Return to Middle Ages
In the history of Western civilization, the period known as the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, was a period when Western Europe existed without any social organization beyond chance local groupings clustered around small villages, large castles, and remnants of various traditions—swept periodically by massive barbarian invasions, warring robber bands, and sundry local looters. It was as close to a state of pure anarchy as men could come. The feudal system grew out of the need for organized protection. The system, in essence, consisted in the peasants swearing allegiance to a lord, who claimed ownership of the land and a percentage of their harvest in exchange for his duty to protect them against military attacks.
This system brought some semblance of order, but no protection and no peace. Disarmed men were left in the total power of an armed ruler, who had his own military gang and who robbed them as ruthlessly as, but more systematically than, any foreign invader. The history of the Middle Ages is a series of internal and external wars: there were various lords struggling to enlarge their domains, foreign lords struggling to subjugate neighboring lands, and bloody, hopeless uprisings of desperate peasants, bloodily suppressed. It was also the longest period of stagnation—intellectually and productively—in Europe’s history.