"The sixth century marked the beginning of the Dark Ages in western Europe. While the Byzantine Empire generally prospered, despite its loss of territory, western Europe spent the six centuries after the death of Justinian in chaos, war, cultural degeneration, superstition, ignorance, and poverty. The majority of western Europe, including Italy, Gaul (modern France), and Spain, had fallen to the barbarian tribes who had earlier overtaken Rome. Plague and famine decimated Europe. By 550, Rome, which once had a population of one million people, was reduced to forty thousand souls, half of whom were maintained hy papal alms.
Life was harsh and hrutal. The peasantry, although free, were poor, uneducated, and politically impotent. Skin disease was epidemic because of the Church's prohibition against nudity and bathing. (Other sources indicate that -at least in a later part of the Middle Ages- personal hygiene as well as bathing did exist; TN *). Lice and similar vermin tormented all, regardless of social class. By the beginning of the seventh century, literacy was reserved for the clergy. Science, medicine, and literature were replaced by magic, superstition, and religious texts. Eighty percent of the population during the Dark Ages never moved more than ten miles from their place of birth. As a result of poor nutrition and medicine, the average life expectancy was thirty years, while the average height for men was not more than ﬁve feet three inches (about 160 cm; TN). Throughout the ninth and tenth centuries, Europe endured a perpetual state of war, decimated by continuous aggression from Scandinavian, castern European, and Germanic trides, as well as Muslims. Savagery and faith, ignorance and piety, agriculture and aggression, this mixture embodied the intellectual stagnation of the Dark Ages."
This blog quotes from Chapter 2 of "The Templars and the Assassins: the militia of Heaven" by James Wasserman (Rochester, 2001); * Additional source on bathing and illustration from www.medievalists.net