HIST 301E(S) Barbarians, Saints, and Emperors: The Fall of Rome Reconsidered (W)

The fall of Rome has long fascinated historians. In his monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776), Edward Gibbon argued that classical civilization collapsed under the weight of "barbarism and superstition" (i.e., Germanic invasions and Christianity), thus giving rise to the European "Dark Ages." But in recent years scholars have reconsidered this period of "Late Antiquity" (roughly AD 150-750), seeing continuity, complexity, and transformation where Gibbon saw only decline and fall. This course explores how historians have tried to interpret this foundational period of European civilization from political, military, economic, cultural, and social perspectives. We will consider such topics as the rise of Christianity and Islam, relations between Romans and "barbarians," the function of saints and relics, the formation of Germanic kingdoms and the Byzantine Empire, and changes in early European economy and society. Throughout, we will pay particular attention to the topics, evidence, methodologies, and assumptions historians use to recreate the history of the distant past. Format: seminar. Evaluation will be based on class participation, bi-weekly book reviews, and a longer paper. Enrollment limit: 19 (expected: 10-18). Restricted to History majors.