Ancient Sources (Material Evidence): Barbarian Societies (CLA1359)

StaffProfessor Martin Pitts - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module takes an anthropological approach to the various barbarian societies of western Europe encountered by the expanding Roman empire. Students 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 food-ways, 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 accounts of Roman authors such as Caesar, Tacitus and Strabo, in addition to deconstructing the aura of 19th century nationalism surrounding individuals such as Vercingetorix, Arminius/Hermann and Boudica.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. be able to understand more complex themes connected to the organisation, economic basis and cultural practices of pre-Roman societies, and will be able to describe the fundamental differences between so-called 'Barbarian societies' and Greco-Roman civilisation
  • 2. have assimilated an understanding of how to use a range of classes of material evidence, including settlements, architecture, small finds, coinage, and pottery (in addition to the relevant historical sources) to address wider issues of historical and social interest

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. be able to use, analyse and evaluate material evidence as a major source for understanding the ancient world

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 4. develop basic academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 5. demonstrate independent and group study skills in guided research and presentation of findings
  • 6. demonstrate an ability to select and organise relevant material and to present this in oral and written form
  • 7. be able to discuss issues in a peer group

Syllabus plan

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


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 Teaching Activities22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities5Seminars (5 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study123Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation5 minutes1-7Verbal

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
Two essays (The better mark of the two essays will be used)401500 words1-6Written and verbal
Exam602 hours1-6Written and verbal

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6ref/def period
ExamExam1-6ref/def period

Indicative learning resources - 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.

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