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Study information

Ancient Sources (Material Evidence): Barbarian Societies

Module titleAncient Sources (Material Evidence): Barbarian Societies
Module codeCLA1359
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Professor Martin Pitts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module examines the so-called ‘barbarian’ societies encountered by the expanding Roman empire of the first century BCE/CE, in terms of culture, politics, economies, and ritual, addressing everything from conspicuous alcohol consumption to the cruel practice of head-taking. These themes are explored with a focus on material culture and archaeological evidence, alongside the analysis of ‘othering’ descriptions written by contemporary Mediterranean authors. No prior knowledge of these subjects is required to enrol. The module is recommended for archaeologists, historians, and humanities students with interdisciplinary interests in the historical and anthropological study of small-scale societies in a globalising context.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module takes an anthropological approach to the so-called ‘barbarian’ societies of western Europe encountered by the expanding Roman empire. You will engage in in-depth thinking into issues surrounding the role of material culture in the lives and deaths of individuals in pre-Roman Britain, Gaul and Germany. The module considers central themes in the study of the period: social organisation, warfare, feasting and foodways, funerary ritual, domestic space, dress and identity, trade and economic processes, the impact of Rome, the development of urbanism and literacy, and the continuity of indigenous culture in the aftermath of Roman conquest. Of principal interest will be to investigate the ethnographic ‘othering’ accounts of Roman authors such as Posidonius, Caesar, Strabo, and Tacitus, in addition to deconstructing the aura of 19th century nationalism surrounding individuals such as Vercingetorix and Boudica.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand the organisation, economic basis and cultural practices of pre-Roman societies
  • 2. Describe the fundamental differences between so-called 'Barbarian societies' and Greco-Roman civilisation
  • 3. Describe the fundamental differences between so-called 'Barbarian societies' and Greco-Roman civilisation

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Use, analyse and evaluate material evidence as a major source for understanding the ancient world
  • 5. Demonstrate basic academic and library skills specific to Classics and Ancient History
  • 6. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which post-classical encounters with the ancient world have shaped our understanding of it

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Demonstrate independent study skills in guided research and the presentation of findings
  • 8. Demonstrate an ability to select and organise relevant material and to present this in oral and written form
  • 9. Discuss issues in a peer group

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: the Barbarian, European nationalism and popular culture
  • Ancient ethnographies and historical frameworks
  • Settlement, household and social organisation
  • Iron Age economics
  • Death and burial
  • Food, drink and feasting
  • Ritual and rubbish
  • Ethnicity and identity
  • Roman contact before conquest
  • Post-conquest societies
  • Revision

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 5Seminars (5 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study123Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in seminarsOngoing1-9Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Source analysis (essay)351000 words1-8Written and oral
Examination6524 hour take home paper1-8Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Source analysis (essay) Source analysis (essay) 1-8Referral/deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-8Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Creighton, J. 2000. Coins and power in late Iron Age Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Cunliffe, B. 1988. Greeks, Romans and barbarians. Spheres of interaction. London: Guild Publishing.  
  • Haselgrove, C.C, and T Moore, eds. 2007. The later Iron Age in Britain and beyond. Oxford: Oxbow.  
  • Roymans, N. 2004. Ethnic identity and imperial power. The Batavians in the early Roman empire. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.  
  • Wells, P.S. 1999. The barbarians speak. How the conquered peoples shaped Roman Europe. Princeton University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Roman, Barbarian, culture, society, material evidence

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date