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The End of Antiquity- 10 credits (HS3308)

Staff: Shaun Tougher

This module considers a crucial period of transformation in history, c. AD 600–800, a period which marks the death of antiquity and the birth of the medieval world. It takes as its focus the surviving eastern Roman empire and its court in Constantinople, and examines the political and cultural transformations occurring within the empire itself, as well as those beyond its bounds which were to threaten its very existence. The empire witnessed its increasing hellenization, the death of the classical city, the growing cult of icons and the backlash of Iconoclasm, and the advent of a woman ruling in her own right, the empress Eirene, her position secured by blinding her own son. The empire also witnessed the birth of Islam and the rapid expansion of the Arab empire, the increasing independence and power of the papacy, and the creation of a rival emperor in the shape of Charlemagne.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

The terminal dates are the accession of Phokas and the deposition of the empress Eirene (AD 602–802). The module considers:

  • the sources and their nature
  • the emperor Heraclius and his dynasty
  • the final conflict between the Roman and Persian empires
  • Muhammad and the birth of Islam
  • the rise of the Arab empire
  • the death of the classical city
  • the development of the cult of icons and the reaction of Iconoclasm
  • political and religious relations with the west, focusing especially on the development of the papacy and the advent of a rival emperor, Charlemagne
  • the nature of Eirene’s rule
  • the historical significance of the period.


  • To study a period of Mediterranean history (c. AD 600–800) characterised as marking the end of antiquity.
  • To study in particular the nature of the political and cultural changes of the period.
  • To consider the interpretations which have been placed upon these changes.
  • To achieve a critical appreciation of the course material for the period.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the main events and developments of the period from the accession of Phokas in AD 602 to the deposition of the empress Eirene in AD 802.
  • a knowledge of contemporary and modern interpretations of these events and developments.
  • a knowledge of the nature of the historical sources for the period (literary, visual, archaeological and documentary), and an ability to analyse these.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in assessed work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Preliminary reading

To be bought:
M. Whittow, The Making of Orthodox Byzantium, 600–1025 (1996)
P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity AD 150–750 (1971), esp. pp. 160203
J. F. Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture (1990)
R. Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610–1071 (1966)
J. Moorhead, The Roman Empire Divided 400–700 (2001), esp. chapters 59

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3307 Julian the Apostate

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS3318 The Later Roman Empire AD 284–602