The History Channel, known for its specials, once again steps up and brings us into The Dark Ages, a time in human history filled with turmoil, death, and personal triumph in the face of the civilized world after the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire. Like the specials before it, the narrative is told through the use of reenactments, still paintings, historical retellings from academia, and use of computer graphics.

The term Dark Ages seems to be a misconception among scholars around the world, having picked up a rather harsh stigma because of the near universal suffering (at least in our eyes) after civilization fell into disarray. The world, as played out in countless literary texts over the years, has reverted back to an earlier lifestyle one filled with hardship, disease, but a common existence with only the will to survive to keep them going.


The special, premiering Sunday, March 4th, starts with the fall of the Western Roman Empire after the city of Rome was sacked and a string of inept Emperors doomed the “Mother of the World” to death. A major point focused on by the programming is the rise of Christianity from a backroom, banned religion to the driving force of some of the world’s most powerful men, culminating with the battle against the Islamic movement who were bent on taking over territory in Europe after the fall of the Empire.

Surprisingly there is little focus on the most well known event of the Dark Ages, the Black Death (aka Bubonic Plague) that whipped out nearly 100 million people across the continent, that’s nearly 50% of the population in Europe. I did find it strange that the programmed did only touch on the plague’s ravages across the civilized world, but it was only a small part of the roughly 600 year span from the mid 5th century to the beginning of the 11th. The program ends with a looking at the daring and vicious raids by the Vikings into the British Isles and the rest of Europe taking treasure and murdering all that opposed them.


Writer/Director Christopher Cassel uses the same techniques employed in his excellent debut, Rome: Engineering and Empire, to bring the life of the early middle ages to the viewer. Some of the reenactments are regrettably low budget (and it shows) but the use of computer graphics presents the historical data like never before, something history books could never present in today’s society.

With the nomenclature’s place in popular culture The Dark Ages is an engaging experience showcasing the little known events that compose this dark time in history not related to the Bubonic Plague. While the material is not as exciting, or impressive as previous History Channel programs like Engineering and Empire or weekly series Digging for the Truth, there’s enough material here to truly appreciate Cassel‘s work and the drive to educate and entertain.

The Dark Ages premieres Sunday, March 4, at 9/8c on The History Channel.

Written by Erich Becker
Thirty-something with a love of everything we cover here, and a few things we don't. Erich has run Entertainmentopia since the site's inception in 1999, countless redesigns, a few crashes, and a lot of media later, here you have it!