A rich and surprising look at the robust European culture that thrived after the collapse of Rome.
The barbarians who destroyed the glory that was Rome demolished civilization along with it, and for the next four centuries the peasants and artisans of Europe barely held on. Random violence, mass migration, disease, and starvation were the only ways of life. This is the picture of the Dark Ages that most historians promote. But archaeology tells a different story. Peter Wells, one of the world’s leading archaeologists, surveys the archaeological record to demonstrate that the Dark Ages were not dark at all. The kingdoms of Christendom that emerged starting in the ninth century sprang from a robust, previously little-known European culture, albeit one that left behind few written texts.
As archeology professor and author Wells (The Battle That Stopped Rome) points out, the only texts available on the cultures of "Dark Age" Europe (roughly A.D. 400-600) were written by those educated in the Roman tradition. The only unbiased evidence, therefore, is the material evidence. Covering five decades of excavation in western Europe (including London, Copenhagen, the outskirts of Stockholm, Cologne and Trier), Wells chronicles a revolution in the understanding of Europe after the Western Roman Empire's collapse, ostensibly at the hands of "barbarian hordes." Evidence accounts for vast trade networks that ranged from Byzantium and the Black Sea through the Baltic to Ireland, and across the Alps and Pyrenees; artifacts from as far away as India have been uncovered in Scandinavia. Buildings, metalworking and gem-cutting sites, and evidence for continuous occupation of many modern European cities, also provide rich proof that, contrary to the Roman-centric collapse-of-civilization narrative, the post-Roman world pulsed with robust, vital activity. Wells's aim is obviously a wide audience of armchair historians and archeologists; they won't be disappointed, and they'll have a fine reading list in Wells's sources and suggestions.