The real reason they called this period the Dark Ages is that everything pretty much went back in time as far as lifestyles were concerned. The Roman Empire had stretched too far and was starting to be beaten in battle plus it was too difficult to manage their extremely large territory. It had also gotten too expensive to keep up with the large empire they had. With this in mind, Roman soldiers were pulled back closer to Rome. This meant a lot of small communities weren’t doing business with Rome anymore and they were stuck working with others in their community to take care of every aspect of their lives. Instead of having a community that was improving economically it went backwards kind of like what happened to us in the Great Depression; lives definitely went backwards.
Another thing that was terrible for these communities is that barbarians came out of the woodworks to establish their own territories since no Roman soldiers were around to protect these people. Most of the barbarians didn’t have enough people to leave their soldiers at these small towns so the citizens could be raped and pillaged by various barbarian tribes. The fact is, the best thing that could happen to you in the Dark Ages was to have a short life.
Speaking of a short life, 25% of births ended in death; about half of those who made it died by the time they were 12. The conditions were too bad for a lot of children to make it; food being the greatest problem. So parents could start off with eight children and end up with three. This is a terrible thought but I wonder if some were glad to some extent because they had too many mouths to feed. So even before the plague, death was all too common.
Another sad point is that even if a child made it to adulthood their parents would likely be dead by then. They had to grow up fast and that’s why their parents had their children learning how to do things at a very young age. They also didn’t want their children knowing how to read and write because that wouldn’t help put food on the table. They were destined for a life of hard work. Men would do the hunting and the chores that required more strength like plowing a field while the women cooked and did a lot of chores that weren’t difficult strength wise like feeding the chickens, bringing in firewood, cleaning clothes, cooking, etc. They worked very hard just like they do today. Everyone was pretty much working from sun up to sun down during the year except for in the winter when they were often cooped up. We’re talking about Eastern Europe.
A strange twist to the Black Plague is that it actually helped pull people out of the Dark Ages. The Roman Empire took a huge hit with these deaths and in order to get their empire going again and take care of their people, they needed the help of the small communities again. The citizens of Rome didn’t have a lot of the skills they needed to take care of themselves like blacksmiths, construction, food supply, middle-age manufacturing, etc. Rome had a very sophisticated and well ahead of its time infrastructure. They had watering systems for drinking water and sewage. They had a great system of roads. Basically they were very advanced but during the plague a lot of things deteriorated so help outside of Rome was a necessity.
For thousands of years a good economic cycle takes care of a lot of ills. So if you’re ever talking about this topic (slim chance), throw out that the Bubonic Plague served a good purpose. This is the way it has been for thousands of years something bad can also be good and vice versa. For example the internet is awesome for so many reasons but it’s also awful for so many reasons. A gun can save a life and it can take one.
I’m going to wrap up with some interesting subjects during this time:
1) Practically no one could read but the Royals and Monks. Having someone who could read was one of the greatest forms of entertainment they had. In a movie I once saw, there was a very moving moment when an uneducated warrior asked someone who could read and write to teach him how to write his name. The writer slowly wrote the man’s name with ink and it unfolded before this man’s eyes. You could see how intent he was as he watched every stroke. Then the look on his face when he saw his name for the first time really affected me because it truly took me back in time like I never had been before. By the way, I believe around 40% of our high school students can’t effectively read or write. I guess we haven’t come as far as we’d hoped.
2) Royals would often send their children or anyone else who they wanted educated, like staff, to live in the monastery. Usually the Royals would always make sure a historian was well trained to record their place in history. The monks would decide when the individual was ready to leave because it was a symbol of pride so to speak as to the quality of education they offered because there was competition among these monasteries kind of like universities today.
3) Monasteries were very common. A lot of people think about monk’s praying and they did, but they served a tremendous purpose back then in they recorded history and maintained all important writings. Even the monks’ personal writings are read today. They were by far the scholars of their time. They would also re-write great works like the Bible because it wasn’t like they could mass produce books back then so it was up to monks to use ink to create new copies. Could you imagine getting the assignment of re-writing the Bible word for word? Good thing War & Peace wasn’t around back then.