What are the characteristics of the Dark Ages?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, one could say that the term "Dark Ages" is one applied to the time period from the Renaissance to the medieval period. Most contemporary scholars see the term as misleading at best. Instead, most scholars prefer a value neutral term, such as "Middle Ages" or "medieval period." 

The period between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance was highly transformative: it involved a significant redistribution of power. Although the western, Latin-speaking Roman empire fell, the Greek-speaking east, otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire, flourished, creating great works of art, literature, architecture, philosophy, and theology. As a result of the "Great Schism" and the increasing lack of communication between the two regions, there was increased separation between western Europe and eastern Europe.

Next, the Middle Ages were the period which saw the rise of Islam and the broad spread of Islamic civilization across the southern Mediterranean into Spain. It was also a great period of flourishing of Islamic science, medicine, and mathematics. In Spain and the eastern Mediterranean, Islamic rulers came into contact and fought with Christians, having fruitful cultural exchanges as well as less productive violent interactions. 

In western Europe, one can see the development of major new centers of power in the north. There is also a language shift; Latin evolves into the Romance languages. Feudalism also became a major economic system. 

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Dark Ages describe a period of time after the fall of Rome in 476.  There is some debate as to how long the period lasted, but many agree it was until 900 or 1000. There are several characteristics of the Dark Ages.  One characteristic was the lack of forward thinking ideas and practices that existed during this time. There was a lack of Latin literature and other cultural developments during the Dark Ages. Another characteristic of this time was religious struggle.  Orthodox Christians and Catholics looked at this time period very differently. Orthodox Christians felt it was a corrupt period, and they rejected many ways of the Catholic Church. Catholics, however, did not see things the same way.  They felt it was a productive era.  This era was also known for Muslim conquests.  Some of the issues between Catholics and Muslims can be traced back to this time period. While there was religious conflict, the Dark Ages are viewed as an era of faith.  People, in some way, sought out a divine power. Finally, the feudal system developed during this time. This developed mainly because there was no strong central power during this time period.  The feudal system, with its castles and walled towns, provided protection from invasion by the barbarians.

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