The Roman Empire was vast, covering all the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea, westward to Hispania (the Iberian peninsula), northwest through Gaul (France) to England, and eastward through the Balkans to the southern coasts of the Black Sea.  Pax Romana – Roman peace and order – prevailed.   Emperor Constantine made Constantinople the capital from 330, and thereafter the empire essentially consisted of a western part under Rome, and an eastern part under Constantinople.

The Dark Ages is a term for the 5th–10th centuries in Western Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. 

From the late fourth century a flood of immigrating Goths and other non-Roman peoples fleeing from the Huns assailed the Roman empire.  Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410, and during the fifth century barbarian kingdoms established themselves in much of the western empire.  In 476 the last western emperor was deposed by a barbarian, who proclaimed himself ruler of Italy and sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople.  The western empire never recovered, but the eastern – the Byzantine empire – persisted, against continuing attrition from the Turks, until 1453.

After the sacking of Rome, Classical Civilization went into economic, intellectual, and cultural decline, especially during the seventh century.  It took about three hundred years to see Europe rebound in the Middle Ages.

What Muslim scholars claim

Muslim scholars and many western historians blame the decline of Europe on the barbarian invasions of Rome in the fifth century, before the rise of Islam. 

Muslims claim that there was a golden age that started in Spain and it was Islam that drove the European enlightenment and brought Europe out of the Dark Ages. Let’s look at what was happening in the decaying Roman empire.

The rise of Islam

The rise of Islam from the early seventh century was astonishingly rapid.  When Mohammed died in 632, all Arabia had become Muslim.  By 661, with the death of the last of the four “rightly guided caliphs,” the Holy Land, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Libya had all been conquered.  (Conquest of the Levant began in 634, Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes were soon captured, and victory was complete by 638.)   Spain and Portugal were invaded and conquered from 711-720.

Islam’s advance through France was only stopped by Charles Martel in 732 at the Battle of Tours – a pivotal event in European history, as was the Battle of Vienna in 1683, when the Ottoman advance into central Europe was halted.

The Muslim narrative about the Dark Ages is disputed

During the 1920s Belgian historian Henri Pirenne came to an astonishing conclusion:  the ancient classical civilization, which Rome had established throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world, was not destroyed by the Barbarians who invaded the western provinces in the fifth century, but by the Arabs.  Their conquest of the Middle East and North Africa terminated Roman civilization in those regions and cut off Europe from any further trading and cultural contact with the East.

According to Pirenne, his research showed that it was only in the mid-seventh century that the characteristic features of classical life disappeared from Europe, after which time the continent began to develop its own distinctive and somewhat primitive medieval culture.

Pirenne’s findings, published posthumously in his Mohammed et Charlemagne (1937), were highly controversial, for by the late nineteenth century many historians were accepting the view that the Arabs were actually a civilizing force who rekindled the light of classical learning in Europe after it had been extinguished by the Goths, Vandals and Huns in the fifth century.  Pirenne’s critics strove to refute him. As late as the early 1980s, English archaeologists Richard Hodges and David Whitehouse, in their book Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe, argued that classical civilization was already dead in Europe by the time of the Arab conquests, and that the Arabs arrived on the scene as civilizers rather than destroyers. 

Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited

In January 2012 the historian Emmet Scott wrote Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited reviewing the evidence put forward by Hodges and Whitehouse in the light of more recent findings of archaeology. 

The newer evidence found by Scott shows that classical civilization was not dead in Europe at the start of the seventh century, but was actually experiencing something of a revival.  Populations and towns were beginning to grow again for the first time since this second century – a development apparently attributable largely to the spread of Christianity.  In addition, the real centres of classical civilization, in the Middle East, were experiencing an unprecedented Golden Age at the time, with cities larger and more prosperous than ever before. 

Excavation has shown that these centres were destroyed thoroughly and completely by the Arab conquests, with many never again reoccupied.  And it was precisely then, says Scott, that Europe’s classical culture also disappeared, with the abandonment of the undefended lowland villas and farms of the Roman period and a retreat to fortified hilltop settlements; the first medieval castles.

For Scott, archaeology demonstrated that the Arabs did indeed blockade the Mediterranean through piracy and slave-raiding, just as Pirenne had claimed, and he argues that the disappearance of papyrus from Europe was an infallible proof of this.  This was a great hit against literacy and learning, as parchment (animal skins) was much more expensive.

Whatever classical learning survived after this time, says Scott, was due almost entirely to the efforts of Christian monks.

The decline of Europe after Rome fell in 476 AD

While Italy itself suffered badly after the barbarian attacks, archaeology provides ample evidence of vibrant societies with strong building programmes in Spain, Gaul, Germany, Britain and even Ireland.  Literature flourished in many centres and Ireland became a centre of learning for Christianity.  The same was true for Byzantium and Persia.

Findings date the sudden decline to after 630 AD and not before as Muslims claim.

Emmet Scott claims the following based on recent archaeological evidence:

  1. Due to piracy on the Mediterranean after 630AD, all trade with the East ceased.
     
  2. Papyrus supply stopped and with it, literature and learning took a king hit, as parchment (a writing material made from specially prepared untanned skins of sheep, calves and goats) was expensive.  It was the monasteries which preserved knowledge and learning.

3. Pottery based on African Red Slip disappeared over Europe as trade was stopped.  African red slip ware or Phoenician Red Slip ware, is a “fine” Phoenician pottery produced from the 7th century BC into the 7th century in the province of Africa Proconsularis, roughly coinciding with modern Tunisia and the Diocletianic provinces of Byzacena and Zeugitana.  African red slip ware was still widely distributed in the 5th century but after that time the volume of production and trade declined. While the latest forms continued into the 7th century and are found in such major cities as Constantinople and Marseille, the breakup of commercial contacts that typified the later 7th century coincides with the final decline of the African red slip industry.

4. Soda could not be sourced so glass manufacture stopped and this explains why there is a lack of archaeological evidence for this for three centuries.  (Soda Ash, sodium carbonate derived from common salt, is an essential element in glass formation, reducing the melting point and promoting energy efficiency.)

5. Constant coastal raiding by Muslim pirates devastated the rich agricultural lands and grazing of animals destroyed crops and irrigation channels.  Food production suffered and people retreated to hilltops behind walled towns for safety.

6. The destruction of agriculture and constant raiding resulted in the deposits of silt called Younger Fill which pervaded the coastal regions of the Mediterranean.

7. Muslims because of their beliefs lived off the kafir (infidel), stole whatever they could, destroyed buildings and crops and took many into slavery.  A fundamental precept of Islamic law is that Muslims occupy a privileged position and have a right to live off the labour of infidels (which we see today with rampant Islamic welfare parasitism in the West).  What Islam did bring to Europe was war and slavery, on a massive scale.  The House of Islam in the tenth century had little use for any of the produce and natural resources of Europe, except the bodies of the Europeans themselves.

8. Between 650 and 950 AD there is little evidence of buildings even in Cordoba which Muslims claim held 500,000 people and advanced science and philosophy.

Islam itself was to blame for the collapse of civilized Europe from around 630 to 640 AD, and piracy and slave trading prevented any recovery for hundreds of years. 

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