Wells, Peter. Barbarians to Angel: The Dark Ages Reconsidered.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008Barbarians to Angels written by Peter Wells is an enlightening read that sheds light on to what really went on during “The Dark Ages”.
The written word during 400-800 AD came from educated citizens of the Roman Empire and their recount could be judgmental. Many historians are led to believe that Barbarians destroyed Roman and everyone suffered from acts of violence, a mass migration, disease, starvation, and this was the way of life for hundreds of years. But Peter Wells goes beyond the information in the written accounts and looks at the actual archaeological evidence.
He uses this information to help visualize life that went on during this period of time that will prove that the Dark Ages was anything but dark. Some of the archaeological evidence Wells got his information was from settlement ruins, burial and sacrificial finds. The items that were found reveal to us that these people were getting on with their lives and adapting. These people create great works of art, developed expansive trade networks, lived mostly peaceful lives, and even invented the deep plow. Wells also used bodies that have been recovered.
These bodies show that, in life, they seem to be well fed, and it gives us an idea of the average height of males and females. The condition of their teeth shows that they were in good health.Even the food residues show levels of nutrition consistent with small but healthy populations. In several of the chapters Wells talks about the different cities that were a part of the Roman Emperor. With the Dark Ages people think of people migrating and having no place to live but archeological evidence shows that there were permanent settlements in Europe. In these chapters, Wells lays out evidence of the continuous occupation and the growth of these cities that were once a part of the Roman Emperor.
The architecture of Rome, which is repeated throughout the empire, is most vividly in his description of Roman London. This city had its own amphitheater, forum, and basilica, this era comes to an end. But over time some of these building would be torn down to make room for other uses and the some of the larger stones would be reused. Wells see’s this as another example of how life didn’t stop just continued on differently. The studies of these cities reveal that there was continuity from one generation to the next and not abrupt declines followed brilliant discoveries. Wells points out several times throughout the book and he even uses a whole chapter to talk about Religion. The way Wells stresses that even though the declared religion is Christianity people still used or practiced their beliefs from before. Wells does use archaeological evidence to back this up from the burial sites, burial practices in Christian literature, artwork, and mythological themes hidden with Christian imagery.
This evidence shows that the general public was very slow to accept proper Christian practice, and even those converted rulers held to traditions too. The book makes one think about how long and how many of these traditions survived. Wells even states in the book on pages 184-185, “Wearing or carrying charms, saying prayer before meals, decorating Christmas trees, coloring eggs at Easter, and tossing coins into fountains are parts of practices that were carried out by the prehistoric Peoples of Europe. What people think today when they toss their pennies, dimes, and quarters into the water may not be very different from what eighth-century Britons thought as they threw their swords in to the Thames at London.”All the archeological evidence that Wells writes about in this book does support the growing belief that the collapse of empires and civilizations does not necessarily happen over night or because of one war.
These declines or changes happen over many years are the results of breakdowns in laws, uncertainty and or natural disasters. The original thoughts associated with the Dark Ages such as famine, war, and disease has been proven to be not so dark after all. This is a very good book for someone who would like to get the entire picture of what really was going on during 400-800 AD. Peter Wells does a great job of writing this in a way that you can visualize how life changed.