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Who were the Barbarians?

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The Goths, the Vandals and the Huns are remembered as the enemies of Rome, playing a key role in the decline of the Roman Empire and the so-called ‘age of migration’.

But who were these peoples so instrumental in forming the early medieval world, and why were they on the move? What do we know of the religion, society and culture of these people, especially when most material relating to them was written by their opponents? Were these people fundamentally as alien as some Roman authors wished to claim?

This course addresses these issues by examining barbarian peoples’ relationship with Romans and each other, from the 3rd to the 7th centuries CE, during which many barbarian kingdoms came into being but struggled with longevity.

Topics of ethnicity, cultural assimilation and astounding ambition at the hands of great leaders form the core of this key period in European history, which we will examine using textual and archaeological evidence.

This course is for anyone with an interest in history and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Exploring the Past pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and teaching

This course consists of three day schools, each of which in turn comprises three thematic units. Each day school will include lectures, class discussions and debates, pair-work and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills.

There will also be opportunities for learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the university’s Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Central.

Coursework and assessment

Students will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work:

  • a 500-word source analysis or article review
  • a 1000-word essay.

Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Dunn, Marilyn, Belief and Religion in Barbarian Europe c. 350-700. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
  • Goffart, Walter, Barbarian Tides: the migration age and the later Roman Empire. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
  • Halsall, Guy, Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Heather, Peter, The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1996.
  • Merrills, A. H. and Richard Miles, The Vandals. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.