Discovery of New Worlds - M. B. Synge

The Dark Ages

"The old order changeth, yielding place to new."


The next few hundred years are known to history as the Dark Ages. It seemed as if the world were falling into chaos. The Western Empire had fallen, the Eastern stood on no too sure foundation. Europe had lost her guide and her rudder: the central power was gone.

No firm decrees now went forth from the Roman emperor, for Roman emperor there was none. No legions bearing the Roman Eagle guarded the boundaries of the Rhine and the Danube, for boundary there was none. The last Roman, standing at the stern of his departing vessel, had waved his sad "Farewell, Britain," on his recall to protect the capital against the Goths. The strong arms of Rome were powerless.

And over all her lost country surged the savage hordes of barbarians, fighting their way ever westwards and southwards, settling here, invading there, now driving a weaker tribe before them as the Huns had driven the Goths, now even sailing across the sea to attack some new territory on the outskirts of the empire.

"The barbarians chase us into the sea," groaned the Britons helplessly; "the sea throws us back upon the barbarians, and we have only the hard choice left us of perishing by the sword or the waves."

This was but the expression of many whom the fall of Rome had exposed to the attack of these wild marauders.

These barbarians appeared under various names. There was a powerful tribe, under the name of Vandals, who had already overrun Gaul and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain. From thence they crossed the Mediterranean into Africa. They ravaged the fair coast washed by that great blue inland sea, devastated town after town, and finally took possession of Carthage—the Carthage of Cyprian—which ranked as the Rome of the African world. It was now conquered by the Vandals, and with it the conquest of North Africa was complete.

"Whither shall we sail now?" asked the pilot on board the Vandal ship that was bearing the chief away from Carthage.

"Sail against those with whom God is angry," was the fierce answer.

From time to time during these dark rude ages a savage figure stands out stronger than his fellows to do and dare, a man with more ambition or more determination to conquer and kill.

"For what fortress, what city, can hope to exist if it is our pleasure that it should be erased from the earth?" cried one such man, Attila, in whom the wild Huns had found an able king.

For a time he swept all before him. Passing through Germany to Gaul, he would fain have burst through the barrier of the river Loire, but Theodoric King of the Goths arose and showed himself the equal of Attila the Hun—the Scourge of God, as he was called.

So these wandering nations moved about in search of a home, a fatherland, a city, and a state. All the while they were learning the great lessons that Rome had taught: they were coming into contact with civilised people, and they were becoming civilised themselves. And not only this, but Christian teaching, spreading rapidly now from Constantinople, was playing its part too in the progress of the world's history.

For the moment it seemed as if everything was at a standstill. There were no new schools, the children were untaught. No new highways were forthcoming on land or sea. Everything was dead, lifeless, dreary. "It was as if a torrent of mud had spread over the smiling fields, burying beneath it the fair flowers and rich crops of learning and art so diligently sown by the Greeks."

But a far grander life than Rome could ever have made possible was to spread over the whole of Europe, westward and ever westward, till at length it should reach the yet unknown land beyond the Atlantic. It was with the story of nations as the poet Tennyson tells us it is with the story of man—

"For all we thought and loved and did

And hoped and suffered, is but seed

Of what in them is flower and fruit."