Ages, a term used to designate various epochs in the civilization of the human race. Hesiod mentions five, and Ovid four. The golden age, synchronous with the reign of Saturn, was a period of patriarchal simplicity, when the earth yielded its fruits spontaneously and spring was eternal; the silver age, governed by Jupiter, was a lawless time, in which the seasons were first divided, agriculture took its rise, and men began to hold property in land; the brazen age, or reign of Nep-tune, was an epoch of war and violence; in the heroic age (omitted by Ovid) the world began to aspire toward better things; and in the iron or Plutonian age, in which Hesiod believed himself to be living, justice and piety had disappeared from the earth. Fichte divided human history into five ages, of which he conceived that we were in the third; while Hegel and Comte reckoned three, placing us in the last. - European archaeologists have divided the prehistoric period into the ago of stone, so called because men are supposed to have been at that time unacquainted with the use of metals, and to have made their rude implements of the chase and husbandry exclusively of stone; and the age of bronze, when a compound of copper and tin was employed.
The recent discoveries among the remains of the lake dwellings of Switzerland have afforded strong confirmation of this theory, and supported the further opinion that the men of stone and the men of bronze were entirely distinct races. To the bronze age succeeded the men of iron. The antiquity of these ages is a matter of conjecture. - The term Middle Ages is applied to the period of several centuries separating the ancient and modern epochs of European history, considered by some as extending from the fall of the western empire in 476 to the discovery of America in 1492; but other nearly synchronous events have been fixed upon for the beginning and end of the period. Properly speaking, there is no middle age in oriental history, but Hallam applies that term, for the Greeks and their eastern neighbors, to the era of Mohammed. - The Dark Ages is a term applied in its widest sense to that period of intellectual depression in the history of Europe from the establishment of the barbarian supremacy in the 5th century to the revival of learning about the beginning of the loth, thus nearly corresponding in extent with the middle ages.
The last of the ancient authors was Boethius, after whose death, about 524, the decline of literature, prepared during several previous centuries, became inconceivably rapid. The darkest period for Europe generally was about the 7th century. The earliest sign of revival, however, was seen in Ireland as far back as the 6th. In the 10th Italy and England were in a deplorable condition of barbarism, while in France and Germany there was more or less culture, which increased considerably during the 11th. The comparative prosperity of scholastic learning in the 11th and 12th centuries was followed by a relapse in taste and classical knowledge which lasted through the 13th and 14th.