HST236: The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West

20 credits (semester 2)

Module Leaders: Professor Julia Hillner



Pass in at least two of the Level One modules offered by the Department of History.


Module Summary

This module will explore one of the classic problems of world history, conventionally seen in terms of 'decline and fall', but recently reinterpreted in a more positive light with a new emphasis on 'transition', 'transformation', and the cultural diversity of a period now generally known as Late Antiquity. These themes will be explored through a lively historiographical debate, backed up with a wide range of informative and entertaining primary sources, which offer ample scope for the development of Course Assigments. Students will acquire a good general awareness of the last century of the western Roman empire, but will also explore a number of important comparative themes in history such as authority, community and identity, why empires exist, and how they end. No prior knowledge of the period is required.


Teaching and Assessment

Two hours per week (one lecture and one seminar).


  1. Frameworks: how, why, and for whose benefit did the Roman Empire exist?
  2. Crisis and recovery, c. 378 – c. 410
  3. ‘Decline and fall’ v. ‘the transformation of the Roman world’: the trouble with paradigms
  4. What went wrong with the late Roman army?
  5. Barbarians and Romans: rhetorics and realities
  6. The rise of Christianity and the fall of the west: cause or coincidence?
  7. ‘An empire unmade’, c. 410 – c. 476
  8. The city in late antiquity: decline or change?
  9. Attila and the Huns: temporary crisis or decisive tipping-point?
  10. Living with the barbarians: aristocratic survival strategies
  11. The shifting meaning of the ‘fall of Rome’

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/level2


Selected Reading 

  • B.Ward-Perkins, The fall of Rome and the end of civilization (Oxford, 2005)
  • P.Heather, The fall of the Roman Empire (London, 2005)
  • G.Halsall, Barbarian migrations and the Roman west, 376–568 (Cambridge, 2007)
  • A. Cameron, The Mediterranean world in Late Antiquity, AD 395-600, (London: Routledge, 1993)
  • P. R. L. Brown, The world of late antiquity: AD 150-750, (London: Thames & Hudson, 1971)


Intended Learning Outcomes
Plus Icon