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The Later Roman Empire AD 284-602 - 30 credits (HS3318)

Staff: Shaun Tougher

The history of the later Roman empire is marked by rapid and dramatic change: the revolution in the position of Christianity in the empire, from persecuted cult to state religion; the German 'invasions' of the fourth and fifth centuries, and the establishment of Germanic kingdoms within the territory of the Roman empire; the decline of Rome, but the emergence of vibrant new power centres, such as Constantinople; the splitting of the empire into two halves (East and West), and the collapse of the latter. The period has traditionally been characterised as 'the decline and fall of the Roman empire', but this module reflects and considers the more recent view that the period was one of transformation, witnessing the metamorphosis of the world of antiquity into the medieval world. As well as considering the political, social and cultural transformations of the period the module also devotes attention to the famous architects of these transformations, such as Constantine the Great, Attila the Hun, and Justinian I. The module draws on, and discusses the nature of, the rich source material for the period: classicising histories, church histories, chronicles, court panegyrics and polemics, letter collections, legislation, inscriptions, art, and archaeology.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn and spring semesters in alternate years
Teaching: 30 lectures and 6 seminars
Assessment: one essay (35%); two class tests (15%); one 2-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The terminal dates are the accession of Diocletian and the overthrow of the emperor Maurice (AD 284–602). The module considers the nature of the sources for the period; the 'revival' of the empire under Diocletian following the 'third-century crisis'; the role of Constantine in the collapse of the tetrarchy, and his policy towards Christianity; the foundation and development of Constantinople; the growth of Christianity and the Church, and the pagan reaction; the nature of later Roman society; the rise of court eunuchs in the later Roman empire; the cities of the later Roman empire; the development of monasticism; the dynasty of Valentinian; the battle of Adrianople (378) and its consequences; the Theodosian dynasty; the division of the empire into East and West (395), and the subsequent relationship between the two empires; the German 'invasions' and the Roman response; Alaric and the sack of Rome (410); the nature of the later Roman army; the cities of Rome and Ravenna; the formation of the Germanic kingdoms (Visigothic, Vandalic, Burgundian, Frankish) within the Roman empire, and their nature; Attila and the Huns; the 'fall' of the western Roman empire (476); Theoderic and the Gothic kingdom of Italy; the rise and accession of Justinian; the reforms and legislation of Justinian; the Nika riot (532); the building of Hagia Sophia; the Persian empire under the Sasanids and its relationship with the Roman empire; Justinian's reconquest of the west; the role of the empress Theodora in the reign of Justinian; the theological debates of the period; assessments of Justinian and his legacy; the successors of Justinian; the historical importance of the period.


  • To study the history of a period which is transitional between the world of antiquity and the medieval world, in which much of the shape of the latter is determined.
  • To study in particular the complex political, social and cultural transformations of the period, and to consider the interpretations that have been placed upon these changes.
  • To achieve a critical appreciation of the rich and varied source material for the period.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the main events and developments of the period from the accession of Diocletian in AD 284 to the overthrow of Maurice in AD 602.
  • an ability to analyse the historical sources for the period, such as the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris, Cassiodorus' Variae, the works of Procopius, and other literary, visual, archaeological and documentary material.
  • an ability to assess modern interpretations of the period.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in assessed work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary source (to be bought)

Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire, Penguin Classics

Preliminary reading

P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, AD 150–750 (1971)
A. Cameron, The Later Roman Empire (1993)
A. Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity (1993)
A. H. M. Jones, The Decline of the Ancient World (1966)
S. Mitchell, A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284–641 (2007)

More advanced:
Cambridge Ancient History, vols XIII and XIV
A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire (1964)
R. Rees, Diocletian and the Tetrarchy (2004)
T. D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius (1981)
J. Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus (1989)
S. Williams & G. Friell, The Rome that did not Fall: the Survival of the East in the Fifth Century AD (1999)
P. Heather, The Goths (1996)
H. Wolfram, The Roman Empire and its Germanic Peoples (trans. 1997)
J. Harries, Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome (1994)
J. Moorhead, Theoderic in Italy (1991)
J. Moorhead, Justinian (1994)
A. Cameron, Procopius and the Sixth Century (1985)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3307 Julian the Apostate

HS3308 The End of Antiquity

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS3329 Byzantium: The Golden Age, c. AD 850–1050