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Rome and the Barbarians of the North: Celts and Germans


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Deep forests and muddy lands inhabited by savage peoples who despised gold and sacrificed humans – this is how many ancient writers described central Europe to their Roman readers. Huge battles were lost and won against these “Northern barbarians” from the late 2nd c. BCE onwards and many tribes were Romanized creating hybrid Gallo-Romans and Romano-British cultures. Only in the 3rd c. CE Germanic tribal alliances set off to first plunder and then conquer Roman territory. In Late Antiquity, the tide finally turned from “Romanizing the barbarians” to what some scholars call “barbarizing the Romans”.

But who were these Celts and Germans inhabiting Iron Age-central Europe? While Celts had been in contact with the Mediterranean long before the Romans conquered Southern France in the 2nd c. BCE, the majority of Germanic tribes east of the Rhine continued their Iron Age life and remained relatively unaffected by Mediterranean culture.

Major shifts have occurred in recent historical and archaeological scholarship, however, both in understanding ancient Celts and Germans, their social history and the crucial impact of Rome on developing social structures and identities. How can we better understand the Romanization of Celts in France and Britain and of Germanic tribes west of the Rhine, and how can we better understand how Germanic tribal life transformed east of the Rhine under the impact of the mighty Roman neighbours? This seminar will discuss some key contributions to this debate that together offer a variety of perspectives on the “Northern barbarians” in the Roman world.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  2. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  3. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  4. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  5. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following; in the specialisation Ancient History: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to both the history of mentality and socio-economic history.
  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:
8. Can explain how scholarship on central European Iron Age people like Celts and Germans has developed in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
9. Can assess the value of the most important methodological approaches (archaeology, literature studies, history) on central European Iron Age people like Celts and Germans, and reflect on their strengths and weaknesses
10. (ResMA only): Can link the development of discourse on central European Iron Age people like Celts and Germans to theoretical developments in Humanities at large.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, she or he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he or she will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method

48 hours before each session, students must hand in an annotated essay of 1500 words at maximum (excl. notes and bibliographical data). Please note that this applies also to the first session. Each essay is marked, except the introductory essay.


  • 6 graded essays
    measured learning objectives: 1-9 and 10

  • Participation
    measured learning objectives: 3-4


  • 1 Written introductory essay: not graded, but feedback given.

  • 6 Written weekly essays: 6 x 10%

  • 1 Written final essay: 30 %

  • Participation: 10%

The average of the grades for the 6 weekly essays, plus the mark for the final essay and for class participation constitutes the final mark.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace. Essays handed in after the deadline will receive a lowered grade; it is not possible to hand in an essay once the session has taken place.


Should the overall mark be too low to successfully complete the class, student and teacher will consult about what need to be done to bring the grade above the required minimum.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will be organized.

Reading list

Will be provided through Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. Dr. J.K. Zangenberg


Not applicable.