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Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered    by Peter S. Wells order for
Barbarians to Angels
by Peter S. Wells
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Peter S. Wells, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota and author of The Battle That Shaped Rome and Barbarians Speak, takes on a bold new subject as he attempts to prove that the so called Dark Ages really weren't that bad at all. He shows us a time for important trading, with the long-term migration of different peoples, and points out that most of what we think we know about the period from the fall of Rome in approximately 410 to the takeover of England by William the Conqueror in 1066 is actually not correct.

Wells begins with Late Antiquity and the fall of the Roman Empire, explaining how this all came about and what state Europe was left in once Rome was gone. But instead of painting the invading tribes as desecrating the relics of the once great empire, he creates a whole new canvas, revealing that the migration of foreign tribes and peoples in the former Roman Empire was a gradual one that took place while the Empire was still thriving. There was not necessarily a hostile takeover, but rather a replacing of government by people who were not indigenous to the region but had actually lived there for some time.

Similarly, Wells portrays the mass migrations of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from Western Europe to Britain as not an event that occurred within a hundred years, but something that took place over centuries. The author attempts to prove all these findings (which are contrary to common thinking on the subject) with photos and evidence of the regions, apparently revealing that the migrating people had been there for a lot longer than thought, or in the case of the Anglo-Saxon migrations, that the populations were never that large to begin with.

The other part to Barbarians to Angels, according to Wells, is that the Dark Ages were not a return to an ignorant and primitive way of life for many, with the power lying in the hands of the church, but a time of life similar to that experienced during the Roman Empire, with extensive trading throughout the continent of Europe. With this trading there would have been an exchange of cultural knowledge and education leading to better developed societies.

Peter Wells does an impressive job of revealing a different world and way of life for the people of the Early Middle Ages. Though the amount of evidence presented seems lacking - which may be partly due to limitations in the length of the book - there are some very interesting ideas, with evidence that cannot be ignored. I was particularly intrigued by his mention of a bronze figure of Buddha that was crafted in sixth century northern India and recovered in Helgö, Sweden.

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