The centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire in the west and the Renaissance are loosely called the ‘Middle Ages’. Waves of barbarian invaders, Goths, Huns and Vandals, swept over the imperial frontiers in the last decades of the fourth century AD until Alaric, King of the Visigoths, eventually captured and sacked Rome itself in the last year of his life, 410. The submergence of Roman civilisation under the invading hordes was such that the period from the fall of Rome to the later eleventh century has been labelled the ‘Dark Ages’, and the term ‘Middle Ages’ applied more limitedly to the period from the twelfth century to the Renaissance. The Dark Ages were not uniformly dark. We caught a glimpse of the fifth-century literary mind in the last chapter when we cast our eyes forward to see the longterm effect of the decay of oratory into declamation in the first century AD. The Frankish King Charlemagne (c.742–814) was inspired to extend his rule in all directions with the hope of recreating the Christian empire of Constantine. Eventually he seized the crown of Lombardy and took the papacy under his protection. In 800 AD he was crowned by the Pope as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. His patronage was such that historians speak of the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’.
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