rome”, coverage is restricted to a few isolated places and times over the span from 410 AD to 1080 AD or so, about the time of the Crusades. It was at this point that Europe again started to regain the ability to contact and trade and interact with the entire area that Rome once ruled.

The periods discussed are Alaric and the sack of Rome in 410, Clovis and the consolidation of France, Justinian and Theodora and the attempt to retake Italy in 530, Bede and St Benedict preserving knowledge, Charles Martel driving back the Muslims at Tours, Charlemagne, the Vikings and Alfred the Great, and then the problem with Knights up to the Crusades.   In many of the cases you can see a start at recovery that gets beaten back: Justinian’s conquests might have led to a new Empire in the Mediterranean, but plague so weakened the state that they could only make it a battleground for twenty years.  Charlemagne made a start as well, but the helplessness against the Vikings set them back again.  Once the Vikings were beaten back, the Knights needed to do so became problems of their own.

These days scholars want to try to downplay the “Dark” in these ages, but it was a bad time for Europe as a whole.  It isn’t all the fault of the people of the time, of course, but ignoring the loss of trade, technology, and peace and order of the centuries before is not the way to go.

It is a very informative and interesting show, if a bit ‘Dark’. If you find it too chipper, though, the disk also includes a bonus show on the Black Death.  Again, it is an instance of Europe doing very well right up until something intervenes to really mess things up.  And having a third to two-thirds of the population die pretty much qualifies.

There’s also a shorter ‘Making Of Dark Ages’ show that is pretty good viewing.