The Dark Ages

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When Civilization Lost Its Way
Sunday, March 4th at 9pm/8c only on The History Channel.

After the fall of Rome and before the rebirth of the Renaissance, Europe survived six centuries of continental revolution characterized by famine, plague and bloodshed -- a time known as the Dark Ages. At its worst, life in the Dark Ages was miserable, brutish and -- for the fortunate -- short. But through the darkness shone scattered rays of light, men and women who tended the flame of progress while the world around them descended into chaos. Those points of light brought about the footprint of modern Europe both politically and culturally. The two-hour special THE DARK AGES explores the unprecedented period spanning the fall of Rome and Europe’s “medieval awakening.” THE DARK AGES premieres Sunday, March 4th at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The History Channel.

Highlights of THE DARK AGES include the following:

  • In 410 A.D., for the first time in more than 700 years, Rome came under siege. An army from the northern stretches of Germany known as the Visigoths descended on the walled city, starving it into submission and catalyzing the fall of the empire.

  • In 496 A.D., Clovis, the king of the Franks, renounced his pagan roots and became a Christian. Brutal as it was, his reign proved to be a stabilizing force in dark and dangerous times. Clovis also laid the foundation for a new dynasty called the Merovingians -- famous today as the supposed protectors of Christ’s bloodline in The Da Vinci Code.

  • In 533 A.D., under the ambitious Emperor Justinian, a formidable Roman army set out to wrest back control of the western territories from the barbarians and restore the Roman Empire to its former glory. But when riots in Constantinople left the empire hanging by a thread, the Empress Theodora galvanized her husband to crush the uprising. Justinian maintained his hold on power by luring 30,000 rebels into a horseracing stadium and ordering their slaughter.

  • In 542 A.D., rats on a cargo ship delivered an unseen enemy -- the bubonic plague -- into the heart of the resurgent empire. For three weeks, the death rate in Constantinople was 10,000 per day. The plague decimated up to half of the world’s population and, with it, Justinian’s dream of a reunited Rome.

  • In 732 A.D., at Tours, France, an army of erstwhile farmers led by Frankish general Charles “the Hammer” Martel repulsed a mighty Moorish invasion sweeping the continent in the name of the prophet Mohammed. The dramatic battle between the Christians and the Moors was a defining factor in Europe’s spiritual and political future.

  • In 793 A.D., the Vikings unleashed a campaign of slaughter and pillage on Great Britain, attacking the wealthy and unprotected monastery at Lindesfarne. After plundering the English at will for nearly a century, they finally met their match in the warrior-king Alfred the Great, and eventually were expunged from England once and for all.

  • Around 800 A.D., Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles Martel, did much to pull Europe out of the trenches of darkness–building schools, emphasizing education and even trying to learn how to read and write himself. In his reign, he nearly doubled the size of his kingdom, converted countless pagans to Christianity and sparked the first real cultural renaissance in more than three centuries.

  • In 1095 A.D., in an effort to liberate the Holy Land from non-Christian forces that had conquered it centuries earlier, Pope Urban II launched the first of nine crusades that would play out across Arabia for the next 200 years. Although the crusaders made no permanent conquests, the crusades spawned a rebirth of trade and architecture unseen in Europe since the fall of Rome -- factors that contributed to Europe’s medieval awakening and Renaissance.
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