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HIS2104 : The Dark Ages: The Post-Roman World, 500-700

  • 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, leading up to their triumphant revival after 750 under Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty, who restored the western Roman Empire in alliance with the Christian Church, only to fall victim to their own bitter feuds.

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’.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists