North Africa in Late Antiquity

Module code: AH3020

Module co-ordinator: Dr Andrew Merrills

  • What changes took place in Africa in the last years of the Roman occupation?
  • Why did the monks of Egypt turn to the desert to express their devotion?
  • How did the Vandals establish a new kingdom in Carthage?
  • Why was Augustine so obsessed with sex?
  • Which prominent Libyan bishop was the greatest champion of the bald?

Late Antiquity (c.300-700 AD) witnessed dramatic changes throughout the Roman world: the period saw the rise to dominance of the great monotheistic religions, the transformation and then collapse of imperial power in Rome, and the emergence of a new capital in Constantinople, together with the creation of countless new polities throughout the world. Nowhere were these changes more dramatic than in North Africa. Once a vital part of the Roman Mediterranean, North Africa was to become part of the vast Islamic world from the end of the 7th century.

In this module we will look in turn at different regions of this vast area, and consider the social, political and cultural world of late Antiquity through unusual geographical lenses. You will be introduced to the monks of Egypt, the shadow states of Nubia, political infighting in Cyrene and the self-absorption of the great Saint Augustine in Carthage. We will look at religious schism and barbarian piracy, at spectacular weddings on the edge of the Sahara, and great forgotten pyramids in the Algerian plateaux. In short, we will view the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ from the bottom up.

Teaching is delivered by Andy Merrills, who has published extensively on the Vandals and Moors of North Africa, and by Dave Edwards who is a leading authority on the history and archaeology of Nubia.

Topics covered

  • Later Roman Egypt
  • Nubia at the crossroads
  • Synesius in Cyrenaica
  • The ‘Donatist’ controversy
  • Augustine: the champion of the world
  • The Vandal century
  • Pyramids in the West


  • 10 one-hour lectures
  • 10 one-hour seminars


  • Essay, 3,000 words (50%)
  • Exam, two hours (50%)

Visiting students write two essays of 3,000 words each (50% + 50%)