A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester Outline
The Medieval Mind
I. The Dark Ages
A. The Years A.D. 400 to A.D. 1000
1. Referred to as the Dark Ages because knowledge and literacy vanished
during this era.
2. Rulers during this age were illiterate and most found it trivial.
a. Emperor Sigismund said, “Ego sum rex Romanus et super
grammatica”—as king of Rome, he was above grammar.
B. Rome’s Fall in the Fifth Century
1. The Hsiung-nu (Huns) ravaged though Europe after defeat in China.
a. Went from China to Russia, Russia to Ukraine, Ukraine to
Romania, and from Romania continued east through Europe.
i. Survivors crossed the Danube River.
ii. Emperor Valens ordered that the refugees be taken out.
They were enslaved and later fought mercenaries sent from
2. Now allied with the Goths, the Huns broke the Danube-Rhine line.
a. Prepared to attack Italy in A.D. 400 led by Visigoth Alaric.
3. 40,000 Huns, Goths, and freed Roman slaves, led by Alaric, crossed the
Julian Alps, launching an 8 year war against the Romans.
a. Rome’s cavalry was not prepared for the attack and two-thirds
4. Alaric led warriors down and entered Rome on August 24, 410.
a. Rome was destroyed.
i. Alaric could not control the Huns or slaves.
ii. Men were killed, women were raped, and art was
b. The fall of Rome caused the destruction of other parts of eastern
5. For forty generations, Rome suffered.
C. Life and Conditions in the Dark Ages
1. Famine and plagues thinned population.
a. Black Plague especially brought death throughout the continent.
2. Floods caused by climactic changes brought major disasters.
a. Empire’s drainage system had fallen apart.
3. Roads besides those built by the Romans and harbors were in disrepair.
a. Harbors improved in the eighth century.
b. Roads built by the Romans remained superior to all others in
Europe even after a thousand years.
4. Bricklaying became a lost art.
a. Cathedrals were the only stone buildings built in Germany,
England, Holland, and Scandinavia.
i. This continued for nearly ten centuries.
5. Farming was difficult.
a. Lack of iron meant no wheeled plowshares.
i. Did not trouble those in the south as much as those in the
ii. Mediterranean soil was light and easily broken up.
iii. The hard soil in the north had to be turned by hand,
which was difficult work.
b. Cattle were of limited availability.
c. Workers often died of exhaustion.
6. High levels of violence.
a. Murders were twice as common as accidental or natural deaths.
i. Only 1% of murderers were ever caught.
b. Deaths occurred regularly in alehouse brawls, fights, or during
c. Many died in tournaments.
i. As many as 60 knights were recorded to have died in a
single tournament. II. The Church
A. Religion and Ruling
1. Converted the pagans to Catholicism.
2. Clovis in A.D. 493 accepted the Church and was baptized.
a. Clovis was a violent chieftain.
b. Bishop Gregory of Tours explained his actions as being part of
his “divine guidance.”
3. Rulers would often retaliate against those who did not show loyalty to
a. Charlemagne gave the Saxon rebels the choice of baptism or
b. Many died under Constantine I (the first Roman emperor to
accept Christianity in A.D. 330).
c. Arius of Alexandria died as a condemned heresiarch.
i. The Arians rioted after his death.
ii. Fellow Christians killed more than 3,000 of them.
d. Constantinople was destroyed on April 13, 1204 by armies in
B. The Pagan/Christian Struggle
1. Paganism was deeply embedded in Europe’s history.
a. Constantine discouraged paganism, but it was not made illegal.
i. Paganism continued to...
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