Shadows of Empire

Module code: AR7075

The fifth century CE is often neglected in historical and archaeological studies of the Mediterranean and its surrounding territories, either as a bleak endnote to the classical world, or as a poorly-sketched out prologue to the histories of medieval Europe, Byzantium and Islam. The century tends to be remembered for its catastrophes (the sacks of Rome in 410 and 455, the death of the last ‘true’ Roman emperor in 476), and the situation is scarcely helped by a striking lacuna in narrative historical sources.

Yet the fifth century was a period of dramatic social, cultural and political change across the imperial territories, and understanding this period demands particular scholarly skills. In this module we will look at a changing world through a variety of different lenses – thinking about different types of source material, different regions, different aspects of society and different theoretical approaches!

This module aims to:

  • Critically evaluate a period which frequently lies outside traditional scholarly frameworks
  • Introduce students to the range of different types of source material
  • Develop analytical skills which will allow students to relate the questions raised by this module to wider social, political, and scholarly contexts
  • Develop written skills which will allow students to bring together the range of material in a critical analysis

Upon successful completion of this module, you should be able to:

  • Critically discuss a period which remains a mystery to many
  • Demonstrate facility with a wide variety of different kinds of evidence, including many you may not have previously encountered
  • Present original analytical written work to a high standard


  • 11 hours of lectures
  • 22 hours of seminars
  • 267 hours of guided independent study


  • Source analysis, 2,000 words (30%)
  • Essay, 4,000 words (70%)