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The Dark Ages: An Age of Light

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Country of origin
United Kingdom

No. of series

Final episode date
18 December 2012

Documentary film


Presented by
Original language(s)

First episode date
27 November 2012

Written by
Waldemar Januszczak


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The Dark Ages: An Age of Light is a four-part documentary television series written, directed, and presented by British art critic Waldemar Januszczak looking at the art and architecture of the Dark Ages that shows the era to be an age of enlightenment. Broadcast by the BBC in November and December 2012.


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Episode one: The Clash of the Gods

Waldemar Januszczak shows how Christianity emerged into the Roman Empire as an artistic force in the third and fourth centuries. Early Christians had no art but practised in secret and Januszczak purports the Rotas Square found throughout the Roman Empire such as at Pompeii were early Christian symbols along with the fish and anchor. With no description of Jesus in the Bible the Christians represented their God as a young slightly feminine man until the emergence of Saint Mary and with the adoption of Christianity by the emperor Constantine how Christian artists drew on images of ancient gods for inspiration for a more masculine Jesus and the development of new forms of architecture to contain their art.

Viewing figures: 0.661 million

Episode two: What the Barbarians Did for Us

The 'Barbarians' are often blamed for the collapse of the Roman Empire, but in reality they were fascinating civilisations that produced magnificent art. Focusing on the often already Christian Huns, Vandals and Goths Januszczak follows each tribe's journey across Europe to settle in new lands and discovers the incredible art they produced along the way.

Viewing figures: 0.697 million

Episode three: The Wonder of Islam

Along with Christianity, the Dark Ages saw the emergence of another vital religion—Islam. After emerging in the near East it spread across North Africa and into Europe in such a short time there was originally no art. In more settled times, highly decorated mosques began to be built based on the prophet Mohammad's own home. Their architectural and scientific achievements, including the mapping of the stars, dwarfed anything existing in the western world. Januszczak visits the Dome of the Rock, desert palaces forgotten by modern Islam with their more sensual artwork, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun where it was believed Noah's Ark landed, and the Mosque of Cordoba. He identifies the Nilometer used to measure the flood of the Nile and uses an Astrolabe that Muslims used to find the direction of Mecca.

Episode four: The Men of the North

This episode concentrates on the Vikings and their inventive craftsmanship, the expansive Carolingians art of exquisite finesse and richness and the skillful hardworking ingenious Anglo Saxons. Waldemar Januszczak shows the Viking skill in making ships and their attacks on Christian centres such as Lindisfarne not only to loot but to defend their own Norse gods. He visits the Jelling stones that commemorated the Danes conversion to Christianity. Charles Martel and the Franks belief they were God's chosen people after the defeat of Muslim forces later led to Charlemagne being declared Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope and the creation of the largest empire since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel, Aachen Januszczak considers as brutal and cold attempt to copy the Muslim Mosque of Cordoba. Anglo Saxon art is represented by the Sutton Hoo hoard. Januszczak concludes that in the Dark Ages it was not the sword but the written word whether in wood, stone, or what he considers the greatest masterpiece of all art, the Lindisfarne Gospels that defined the age.

Viewing figures: N/A


Mary Beard, a writer on Roman life, disputes the claim in episode one that the Rotas Square was a Christian symbol on the blog of the Times Literary Supplement.

Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh's School of Divinity, criticized the idea that the early Christians were a secretive movement, and pointed out misunderstandings evident in the explanations given by Janusczak for the manner of portrayal of Jesus Christ in early Christian art.


The Dark Ages: An Age of Light Wikipedia

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