Imagine our civilization gradually crumbling away. At first small failures and crises would inconvenience us. Perhaps inflation would steadily worsen. Our existing institutions would continue but nothing new would appear. As things became worn out, we would not repair or replace them because we no longer cared. Little problems like uncollected garbage, power failures, potholed roads, and no police protection at night, would become commonplace. As a sense of lethargy set in further more serious problems would arise. Police and fire protection might break down completely when cities cannot match their union's demands. Governments might print so much money to cover their debts that inflation gets out of control. One hundred dollars today only buys as much as fifty dollars yesterday. Soon our entire monetary system and economy would crash. Stores and farmers would not accept cash, only other goods or services. City-dwellers might move out as industries and stores close and the city becomes unable to maintain sanitation, water, and electrical services. Eventually, if this continued for three or four generations, our civilization would die. People would only be concerned about their day-to-day survival. More complex concerns like formal education, scientific research, and government would have to wait. The only rule would be survival of the strongest, quickest, and best prepared.
This is what life in
Collapse of the
AD 167 - Germans raid
200 - Visigoths and Ostrogoths move to
367 - Picts and Scots invade
370 - Huns invade
406 - Vandals, Alans and Suevis
410 - Visigoths capture
421 - Angles and Saxons invade
429 - Vandals invade north Africa. Burgundians and Franks invade
451 - Huns invade
455 - Vandals conquer
In this world you belonged to one of four groups:
1. You were part of one of the huge, migrant tribes from the east. You were a Goth, Visigoth, Ostrogoth, Vandal, Lombard, or Hun. Your entire tribe was always on the move. The men rode horses, the families travelled in wagons. The entire tribe was held together by blood ties. You didn’t identify yourself by you town or country, your identify came from the tribe or clan you belonged to. Families, servants and slaves belonged to the family’s dominant male. Each family head followed the leader of one branch of a clan. Each leader of a clan’s branch obeyed the overall clan leader, the clan leaders held council and obeyed the leader of the entire tribe. This huge family hierarchy was essential to every aspect of tribal life - how decisions were made and enforced, how disputes were settled, the social standing of every person, how the tribe fought battles, how the tribes’ wealth was distributed. Eventually after generations of wandering, raiding and looting these tribes settled down on land they seized from the local peoples. The tribal leaders became kings, their clan leaders became lords, and the family heads became rulers over villages. This is one origin of the feudal system.
2. You lived in the
abandoned town life and took his family and friends up into the hills. There they created a fortified farm community. The hope was that the barbarians would by-pass such areas and search for easier victims. The best most people could hope for was to band together, look after their crops and hope trouble passed them by. You were on your own. You could not expect any help from others. This meant that any sort of problem could be fatal -Viking raids, drought, epidemics, livestock losses, fires, almost anything. For most life was definitely nasty, brutal, and short.
3. In a few areas the local population and the
legions fought together against the barbarians. The centre of
4. The majority of the people in the western
empire were not so lucky - they were either captured as slaves by the
barbarians or they died from war, starvation or disease. Between AD 350 and AD
800 the population of
Beyond this, almost
everything that made life in the
International, regional and even local trade was gone. Every village had to be
self-sufficient. If the village could not grow it or make it, then you had to
do without. Many parts of
- Most of the cities and towns of the Empire were in ruins. The populations fled as food supplies ceased and barbarian raids increased. The towns became ghost towns. The buildings still stood - often without their roofs - but the people were gone. Gradually the survivors returned to the town to scavenge anything of value - metals, tools, and stone or brick for buildings. The Huns and Germanic tribes could only make wooden buildings - like pioneer log cabins. Their villages and towns consisted of wood huts surrounded by a palisade of wooden stakes
All knowledge of medicine, engineering, science, geography, history, the arts, were gone. The great libraries full of scrolls became
bonfires. Today experts estimate that 90% of Greek and Roman knowledge was lost
forever during the Dark Ages. The Greek and Roman knowledge we have today comes
from a few libraries in
The religions of the Empire died. The Dark Ages ended the worship of the old
Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods. One version of Christianity, the Greek Orthodox
Church survived, as the official religion of the
creative changes were occurring, however.
The concepts of chivalry and feudalism were also at a rudimentary stage. "Knights" did not exist in the "Dark Ages". What did exist, however, were many bands of fighting men loyal to local warrior-chiefs. These were full-time warriors with leather and chain armour and iron swords, axes, or spears. Tribal oaths or a sense of mutual interest tied them to their leaders. In return they received land, horses, and a share of any pillage. The horses were especially important. They gave a warrior a much greater range and greater killing potential. The invention of the foot stirrup and the breeding of larger horses made these mounted warriors fearsome foes for even the Vikings and the Spanish Moors.
The feudal system may have developed out of the oaths between a warrior and his chief, or it might have been a relic of the patrician-client arrangement on Roman farms. In either case, by A.D. 800 it was already the basis of medieval society and government. The basic idea is simple. You owe loyalty and service to a more powerful person above you. In return he may give you land (or the right to farm his land), leadership, and protection. In a similar arrangement, your
superior might owe allegiance to an even more powerful warrior, and you might control people even less powerful than yourself. In the Eighth and Ninth Centuries these ties were very simple and the entire chain might have just one or two links - peasant to warrior, or, peasant to warrior to duke. In time, however, very complex and formalized oaths would bind all of Medieval society together.
these four hundred years
slowing emerged from the ruins. It would take until A.D.900 for a new civilization to appear, one based on Christian faith, vassals' oaths, and its knights' armour.