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The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity - 20 credits (HS2425)

Course description

This single module introduces students to the material culture of the Mediterranean world from around AD 300 until around AD 850. The first part will consider the Roman empire from the time of Constantine I onwards, looking in particular at the changes that were taking place in the towns and cities, the countryside, trade and industry, the army and fortifications, and the church. The second part of the course will consider in turn Italy under the Ostrogoths, Byzantines and Lombards, Visigothic and later Christian Spain, Vandal and Byzantine Africa, the Umayyad and early Abbasid caliphates in Syria and Palestine, Muslim Ifriqiya and al-Andalus, Visigothic, Frankish and Merovingian Gaul, and the Carolingian empire under Charlemagne.


Availability of module: Alternate (odd, 2013-14, 2015-16) years. Autumn and Spring Semesters

Prerequisites: N/A

Necessary for: N/A

Tutor: Prof. Denys Pringle

Teaching methods

20 weekly lectures of 50 minutes and 6 seminars.


The course will be assessed by

  • One assessed essay of not more than 2,500 words (50% of module mark); and
  • A two-hour exam consisting of two essays (50% of module mark).

Summary of course content

Autumn Semester: Themes

1.Introduction: Geography, Political overview, c.300–c.800

2.Imperial capitals (1): Rome, Constantinople

3.Imperial capitals (2): Split, Thessalonika, Milan, Trier

4.Towns and cities: urban change (1): General problems, Decline of town councils, Christianization, Cemeteries, Changing relationship between town and country, Population decline?, Economic activity

5.Towns and cities: urban change (2): Housing and street plans, Fortifications, Differences between East and West, Trade and industry, Archaeological evidence: ceramics and shipwrecks, Pirenne thesis and later intepretations

6.The countryside: Organization of Roman estates, Changes in settlement and their possible causes, including:, Soil exhaustion, Climate change, Manpower shortage, Plague, Insecurity, Taxation, Changes in markets, Archaeological surveys, Palestine and Syria, Tripolitania, Libyan valleys survey, Italy, incastellamento and the creation of villages

7.The army and fortifications (1): Organization, Frontier defences, Systems of fortification

8.The army and fortifications (2): Poliorcetica (How did late antique fortifications work?), Garrison sizes and types

9.The church (1): House churches, The basilica, Bishops’ houses, Other western church types, Eastern differences: galleried basilicas

10.The church (2): Centrally planned churches, Justinian and Hagia Sophia, Pilgrimage and relics, Monasticism, Movable objects and church fittings


Spring Semester: Regional Studies

11.Italy under the Ostrogoths, Byzantines and Lombards: The Ostrogoths, Theoderic and Ravenna, The Byzantine reconquest, The Lombards, Town and country

12.Visigothic Spain: Historical outline, Cemeteries, Vilas and rural settlement, Town, Architecture, Coins and treasure

13.Vandal and Byzantine Africa (1): The Vandals, The Byzantine reconquest

14.Vandal and Byzantine Africa (2): Byzantine fortifications, Churches and monasteries, Town and country, Byzantine and Coptic Egypt, Churches in ancient temples, Coptic influence on Byzantine architecture

15.Early Muslim Syria, Palestine and Iraq: Caliphs, Umayyads and early Abbasids (1): The conquest, The Umayyads, Monumental architecture: Jerusalem and Damascus, The mosque, Muslim settlement, Christian churches

16.Early Muslim Syria, Palestine and Iraq: Caliphs, Umayyads and early Abbasids (2): The Umayyads (cont.), Palaces and desert castles, Coastal defence: ribats, Coinage; The Abbasids, Baghdad and Samarra, Effects of the Abbasid revolt on Palestine

17.Early Muslim Egypt, Ifriqiya and al-Andalus: Egypt: Fustat; Ifriqiya (Tunisia): Qayrawan (Kairouan), Tunis, Susa (Sousse); Al-Andalus: Cordoba, Madinat az-Zahra

18.Visigothic, Frankish and Merovingian Gaul: Cemeteries, Royal tombs, Architecture and sculpture, Manuscripts, Reliquaries; Towns: Arles, Metz

19.The Carolingian empire: Aachen and Ingolheim, Churches and monasteries, Art, Economy: trade and agriculture, The Mediterranean world in the ninth century

20. Conclusion

Learning outcomes

On completion of the module, students should be able to

  1. demonstrate a broad knowledge and understanding of the material culture (sites, monuments and artefacts) of the Mediterranean world in Late Antiquity (c.300–c.850);
  2. show familiarity with the sources of evidence and modern interpretations relating to various themes concerning the later Roman Empire, including the development of church architecture, pilgrimage, fortifications, town life, the counryside, trade and industry; and
  3. show familiarity with the sources of evidence and modern interpretations relating to cultural change brought about by the influx and settlement of immigrant peoples from outside the former empire in Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, Iberia, Italy and Gaul.

In addition students should be able to demonstrate through their written work and in seminars skill in

  1. evaluating and utilizing archaeological evidence of various types;
  2. assessing modern interpretations of the period in the light of the archaeological evidence;
  3. synthesizing, comparing and contrasting evidence from different areas;
  4. understanding the value and relevance of particular classes of evidence; and
  5. assessing the relative value of material and written sources in specific case studies.

Suggested book purchases


Suggested preparatory reading

Ward-Perkins, B. (2005). The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Oxford. [DG311.W2; and e-book

Brown, P. 1971. The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150-750. [DE92.B7]