Guy Halsall
Professor of History



BA and DPhil (York)

Professor Guy Halsall is a product of York's history and archaeology departments.  After graduating in Archaeology and History, he carried out doctoral research on the archaeology and history of the region of Metz (north-eastern France and southern Germany) between c.350 and c.750. This was published as Settlement and Social Organization: The Merovingian region of Metz (Cambridge, 1995).

With an established reputation as one of the most innovative students of the history of western Europe between c.375 and c.700, Guy Halsall has published extensively, on subjects including gender and age, death and burial, ethnicity, warfare and violence, the political uses of humour and the writings of Gregory of Tours.  His major monograph Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 was published to critical acclaim in 2007.

Halsall's current research focuses on western Europe in the important period of change around AD 600 and on the application of continental philosophy (especially the work of Jacques Derrida) to history.

Guy Halsall blogs as Historian on the Edge.





The history and archaeology of Merovingian Gaul has remained a focus of Guy Halsall's research.  This has encompassed work on towns and settlement patterns but, above all, the use of archaeological cemetery evidence to study social structures, especially thosed based around gender and the life-cycle.  The problems of the relationships between documentary and excavated evidence, implicit in that project, have also been a constant area of interest.  A volume of his collected essays on these themes, also containing much new material, was published in 2010.

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, Halsall developed an interest in early medieval violence and warfare and their place in society and politics.  This led to the lengthy introduction to his edited volume Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West (1998), an important if controversial analysis of feud and vengeance-killing and a prize-winning monograph, Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (2003).

The use of cemetery evidence to study early medieval ethnicity early became a focus for some of Halsall's most ground-breaking work, rejecting traditional readings of certain burial-types as those of 'Germanic' barbarians. This interest broadened into a major study of the Barbarian Migrations in western Europe (including the British Isles), published by Cambridge University Press in its 'Medieval Textbooks' series in 2007 and now in its fourth printing.

After returning to post-imperial Britain in his academic/popular cross-over volume on Worlds of Arthur (2013), Halsall is developing a concern, manifest there and in various essays on Gaul, with the Transformations of the Year 600 in western Europe, intended to be the subject of a major monograph.  This will cover the same general geographical areas as Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West but in the immediately succeeding period between c.565 and c.650.

His other major current research project is a book on the philosophy of History, provisionally and provocatively entitled Why History Doesn't Matter, which challenges current views on the value of history as identity-affirming 'social memory' to stress history's simultaneously more troubling and more liberating potential.

Guy Halsall would welcome enquiries about research relating to any of the above areas, especially those which are interdisciplinary, using documentary and archaeological material and which are interested in philosophically-informed approaches to the past.


Selected publications

Authored books

  • Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul: Selected Studies in History and Archaeology, 1992-2009 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2010).
  • Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
  • Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (London: Routledge, 2003).
  • Early Medieval Cemeteries. An Introduction to Burial Archaeology in the Post-Roman West (Glasgow: Cruithne Press, 1995).
  • Settlement and Social Organization. The Merovingian Region of Metz (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

Edited books

  • (ed. with Wendy Davies and Andrew Reynolds) People and Space in the Middle Ages, 300-1300 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006)
  • (ed.) Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1998).
  • (ed.) Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Articles (selected)

  • 'Nero and Herod? The death of Chilperic and Gregory of Tours' writing of history.' The World of Gregory of Tours, ed. K. Mitchell and I.N. Wood, (Brill; Leiden, 2002), pp. 337-50.
  • 'Funny foreigners: Laughing with the barbarians in late antiquity.' Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. Halsall (see above), pp. 89-113.
  • 'Childeric's grave, Clovis' succession and the origins of the Merovingian kingdom.' Society and Culture in Late Roman Gaul. Revisiting the Sources, ed. D. Shanzer & R. Mathisen (Aldershot, 2001), pp. 116-33.
  • 'The Viking presence in England? The burial evidence reconsidered.' Cultures in Contact: Scandinavian Settlement in England in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, ed. D.M. Hadley & J. Richards, (Brepols: Turnhout, 2000), pp. 259-76.
  • 'Archaeology and the late Roman frontier in northern Gaul: The so-called Föderatengräber reconsidered.' Grenze und Differenz im früheren Mittelalter, ed. W. Pohl & H. Reimitz, (Österreichische Akadamie der Wissenschaften: Vienna, 2000), pp. 167-80.
  • 'La Christianisation de la région de Metz à travers les sources archéologiques (5ème-7ème siècle): problèmes et possibilités.' L'Évangélisation des régions entre Meuse et Moselle et la Fondation de l'Abbaye d'Echternach (Ve-IXe siècle), ed. M. Polfer, (Linden: Luxembourg, 2000).
  • 'Burial customs around the North Sea, c. AD 350-700.' Kings of the North Sea, AD 250-850, ed. E. Kramer, I. Stoumann & A. Greg (Newcastle, 2000), pp. 93-104.
  • 'Review Article: Movers and Shakers: The Barbarians and the Fall of Rome.' Early Medieval Europe 8.1 (1999), pp. 131-45.
  • 'Reflections on Early Medieval Violence: The example of the "Blood Feud".' Memoria y Civilización 2 (1999), pp. 7-29.
  • 'Social identities and social relationships in Merovingian Gaul.' Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective, ed. I.N. Wood, (Boydell: Woodbridge, 1998), pp. 141-65.
  • 'Burial, ritual and Merovingian society.' The Community, the Family and the Saint: Patterns of Power in Early Medieval Europe, ed. J. Hill & M. Swan, (Brepols: Turnhout, 1998), pp. 325-38.
  • 'Violence and society in the early medieval west: An introductory survey.' Violence and Society in the Early Medieval West, ed. Halsall, (see above), pp. 1-45.
  • 'Archaeology and Historiography.' The Routledge Companion to Historiography, ed. M. Bentley, (Routledge: London, 1997), pp. 807-29.
  • 'Female status and power in early Merovingian central Austrasia: the burial evidence.' Early Medieval Europe 5.1 (1996), pp. 1-24.
  • 'Towns, societies and ideas: The not-so-strange case of late Roman and early Merovingian Metz.' Towns in Transition. Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. N. Christie & S.T. Loseby (Scolar: Aldershot, 1996), pp. 235-261.
  • 'Playing by whose rules? A further look at Viking atrocity in the ninth century.' Medieval History vol.2, no.2 (1992), pp. 3-12.
  • 'The origins of the Reihengräberzivilisation: Forty years on.' Fifth-Century Gaul: A Crisis of Identity? ed. J.F. Drinkwater & H. Elton, (C.U.P.: Cambridge, 1992), pp. 196-207.

Contact details

Prof. Guy Halsall
Vanbrugh College V/212
Department of History
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: Internal 2949, External (01904) 322949