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The Barbarian Migrations, c.350-550: Politics & Society in the Late Roman West - HIS00060I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Becca Grose
  • Credit value: 30 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

The Barbarian Migrations (as German historians have tended to call them since the sixteenth century) or Invasions (as French and Italian historians have usually referred to them) represent one of the most controversial moments in European history. Did rampaging Germanic barbarians bring down the Roman Empire? What role did non-Roman peoples play in creating early medieval social, political and economic structures? Are the western European nations really descended from Germanic incomers? And were these Germanic groups peoples on the move, plundering opportunistic warbands, or just Roman armies with different names?

This course aims to answer these questions by putting the barbarian migrations into the context of western Roman politics and society. We will begin by looking at the fourth-century social structures of western Europe on both sides of the Roman frontier and at how imperial politics impacted upon all of these. Then, after examining Roman views of the barbarians and the military, political and economic relations between the Empire and the peoples beyond the Rhine and Danube, we will examine how Roman politics brought about dramatic changes inside the empire and outside around 400. In the final sessions, we shall consider how new political and social structures were constructed in the fifth and early sixth centuries, taking case studies from Britain, Gaul and Italy. At the end of the course, with luck, we shall see that the collapse of the Roman Empire related to the ‘barbarian migrations’ in much more complex ways than is usually imagined.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23 to Summer Term 2022-23

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To provide students with the opportunity to study particular historical topics in depth;
  • To develop students’ ability to examine a topic from a range of perspectives and to strengthen their ability to work critically and reflectively with secondary and primary material; and
  • To combine seminar preparation and discussion of the topic being studied with extended independent work on a project devised by the student.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have acquired a deep knowledge of the specific topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to use and synthesise a range of primary and secondary sources
  • Be able to evaluate the arguments that historians have made about the topic studied
  • Have developed their ability to study independently through seminar-based teaching
  • Gain experience of working collaboratively through an assessed group project

Module content

This 30-credit module is taught through a weekly two-hour seminar run from weeks 2-10 in the spring term and a four week period of project work undertaken in weeks 1-4 of the summer term. Students will complete their group project work within that period and tutors should arrange to be available for consultation with students twice during that time. There will be no formal seminar teaching during this period.

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

  1. Politics, Economy and society in the western provinces of the Late Roman Empire

  2. Society and Politics amongst the Barbarians

  3. Roman-Barbarian relations

  4. The Gothic Crisis, 376-418

  5. Settling the barbarians: The Hospitalitas Debate

  6. Fifth-century Society: A world renegotiated

  7. Anglo-Saxon Settlement

  8. The Franks in Gaul

  9. Politics and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy; Justinian and the roots of failure

Group project work will focus on analysis of particular contemporary sources and their treatment of significant episodes in the history of the Migrations.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - The Barbarian Migrations
8 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative assessment will be a group presentation between weeks 5 and 7 of the spring term.

For summative assessment students take a 24-hour open exam in the summer term assessment period, usually released at 11:00 on day 1 and submitted at 11:00 on day 2. For those taking two Explorations modules the 24-hour open exams are held on consecutive days, with both papers released at 11:00 on day 1 and both due for submission on 11:00 of day 3.

Students also submit a piece of written work for their group project of no more than 3,000 words in week 5 of the summer term.

The exam carries 67% of assessment and the project element 33% for this module.

Students who need to be reassessed in the project component of this module (for example due to Exceptional Circumstance) will be required to submit in the summer reassessment period a shorter individual project (2,000 words) which should include a short reflection (500 words max) on group work, considering how this project could be expanded if a team of three to four people were working on it. Students should consider how they would divide up the research tasks, and reflect briefly on problems which might arise and how they would manage them. Module tutors will advise on the content and design of this project.


Task Length % of module mark
Group Project
N/A 33
Online Exam - 24 hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Open Exam - The Barbarian Migrations
8 hours 67

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will typically receive written feedback that will include comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their discussion groups and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work with their tutor (or module convenor) during student hours. 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 of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Halsall, Guy. Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

James, Edward. Europe’s Barbarians, AD 200-600. Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2009.

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.