Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2022-2023 (archived)

Module HIST1701: Transformations in the Late Antique Mediterranean, c.300-c.700 CE

Department: History

HIST1701: Transformations in the Late Antique Mediterranean, c.300-c.700 CE

Type Open Level 1 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap 97 Location Durham


  • A or B grade in A-Level History, or an acceptable equivalent (e.g. in terms of Scottish Highers or lB)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Tointroduce students to the social, political, religious, cultural and economic history of the late antique Mediterranean, c.300-c.700 CE
  • To offer students the opportunity to understand and engage with a formative period of history which is rarely taught in schools
  • To engage students with a range of textual sources, as well as some visual and archaeological evidence, relating to the late antique Mediterranean
  • To help students develop their critical abilities by examining the complex problems of evidence and historiography relating to late antiquity


  • • Late antiquity was a formative period in the history of the Mediterranean, shaping political, social and religious geographies for centuries to come. Between the fourth century and the early eighth, this area experienced a series of significant transformations. In the early fourth century, the whole of the late antique Mediterranean was part of the Roman Empire and had been for some centuries. During this period Christianity flourished and spread across the entire Empire, so that it became a significant part of life for many people; in the seventh century a new religion, Islam, arose in the Arabian desert and spread rapidly from east to west as vast areas of the Mediterranean were taken by Islamic conquerors. By the end of the period, the western Mediterranean was under ‘barbarian’ rule and the Roman Empire remained only in the east, where it was increasingly threatened by the growing power of the Muslim Caliphate. This module explores the significant developments in politics, religion, society, economic life and culture which occurred during late antiquity, a period which is usually understood as a transition between the older classical world and the early middle ages. Students will be offered the opportunity to investigate a wide range of different kinds of sources including histories, letters, literary works, theological texts, art, architecture and archaeological remains. We will examine topics such as the fall of the western Roman Empire and the continuity of the eastern Empire, ruling and power, religious diversity, the changing cultures of the Mediterranean in late antiquity, the migration of peoples and the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms, the rise of Islam and the Arab conquests.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An awareness of the source material used by historians to understand the social, political, religious, cultural and economic history of the late antique Mediterranean, and of approaches to this source material
  • An understanding of some of the key themes, issues and historiographical debates about the Mediterranean in late antiquity
  • An awareness of the approaches and analytical frameworks for understanding processes in late antique history such as: the rise, consolidation and collapse of polities; the spread of religions and conversion to / from them; the development and transmission of culture and learning; trade and the mechanisms which support it
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Identifying, defining, and understanding historical problems
  • Ability to explore the ways in which historians address historical problems going beyond the simple accumulation of knowledge
  • Ability to identify and to critique conflicting historical interpretations
  • Discussing and explaining ideas in a small-group context
  • Practicing introductory writing and research skills.
Key Skills:
  • The ability to employ sophisticated reading skills to gather, sift, process, synthesise and critically evaluate information from a variety of sources (print, digital, material, aural, visual, audio-visual etc.)
  • The ability to communicate ideas and information orally and in writing, devise and sustain coherent and cogent arguments
  • The ability to write and think under pressure, manage time and work to deadlines
  • The ability to make effective use of information and communications technology.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Student learning is facilitated by a combination of the following teaching methods:
  • Lectures to set the foundations for further study and to provide the basis for the acquisition of subject specific knowledge. Lectures provide a broad framework which defines individual module content, introducing students to themes, debates and interpretations. In this environment, students are given the opportunity to develop skills in listening, selective note-taking and reflection;
  • Seminars to allow students to present and critically reflect upon the acquired subject-specific knowledge, methodologies and theories, and to identify and debate a range of issues and differing opinions. The seminar is the forum in which students are given the opportunity to communicate ideas, jointly exploring themes and arguments. Seminars are structured to develop understanding and designed to maximise student participation related to prior independent preparation. Seminars give students the opportunity to develop oral communication skills, encourage critical and tolerant approaches to reasoned argument and historical discussion, build the students' ability to marshal historical evidence, and facilitate the development of the ability to summarise historical arguments, think in a rapidly changing environment and communicate in a persuasive and articulate manner, whilst recognising the value of working with others and, occasionally, towards shared goals.
  • Assessment:
  • Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The examination gives students the opportunity to develop relevant life skills such as the ability to produce coherent, reasoned and supported arguments under pressure. Students will be examined on subject specific knowledge and skills.
  • Summative coursework will test students ability to communicate ideas in writing, present clear and cogent arguments succinctly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 21 weekly in term 1 hour 21
Seminars 7 7 in term 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Exam Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen Open Book Examination 2 hours 100%
Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Coursework Assessment Consisting of Short Essay (max. 2000 words) or assignment of equivalent length eg. source commentaries 2000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative work done in preparation for and during seminars, including oral and written work as appropriate to the module. The summative coursework will have a formative element by allowing students to develop ideas and arguments for the examination.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University