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HIS2104 : The Dark Ages: The Post-Roman World, 500-800

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Scott Ashley
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module introduces you to one of the foundational periods in European history. The course starts with the crumbling eastern half of the Roman Empire, victorious against the might of Persia, but only to succumb to armies inspired by the teachings of an obscure Arabian prophet called Muhammad. We follow both the last ditch attempts of the Byzantines to hold off this vigorous, cultured and militant Islamic civilization in the east, and the less dramatic, but no less significant, erosion of the last vestiges of Roman culture and society in the west as barbarian kingdoms took root. Lectures and seminars will be geographically wide-ranging, from Scandinavia in the north to Africa in the south, Spain in the west to Iraq in the east.

Thematically we will explore such issues as: the role and authority of kings, emperors and caliphs; the strange power exerted by relics and charismatic holy men; the death of ancient cities; the unexpected rebirth of new settlements filled with merchants and exotic goods; and the slow changes in the everyday lives of men and women in the countryside. We will also question to what extent these really were 'Dark Ages' and investigate the survival of literacy and learning. We will also examine more recent research into new and innovative understandings of the post-Roman world, including the impact of climate change, environmental decline, and pandemic disease as engines of radical change.

The aims of this module are:
•To introduce students to a key period in European history and to encourage them to examine that period from a variety of different perspectives.
•To encourage students to think about history comparatively and to draw parallels, connections and contrasts between different countries and regions.
•To provide an opportunity to acquire a sound general knowledge of the subject, reading widely and critically in the primary and secondary literature associated with it and to develop the capacity for independent study.

Outline Of Syllabus

Lecture themes may include:
Muhammad and the origins of Islam; the Byzantine crisis & Iconoclasm; the Umayyad Caliphs; Heroic Age Scandinavia; the decline of Merovingian Francia; the Byzantine revival; Lombard Italy; the rise of the Carolingians; Visigothic Spain and the Arab invasions; the Abbasid revolution; Charlemagne; the transformation of the Carolingian empire.

Seminar themes may include:
The transformation of the ancient economy; holy men, saints and relics; literacy and books; kingship; the death and revival of towns; the Carolingian Renaissance; peasants, slaves and the rural world; the nature of early medieval ‘government'; the Justinianic Plague; the Late Antique Little Ice Age.

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials182:0036:00Asynchronous replacements for lectures.
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion501:0050:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading481:0048:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching91:009:00Synchronous online seminar format meetings
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities91:009:00Research questions set each week connected to the week's main topic.
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion91:009:00Forum to report back on the weekly research questions.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork15:005:00Field Trip (if possible; replaced by alternative online activity if not safe)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00To encourage engagement and a forum for questions and answers.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study301:0030:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lecture materials impart core knowledge and an outline of knowledge that students are expected to acquire and they stimulate development of listening and note-taking skills.

Synchronous online seminars encourage independent study and promote improvements in oral communication, problem-solving skills and adaptability.

Field trips are designed to provide the students to experience spaces and places, including those they would be unlikely to have visited independently. These trips, thus allow students to learn in and from a different environment compared to the lecture theatre or the seminar room. The field trips allow students to use relevant observational techniques, to gain insights that can only be gained from spatial experience or the “archive of the feet” and to collect information to inform their studies. Moreover, the visits will enable students to relate the knowledge gained from lectures and independent reading to observations and experiences of the outside world.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M401500 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Research paper2A602000 words (including footnotes but excluding bibliography)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress.

Submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes, develops key skills in research, reading and writing.

All Erasmus students at Newcastle University are expected to do the same assessment as students registered for a degree.
Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. This will take the form of an alternative assessment, as outlined in the formats below:

Modules assessed by Coursework only:
All semester 1 non-EU study abroad students will be expected to complete the standard assessment for the module; to be submitted no later than 12pm Friday of week 12. The essays should be set so as to assure coverage of the course content to date.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending the whole academic year or semester 2 are required to complete the standard assessment as set out in the MOF under all circumstances.

Reading Lists