The Dark Ages
Historians often cite the fall of Rome as the end of ancient history and refer to the next 1000 years as the Middle or Dark Ages. The fall of the Roman Empire also saw the decline of a ruling system that had provided stable government, schools, libraries, monetary system and a common language. Simple barter now replaced money as the major purchasing system and the destruction of major cities and towns made wider travel and transportation increasingly difficult and dangerous.
A Vision of the Dark Ages
In some respects, the civilized world in Europe was becoming fragmented and insular and, as such, this would not appear to be a time for an expansive new worldview to start emerging. However, by the Dark Ages, the gods of the old world were being forgotten, as Christianity continued to expand into Western Europe. At this time, people did not think of Europe as a distinct place, instead it was generally referred to as `Christendom`. As such, the Roman Catholic Church had started to grow to fill the power vacuum left by the fall of the Roman Empire. However, the system of government was to be based on `feudalism`. Feudalism is a system of loyalty and protection that evolved as the Roman Empire crumbled. Embattled emperors had started to grant land to nobles in exchange for their loyalty. During the Dark Ages, this system expanded, as the power of Rome continued to collapse. As various warrior tribes overran homes and farms throughout Europe, the peasants were forced to turn to the landowners, often called lords, to protect them. These lands eventually developed into manors and small kingdoms in which a `noble` effectively owned everything, including the people.
While, in principle, many peasants remained free, most were serfs bound to the land on which their lives depended. The only real difference between a slave and a serf was that a serf could not, in principle, be sold. Understandably, at this time, life in Europe for most people was very hard. Few people could read or write and the only hope for most people was their belief in the `Church` and a better life in heaven. Not surprisingly, life in the service of the church attracted many people during the Dark Ages. The Church was often the only way of escaping poverty and the means of getting an education and the expanding system of monasteries was to produce many well-educated men, who then served as administrators for uneducated kings and lords. Of course, in so doing, they were also expanding the power base of the church they served.