After the fall of Rome and before the rebirth of the Renaissance, Europe survived six centuries of continental revolution characterized by famine, plague and bloodshed - a time known as the Dark Ages At its worst, life in the Dark Ages was miserable, brutish and - for the fortunate - short. But through the darkness shone scattered rays of light, men and women who tended the flame of progress while the world around them descended into chaos. Those points of light brought about the footprint of modern Europe both politically and culturally. The two-hour special The Dark Ages explores the unprecedented period spanning the fall of Rome and Europe's "medieval awakening." The Dark Ages premieres Sunday, March 4th at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The History Channel®.

Often viewed as a period of violence and brutality, the Dark Ages also brought about a different kind of continental revolution. The ethnic and political borders of modern Europe, particularly France and Britain, began to take root in the Dark Ages. The idea of smaller communities uniting to create a larger nation became prevalent during this period, as a form of protection for the citizens. The birth of Christianity also laid the foundation for the modern world. "This was a time when you see the landscape of Europe as we think of it today, with Christianity really coming to encompass all of Northern Europe, with the cities that we think of today as being important places-like Paris and London. These things all have their roots in the era that we call the 'Dark Ages,'" concludes Brett Whalen, Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who is interviewed in the program.

Enter The Dark Ages

The Dark Ages saw the gradual ebb, and occasional resurgence, of the cultural and technological progress made by the Romans. Trade, industry, engineering and technology all teetered on the brink of extinction. At one point, Rome looked set to rise once again to its former glory, but the bubonic plague decimated that dream - along with up to half of the world's population - when it swept across the continent. Meanwhile, Christianity rose as a new form of unity in an otherwise fragmented world. Kings adopted the religion, which they used to justify their military designs and bludgeon rival kingdoms. It was an era when war was only rarely interrupted by peace. From the north came murderous Vikings, who terrorized Great Britain and mainland Europe in search of treasure and territory. From the south came mighty Moorish forces intent on spreading the word of a different prophet in a precursor to the Crusades.

Through dramatic high-definition cinematography and compelling storytelling, The Dark Ages sheds light on the turbulent period between 410 A.D., when Rome fell to the Visigoths, and 1095 A.D., when Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade.

Enter The Dark Ages

Highlights of The Dark Ages include the following:

- In 410 A.D., for the first time in more than 700 years, Rome came under siege. An army from the northern stretches of Germany known as the Visigoths descended on the walled city, starving it into submission and catalyzing the fall of the empire.

- In 496 A.D., Clovis, the king of the Franks, renounced his pagan roots and became a Christian. Brutal as it was, his reign proved to be a stabilizing force in dark and dangerous times. Clovis also laid the foundation for a new dynasty called the Merovingians - famous today as the supposed protectors of Christ's bloodline in The Da Vinci Code.

- In 533 A.D., under the ambitious Emperor Justinian, a formidable Roman army set out to wrest back control of the western territories from the barbarians and restore the Roman Empire to its former glory. But when riots in Constantinople left the empire hanging by a thread, the Empress Theodora galvanized her husband to crush the uprising. Justinian maintained his hold on power by luring 30,000 rebels into a horseracing stadium and ordering their slaughter.

- In 542 A.D., rats on a cargo ship delivered an unseen enemy - the bubonic plague - into the heart of the resurgent empire. For three weeks, the death rate in Constantinople was 10,000 per day. The plague decimated up to half of the world's population and, with it, Justinian's dream of a reunited Rome.

- In 732 A.D., at Tours, France, an army of erstwhile farmers led by Frankish general Charles "the Hammer" Martel repulsed a mighty Moorish invasion sweeping the continent in the name of the prophet Mohammed. The dramatic battle between the Christians and the Moors was a defining factor in Europe's spiritual and political future.

- In 793 A.D., the Vikings unleashed a campaign of slaughter and pillage on Great Britain, attacking the wealthy and unprotected monastery at Lindesfarne. After plundering the English at will for nearly a century, they finally met their match in the warrior-king Alfred the Great, and eventually were expunged from England once and for all.

- Around 800 A.D., Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles Martel, did much to pull Europe out of the trenches of darkness-building schools, emphasizing education and even trying to learn how to read and write himself. In his reign, he nearly doubled the size of his kingdom, converted countless pagans to Christianity and sparked the first real cultural renaissance in more than three centuries.

- In 1095 A.D., in an effort to liberate the Holy Land from non-Christian forces that had conquered it centuries earlier, Pope Urban II launched the first of nine crusades that would play out across Arabia for the next 200 years. Although the crusaders made no permanent conquests, the crusades spawned a rebirth of trade and architecture unseen in Europe since the fall of Rome - factors that contributed to Europe's medieval awakening and Renaissance.

Enter The Dark Ages

The Dark Ages premieres Sunday, March 4th at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The History Channel®.

Evan Jacobs