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Dark Ages: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Vinicius Pereira

Vinicius has taught History for elementary and high school students and is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin.

The term Dark Ages, often used as a synonym for Middle Ages, was a period of almost a thousand years. Today we are going to explore this long period and discover why people called it dark, why it was not that dark, and how it is divided.

Naming the Dark Ages

In the 1330s, a man named Petrarch (pronounced Pe-trark) wrote a book comparing the current culture with that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Petrarch believed the ancient civilizations were a model, a period of light. By comparison, he believed the culture, economy and society that came afterwards were inferior to those of the Greeks and Romans. As time passed, Petrarch's idea became popular and so did the name Dark Ages.

Petrarch
Petrarch

Early Dark Ages

The Dark Ages begin with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Wars between barbarian tribes broke out all over Europe as those tribes tried to conquer the territory that had once been part of the Roman Empire. People ran away from Roman cities and sought protection in citadels (fortresses) and castles in the countryside. Things began to change around 800 CE when Charlemagne, King of the Franks, became the Holy Roman Emperor. He created written laws and schools and revived the cultural life of his time. His empire was one of the largest in world history.

Western (red) and Eastern (purple) Roman Empires
Division Roman Empire

High Dark Ages

Around the year 1000 CE, wars became less common, and a large part of the population was protected from harm on feudal estates called fiefs. Fiefs were large properties owned by nobles that hosted thousands of peasants. In exchange for protection, peasants farmed the noble's lands, paid taxes and swore allegiance to the owner of the fief. Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe. By the end of this period, almost all kings, nobles and peasants had converted to Christianity.

Late Dark Ages

Things were going well until 1315 CE. In the spring of that year, bad weather destroyed crops all over Europe. The farms did not produce enough to feed the growing population, and thousands died of hunger between 1315 and 1317. Wars became common again, and between 1346 and 1353, the Black Death, a disease spread by flea-ridden rats, killed around 25 million people. The Dark Ages came to an end in 1453 with the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire and the conquest of its capital, Constantinople.

Doctor during the Black Death
Middle Ages Doctor

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