I have been doing a great deal of research for my latest novel, and while it may be time-consuming, it is extremely fascinating.
One thing that puzzles me endlessly is why the Middle Ages were such a terribly dark time. How did the knowledge and civilizing influence of Rome just disappear? Movies depicting those times invariable present people living in absolute filth, squalor, and it always seems to be raining continually.
The Fall of Rome obviously did not happen overnight. It was a process that devolved over a number of centuries, but the effect was to destroy whatever remnants of education, law and order that had existed before.
Here, in a nutshell, is what happened:
The Roman Empire was weakened by its immense size and could not maintain its power in the face of constant attacks from barbarians (the Germanii from Northern Europe and also the Muslims, primarily from Iran and the Turkic regions, halloooo, any alarm bells ringing yet?). The economy began to decline (ditto sidebar comment above) and ultimately fail for a number of reasons which I will not go into here. Trade effectively stopped. The taxes levied by the Romans to maintain the status quo were misused by greedy administrators (help!). The Romans became complacent and began to use barbarian mercenaries to guard their borders. (Oh dear Republicans, we feel your pain.)
The rise of Christianity also played a large part in suppressing the religions and cultures of others in the Western part of the Empire.The Eastern Empire, later known as the Byzantine Empire, continued to flourish. Education, arts and culture, and slavery continued to be part of their civilization: “The fall of Rome marked the death knell of education and literacy, sophisticated architecture, advanced economic interaction, and, not least, the rule of written law.” (1)
Another huge contributing factor was climate change. During the fifth to seventh centuries CE the climate became a lot wetter and colder, and this must have had a great effect on the entire European region. When climate change occurs, crops may fail, illnesses and epidemics develop and starvation may become widespread, resulting in a loss of fertility and population. Another cooling down period began around the middle of the ninth century. A warming up period ensued, in around 1300. (2)
Parallels are easy to draw between the current state of affairs, given climate change, wars and the vast migrant problem. Hopefully politicians know their history (laughable idea, I know!) but one thing’s for sure, history is already repeating itself.