The term Dark Ages refers to a period of the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 9th century. Like the term Middle Ages, the Dark Ages was first used by Renaissance humanists in the 15th century to underline the backwardness of the period that followed the classic antiquity as well as to mark the beginning of a new era starting with Renaissance revival of the classical tradition . Most modern historians avoid the term Dark Ages due to its pejorative meaning. Those that do, use it to underline the paucity of historical records in the Early Middle Ages.
The main reason why most historians avoid using the term Dark Ages to describe the period that followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire is due to the fact that cultural and economic decline in the Early Middle Ages most likely was not as severe as it was long thought. In addition, many changes that marked the Dark Ages and provided the model for the medieval feudal organization have their origin in classical antiquity.
The western half of the Roman Empire started to decline long before the invasions of the barbarian peoples. The empire nearly collapsed during the Crisis of the 3rd Century that was marked by economic depression, civil war and invasions resulting in dramatic changes that transformed the Roman Empire in many aspects. The traditional trade networks collapsed, while the country saw the emergence of coloni, tenant farmers working on large estates and paying a rent to land owners. The period following the Crisis of the 3rd Century also saw the rise of Christianity that played a major role in both social and political life through the Middle Ages.
The period that followed the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus in 476 was very different to the world of the classical antiquity in all aspects. However, the transition from the classical antiquity to the Middle Ages took place gradually. The Dark Ages was certainly a continuation of a process that started long before the deposition of Romulus Augustulus and even the Migration Period.
While the western half of the former Roman Empire went through a period of economic and cultural decline, the Eastern Roman Empire – Byzantine Empire was at its height. Its capital Constantinople was the wealthiest city in the world, while many rulers of barbarian kingdoms in the West officially held power as subjects of Byzantine Emperors.