Quick question on the dark age

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Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 01:27am

OK, I tried to read books whenever I can, however, in regards to the dark ages, this seems to be a confusing period.

A lot of people have painted this era as an age of chaos, with people turning into 'savages' and so on, the lost of knowledge and so on and how it impact or stall the development of Humanity at that point. ( Nevermind if China, the Eastern Empire and Persia is doing rather well)

Then another group of people said that the dark age is a period in time, where many history records is lost and this is simply a period which no one really knew about.

So can any more educated members help and paint a correct and simply version of what the dark ages is like?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2008-11-18 06:21am

It really depends on what part of it you look at. I've always though the "Dark Age" was the period after the final fall of the Western Roman Empire (although it was a formality at that point), and the rise of Charlemagne in the late 700s/early 800s. After Charlemagne, you start getting into the Middle Ages, where more organized feudalism, trade, and the like really starts growing.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 07:08am

So what happen between the fall of the Western empire and the rise of the Holy Roman empire? Is there really lots of chaos all around and so on?

I know Justinan tried to rebuild the Roman empire, however, is the sistuation in Europe really that bad? The loss of knowledge and so forth?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 07:09am

Well, in general, these are the characteristics of what we consider the dark ages:

- no central authority about Western Europe (the greatest difference IMO, the following things are direct effects of that)
- the end of peaceful life. Unlike in the Roman empire, no one was really safe from invasion or attack
- the erosion of law, unlike in the roman days going to a court was no longer an option since there was no general law
- a steep decline in population, the effects of which Western Europe had not recovered of until the 18th century (only then was any economy able to support a city with a million inhabitants; for those who are guessing, it was London who broke the barrier at the end of the 18th century. Yeah, that's right, it took 13 centuries and industrialization to achieve a feat the romans managed to do, and even then it was only focused in one city and not in five or six as the romans managed).
- the rise of Islam and the triumph of christianity in the west
- the destruction of cities. Look at a map of the cities of the roman empire and then look at a map of cities in the dark ages. I'd wager about 70-90% of cities were destroyed or reduced to villages.
- a sharp decline in literacy, with the end result that only the church and a select number of elite could read and write, and even that was not up to the standards of old - when a Papal delegation visited the Eastern Roman empire, the two sides were unable to understand each other because the Papal delegation couldn't understand greek and their latin was of poor quality
- a drop in knowledge, especially engineering and the arts.
- the destruction of libraries, be it via the church, war or disasters
- the establishment of monasteries as the only centers of knowledge, although they engaged in the destruction of it as well
- a collapse of the economy, especially the abandonment of the mediterranean as "mare internum".
- a reduction in breeding and feeding techniques of cattle. The size of cattle in the roman age was about 90% of what it is today. In the dark ages that figure dropped to about 30-40%.
- devestation and the abandonment of entire strips of land
- plagues, no doubt assisted by the loss of sanitary conditions

A few caveats are in order, though:
- the above points are broad overgeneralizations. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a single area where everyone of those things happened
- Exceptions are many and widespread.
- This is written from a western perspective and completely ignores the ERE and of course the emerging arab states
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 07:18am

ray245 wrote:So what happen between the fall of the Western empire and the rise of the Holy Roman empire? Is there really lots of chaos all around and so on?

I know Justinan tried to rebuild the Roman empire, however, is the sistuation in Europe really that bad? The loss of knowledge and so forth?
See my post above. The most striking examples I always bring up in class are the following:

- when the romans ruled Europe, there were at least five cities that could be proclaimed to be metropoleis - Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage. Rome had a population over one million, some estimates even saying over 2 million. It took over 13 centuries and industrialization (which the romans never had) for western europe to be able to support a city like that again - London in the later 18th century.
- Cattle. The size of cattle is an indication of the wealth and knowledge of society. The size dropped from 90% of today to 30-50% during the dark/middle ages and only got back up to Roman size during the 19th century.
- the romans were able to supply every citizen with 200 liters of fresh spring waters per day, even in a border city like Cologne. Even today, modern civilization is unable to match that feat, modern water consumption is about 175 liters per day and user and that includes the use of industrial products.
- Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 08:46am

Thanas wrote:Well, in general, these are the characteristics of what we consider the dark ages:

- no central authority about Western Europe (the greatest difference IMO, the following things are direct effects of that)
- the end of peaceful life. Unlike in the Roman empire, no one was really safe from invasion or attack
- the erosion of law, unlike in the roman days going to a court was no longer an option since there was no general law
- a steep decline in population, the effects of which Western Europe had not recovered of until the 18th century (only then was any economy able to support a city with a million inhabitants; for those who are guessing, it was London who broke the barrier at the end of the 18th century. Yeah, that's right, it took 13 centuries and industrialization to achieve a feat the romans managed to do, and even then it was only focused in one city and not in five or six as the romans managed).
- the rise of Islam and the triumph of christianity in the west
- the destruction of cities. Look at a map of the cities of the roman empire and then look at a map of cities in the dark ages. I'd wager about 70-90% of cities were destroyed or reduced to villages.
- a sharp decline in literacy, with the end result that only the church and a select number of elite could read and write, and even that was not up to the standards of old - when a Papal delegation visited the Eastern Roman empire, the two sides were unable to understand each other because the Papal delegation couldn't understand greek and their latin was of poor quality
- a drop in knowledge, especially engineering and the arts.
- the destruction of libraries, be it via the church, war or disasters
- the establishment of monasteries as the only centers of knowledge, although they engaged in the destruction of it as well
- a collapse of the economy, especially the abandonment of the mediterranean as "mare internum".
- a reduction in breeding and feeding techniques of cattle. The size of cattle in the roman age was about 90% of what it is today. In the dark ages that figure dropped to about 30-40%.
- devestation and the abandonment of entire strips of land
- plagues, no doubt assisted by the loss of sanitary conditions

A few caveats are in order, though:
- the above points are broad overgeneralizations. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a single area where everyone of those things happened
- Exceptions are many and widespread.
- This is written from a western perspective and completely ignores the ERE and of course the emerging arab states
I've heard from some people saying that the transformation was started due to the 3rd century crisis, the number of civil wars and etc bascially cause cities to regress and cause the disruption of the trade routes.

- Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
I wonder how clean the water is, given that there is no modern sanitation that can make a swimming pool clean.

I think in comparision to a river, a river is cleaner because a river is actually moving, washing away and carrying away all the dirts on your body.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Fingolfin_Noldor » 2008-11-18 08:55am

ray245 wrote:I've heard from some people saying that the transformation was started due to the 3rd century crisis, the number of civil wars and etc bascially cause cities to regress and cause the disruption of the trade routes.
The far flung parts of Europe possibly suffered that, but I believe during the time of Constantine, things revived a bit. Of course, things steadily spiraled downwards in the West after Constantine's death.
I wonder how clean the water is, given that there is no modern sanitation that can make a swimming pool clean.
Clean enough that Rome was very well populated, disease was manageable and could support large populations that no city in Europe could achieve again for hundreds of years, with the exception of cities in the East like Constantinople.
I think in comparision to a river, a river is cleaner because a river is actually moving, washing away and carrying away all the dirts on your body.
You are forgetting that the rivers back then didn't have an industrial waste. Water was delivered to cities via massive aqueducts, like this one in Constantinople (present day Istanbul).

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They are sloped by the way. And I took this last year when I visited Istanbul (gloriously nice place, really).
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 09:06am

ray245 wrote:I've heard from some people saying that the transformation was started due to the 3rd century crisis, the number of civil wars and etc bascially cause cities to regress and cause the disruption of the trade routes.
Source?
- Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
I wonder how clean the water is, given that there is no modern sanitation that can make a swimming pool clean.

I think in comparision to a river, a river is cleaner because a river is actually moving, washing away and carrying away all the dirts on your body.
This was spring water. The same water Europeans drink today. Did you even read what I was saying about the water consumption?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 09:06am

Fingolfin_Noldor wrote:
ray245 wrote:I've heard from some people saying that the transformation was started due to the 3rd century crisis, the number of civil wars and etc bascially cause cities to regress and cause the disruption of the trade routes.
The far flung parts of Europe possibly suffered that, but I believe during the time of Constantine, things revived a bit. Of course, things steadily spiraled downwards in the West after Constantine's death.
Wrong.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Fingolfin_Noldor » 2008-11-18 09:20am

Thanas wrote:Wrong.
Maybe I mixed up the dates or something, but I remember one of my lecturers saying that trade in Gaul came to a stand still with all the civil wars fought. :?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 09:35am

Thanas wrote: Source?
It comes from a historical discussion over at Total war Center, that theory sounds logical, however I could not find any source regarding it. Total war center seems to have a decent number of good historian in my opinion despite the fact that there are many wankers around.

I thought you know something more about that theory and feel free to correct me.
This was spring water. The same water Europeans drink today. Did you even read what I was saying about the water consumption?
I know the water used at the start is clean and heated, however, after so many people bathing in it, it is bound to get dirty sooner or later.

Do you have any source telling how often did the Romans clean and change the water in their baths?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 10:37am

Fingolfin_Noldor wrote:
Thanas wrote:Wrong.
Maybe I mixed up the dates or something, but I remember one of my lecturers saying that trade in Gaul came to a stand still with all the civil wars fought. :?
Yeah, and then it came to a stand still when the Alamanni invaded during Julian. The point is that we are talking about extremely long periods of time here - several hundred years in fact. To use that theory is about on the same level as a guy claiming in 500 years that because trade came to a stand still during WWII there was no trade at all. In anyway, to claim that the west was on a downward spiral since Constantine is quite wrong considering that the west was arguably better defended since Julian and that Ammianus Marcellinus talks in great detail about the recovery measures undertaken by Julian.

Heck, one theory by Peter Heather even goes so far as to argue that the west was the richer and better defended part of the empire until the fifth century and I am inclined to agree with that considering that the western half of the empire could support feeding the population of Rome for free. Unlike the east, where the population always had to pay for food, the people of Rome got theirs for free or heavily subsidized.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 10:41am

ray245 wrote:
Thanas wrote: Source?
It comes from a historical discussion over at Total war Center, that theory sounds logical, however I could not find any source regarding it. Total war center seems to have a decent number of good historian in my opinion despite the fact that there are many wankers around.

I thought you know something more about that theory and feel free to correct me.
Well, what theory exactly? This is why I was asking for the source, because it reads to me like one of the old theories of perpetual decline which are pretty much debunked nowadays.
ray245 wrote:
Thanas wrote:This was spring water. The same water Europeans drink today. Did you even read what I was saying about the water consumption?
I know the water used at the start is clean and heated, however, after so many people bathing in it, it is bound to get dirty sooner or later.

Do you have any source telling how often did the Romans clean and change the water in their baths?
Several times daily, since Rome used 300 L per inhabitant, Cologne about 200 L per inhabitant. Also note that the Thermae had different sections and baths and that some water was apparently heated up to 40° Celsius.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 11:03am

Thanas wrote:
ray245 wrote:
Thanas wrote: Source?
It comes from a historical discussion over at Total war Center, that theory sounds logical, however I could not find any source regarding it. Total war center seems to have a decent number of good historian in my opinion despite the fact that there are many wankers around.

I thought you know something more about that theory and feel free to correct me.
Well, what theory exactly? This is why I was asking for the source, because it reads to me like one of the old theories of perpetual decline which are pretty much debunked nowadays.
Oh ok, seems like I need to be more critical.

By the way, (this might be a little off topic) but how popular was the Western Roman empire when it is going to fall? Its popularity among the germanic people and so forth.

Does people still hate the Romans with a passion? Or are they indifferent towards the Western empire?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 12:11pm

ray245 wrote:Oh ok, seems like I need to be more critical.
Well, it could be one of the new theories being tossed around, but I would need a source for it.
ray245 wrote:By the way, (this might be a little off topic) but how popular was the Western Roman empire when it is going to fall? Its popularity among the germanic people and so forth.

Does people still hate the Romans with a passion? Or are they indifferent towards the Western empire?
Depends. The germans were not a united front. We have the Franks, Alamanni, Saxons,Burgundians, Thuringians and goths as the big players, who are in turn divided into numerous tribes themselves (The Alamanni for example had at least six different tribes) and then you have a lot of other smaller independent tribes like the Scirii, Frisii or Rugii. All of them had different policies WRT to the Empire - some were client states dependant on Roman support, others were allies, enemies etc...

All in all, almost every tribe however did acknowledge the superior civilization and way of life of the Romans, although that of course did not dictate foreign policy (if such a word is even applicable here), after all the response can range from "hey, let's raid them" to "let's become Romans ourselves".

Note however that the Romans allowed huge masses of germans to settle in the empire. These were split up and then quickly assimilated. It is quite funny that most people only recognize the hostile tribes but disregard the centuries of peaceful immigration and integration into the empire. People were willing to give up the tribal identity in order to become roman citizens. One must remember that nationalism did not exist yet.

A prominent example of that process are the goths, who were willing to subject to roman rule...until the Romans messed that up. The end result of that was Adrianople. Had the Romans been succesful in their handling of that, the goths would most likely have become either loyal clients or roman citizens and then they would have disappeared from history like so many tribes we only know of through fragments.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by ray245 » 2008-11-18 12:40pm

Thanas wrote:
ray245 wrote:Oh ok, seems like I need to be more critical.
Well, it could be one of the new theories being tossed around, but I would need a source for it.
I'll try my best and find the discussion where the person brought up that idea.

I was wondering, has anyone written books and sources describing why we don't have a lot of recorded history about Britian during the dark ages?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Akhlut » 2008-11-18 01:40pm

Thanas wrote:- when the romans ruled Europe, there were at least five cities that could be proclaimed to be metropoleis - Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage. Rome had a population over one million, some estimates even saying over 2 million. It took over 13 centuries and industrialization (which the romans never had) for western europe to be able to support a city like that again - London in the later 18th century.
Didn't the middle three cities maintain large populations for a while after the collapse of the WRE? I know that Antioch suffered a lot due to being sacked by the Sassanids and Arabs several times, but I thought Constantinople and Alexandria retained large populations for a long time (until the the Seljuks started conquering Anatolia for Constantinople; I don't know much about Alexanderia after the Fatimids started ruling Egypt).
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 02:21pm

Akhlut wrote:
Thanas wrote:- when the romans ruled Europe, there were at least five cities that could be proclaimed to be metropoleis - Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage. Rome had a population over one million, some estimates even saying over 2 million. It took over 13 centuries and industrialization (which the romans never had) for western europe to be able to support a city like that again - London in the later 18th century.
Didn't the middle three cities maintain large populations for a while after the collapse of the WRE? I know that Antioch suffered a lot due to being sacked by the Sassanids and Arabs several times, but I thought Constantinople and Alexandria retained large populations for a long time (until the the Seljuks started conquering Anatolia for Constantinople; I don't know much about Alexanderia after the Fatimids started ruling Egypt).
Constantinople grew, Antioch suffered a lot as you said. Alexandria is a more complex case, but the general feeling is that it suffered a lot due to the intolerance of the christians and also the loss of trade with the western empire. The Jewish quarters for example seem to be entirely abandoned by the fifth century.
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-18 02:39pm

ray245 wrote:
Thanas wrote:
ray245 wrote:Oh ok, seems like I need to be more critical.
Well, it could be one of the new theories being tossed around, but I would need a source for it.
I'll try my best and find the discussion where the person brought up that idea.

I was wondering, has anyone written books and sources describing why we don't have a lot of recorded history about Britian during the dark ages?
Sure. There are many worthwhile essays in the publication "Britannia", which is solely dedicated to the subject of the roman province and the aftermath. Also, the following works might interest you:

Alcock, L., Arthur's Britain: History and Archaeology AD 367 - 634, Harmondsworth 1971 has become somewhat of a classic. Professor Alcock was probably the leading dark age archeologist in Britain. It is also a very nice read.
Wood, I., The Fall of the Western Empire and the End of Roman Britain, Britannia XVIII, 1987 Higham, N., Rome, Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, London 1992.
Dark, K.,
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by erik_t » 2008-11-18 08:50pm

Thanas wrote: - the romans were able to supply every citizen with 200 liters of fresh spring waters per day, even in a border city like Cologne. Even today, modern civilization is unable to match that feat, modern water consumption is about 175 liters per day and user and that includes the use of industrial products.
- Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
"Citizen" or "inhabitant"? You've used both, and it's an important distinction when talking about Rome.

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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Duckie » 2008-11-19 03:16am

The dark ages weren't a total wash for scientific discovery either- new farming techniques, tools, windmills, etc. were invented during them. However, it was significantly a crappier time than Roman Times despite the slow, grudging advance of technology, since what was once lost had to be reclaimed in addition to anything new.

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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Adrian Laguna » 2008-11-19 03:38am

Thanas wrote:- the romans were able to supply every citizen with 200 liters of fresh spring waters per day, even in a border city like Cologne. Even today, modern civilization is unable to match that feat, modern water consumption is about 175 liters per day and user and that includes the use of industrial products.
That is not a fair comparison, modern society needs to distribute fresh water amongst a much larger population, and water usage is more efficient now than during classical times.

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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by hongi » 2008-11-19 04:01am

Thanas wrote: - Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
As everyone knows, the public bath system was a huge part of Roman culture. It might be equally the case that with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent degredation of Roman culture, the cultural practice of frequent bathing went along with it. So I'm not sure that the loss of daily bathing can be used as conclusive evidence for the backwardsness of the Western European access to water.

Though I'm not disputing the fact that the Middle Ages measured poorly to Roman water engineering, so sorry for the quibbling!
That is not a fair comparison, modern society needs to distribute fresh water amongst a much larger population, and water usage is more efficient now than during classical times.
Moreover, I'm pretty sure the average Roman citizen got his/her water through street fountains that were not and could not be moderated in flow, so although the amount that Rome recieved daily is impressive to say the least (something like 1.2 million cubic metres of water a day), that doesn't necessarily prove the Romans were superior to us.

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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Thanas » 2008-11-19 08:19am

erik_t wrote:
Thanas wrote: - the romans were able to supply every citizen with 200 liters of fresh spring waters per day, even in a border city like Cologne. Even today, modern civilization is unable to match that feat, modern water consumption is about 175 liters per day and user and that includes the use of industrial products.
- Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
"Citizen" or "inhabitant"? You've used both, and it's an important distinction when talking about Rome.
Well, it would depend on the time period, considering that slaves were not always allowed in the baths. Also note that this strictly speaks of city baths, of course in the countryside baths are only found in villae and military posts.
MRDOD wrote:The dark ages weren't a total wash for scientific discovery either- new farming techniques, tools, windmills, etc. were invented during them. However, it was significantly a crappier time than Roman Times despite the slow, grudging advance of technology, since what was once lost had to be reclaimed in addition to anything new.
Could you elaborate a bit more on that? AFAIK new farming technologies started only to surface after the early middle ages (after 800 AD).
Adrian Laguna wrote:
Thanas wrote:- the romans were able to supply every citizen with 200 liters of fresh spring waters per day, even in a border city like Cologne. Even today, modern civilization is unable to match that feat, modern water consumption is about 175 liters per day and user and that includes the use of industrial products.
That is not a fair comparison, modern society needs to distribute fresh water amongst a much larger population, and water usage is more efficient now than during classical times.
I think it is a fair comparison WRT to the technological prowess of a nation.
hongi wrote:
Thanas wrote: - Every roman citizen bathed at least once a day.
As everyone knows, the public bath system was a huge part of Roman culture. It might be equally the case that with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent degredation of Roman culture, the cultural practice of frequent bathing went along with it. So I'm not sure that the loss of daily bathing can be used as conclusive evidence for the backwardsness of the Western European access to water.
No, the loss of daily bathing is directly related to the loss of the Therme system due to the destruction of aquaducts and the heating system. A Therme had to be constantly heated, for example. And considering that the barbarians didn't outnumber the indigenous romans (in fact, the entire barbarian invaders barely outnumber the highest population estimate of Rome itself) kinda makes it doubtful that the culture changed that significantly.
Moreover, I'm pretty sure the average Roman citizen got his/her water through street fountains that were not and could not be moderated in flow, so although the amount that Rome recieved daily is impressive to say the least (something like 1.2 million cubic metres of water a day), that doesn't necessarily prove the Romans were superior to us.
Of course they weren't technologically superior, though I wonder how many westerners bathe daily for over an hour of time. The question is less than one of technological superiority than one of scale. Considering the time and especially the living conditions in the neighbouring states, can we claim a similar superiority to our neighbours today?
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Re: Quick question on the dark age

Post by Duckie » 2008-11-19 10:40am

Thanas wrote:
MRDOD wrote:The dark ages weren't a total wash for scientific discovery either- new farming techniques, tools, windmills, etc. were invented during them. However, it was significantly a crappier time than Roman Times despite the slow, grudging advance of technology, since what was once lost had to be reclaimed in addition to anything new.
Could you elaborate a bit more on that? AFAIK new farming technologies started only to surface after the early middle ages (after 800 AD).
Er, you're right. My mistake. I lumped in tech advances of the middle ages with the dark ages because people assume that neither had progress and so I just note 'windmills' whenever someone says it. But that doesn't apply to the dark ages. Can't say I can think of a single development then in anything I know ow.

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