Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dark Ages of Europe & the History Channel

Don't you just love when the History Channel plays history? When you tune in, Swamp People, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, Pawn Stars, Ax Men and American Restoration graces the screen. Come to think of it, History Channel should rename their channel to Scripted Reality American Hustlin'. Apart from 'Vikings' debuting in March (very excited about this btw), history specials are few and far between.

I know, right? But for only $7.99 a month, you can stream many history specials on Netflix:)  Annnnd, in my kinda-chronological thing I got going on with this blog (slowly creeping my way through early British history), I found an hour and a half special on the Dark Ages that I watched while succumbing to insomnia this morning at 3 a.m. It fits in perfectly with the transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon rule.

Dark Ages: The Fall of Civilization, the Rise of a New World Order, was released in 2007 and I must say, it was a compact, entertaining story of the Dark Ages. It details the centuries that were swept under the rug as a result of famine, plague and persecutions starting at the fall of the Roman Empire in 410 A.D.

Civilization regressed after the Roman Empire was disbanded by numerous barbarian tribes. Sewage systems stopped working, aqueducts broke down and the elaborate buildings constructed by the Romans were dismantled for stones to support newer, simpler structures. Technology, trade, education and medicine were erased. Civilians were uprooted to make way for these more primitive cultures.

Warfare, civil war, feuding, and vendettas were now the norm. Political problems quickly escalated into military problems. It was just total doom and gloom. Many people found solace in Christianity, as it offered peace within the chaos. In these Dark Ages, Jesus Christ was the new emperor.

Christianity brought destruction as well. The Holy Wars were happening which were battles fought in the name of faith. The Ordeal was established which was a series of tests that are reminiscent of how one would distinguish if a person was a witch or not. A guilty person would be thrown in water or would be burned. If they floated in water, or recovered quickly from the burns, it was believed that God was on their side. People believed that God's justice came down to earth and was readable through the results of these tests.

Under the reign of Emperor Justinian, what was left of the displaced Empire was put through further trial during the outbreak of the bubonic plague. It is said that up to 100 million people perished because of the plague. That's nearly half of the entire European population at the time.

This plague wasn't your typical flu. The symptoms started with fever, chills, vomiting, sensitivity to light, groin, ear and armpit pain and ended in tumors, violent muscle spasms and coma. Economic productivity further crippled and Europe was further susceptible to attack as defensive barriers weakened.

As Jesus was regarded as the new emperor, monasteries became a symbol of strength. They were a center of commerce and political authority. Civilization was also greatly restored by Charlemagne, the greatest king of the dark ages. He gave birth to education and reestablished the economy. He divided the land into 350 countries that he closely monitored. He further institutionalized Christianity by executing anyone caught cremating a body or practicing pagan rituals.

Things were beginning to turn around for Europe right? WRONG. The Vikings were on their way to throw salt in the wound. And then more salt. And then salt with a salty cherry on top. Vikings had set sail from Scandinavia and were on the hunt for new land and high adventure. Their ships were swift and maneuverable in both sea and rivers, allowing them to attack virtually anywhere on the coast.

They killed monks, took over monasteries, destroyed literature and stole treasure and money whenever they could. One of their favorite methods of execution was the Blood Eagle. A person's back would be opened, exposing their ribs. The ribs would be cut from the spine and then the lungs pulled out to resemble wings.

Alfred the Great was instrumental is expelling the Vikings. Realizing Vikings didn't have the siege warfare to attack fortresses, he constructed many and utilized them in fighting off the Vikings. After nearly 25 years of fighting, he achieved lasting peace for Britain.

The Dark Ages ended following the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of expeditionary wars aimed at restoring Christianity to the holy land (Jerusalem). It was believed that Jesus's home was being "defiled by the pagans." The Crusades brought a rebirth of trade and architecture. Goods flowed, roads were rebuilt and land became more cultivatable. A Medieval awakening was happening FINALLY as medical information, books and language were brought back to Europe.

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