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The Barbarian Migrations: Society and Politics in the Late Roman West, c.350-c.550 - HIS00164I

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alex Traves
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The Barbarian Migrations (‘Völkerwanderungen’, 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 the rampages of Germanic barbarians bring down the Roman Empire? Are the nations of western Europe really descended from Germanic incomers? And what exactly 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 social structures of western Europe in the fourth century on both sides of the Roman frontier and at the way in which 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 look at the ways in which 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, Africa and Italy. At the end of the course, with luck, we shall see that the collapse of the Roman Empire is connected to the ‘barbarian migrations’ in a much less straightforward way than is often assumed.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

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

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

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 1-hour plenary/lecture and a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11 of semester 1. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing Weeks (RAW) during which there are no seminars. Students prepare for and participate in eight 1-hour plenaries/lectures and eight 2-hour seminars in all.

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. Ethnography and the frontier. Roman-Barbarian relations
  4. The Coming of the Huns and the Gothic Crisis, 376-418
  5. Fifth-century Society: A world renegotiated
  6. Anglo-Saxon Settlement
  7. The Franks in Gaul
  8. Politics and Identity in Ostrogothic Italy; Justinian and the roots of failure


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

For formative assessment, students will complete a referenced 1200 to 1500-word essay relating to the themes and issues of the module. This will be submitted in either the Week 5 or Week 9 RAW week (on the day of the weekly seminar).

For summative assessment, students will complete an Assessed Essay (2000 words, footnoted). This will comprise 100% of the overall module mark.

Summative assessments will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Assessed Essay
N/A 100

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 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 formative 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 25 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:

  • Averil Cameron, The Later Roman Empire AD 284-430 (London: Fontana, 1993).
  • Guy Halsall, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

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.