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The Archaeology of Daily Life in the First Millennium CE in the Mediterranean


Admission requirements

  • Admission to the MA Archaeology programme.

To make the most of this inspiring course and for all participants to begin at the same page, before the start of the course you are required to read the following 2 sources:

  • Ward-Perkins, B., "Part Two: The Death of a Civilization", in: The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Oxford, 2005, 85–187;

  • Maas, M. 2012. "Barbarians: Problems and Approaches", in: S. Fitzgerald Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. Oxford: OUP (17 pages + refs).
    The first weekly assignment, to be handed in at the start of the first class, will be based on these two readings.


What was it like to live in the Mediterranean region during the 1st millennium CE? The 5th century CE witnessed the end of the western Roman Empire and the start of the early medieval period, where traditionally the ‘origins’ of modern-day western European society have been placed.
The nature of the transition has long been an important focus of debate. Some scholars have emphasised the ‘decline’ and ‘collapse’ of imperial institutions and the disruption caused by the barbarian invasions, whereas others have focused on evidence for continuity and the important role of the Church in establishing new forms of governance.
Important difficulties are caused by the scarcity of textual sources for this period, and the impact of contemporary socio-political concerns on developing scholarly views during the 19th and earlier 20th centuries.

Archaeological data can shed important new light on the developments taking place during the first millennium CE, in particular with respect to the dynamics of everyday life. Changing modes of living are best reconstructed through a thematic and inclusive approach, using all available evidence to shed light on different aspects of people’s lives.

In this inspiring course, we will start with a broad introduction to the debate on the Roman to post-Roman transition, after which we will focus on 6 overlapping themes (urban settlement; rural settlement; food and drink; travel and communication; ritual and religion; identity).
Focusing on one theme each week, we will discuss a range of evidence, mainly from the Mediterranean region but with frequent reference to the situation in the northern frontier regions.
In each class we will compare the evidence for the Late Roman Empire (3rd – 5th centuries CE) to that for the early medieval period (5th – 10th centuries CE).
This approach will allow us to compare models and approaches from different period specialisms (late Roman and early medieval), and critically assess the validity of different interpretations of the Roman to early medieval transition, and its impact on people’s daily lives.

Course set-up

Weekly 2-hour sessions combining lecturing and student-led discussions, prepared by self-study of reading materials.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of different types of evidence pertaining to different aspects of past people’s daily lives;

  • Ability to combine different types of archaeological data to reconstruct past modes of living;

  • Knowledge of the debate about (models of) the Roman to post-Roman transition;

  • Ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and debates;

  • Ability to translate these theories into archaeologically testable models;

  • Ability to report and discuss such archaeological model testing, both in a clear and well-structured written text and orally, as part of a team.


Course schedule details can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button.

Mode of instruction

Weekly 2-hour sessions combining brief lectures with informal student-led discussions of set reading.

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments (20%);

  • In-class presentation based on set reading (30%);

  • Essay (50%).

Both the presentation and essay should be graded with at least a 5.0 to pass. A retake is only possible for the final essay (in case of a retake, a new topic needs to be submitted).

Assessment deadlines

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in MyTimetable.
Log in with your ULCN account, and add this course using the 'Add timetable' button. To view the assessment deadline(s), make sure to select the course with a code ending in T and/or R.

Reading list

  • Maas, M. 2012. "Barbarians: Problems and Approaches", in: S. Fitzgerald Johnson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity. Oxford: OUP (17 pages + refs);

  • Ward-Perkins, B., 2005. "Part Two: The Death of a Civilization", in: B. Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Oxford: OUP, 85–187.

Per meeting there will be 1 or 2 chapters/papers to read, linked to a brief weekly assignment (all together graded at 20%). Each week a small group of different students will furthermore be asked to provide a brief oral synopsis to the rest of the class, which is graded at 30% of the overall assessment. The complete reading list will be distributed 2 weeks prior to the start of the class.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.

General information about registration can be found on the Course and Exam Enrolment page.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. A.T. (Letty) ten Harkel.


  • Compulsory attendance. Max. 1 session can be missed, but only if permission is requested beforehand, and on the condition that an additional assignment is submitted within 1 week to show that the student has studied the materials.