History of the Early Middle Ages:

Europe and the Mediterranean, 300 to 1100

Jeffrey A. Bowman, Department of History, Kenyon College

HIST 126.00A, Fall 2002

This course surveys the history of the early Middle Ages. Relying mainly on a wide range of primary sources, it traces the broad contours of 500 years of European and Mediterranean history. The course covers the gradual merging of Roman and Germanic cultures, the survival of Roman ideas during the Middle Ages, the slow Christianization of Europe, monasticism, the rise of Islam, and Norse society. Readings include Augustine’s Confessions, a scandalous account of the reign of Emperor Justinian, the Rule of St. Benedict, a translation of the Koran, and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History.

Required Texts

Augustine, Confessions

Procopius, Secret History

R. I. Page, Chronicles of the Vikings: Records, Memorials, and Myths

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Alfred the Great

Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, ed. Paul Dutton

Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity

Barbara Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages























Map Quiz


On the final page of this syllabus is a list of cities, countries, islands, rivers, etc. You are responsible for knowing their locations On the quiz, you will be asked to place these on a blank map of Europe and the Mediterranean. You may want to test yourself at September 10

3 Short Papers

4-5 pages each

20% each

Grades will drop by one-half grade for every day a paper is late. If you have a legitimate reason to request an extension, you must speak to me at least one week before the paper’s due date. After that time, I will not consider any requests.

Due at the beginning of class September 24, October 22, December 10



Over the course of the semester, there will be five short in-class quizzes. These will be short, straightforward, and unannounced. I will use the four highest of your five scores to figure this portion of your final grade. There will be no retakes, no excuses, and no discussions about retakes or excuses. If you miss a quiz because you are not in class, you will receive a zero for that quiz.

Final Exam


Saturday December 14, 6:30 p.m.

Two Hours



We will devote a considerable amount of class time to large- and small-group discussions. In order to participate in these class discussions, you must attend class and you must complete the assigned readings by class time. You must be prepared to discuss the assigned questions. If you hope to earn a high grade in this class, you must participate regularly, energetically, and thoughtfully. If you miss more than three class periods, your grade will drop swiftly and irrevocably

Readings Assignments, Lecture Topics,

and Discussion Questions

1. Introduction: Middleness August 27

2. The World of Late Antiquity August 29

Augustine, Confessions, Introduction, Books I, II.

The Rich in Rome,

Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, pp. 1-48.

3 What common beliefs, practices, and institutions unified the Roman world? How stable was this unity? Were there significant differences between the eastern and western Mediterranean?

3. Education and Opportunity in Augustine’s World September 3

Augustine, Confessions, Books III-VI

Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, chapter 1

3 What are the most difficult choices that Augustine has to make regarding his friends, family, education, career, and religion?

4. Rome Converts to Christianity / Christianity Converts to Rome September 5

Augustine, Confessions, Books VII-VIII

Tertullian, On Pagan Learning,

3 What does Tertullian mean when he asks "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?"? How might Augustine answer this question?

5. Martyrdom and Sanctity September 10

Augustine, Confessions, IX-X

Passions of Perpetua and Felicity,

Life of Macrina,

Brown, The World of Late Antiquity, 49-114.

3 Some saints are remembered for heroic deaths, other for long-suffering patience, others for intelligence, others for charitable works. Why is Perpetua a saint? What qualities does she display that make her worthy of particular attention or veneration? What does the story of her martyrdom tell us about relations between the living and the dead? How is Perpetua’s sanctity related to her historical circumstances? Is she a distinctly Roman saint? Do what extent did Christianity adapt to prevailing Roman values? To what extent did early Christians reject Roman traditions? What accounts for Christianity's success in this world?

6. The Transformation of the Roman World September 12

from Tacitus, Germania,

Sidonius, A Country House in Gaul,

Brown, World of Late Antiquity, pp. 115-136.

*** Map Quiz ***

3 Did Barbarians invade Europe and destroy Roman civilization?

7. Byzantium and Justinian September 17

Procopius, Secret History, chapters I-VI.

Brown, World of Late Antiquity, 137-188.

3 Procopius viciously attacks the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora, even going so far as to describe Theodora’s misspent youth as a showgirl-courtesan-prostitute. Does the rancor of his account detract from his reliability as a historian? Do you trust his account of Justinian’s character?

8. Tales of the City September 19

Procopius, Secret History, chapters VI-XXX.

Procopius on the Racing Factions,

Procopius on the Plague,

3 What does Procopius tell us about entertainment, sports, sex, and shopping in a sixth-century Mediterranean city?

9. Law and Society, East and West September 24


The Digest on Marriage,

The Law of the Salian Franks,

The Jews of Spain and the Visigothic Code,

3 What does the Law of the Salian Franks tell us about Frankish society? What are the strengths and limitations of law codes as historical sources? Compare the priorities of Frankish legislation with those of Justinian’s Digest. Do these law codes reflect differences between Frankish (or Visigothic) and Byzantine society?

10. Slavery in Early Medieval Society September 26

Pierre Bonnassie, "The Survival and Extinction of the Slave System in the Early Medieval West," in From Slavery to Feudalism in Southwestern Europe. [This book is on reserve in the library]

3 Describe the social structure of medieval Europe. How uniform or varied is this social structure from one place to another? How does the social structure change over time?

*** Paper One Due ***

11. The Conversion of Europe October 1

Bede, A History of the English Church and People, Book I, 1-10, 22-34; Book II

Carolingian Civilization, nos. 1, 2.

3 What motivated people to convert to Christianity? From what did they convert? How unified were Christians in their beliefs during this period? How did they resolve their differences?

12. Bede’s England October 3

Bede, A History of the English Church and People Book III; Book IV, 1-16, 27-32.

3 What made someone a king in Bede’s world? What responsibilities and powers did kings have?

13. Bede’s England II October 10

Bede, A History of the English Church and People, Book V

3 Does Bede’s History have an argument?

14. The Recitation October 15

Koran, surahs 1, 47,

Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad,

Brown, World of Late Antiquity, 189-208.

Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, chapter 2.

3 What does the Koran say about Jews and Christians? In what ways is the Koran like Christian and Jewish scripture? How does it differ?

15. al-Andalus October 17

Islamic Conquest of Spain,

The Chronicle of 754, The Treaty of Tudmir, in Olivia R. Constable, Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources, pp. 28-42. [on reserve in the library]

3 Which of these accounts of the arrival of Muslims in Iberia is the earliest? Which is the most reliable?

16. The Interaction of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam October 22

Jews and Later Roman Law,

A Jewish Administrator under Caliph Hisham, in Medieval Iberia [on reserve in the library]

Jessica Coope, "Religious and Cultural Conversion to Islam in Ninth-century Córdoba," Journal of World History 4 (1993), 47-68. [on reserve in the library]

3 What is the status of Jewish minority communities in Muslim Spain? Jessica Coope describes some of the features of conversion to Islam in Muslim Spain and we’ve discussed Bede’s account of conversion to Christianity in England. What, if anything, do these types of conversion have in common?

17. Women in Frankish Society October 24

Dhuoda, "Letter to her Son," in Carolingian Civilization, nos. 28, 42, 47.

Justinianic Marriage Legislation,

[We have already read this source, but you should review it if you don't remember it well]

David Herlihy, "Land, Family, and Women in Continental Europe, 701-1200," in Women in Medieval Society, ed. Susan Mosher Stuard (Philadelphia, 1976), 13-46. [on reserve in the library]

3 What responsibilities does Dhuoda emphasize to her son? What kinds of power did women have in medieval society? What other sources that we have read can illuminate this question?

*** Paper Two Due ***

18. Icons and Images in the East and West October 29

Carolingian Civilization, nos. 15, 16.

In Defense of Icons,

Paulinus of Nola, "The Decoration of His Churches," Augustine on Images, and Gregory the Great to Bishop Serenus, in Early Medieval Art, Caecilia Davis-Weyer (Toronto, 1986), 17-22, 40-49. [on reserve in the library].

3 What roles do images play in education and religious devotion in the early Middle Ages?

19. Monks, Nuns, & the Sacred Page: Sheepskin as Information Technology October 31

The Rule of Benedict,

Life of Benedict of Aniane, Letters of Alcuin, in Carolingian Civilization, nos. 17-21, 26, 56, 64.

3 What can you tell about literacy and the circulation of knowledge in the Carolingian world? What ideas do Benedict of Nursia and Benedict of Aniane share?

20. The Carolingian Achievement: Pepin and Charlemagne November 5

Carolingian Civlization, nos. 6-15, 24, 55, 73.

3 The sources gathered and translated in Carolingian Civilization provide a number of different perspectives on life in Francia during the eighth and ninth centuries. Some historians have seen the reigns of Charlemagne, his immediate predecessors, and his successors as a Renaissance. What does this mean? What evidence of a Renaissance do you see? Which sources shed the most light on this question?

21. The Later Carolingians November 7

Carolingian Civilization, nos. 25-30, 33, 37, 38, 44, 58, 72.

3 What do these sources tell us about government in this period? Are the rulers described just and effective? If so, why? If not, why not?

22. Relics November 12

Einhard’s account of the Roman relic trade in Carolingian Civilization, no. 34.

3 Why do relics become such central features of early medieval spirituality? How did medieval people determine the authenticity of relics? Are relics like images and icons?

23. Alfred’s England November 14

Introduction and Asser’s Life of King Alfred in Alfred the Great.

3 Compare descriptions of Charlemagne with Asser’s Life of Alfred? Do medieval thinkers agree about what makes a great king? Does one biographer seem more reliable than the other?

24. Alfred’s England II November 19

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in Alfred the Great

3 How is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle organized? Does it tell us more or less than Asser's Life of Alfred?

25. The Vikings November 21

Accounts of Viking Raids in Carolingian Civilization, no. 69-71.

3 Were the Vikings especially bloodthirsty? Or were they brave, skilled, and industrious? What accounts for their success?

26. Looking Back December 3

3 In-class exercise. Required reading will vary from one student to the next.

27. Norse Civilization I December 5

Chronicles of the Vikings, chapters 1-10

3 Are Vikings portrayed differently in these sources? Compare Norse law (chapter 8) with other legal systems we have studied. How are they similar? Where do they differ? Compare the account of the Norse conversion to Christianity to other conversions we have studied (e.g. Augustine’s to Christianity, Bede’s account of the conversion of England, conversion to Islam in Córdoba).

28. The Year 1000, The Peace of God, and the First Crusade December 10

Rosenwein, A Short History of the Middle Ages, chapter 4

*** Paper Three Due ***










Additional Bibliographic Help

The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History

Brian Tierney and Sidney Painter, Western Europe in the Middle Ages,300-1475

Edward Peters, Europe and the Middle Ages 

Fazlur Rahman, Islam The Cambridge Medieval History

The Dictionary of the Middle Ages

Map Quiz, September 13






Hadrian’s Wall






Path of the Visigoths



Path of the Franks



Path of the Vandals



Strait of Gibraltar



Boundaries of Rome (c. 200 AD)






Division of E & W Empire



Sahara Desert



Seas, Islands, Mountains








The Maghreb





Constantinople / Byzantium


Adriatic Sea



Baltic Sea









Aegean Sea