HST116: Empire: From the Ancient World to the Middle Ages

20 credits (semester 2)

Module Leader: Professor Julia Hillner

  Battle of Issus


Battle of Issus (333BC), Roman Mosaic from 1st century AD, found in Pompeii (now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples)

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=295025


Module Summary

In the mid-fourth century BC, the legendary Macedonian king Alexander the Great set out into the East, conquering Persia and reaching India by 326 BC. By the end of the 15th century AD, the ‘old’ Europe began to expand West, ‘discovering’ a ‘new world’ in the West Indies in 1492. During the intervening centuries (4th c. BC to 15th c. AD), the Near East and Europe can be seen as a world where imperial ambitions and imperial traditions reaching far back into antiquity defined politics, societies, economies and cultures.

In this module, you‘ll explore this world through the analytical lens of ‘empire’, investigating a great variety of movements and events, including: The dominance of Persia in the Ancient Near East, the legacy of Alexander the Great; Roman expansion and collapse in the Mediterranean; the impact of Hunnic, Islamic and Norman empire building on the ‘Making of Europe’; Christian ideas of time and empire; Carolingian transmission of classical knowledge; the rise of the Papacy as a political force; the Crusades; and the commercial empires in the later medieval East and West.

The module will provide you with an introduction to these different ancient and medieval types of empire, their contacts with and legacies to each other, as well as the crucial connectedness between East and West in this period. Using a wealth of primary evidence and drawing on corresponding historiographical debates, you will be able to explore what it meant to live in ancient and medieval empires, what kind of social, cultural and religious encounters they engendered, and whether there was any space for resistance

Teaching and Assessment

The module will be taught through twice-weekly lectures and compulsory weekly seminars. Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level1 

Overview Reading

  • S. Alcock, T. N. D’Altroy, K. D. Morrison, C. M. Sinopoli, Empires. Perspectives from Archaeology and History (2009).
  • P. Bang, C. Bayley, Tributary Empires in Global History (2011).
  • J. Burbank, F. Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, NJ, (2010).
  • R. Folz, The Concept of Empire in Western Europe from the Fifth to the Fourteenth Century (1969).
  • J. Muldoon, Empire and Order. The Concept of Empire 800-1800 (1999).
  • S. Reynolds, ‘Empires: A Problem of Comparative History’, Historical Research 79 (2006).

Period-specific reading

  • R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (1993).
  • P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire (2002).
  • M. Gabriele, Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade (2011).
  • J. le Patoural, The Norman Empire (1976).
  • C. Morris, The Papal Monarchy: the Western Church from 1050 to 1250 (Oxford).
  • B. Ward-Perkins, The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2006).
  • G. Woolf, Rome. An Empire’s Story (2012).

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students completing this module will have developed:

  • A broad understanding of the significance of the concept of ‘empire’ for the ancient and medieval periods and of the impact of empires on ancient and medieval societies, economies and cultures;
  • An understanding of the problems presented by the surviving sources, and how to engage with corresponding scholarly literature;
  • An ability to use information technology for word processing and bibliographic research;
  • An ability to present material in weekly seminars and participate in informed debate with peers and tutors;
  • An ability to write informed and cogent essays, including under pressure of time.