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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;

  • See 'Reading list' below for compulsory reading prior to the start of the first class.


What was it like to live in the Mediterranean region during the first 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 different overlapping themes (such as rural settlement or death & burial).
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 (c. 3rd – 5th centuries CE) to that for the early medieval period (c. 5th – 10th centuries CE).
This approach will allow us to compare models and approaches from different period specialisms (late Roman and early medieval / late Antique), 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 two-hour sessions combining lecturing and discussing the set reading/assignments, prepared by self-study of reading materials and independent literature research.

Course objectives

  • Understand the contribution of different types of evidence to reconstruct past people’s daily lives;

  • Analyse different types of archaeological data on an interdisciplinary level to reconstruct past modes of living;

  • Critically evaluate the debate about the Roman to post-Roman transition;

  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these theories and debates;

  • Apply knowledge to identify additional learning resources relevant to the discussions;

  • Demonstrate the ability to articulate one’s well-argumented opinions, both orally and in writing;

  • Produce an essay that defends the student’s perspective on the Roman to post-Roman transition, grounded in the set reading and independent literature research.

In addition, the course will contribute to the following transferable skills:

  • Research;

  • Analysing;

  • Generating solutions;

  • Oral communication;

  • Written communication;

  • Presenting;

  • Reflecting;

  • Independent learning.


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

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments including a critical reflection and annotated bibliographies (20%)

  • In-class presentation based on set reading including group work (20%);

  • Essay (60%).

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

The reading list will be given to participating students prior to the beginning of the course.

To make the most of this course and for all participants to begin at the same page, before the start of the course you are required to read the following two 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 via Brightspace before the start of the first class, will be based on these two readings.


For lectures, tutorials, and exams, enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.
You are also required to confirm your exam in MyStudymap. No confirmation = no participation!

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