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Goths & Romans in Sixth Century Italy - HIS00007C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Mr. Huw Foden
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

The decline and fall of the Roman Empire and the conflicts between Romans and the tribes who founded new kingdoms on previously Roman soil have captivated historians for centuries. Today historians are more likely to speak of the 'transformation of the Roman world' than the Fall of the Empire, and to understand the cultural encounter between Romans and Barbarians less in racial terms than in anthropological and cultural ones. Italy was the last Roman area in the West to be abandoned by the failing empire, then based in the East with its capital at Constantinople. While sixth-century Italy was governed by barbarians, the Ostrogoths, its culture and art remained recognizably Roman for most of the century. And yet there were drastic turning points: a plague, a devastating war of reconquest, and the arrival of yet more barbarians: the Lombards.

Students will use a mixture of primary sources (chronicles, the letters of Cassiodorus, writings by Gregory and architecture and mosaics from Ravenna) and exemplary secondary sources (including extracts from Gibbon, but also the most recent work on the 'ethnogenesis' of the Goths and Lombards). Sixth century Italy can thus serve as an historical and historiographical laboratory to see how contemporaries and historians alike sought to understand a century of cataclysmic change.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into an unfamiliar period and/or approach to history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have further developed work undertaken in the Autumn Term lecture courses and skills portfolios, including historical analysis, note-taking, using primary sources, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars;
  • Be able to construct a coherent historical argument in oral and written forms

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over nine weeks, plus an overview and revision session in Week 2 of Summer Term. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Theodoric and the Goths

  2. Cassiodorus the Collaborator? A Goth's Roman Secretary

  3. Boethius: The Mystery of the execution of a Philosopher

  4. Justinian and Theodora

  5. Mosaics at Ravenna: Churches and Royal Mausolea (and who was Galla Placidia?)

  6. Foul Lombards' and a Dream Deferred: Cassiodorus at Vivarium and Benedict at Monte Cassino

  7. Pope Gregory the Great: The Man of the Century or Man for a New Age?

  8. 536 AD: The year of cold, plague and famine

  9. Afterlives of sixth-century Italy: myth, literature, art, and law


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Goths and Romans
8 hours 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work:

During the Spring Term students will prepare a presentation in pairs or small groups. Tutors will determine the formative work for the course: all groups will present on a primary source. Formative work will be completed in one or more sessions at the tutor’s discretion.

Summative assessment:

An open exam in the Common Assessment Period, comprising one essay question chosen from five options


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - Goths and Romans
8 hours 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. Students will have a 15 minute one-to-one tutorial to discuss the formative assessment and prepare for the summative assessment. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Should you wish to do any preliminary reading, you could look at the following:

Markus, R. A. Gregory the Great and his World. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy (any translation)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.