Reading The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization made me a bit more curious about ‘the Dark Ages.’ So with that in mind I picked up Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000. One page 29:
If we take a long-term perspective, however, it is clear that inherited Roman bureaucracy did not endure. To assert that it decayed would be to adapt and inappropriate narrative of ‘decline and fall.’ Rather, its constituent elements-documentary forms, legal norms, tax accounting, judicial and archival procedures, and so on-disaggregated and thinned out. In places-but only in some places-fragments of the once-coherent bureaucratic regime then perished. Other fragments took on a new life. Men of property freed slaves, negotiated marriage contracts, endowed churches, and arranged their testamentary bequests in formal documents….
What does decline and fall mean if not the collapse of the social order? Well, it means many things. As Daniel Larison contended in response to my previous post there was a problematic attitude amongst the older generation of classicists to idealize and world of Greece and Rome, as if nothing of greatness occurred between 476 and the Renaissance (an attitude that came to the fore, not surprisingly, during the Renaissance). So you have peculiar situations where authors can report an unending sequence of facts which suggest an epoch of relative material scarcity and decreased social complexity who just won’t admit that judged by these metrics there was a downsizing.
Update: Daniel Larison has a response. Let me be clear about one thing: I do not prefer diplomatic or institutional history. Nor do I shun it. But, I am curious as someone who wants to get the richest, most multi-dimensional, perception of the past, how the “small folk” lived.