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CL5320 Cities of God


Making the Late Antique City 

Course Tutor

Richard Alston: r.alston@rhul.ac.uk


Location and time

Bedford Square, Royal Holloway Annex: Thursdays 11-1, Spring term

Course Summary

The Late Antique city has been seen as the litmus of civilizational vitality and continuity in Late Antiquity. The vitality of cities has been seen as a key marker of civilization. The transition between antiquity and the medieval period has been caught up in the historiography of cities. This course follows two themes. One is the transformation of Classical urbanism into its late antique form, particularly focusing on the Christianisation of cities and the continuities and developments in economic and social form in the period from 400-600. We trace both the micro-level relationship between individual and community and the macro-level of changes in urban form and political structure associated with Late Antiquity. The city will be examined as a structuring structure that shapes economic, cultural and social forms in the Late Antique period across West and East. The second theme is the transformation of society into the medieval period, looking in particular at the problematic relationship between state and city and either the continuities in settlements in the transition to the Islamic periods and the barbarian kingdoms or the discontinuities in settlements. The course will consider continuities in urban form into Late Antiquity and transitions into Medieval urbanism, East and West. The course will consider a range of source material, including hagiography, documentary material (epigraphy and papyrology), epistolography, historical narratives, and archaeological material to provide an insight into the varied materials available for the history of the Late Antique city and the different methodologies required to consider this material.


Credits: 20



1.       Making the Christian City: The Rome of Jerome and Melania

2.       Making the Christian City: The Milan of Ambrose

3.       Making the Christian Man: Augustine and the City of God

4.       Resisting the Christian City: Libanius and the Crisis of the Aristocracy

5.       The Byzantine City I: Celebrating Aphrodisias

6.       Remembering Rome: Cassiodorus and the governance of Italy

7.       An End of the Ancient City: Bishops, Plague, and War

8.       Saintly cities: Cities of Symeon the Fool and John the Almoner

9.       Old Cities, New Cities: Pirenne and the West

10.   Old Cities, New Cities: Islamic Urbanism

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to

·         demonstrate a critical awareness of approaches to studying the ancient city and ancient urban society in the Late Roman period.

·         show a systematic understanding of the processes of cultural change in the Late Antique period, including issues of religious change and economic and social change.

·         discuss the relationship between urban form and societal forms and how these relationships were reshaped in the Late Antique period with a critical understanding of past research.

·         understand and evaluate current scholarship concerning the development of urbanism in different regions and in different periods and the continuities in urban societies into the post-Roman period.

·         analyse problems in urban history and in particular the historiographic issues of urban history in relationship to models of 'decline and fall' and 'transition' in Late Antiquity

·         demonstrate individual study skills, such as researching, presentation and analytical thought.



Formative: Essay Draft: Submitted by March 17thh

Summative: Essay (3,500-4,000 words): Submitted by May 17th (subject to comfirmation). One electronic copy and one hard copy. (100%).


Key Readings

Alston, R The City in Roman and Byzantine Egypt. Routledge, London, New York, 2002.

Bowden, W., & Lavan, L.. Recent research in late-antique urbanism. Portsmouth, R.I: Journal of Roman Archaeology(2001).

Bowden, W., & Lavan, L.. Theory and practice in late antique archaeology. Boston: Brill. (2003)

Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G.. Decline and fall of the Roman city. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2001)

Markus, R. A. The End of Ancient Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Wickham, C. Framing the early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006

Wickham, C. The inheritance of Rome: A history of Europe from 400 to 1000. Penguin: Allen Lane, 2010.


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