…For the end of the world was long ago,
When the ends of the world waxed free,
When Rome was sunk in a waste of slaves,
And the sun drowned in the sea.
When Caesar's sun fell out of the sky
And whoso hearkened right
Could only hear the plunging
Of the nations into night…
From the Preface to The Ballad of the White Horse G.K. Chesterton.
An archaic term for the period of European history between the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire1 and the rise of the new nations (in at least the 7th Century AD and often later), often corresponding with the Age of Migrations (ca. AD 300-700). Partially because it is considered unecessarily pejorative, and partly because the boundaries are so fuzzy, the concept of the dark ages is increasingly disfavoured by modern historians who prefer to roll this era into the Middle Ages.
Broadly this is traditionally the period in which the 'barbarians' of the fall of Rome become the new civilised sucessor nations that will take part in the Middle Ages proper.
For example: The Saxons, displaced from their homelands in Germania invade the Roman province of Britannia and carve out new nations for themselves over several centuries of conflict with the native Romano-British. They are then invaded in their turn by the Norse, who establish the Danelaw and coexist with them for a time, eventually merging into a people just about recognisable as the early English. Likewise the Franks, settling Gaul in conflict with the Gallo-Romans and invaded in their turn by the Norse - who would later become the Normans.
Some character ideas appropriate to the era can be gleaned from the List of Medieval European Professions.
Bronze Age Collapse - a similar period around 1200 BC where most of the civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near East underwent a similar regression and period of migrations.
Game and Story Use
- This is a good place to set nasty, low tech campaigns with as much emphasis on survival as glory - an After the End scenario with swords rather than guns.
- Inspirations to include Bernard Cornwall's Warlord and Saxon cycles, Beowulf, The Seafarer and the like.