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Conventional views of the Later Roman Empire see this as a period of decline and fall, when the military weakness of the empire and the debilitating influences of Christianity undermined the Romans' ability to keep barbarian tribes beyond the frontiers. A broader look at the functioning of the empire, at what emperors could (and could not) do, at the operation of the Roman economy, and the integration of soldiers into local societies tells a different story. Emperors remained committed to frontier defence, Christianity could promote imperial prestige and sustain civilian morale, imperial armies continued the long-standing Roman practice of assimilating foreigners who then delivered victories for their imperial masters. The fourth century should be seen as a period of marked Roman strength, and this remains true in the eastern part of the empire until the latter part of the sixth century.

Lectures will introduce the broad historical and cultural developments during the period covered by the course. A key topic will be the problematic source material (there is no continuous narrative source for the whole period), and how it should best be interpreted and exploited; this will be pursued through seminars as well as the lectures.

Module objectives
    • To understand the organization of the Christian Roman Empire, how it responded to internal as well as external challenges, and why its western parts fragmented and succumbed to Germanic invaders during the fifth century whereas the eastern half survived for another two centuries until the rise of Islam.
    • To develop analytical skills in manipulating and extrapolating from the available evidence, and, in particular, in coping with its varied biases and interests.
    • To develop skills in the attentive reading, assimilation and analysis of historical evidence, in the perception of connections between issues in different aspects of the subject, and in the presentation of conclusions in a clear and comprehensible form.