Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST20L1: Christianity and conflict in late antique Italy and North Africa

Department: History

HIST20L1: Christianity and conflict in late antique Italy and North Africa

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least ONE level one module in History


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • to introduce students to the social, political and religious history of the fourth and fifth centuries in Italy and North Africa
  • to engage students with a range of textual sources, as well as some visual and archaeological evidence, to explore questions about Christianity and conflict in the late antique Mediterranean
  • to introduce students to historical topics such as empire, religion, heresy, culture, communication and institutions in this period in the Mediterranean
  • to contribute towards the achievement of the Department’s generic aims for study at Level 2


  • In the fourth century the Roman Empire became Christian; in the fifth century, it began to fall apart. Christians and ‘pagans’ co-existed in these centuries sometimes happily, and sometimes less so, but the imperial toleration and acceptance of Christianity from the early fourth century also led to complex and often heated debates within Christianity about what was appropriate for Christians to do, or believe. Accusations of heresy split the Christian faithful, with the most prominent heresy, Arianism, being followed by a number of ‘barbarian’ groups, some of which made inroads into areas of the Roman Empire and established their own kingdoms. This module examines religious, political and social changes over the fourth and fifth centuries in Italy and North Africa, focusing on how Christians and others engaged with and experienced contemporary events and processes. 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 activities of ‘barbarian’ groups (e.g. the Sack of Rome in 410; the establishment of the Vandal kingdom in Africa); the establishment of the Church and its doctrines (e.g. councils and accusations of heresy; the ‘invention’ of the cult of relics); disputes between Christians and pagans, and what it meant to be Christian as the Roman Empire changed in this period; changing intellectual cultures and traditions; the textual, material and visual cultures of Christianity; and, finally, the debates around the end of the western Roman Empire.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • an awareness of the source material used by historians to understand the religious, political, social and intellectual changes in fourth- and fifth-century Italy and North Africa
  • an understanding of some of the key themes, issues and historiographical debates about the Mediterranean in late antiquity
  • a basis for more advanced work (at level 3) on the Mediterranean in late antiquity
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Subject specific skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/; In addition students will acquire:
  • an ability to construct reasoned arguments about changes in the late antique Mediterranean
  • an ability to evaluate scholarly interpretations of these changes
  • an ability to evaluate critically a range of sources and the methodological approaches used to interpret them
Key Skills:
  • Key skills for this module can be viewed at: http://www.dur.ac.uk/History/ugrads/ModuleProformaMap/

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 succintly and show appropriate critical skills as relevant to the particular module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 17 17 in Term 2 1 hour 17
Seminars 7 7 in Term 2 1 hour 7
Preparation and Reading 176
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination 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 a short essay (max. 2,000 words) or assignment of equivalent length e.g. source commentaries 2,000 words excluding footnotes and bibliography. 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 and to practice writing to similar word limits.

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