Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lighting up the Dark Ages

A new series about art in the so-called Dark Ages, the period of Late Antiquity following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, started on BBC4 last night.

Art crtic Waldemar Januszczak began by looking at Christian art in the early fourth century, when Christianity was still a persecuted sect whose adherents gathered secretly in catacombs (within a couple of decades, it would become the official State religion of the Roman Empire and begin its rise to power as the Catholic Church). 

Januszczak is a witty and engaging presenter. I enjoyed his explanation of the Latin Rotas square, a secret Christian code that I hadn't heard of before, unlike the  well-known Greek chi rho (XP) and Ichthys (fish) symbols which he also discusssed. His look around the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna with its stunning Byzantine mosaics was the highlight of the programme for me though.

The rest of the series will counter the myth that the peoples who migrated into the collapsing Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries were uncultured barbarians and that the Dark Ages represent a step backwards for European culture.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't watched the programme yet. I suspect that the life of an Italian living 50 years before the deposition of the last Emperor in 476 AD wouldn't be much different from that of an Italian 50 years after. The barbarians didn't want to destroy the Roman Empire; they wanted a piece of the action. They mostly respected Roman law, the Senate, currency and the Goth rulers in post-Imperial Italy even wore togas, which the Romans themselves hadn't worn for 100s of years.

    Christians sometimes like to marvel how the mighty pagan Roman Empire became Christian. It did so because of Constantine favouring the religion: being a Christian became the way to get on and further yout career and ambitions. And Christianity's final total victory in the Empire over paganism wasn't because everyone saw the light: the Christian Roman authorities stamped out pagan religions and forbade their rituals and ceremonies. It was the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.