Dark Ages
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…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.

Basic Information

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.


See Also

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.

1. Age of Migrations on the other wiki - sometimes known as the volkswanderung.

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.
  • Key themes for this era are "we can't do that anymore" and "we don't have that" - civilizational and economic collapse has lead to an era of poverty and desolation where surviving Roman buildings are patched with wattle-and-daub, a suit of metal armour is a major treasure in its own right and great works of art are sawn up for hacksilver.
  • This actually makes sense as a background for the sort of world in which most fantasy RPGs seem to enjoy being set …
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