Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module HIST31I3: The Restorer of Rome? King Theoderic the Great and his World

Department: History

HIST31I3: The Restorer of Rome? King Theoderic the Great and his World

Type Open Level 3 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap 18 Location Durham


  • • A pass mark in at least TWO level two modules in History


Excluded Combination of Modules


  • To introduce students to the life and times of King Theoderic the Great
  • To explore the political, social, and economic history of Ostrogothic Italy using a wide range of textual, visual, and archaeological sources
  • To contextualise developments in Ostrogothic Italy through comparison with other regions of the post-Roman world.


  • In 493, Theoderic the Ostrogoth treacherously murdered King Odoacer of Italy at a banquet organised in their honour and seized power within the peninsula. Despite its rather sordid beginnings, Theoderic’s Ostrogothic kingdom would flourish during his reign, becoming the most powerful state in western Europe until its destruction in the middle years of the sixth century. Theoderic himself was lauded by contemporaries for his just and benevolent regime, which harked back to the glory days of the now-defunct Western Roman Empire. He was, according to his own propaganda, the restorer of Rome and an emperor in all but name. These positive descriptions of Theoderic have strongly coloured modern interpretations of his rule. In the nineteenth century, Thomas Hodgkin famously described Theoderic as ‘the barbarian champion of civilisation’ and ever since, historians have tended to emphasise the ‘Romanness’ of his Ostrogothic kingdom. In this module, we will explore whether these ancient and modern assessments of Theoderic stand up to scrutiny. By drawing on a wide range of textual, visual, and archaeological sources, we will examine the nature of Theoderic’s administration and its impact upon all levels of society. We will also attempt to situate Theoderic in his wider context, comparing developments in Italy with those elsewhere in the post-Roman world. Through this approach, we will gain a detailed understanding of the life and times of this extraordinary ruler and determine whether he truly deserves his title as the restorer of Rome.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A comprehensive understanding of the history of Theodoric’s Ostrogothic Kingdom and an awareness of wider developments in the post-Roman west.
  • A comprehensive understanding of the key historiographical debates concerning King Theoderic’s reign and an ability to engage with them critically.
  • An ability to examine and analyse different types of early medieval sources (written, material, visual) and to use them to construct an original argument.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Integrating primary and secondary sources in a skilled and sustained manner
  • Engaging in deep, careful analysis of primary sources, while confronting methodological and conceptual challenges associated with advanced research. Evaluating historical interpretations and encouraging students to position themselves within existing debates.
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:
  • 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;
  • Tutorials either individually or in groups to discuss topics arising from prepared work, allowing students the opportunity to reflect upon their personal learning with the tutor.
  • Assessment:
  • Unseen Examinations test students' ability to work under pressure under timed conditions, to prepare for examinations and direct their own programme of revision and learning, and develop key time management skills. The unseen 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;
  • Summative essays remain a central component of assessment in history, due to the integrative high-order skills they develop. Essays allow students the opportunity to recognise, represent and critically reflect upon ideas, concepts and problems; students can demonstrate awareness of, and the ability to use and evaluate, a diverse range of resources and identify, represent and debate a range of subject-specific issues and opinions. Through the essay, students can synthesise information, adopt critical appraisals and develop reasoned argument based on individual research; they should be able to communicate ideas in writing, with clarity and coherence; and to show the ability to integrate and critically assess material from a wide range of sources;
  • Assessment of Primary Source Handling Students are assessed on their understanding of original primary sources, usually in print, their character varying according to the nature of the subject, and the students' ability to bring that knowledge to bear on 'cutting edge' research-based monographs and articles. Students are given the opportunity to discuss and articulate an understanding of changing interpretations and approaches to historical problems, drawing evidence from a body of primary source materials. Students are required to demonstrate skills associated with the evaluation of a variety of primary source materials, using documentary analysis for a critical assessment of existing historical interpretations.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 19 Weekly in Terms 1 & 2 3 hours 57
Revision Sessions 1 Revision 2 hours 2
Preparation & Reading 541
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 34%
Essay 2 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 34%
Source Analyses 3,000 words, not including footnotes and bibliography 32%
Component: Examination % Component Weighting: 40%
Element %
Seen open book examination 3 hours % 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay of not more than 2,500 words (not including footnotes and bibliography); preparation to participate in seminar and tutorials; at least one oral presentation, and practice source/gobbet work.

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