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(Courtesy of the great bastion of collective human knowledge, Wikipedia[1])

In the context of Britain, the Dark Ages (also known more formally as the Early Medieval Period) were the transitional period between the end of the Roman state (around AD 410) and the formation of historical kingdoms. In the eastern landmass – the geographic region that would eventually become England – various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerged in the 6th and 7th centuries. Whether the average person knows this fact or not, the names of these kingdoms are etched into our place names and collective consciousness. The most instantly recognisable are Kent, Essex and Sussex, but we also have dynasties such as Wessex, Middlesex, Mercia and Northumberland, for example. This critical period in the history of Britain is what most interests me as it is the very beginning of the English story. Accordingly this blog will generally focus on England in the 5th-7th centuries, in line with my on-going PhD research.

Tangent to the development of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the east was the formation of British or Celtic kingdoms in the west, such as Dumnonia, Gwynedd, Powys and Rheged. These regions maintain a pseudo-Roman identity, in stark contrast to the Germanic-influenced cultural persona of the east. But the stage is even wider, with Picts and Scotti in the north – in what was to become Scotland – and Germanic- and Scandinavian-inspired communities situated throughout the ‘North Sea Zone’. In these formative times the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were part of a wider North-west European community, which is reflected in the archaeological and documentary evidence from the period. The most well-known example of this is the epic poem Beowulf, where a heroic tale set in Scandinavia only survives in Old English manuscripts.

So were the Dark Ages actually dark? It was certainly a period dark in terms of documentary history, with many scholars describing the 5th and 6th centuries as ‘proto-historic’. But are the Dark Ages really a ‘dark spot’ in our understanding of the past? I would argue that they aren’t, and whilst there are still many aspects of the period we do not fully understand, we have a good general understanding of what is happening. The term ‘Dark Ages’ is useful as a label because most people have heard of it, whereas the ‘Early Medieval Period’ is far less catchy, or widely known. But it is precisely because the Dark Ages weren’t actually that dark, that we can use terminology like this.

Obviously there is plenty more to find, understand and explain, otherwise my PhD would be pretty useless, but we have enough of a grasp on the Dark Ages to really be able to interrogate them. This is where my interest and passion stems from, and is the main reason behind the writing of this blog.

[1] ‘Anglo-Saxon Migration in the 5th century’ [Accessed online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anglo.Saxon.migration.5th.cen.jpg%5D. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.