Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dark Ages

By Mark Noce

Not just a controversial nickname for the medieval period, I’m talking about true dark ages in history. Entire epochs where next to nothing has survived in writing or archaeology. Eras after the fall of Rome or Troy. Yet something must have been happening, right? People and life go on, don’t they?


I’m fascinated by these dark ages of history, and none more so than the early medieval periods in the British Isles, particularly the centuries from 400-700AD. An age of legends, like those of King Arthur and the Mabinogion. But what was actually happening then?

Here’s what we do know for certain. At least hundreds of thousands of people were living in the British Isles at the time, and what little archaeology remains from the time period suggest a backwardness in the movement of technology (i.e. no new stone fortifications were built, only older Roman ones were repaired or modified). Many habitations show signs of plunder and burning by fire. In addition, hoards of valuables were buried and later abandoned or forgotten (probably because something happened to their owners). Not an indication of a very peaceful time.

On top of that, writing sources are even more scarce. The most extensive primary source to survive from the 500s alone comes from the monk, St. Gildas – and his longest surviving manuscript is less than 50 pages! Even books and those writing them were not spared from the onslaught of barbarians, famines, and plagues.

Yet the local people clearly survived. Genetic evidence shows that despite genes mixing from various invaders, the overall population of Britain and Ireland is still largely descended from the initial Stone Age inhabitants who first populated those islands.

So what’s it all mean?


To me, it shows a resilience of the human spirit and the indomitable character of those villages and kingdoms scattered across England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland in the early medieval period. Despite the worst of conditions they still managed to survive, pass on their heritage to their children, and give birth to some of the most inspiring Arthurian legends we have today.

No small feat, and one that I think is worthy of their legacy and their descendants who live on in the rest of us to this day.     
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion. His medieval Welsh novel, Between Two Fires, comes out with Macmillan and St. Martin’s Press on August 23, 2016.

Learn more at marknoce.com or preorder his novel here.




20 comments:

  1. Lovely piece Mark. It is a Dark Age in so many ways, isn't it? When deciding when to place my novel 'Wulfsuna' a blank void in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles made the decision for me! Between the two entries detailing the leaving of the Romans and the arrival of Hengest and Horsa there are several 'dark' decades missing! I knew that was where I wanted my novel to be. Some might say I was drawn to the darkness and in a way I was, but the pen affords the writer the chance to illuminate doesn't it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Elaine! I saw your book and love the time period. Right up my alley:)

      Delete
  2. Before the Roman withdrawal Britannia had been converted to Christianity and produced the ascetic Pelagius. Britain sent three bishops to the Council of Arles in 314, and a Gaulish bishop went to the island in 396 to help settle disciplinary matters. Material remains testify to a growing presence of Christians, at least until around 360. After the Roman legions departed, pagan tribes settled the southern parts of the island while western Britain, beyond the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, remained Christian. This native British Church developed in isolation from Rome under the influence of missionaries from Ireland and was centred on monasteries instead of bishoprics. The Church and the Monks are the main reason for their survival. Thank you for posting your blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, John. Very true, and without the medieval church we'd probably know even less than we do now.

      Delete
  3. Scary to think there have been times when we went backwards. The only thing they really thought about preserving at the time were their own skins.
    At least the Bible survived all that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah, definitely a testament to the human spirit...and also what's worth preserving in even the worst of times.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great article. I devoted Regency and Age of Sail fan, you've won me over to considering reasons to be fascinated by this period of history as well. I'd never considered it from your perspective. How dark it must have been--and until we find evidence of light--I suppose we must lean on the legends and the imaginations of fiction authors such as yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Regency and the Age of Sail definitely are awesome too:) But yes, I find inspiration in the legends from these "darker" epochs of history.

      Delete
  6. Historian Michael Wood's In Search of the Dark Ages is a great read for those wanting to delve deeper into this fascinating period of history.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've always wondered what your average peasant must have thought of the old fortifications and if they understood much about the people who had lived there four or five generations before. The monks kept the history going but presumably it was not widely shared with the populace, and to a serf trying to put food on the table could not have been important.

    I have the hero of my current WIP living as a wildman after the Norman conquest with a camp built in an old Roman signal tower.
    'Home was the remains of a derelict watchtower built then abandoned by some bygone people Caddoc neither knew nor cared the name of.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love social history, especially since in any time line most to all of us would be the "peasantry." Sounds like you have a cool WIP going too:)

      Delete
  8. Really enjoyed your article, Mark. I too write in this period - it's a fascinating period of history that gives authors great creative scope!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweet! It's a pretty awesome setting for any story:)

      Delete
  9. Great write-up Mark. And I love the cover of your book. I always judge a book by its cover - must be the 'girlie' in me :) I'm looking forward to reading Between Two Fires. It's on my 'to read' list :) Wishing you lots of success.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nicola! I appreciate it and I'm sure you'll enjoy it if you like both history and a good romance:)

      Delete
  10. I adore British History, and have always been fascinated by the dark ages.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great job, Mark! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this subject. Can't wait until Between Two Fires comes out! :)

    ReplyDelete