Indiana University

History H610/H710

Colloquium/Seminar in Medieval European History

The Fall of Rome

Fall Semester 2013 Dr. Deborah M. Deliyannis
Place:  Ballantine Hall 316 Office:  Ballantine Hall 708
Time:  Mon 5:45-7:45 pm  Office Hours:  W 1-3 pm or by appt.

Phone:  855-3431




After AD 400, the Roman empire became geographically smaller and smaller, and by the year 500, western Europe had dropped out completely, fragmented into many smaller kingdoms.  For at least 1000 years, people have been fascinated by the "fall of Rome", and have blamed it on a variety of causes.   In this class, we will look at what is meant by the term "fall of Rome", and will then consider some of the theories, both ancient and modern, proposed to explain it.


A focus of the class will be the large number of books and articles published in the last 15 years specifically about the topic of "The Fall of Rome."  We will consider not only the theories about Rome's fall, but also the reasons that modern people have been fascinated by the topic, and what scholarly and contextual issues might be driving their interpretations.





Readings are assigned from books that are on 4-hour open reserve in the Wells Library, or articles that have been placed on Oncourse in the Resources folder.  Most of the books are available for purchase, and you might consider purchasing them, but this is not required.



Course requirements


           25%      Class participation

           15%      Presentation of two monographs about the "Fall of Rome" (see below)

           20%      Presentation of bibliographic essay/research paper

           40%      Bibliographic essay/research paper                              

         100%      TOTAL




A large part (25%) of the course grade is based on general class participation.  You are expected to do the reading for each week, and come prepared to discuss it.  Your participation grade will be based as much (or more) on what you say as how much you say.  I will give you an estimate of your participation grade halfway through the semester, so that if necessary you can work to improve it.


Presentation of monographs

One component of participation will be the reading and presentation of two of the group of recent monographs on the "Fall of Rome"  (the list of these books can be found at the end of the syllabus).  Each person will be assigned two books in such a way that two or three people will be presenting on each book.  You and your colleague(s) will be expected to give a brief presentation (10 mins max) about your books, in light of everything else we have read, in class on Nov. 18.  These do not need to be formal book reviews, but more of a sort of discussion of how you feel about the books.  All books are either available electronically through IUCAT, or else have been placed on open 4-hour reserve in Wells Library; or you may choose to buy them.


Bibliographic essay/research paper and presentation

There will also be a 10-15-page bibliographic essay (H610) or a 14-20-page research paper (H710), on a topic of interest to you and related to the Fall of Rome in some way.


You must email me a statement of your topic on Sept. 23, and you must have discussed it with me first (during office hours or by appointment; talking about it before or after class is not sufficient). 


A preliminary bibliography for your paper must be emailed to me on Oct. 21.  Some of the materials you may need may not be in our library, and you will be expected to order them from interlibrary loan. 


This project will result in a 20 minute presentation in one of the last two class meetings (dates will be assigned by Sept. 30, based on topics).  In the interests of preparing you to give conference papers, I would like you to write up and read your presentation.  Part of the preparation will be timing yourself to keep to the 20-minute format.



Tentative schedule


Aug. 26     Introduction


Sept. 2      NO CLASS - LABOR DAY


Sept. 9      Books about the Fall:  lessons for modern worlds?


      Readings:   Pocock, J. G. A.  "Edward Gibbon in History:  Aspects of the Text in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," with responses by Patricia Craddock and Glen W. Bowersock.  In The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 11, ed. Grethe B. Petersen. (Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press, 1988), pp. 289-384.  PDF

                           Gillett, Andrew.  Review Article: "Rome's Fall and Europe's Rise."  The Medieval Review 07.10.12, 2007.

                           Ward-Perkins, Bryan.  "The Decline and Fall Industry."  Standpoint (online) 2009:

                           O'Donnell on Heather, Ward-Perkins in BMCR:

                           Elton on Goldsworthy in BMCR:



Sept. 16    Decline, Fall, Transformation?


      Readings:   Ward-Perkins, Bryan.  "Continuitists, Catastrophists, and the Towns of Post-Roman Northern Italy," Papers of the British School at Rome 65 (1997):  157-176.  PDF

                           Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G.  "The uses and abuses of the concept of 'decline' in later Roman history, or, Was Gibbon politically incorrect?" with comments by Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Mark Whittow, and Luke Lavan, in Recent Research in Late Antique Urbanism, ed. Luke Lavan (Portsmouth, NH:  2001), pp. 233-245.  PDF

                           Noble, Thomas F. X. "Introduction:  Romans, barbarians, and the transformation of the Roman Empire."  In From Roman provinces to Medieval kingdoms, ed. T. F. X. Noble (London:  Routledge, 2006), pp. 1-22.   PDF

                           Ando, Clifford.  "Decline, Fall, and Transformation." Journal of Late Antiquity 1 (2008):  31-60.  PDF



Sept. 23    In Late Antiquity, does Rome fall?

      paper topics due


      Readings:   Brown, Peter R. L.  The World of Late Antiquity, 1st ed.  New York:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.  Wells reserve DG77 .B879 - just skim through this if you haven't read it

                           Cameron, Averil.  "The 'Long' Late Antiquity: A Late Twentieth Century Model," in T. P. Wiseman, ed., Classics in Progress. Essays on Ancient Greece and Rome, pp. 165-191. Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2002.  PDF

                           Marcone, Arnaldo.  "A Long Late Antiquity?: Considerations on a Controversial Periodization."  Journal of Late Antiquity 1 (2008):  4-19.  PDF

                           James, Edward.  "The Rise and Function of the Concept 'Late Antiquity'." Journal of Late Antiquity 1 (2008):  20-30.  PDF



Sept. 30    Did people at the time think Rome was falling/had fallen?


      Readings:        Croke, Brian.  "A.D. 476:  The manufacturing of a turning point," Chiron 13 (1983):  81-119.  PDF

                           Salvian, De Gubernatione Dei (online)

                           Choose three of the following authors, look out for what each says, in his historical works, about Rome's fall/transformation:  Orosius, Ammianus Marcellinus, Sidonius Apollinaris, Ennodius (Life of Epiphanius, esp.), Jordanes, Gildas, Marcellinus Comes, Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville, Bede, Paul the Deacon, or any others that you want [note that I have listed mainly Latin authors, I prefer that you use at least two from this list, although if you want the third to be something different (Procopius?), that's fine.  Of course you may use whatever translations you would like, or the original text.]



Oct. 7        The barbarian invasions and settlement


      Readings:   Goffart, Walter.  "The Theme of 'the Barbarian Invasions' in Late Antique and Modern Historiography," in Rome's Fall and After (London:  Hambledon Press, 1989), pp. 111-132.  PDF

                           Halsall, Guy.  "Movers and Shakers: the Barbarians and the Fall of Rome," Early Medieval Europe 8 (1999): 131-45.  PDF

                           Goffart, Walter. "Rome's Final Conquest: The Barbarians," History Compass 6:3 (2008), pp. 855-883.  PDF

                           Goffart, Walter.  "The Technique of Barbarian Settlement in the Fifth Century: a Personal, Streamlined Account with Ten Additional Comments."  Journal of Late Antiquity 3 (2010):  65-98.  PDF

                           Halsall, Guy.  "The Technique of Barbarian Settlement in the Fifth Century: a Reply to Walter Goffart."  Journal of Late Antiquity 3 (2010):  99-112.  PDF



Oct. 14      Climate and environmental change


      Readings:   Gunn, Joel D., ed.  The Years without Summer: Tracing AD 536 and Its Aftermath (New York, 2000).  Ch. 1, Joel Gunn, "A.D. 536 and its 300-year aftermath," pp. 5-20, and Elizabeth Jones, "Climate, Archaeology, History, and the Arthurian Tradition: A Multiple-Source Study of Two Dark-Age Puzzles," pp. 25-34.

                           Arjava, Antti.  "The Mystery Cloud of 536 CE in the Mediterranean Sources," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 59 (2005), 73-93.  PDF

                           Larsen, L. B. et al., "New Ice Core Evidence for a Volcanic Cause of the AD 536 Dust Veil," Geophysical Research Letters 35 (2008), L04708 PDF

                           McCormick, Michael, et al.  "Climate Change During and After the Roman Empire:  Reconstructing the Past from Scientific and Historical Evidence."  Journal of Interdisciplinary History 43.2 (2012):  169-220.  PDF



Oct. 21      The Justinianic Plague

      bibliographies due


      Readings:   If you can read French:  Durliat, Jean.  "La peste du IVe siècle:  Pour un nouvel examen des sources byzantines."  In Hommes et richesses dans l'Empire byzantin, ed. Catherine Abadie-Reynal (Paris, 1989), I: 107-119, with a response by J.-N. Biraben, 121-25.  PDF

                           Sarris, Peter.  "The Justinianic Plague: Origins and Effects."  Continuity and Change 17.2 (2002):  169-182.  PDF

                           Little, Lester K.  "Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic," and Michael McCormick, "Toward a Molecular History of the Justinianic Pandemic," in L. Little, ed.,  Plague and the End of Antiquity: the pandemic of 541-750, pp. 3-32 and 290-312.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007.  PDF

                           News report, May, 2013:



Oct. 28      What changed?  Social and Economic Impact


      Readings:        Wickham, Chris.  "The Other Transition: From the Ancient World to Feudalism," Past and Present 103 (1984):  3-36.  PDF

                           Brunner, Karl.  "Continuity and Discontinuity of Roman Agricultural Knowledge in the Early Middle Ages."  In Del Sweeney, ed., Agriculture in the Middle Ages - Technology, Practice, and Representation, pp. 21-40.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.  PDF

                           Wickham, Chris.  "The Fall of Rome Will Not Take Place."  In Little, Lester K. and Barbara H. Rosenwein, eds.  Debating the Middle Ages:  Issues and Readings, pp. 45-57.  Malden:  Blackwell, 1998.  PDF

                           Sarris, Peter. "Continuity and Discontinuity in the Post-Roman Economy," Journal of Agrarian Change 6 (2006):  400-413.  PDF

                           Henning, Joachim.  "Strong rulers weak economy? Rome, the Carolingians, and the archaeology of slavery in the first millennium AD."  In Michael McCormick and Jennifer Davis, eds.  The Long Morning of Medieval Europe, pp. 33-54.  Burlington, VT:  Ashgate, 2008.  PDF



Nov. 4       What changed?  Cities


      Readings:     Barnish, S. J. B.  "The Transformation of Classical Cities and the Pirenne Debate."  Journal of Roman Archaeology 2 (1989):  385-400.  PDF

                           Carver, M. O. H.  Arguments in stone:  archaeological research and the European town in the first millennium.  Oxford:  Oxbow, 1993.  Wells reserve CC175 .C37 1993

                           Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G.  Decline and Fall of the Roman City.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Read Chs. 1, 9, 12, and 13.  Wells reserve DG70.A1 L54 2001 (I hope!)

                           Kulikowski, Michael. "Archaeological and Historical Categories of Evidence in the Transition from the Ancient World to the Middle Ages," in Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Studies, ed. Celia Chazelle and Felice Lifshitz (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 248-270.  PDF



Nov. 11     What changed?  Roman art, technology, material culture


      Readings:   Nees, Lawrence.  Early Medieval Art.  Oxford:  2002.  See esp. chs. 4, 5.  PDF

                           Nees, Lawrence. "Ethnic and Primitive Paradigms in the Study of Early Medieval Art," in Paradigms and Methods in Early Medieval Studies, ed. Celia Chazelle and Felice Lifshitz (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 56-83.  PDF

                           Fleming, Robin. "Recycling in Britain after the Fall of Rome's Metal Economy," Past and Present 217 (2012):  3-45.  PDF



Nov. 18     Modern books redux:  reports and analysis



Nov. 25              NO CLASS - THANKSGIVING


Dec. 2       student presentations


Dec. 9       student presentations



Papers due in my email, Friday Dec. 20 at 5:00 pm


Recent monographs about the "Fall of Rome"

Note:  these books do not comprise all books published about the Later Roman Empire, Late Antiquity, or the Early Middle Ages; rather, they are the English-language books that explicitly seek to gain readership by using words like "Fall of Rome" in the title.

Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History.  London: Macmillan, 2005. Pp. xvi, 572.  Wells reserve DG311 .H43 2005.  Also published as The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. xvi, 572.

Ward-Perkins, Bryan. The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.  Pp. viii, 239.  online through IUCAT

Goffart, Walter.  Barbarian Tides: the Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire (Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006).  online through IUCAT

Halsall, Guy.  Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376-568 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2007).  Wells reserve DG311 .H35 2007

Rosen, William.  Justinian's Flea:  The First Great Plague and the End of the Roman Empire (2008) OR Justinian's Flea:  Plague, Empire, and the Birth of Europe (New York:  Viking, 2007).  Wells reserve DF556 .R67 2007

Kelly, Christopher.  Attila the Hun, Barbarian Terror and the Fall of the Roman Empire.  London:  The Bodley Head, 2008.  Also published as The End of Empire:  Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome.  New York:  Norton, 2009.  Wells reserve D141 .K45 2009

O'Donnell, James J.  The Ruin of the Roman Empire:  A New History.  Harper Collins, 2009.  Wells reserve DG311 .O49 2008

Goldsworthy, Adrian.  The Fall of the West:  The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower.  Widenfeld & Nicolson, 2009.  Wells reserve DG311 .G67 2009.  Also published as How Rome Fell:  The Death of a Superpower.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2009.