Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST21E1: Law and Disorder in the Barbarian Kingdoms c.450 - 750AD

Department: History

HIST21E1: Law and Disorder in the Barbarian Kingdoms c.450 - 750AD

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 48 Location Durham


  • A pass mark in at least ONE level 1 module in History.


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To introduce students to the social, political, and legal histories of the barbarian kingdoms.
  • To familiarise students with a range of early medieval textual, visual, and archaeological sources.
  • To encourage students to think comparatively about topics relating to law and order, such as royal power and ideology, Christianisation, identity, crime and punishment, and institutions and administration.


  • The early middle ages have traditionally been seen as a time of lawlessness, as impotent kings struggled to control their violent subjects. But was post-Roman Europe really riven by anarchy, feuding, and vigilantism? How did early medieval rulers seek to establish law and order in their territories and to what extent were they successful? Just how ‘barbarian’ were the barbarian kingdoms? In this course, students will explore such questions by analysing a wide range of textual sources and material evidence. We will investigate topics such as the legacy of Roman law and administration; the nature and reach of royal power; the impact of Christianity on society and political culture; changing attitudes to gender, ethnicity, and social status; and the development of new approaches to crime and punishment. Students will also be encouraged to think comparatively, by examining similarities and differences between the variety of polities that comprised the post-Roman world. Ultimately, the module will challenge students to reassess and, perhaps, reconsider their assumptions about life after Rome.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of the main social, political, and legal changes of the early middle ages
  • An awareness of the key themes and historiographical debates about law and order in the barbarian kingdoms, and an ability to evaluate them critically
  • An ability to compare and contrast developments across the early medieval west.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Building on and developing skills gained at Level 1
  • Deepening and extending historical understanding through focused, concentrated modules
  • Developing precision, depth of understanding, and conceptual awareness.
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 17 16 in Term 2; 1 in Term 3 1 Hour 17
Seminars 7 7 in Term 2 1 Hour 7
Preparation and Reading 176

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Seen open book exam 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