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Place and location of seminars to be announced. Seminar groups will be allocated at the start of Term 1.

Term 1

Week 5

Why did the Romans lose Syria?

In the early seventh century the Sasanians succeeded in conquering the eastern provinces of the Roman empire. A long and bitter struggle ensued, in which the Romans eventually prevailed. However, within less than a decade of victory, most of these same provinces were abandoned to Muslim armies after a disastrous defeat of the emperor Heraclius’ forces at Yarmuk in AD 636.

Was the Roman defeat the result of tactical errors and disorganised leadership? Why were the Muslim forces so successful? Historians and archaeologists have argued that a combination of factors, some the result of imperial policies, others beyond the Romans’ control, contributed to the Roman loss of the Near East, and these we will consider:

  • Religious conflicts
  • The role of epidemics and natural disasters
  • Changes to the Roman army
  • Changes in the population of frontier troops
  • The role of nomads
  • The decline of urbanism
  • Economic decline


On the Sasanian invasion: Greatrex and Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier, pp. 183-197 (ProQuest e-book and hard copy in library).

In general, see C. Foss, ‘Syria in Transition, AD 550-750: An Archaeological Approach’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 51 (1997), pp. 190-269 (available as an electronic resource in library).

Religious conflicts: summarised in K. Butcher, Roman Syria and the Near East, pp. 384-390.

Military strategy and army composition, nomads: B. Isaac, The Limits of Empire, has quite a lot on this (hard copies in library and available as a e-book; note there are two editions); as does N. Pollard, Soldiers, Cities and Civilians in Roman Syria (two hard copies in library, standard loan); see also J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, ‘The Defences of Syria in the Sixth Century’ in the collection of his papers entitled From Diocletian to the Arab Conquest: Change in the Late Roman Empire, Aldershot 1990, pp. 487-489 (1 copy in library, standard loan). For a novel archaeological approach: P. J. Casey, ‘Justinian, the limitanei, and Arab-Byzantine Relations in the 6th c.’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 9 (1996), pp. 214-222 (print copies and e-journal in library).

There is quite a lot on cities, though it is mostly general rather than focussed specifically on the Near East: H. Kennedy, ‘From Polis to Madina’, Past and Present 106 (1985), pp. 3-27 (e-journal in library); S. J. B. Barnish, ‘The Transformation of Classical Cities and the Pirenne Debate’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 2 (1989), pp. 385-400 (print copies and e-journal in library); J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, Decline and Fall of the Roman City, Oxford, 2001 (1 copy in library, standard loan); J. Rich, The City in Late Antiquity, London, 1992 (standard loan and e-book).

Economic decline: views have changed. See A. H. M. Jones, The Roman Economy, Oxford, 1974, pp. 293-307 (1 copy in library, HC39.J65, standard loan); C. Foss, ‘The Near Eastern Countryside in Late Antiquity: A Review Article’, in J. Humphrey (ed.), The Roman and Byzantine Near East, Ann Arbor, 1995, pp. 213-234 (photocopies of the article available for borrowing from the Classics office). There are essays in W. Bowden, L. Lavan and C. Machado (eds), Recent Research on the Late Antique Countryside, Leuven, 2004, that are of relevance, including: A. Chavarria, T. Lewit, ‘Archaeological research on the Late Antique countryside: A bibliographic essay’, pp. 3-51 (pdf available here).

Power Point

Week 10

Term 2

Week 5 - Friday 31st January 2020

Week 10 - Friday 21st February 2020