Skip to main content


Ancient Sources (Material Evidence): Barbarian Societies (CLA2359)

StaffProfessor Martin Pitts - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level5
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

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.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Critically evaluate more complex themes connected to the organisation, economic basis and cultural practices of pre-Roman societies
  • 2. Analyse the fundamental differences between so-called 'Barbarian societies' and Greco-Roman civilisation
  • 3. Demonstrate an advanced 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

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

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate independent study skills in research and the presentation of findings
  • 8. Demonstrate an enhanced 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 Teaching2222 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching44 x 1 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study124Private 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
Essay401500 words1-8Written and oral
Examination6024 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
EssayEssay1-8Referral/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

  • 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.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Roman, Barbarian, culture, society, material evidence