The End of the Roman World: The Transformations of the Year 600

Tutor:  Guy Halsall

Module type: Histories and Contexts

Module Code: HIS00059I

In the last decades of the sixth and the first decades of the seventh century, Europe and the Mediterranean world experienced profound transformations. These were felt not only in politics, social organisation and economics but also in the ways in which people thought about and depicted the world. Taken together we might see them as the results of a world getting used to not being Roman any more.

The Roman Empire had been irreparably ruptured in the fifth century, when its western half collapsed into civil war, but for perhaps a century afterwards it lived on in people’s minds, in for example conceptions of power and legitimate authority, or of masculine and feminine identities. When these ideas no longer matched what we might (very loosely indeed) call ‘reality’, a major reorganisation was bound to happen.

That reorganisation took place all around the Mediterranean, in what remained of the eastern Roman Empire and in the so-called barbarian West. This course, however, examines only the west. It looks at a wide range of evidence, written and archaeological, and at how this evidence can be used to construct a picture of a complicated but important period of history when most of the characteristics of what we think of as ‘the medieval world’ came into being. It will also explore some large themes of history, explanation and history’s role in the world, through the use of some modern continental philosophers. This will show that ‘medieval’ history and how we think about it is a very long way from being irrelevant or obscure. It can even help us think about the world we inhabit today!

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1. Introduction: The People and the Problems

2. Narrative Orientation

Discussion group:  Sutton Hoo

3. Ideology, Language and Power

4. Writing, Texts and Images

Discussion group:  Laws and Charters

5. Kings and Noblemen

6. Sex, Gender and the Family

Discussion Group:  Gregory of Tours

7. Life and death

8. The Material World

Discussion Group:  Death and Burial

9. Settlements, Lands and Estates

10. Gifts and commodities; towns and trade

Discussion Group:  “Dark Age Economics”

11. Time and ‘The End’

12. Religious Belief

Discussion Group:  Gregory the Great

13. The ‘ascetic invasion’

14. Churches and Monasteries

Discussion Group: Saint Columbanus

15. The End of the State

16. Narrating Change

Discussion Group:  The Pirenne Thesis Reconsidered


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.