Accessibility statement

The World of Late Antiquity, c.300-c.650 - HIS00111I

« Back to module search

  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Guy Halsall
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module summary

For centuries scholars argued over why the Roman Empire fell, but did the Empire's disintegration really mark a rupture in European History? During the twentieth century, and especially in its last decades, some historians began to suggest that it did not. There were, they said, many more profound similarities than differences between the world of the seventh century and that of the late third. They suggested that a new period, of 'late antiquity' spanning the later Roman Empire and the earliest centuries of the Middle Ages would help us avoid tired old arguments about 'decline and fall'.

This course will examine this proposition by considering a series of themes loosely under the 'old chestnut' rubric of 'continuity and change'. What changed, by how much, and why (and where)? Do the things that look the same really represent continuity? Has the importance of the end of Rome been underestimated? What are the limitations of the 'late antique paradigm'?

The discussion groups will broaden the discussion by looking at particular case studies and especially by homing in on some of the abundant (and often rather bizarre) primary material available to the student of the era. By the end of the course as well as looking at historical and archaeological material we will have considered themes of political, social, cultural economic and religious history, providing a rounded examination of the period.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to important specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological or geographical focus;
  • To enable them to work on those topics by combining access to the specialised expertise of staff through lectures with their own close study and discussion of issues and reading;
  • To deepen students' understanding and appreciation of a range of historical subjects and issues; and
  • To support students' progression from the broad chronological and conceptual work undertaken at Stage 1 of their programme to more detailed and rigorous study of particular topics.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Have a broad overview of specific historical themes and topics with a clear chronological and geographical focus;
  • Be able to evaluate different interpretations of the subject matter and approaches to it;
  • Gain a critical awareness of the primary material and secondary works used in these interpretations and approaches; and
  • Be able to synthesise information from lectures, discussion groups and reading to make evidence-based arguments both orally and in writing.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
This 20-credit module consists of sixteen twice weekly lectures delivered in weeks 2-9 plus one round-up session in week 10, and eight 90 minute discussion groups.

The lecture programme will likely include the following :-

  1. Introduction (1): Narrative orientation
  2. Introduction (2): Peoples, places and problems
  3. Rulership: Emperors, kings and the state
  4. Nobles and aristocrats
  5. The Material World
  6. Settlements, Lands and Estates
  7. Ideology, language and power
  8. Writing, texts and images
  9. Religious change
  10. The Church and Society
  11. Society and the Holy
  12. Organising the world
  13. Sex and gender
  14. Ethnicity
  15. Trade, gifts and commodities
  16. Change in the Mediterranean

Discussion groups will likely deal with the following :-

  • Julian the Apostate
  • The prince of the demons: Emperor Justinian
  • The king is dead? Sutton Hoo Mound 1
  • Law and society
  • Heresies
  • Monks and hermits
  • Late antique women
  • The Arab conquests


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will be required to write a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in either week 5 or week 7 of the autumn term. They will then complete a 2,000-word essay for summative assessment, due in week 1 of the spring term.


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

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

Work will be returned to students in their seminars 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 during their tutor’s 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 unless submitted in week 5 of the summer term, in which case these are available within 25 working days. 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:

Brown, Peter R.L. The World of Late Antiquity. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

Rousseau, Philippe (ed.) A Companion to Late Antiquity. Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.

Wickham, Chris. The Inheritance of Rome. A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. London: Allen Lane, 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.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students