John S. Ott
Cramer Hall 441-H

Fall 2021

HST 354U:
Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000
(T, Th 12:00-1:50, CH 269)

About your instructor

If you're interested, a brief biographical introduction to Prof. Ott can be found here. Go to p. 12.

Course overview

Drawing upon a combination of primary and secondary historical sources, this course surveys the social, political, intellectual, and religious development of western continental Europe and the Mediterranean from Late Antiquity (ca. 250 C.E.) through the early Middle Ages (to ca. 1000 C.E.), focusing on the interaction and contributions of the three principal cultures -- Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Germanic -- that shaped it. We will proceed chronologically and thematically. Topics will include: expressions of power and ideology in Roman and Christian contexts; how the pluralistic and polytheistic cultures of the Roman empire came to embrace monotheism; social and gender roles in the late Roman and post-Roman world; the rise of Germanic and Islamic successor states and the growth of the Carolingian Empire in the sixth through eighth centuries; the collapse of the Carolingian political achievement and the uncertainties of the year 1000.

Course objectives

Course evaluation

Classes will be structured around discussion (instructor-led and group-based), lectures, written assignments, and media presentations. As the structure and success of the class depend on individual preparation and participation in discussion, each student's contribution to the class dynamic will be weighted in the assessment of grades. Guidelines for all assignments will be posted below well in advance of deadlines. Student performance will be evaluated according to the following criteria, on a scale of 1000 points:

Plagiarism policy

Plagiarism, intentional or unintentional, is an intolerable infraction in any setting where ideas are exchanged and discussed. I routinely uncover plagiarized papers, and detecting plagiarism is relatively easy. Plagiarized assignments will automatically receive a '0'. Students will be required to resubmit the assignment, and will receive an automatic off-the-top deduction of 25%. Late penalties may also apply. Repeated or particularly egregious offenses may be the cause for formal action, including referral to the Dean of Student Life for academic disciplinary measures. Please note that submitting work already completed for a different course constitutes academic dishonesty at Portland State. If you are unsure what plagiarism is, you may test yourself at this web site maintained by Indiana University. Remember, ignorance is no excuse!

Course materials

The texts below are available for sale at the PSU Bookstore. A copy of each is also on 2-hour reserve at Millar Library:

Optional textbook (for those who'd like a good written survey of the period), also on 2-hour reserve at Millar: All readings are required unless otherwise noted. Also, please note that several of our readings this quarter are available on-line and via Course reserves through Millar Library, and may be downloaded to computers or other devices.

Accessibility notice

If you have, or think you may have, a disability that may affect your work in this class and feel you need accommodations, contact the Disability Resource Center to schedule an appointment and initiate a conversation about reasonable accommodations. Students who require additional consideration for the timely completion of any of the course requirements due to accessibility needs should speak to the instructor at the beginning of the term, and must be registered with PSU's Disability Resource Center

Title IX statement

Federal, state, and PSU policies require faculty members to mandatorily report any instances of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and/or other forms of prohibited discrimination. PSU faculty are required by law to file a report if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child with whom they come into contact has suffered abuse, or that any person with whom they come into contact has abused a child. These reports are not confidential. However, campus resources where reports may be made confidentially may be found by following this link.

Covid19 and campus mask policy statement

Please consult hard copy syllabus distributed in class. Students should familiarize themselves with PSU's mask policy.

E-mail policy

When contacting the Instructor via e-mail, please bear in mind the following:

- I consider 48-72 hours to be a reasonable period in which to respond to inquiries. I am usually much faster than this, but not always.

- I will not, in general, respond to student e-mails received after 5:00 p.m. until the following day(s), nor will I generally respond to student e-mail sent after 5:00 on Friday until Monday morning. Please plan accordingly.

- Please remember to identify yourself and state your query as clearly as possible.

- I will not fill in students who miss class on the details of a particular lecture or discussion. Please seek that information from your fellow students.



I.  The Later Roman Empire: continuities and evolutions

T (9/28) Introduction

Lecture: A many-faceted box (Or check out this brief video, which I made for last year's remote class, in case you missed opening day)

Handout: Course syllabus

TH (9/30) 'Rome, mother of mortals, mother of gods'  |  Reading  Guide #1  |


Optional reading: Wickham, Inheritance of Rome, pp. 21-49

Lecture: The Empire around 300: the Diocletianic Recovery

T (10/5) Power, wealth and patronage in the later Empire  |  Reading Guide #2  |


Lecture: 'Haves,' 'have nots,' and 'want nots' in an age of transition


TH (10/7) A barbarian Empire  | See Reading Guide #1 |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 76-108

Lecture: The 'barbarization' of Rome


T (10/12) 'Christian times'  | See Reading Guide #1 |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 50-75

Lecture: The many Christianities of Late Antiquity

TH (10/14) Conversion of Europe  | Reading Guide #3 |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 170-187

Lecture: From sacred groves to altar tables

II.  The Roman successor states in the west, ca. 450-750

T (10/19) Rise of the Frankish kingdoms  |  Reading Guide # 4  |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 111-129

Lecture: The world of Gregory of Tours

TH (10/21) The Franks


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 170-202

T (10/26) Women, power, scandal, and sanctity I: Radegund of Thuringia/Poitiers  Reading Guide # 4  |


TH (10/28) Women, power, scandal, and sanctity II :Byzantium under Justinian (527-565) and Theodora (d. 548) | Reading Guide #5 |

  • Prokopios, The Wars of Justinian, trans. H. B. Dewing and Anthony Kaldellis (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2010), pp. 60-65 (Course reserves);
  • Prokopios, The Secret History, ed. and trans. Anthony Kaldellis (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2010), pp. 28-31, 36-65 (Course reserves)
Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 255-278

Lecture: The Byzantine Empire in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries

T (11/2) Muslim Iberia | Reading Guide #5 |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 279-297 (318-347)

Lecture: The Arab/Muslim inheritance of Rome


III.  The Carolingian Empire: renewal and innovation

TH (11/4) The Carolingians: Renovatio of Empire | Reading Guide #6 |


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: 'The Elevation of Pepin the Short'; 'The Reanointing of Pepin in 754'; 'Pope Stephen Scolds Charlemagne'; 'Einhard's Life of Charlemagne'; 'The Capitulary on the Saxon Territories' (PSR, pp. 31-62)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 375-392

Lecture: The Pippinids' Rise to Power

T (11/9) Kinship, emotion, and family in the ninth century |  Reading Guide #6 |


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: 'Dhuoda's Advice to Her Son'; 'Five Poems of Alcuin'; 'Freculf dedicates his book' (PSR, pp. 63-74, 83-84)

TH (11/11) Learning and belief in the ninth century


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: 'Alcuin's Dialogue with Young Prince Pepin'; 'Popular and Learned Beliefs: Two Specimens'; 'Ratramnus and the Dog-Headed Humans'; 'Agobard of Lyons and the Popular Belief in Weather Magic' (PSR, pp. 75-82, 85-94, 166-168)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 405-426

Lecture: Education and learning in the Carolingian World

T (11/16) The bonds of peasant society


  • Early Medieval Europe Primary Source Reader: 'The Polyptique of Saint-Germain-des-Pres'; 'The Polyptique of the Church of Marseilles'; 'Of Bread and Provisions' (PSR, pp. 153-165, 169-174);
  • Jean-Pierre Devroey, 'The Economy,' in The Early Middle Ages. Europe, 400-1000, ed. Rosamond McKitterick (Oxford, 2001), pp. 97-129 (Course reserves)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 529-551

Lecture: The 95%ers: peasants and peasant life in early medieval Europe

IV. Carolingian dissolution

TH (11/18) After Charlemagne: End of the Carolingian empire | Reading Guide #8 |


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: 'Thegan's Life of Louis'; 'The Ordinatio Imperii of 817'; 'The Astronomer's Account of the Rebellions'; 'The Final Days and Death of Louis the Pious' (by the Astronomer) (PSR, pp. 96-132)

Examine: Early Medieval Europe Reader, 'The Treaty of Verdun (843)' (PSR, pp. 133-135)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 392-404

Lecture: All his children: The troubled reign of Louis the Pious (814-840)

T (11/23) The Vikings | Reading Guide #8 |


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: 'The Annals of Xanten'; 'The Annals of Saint-Vaast'; 'Abbo's Account of the Siege of Paris'; 'The Wandering Monks of Saint-Philibert' (PSR, pp. 136-152)
  • Anders Winroth, "Networks of Trade," chap. 7 in The Conversion of Scandinavia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 85-101 (Course reserves)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 472-507

Lecture: The Three Kingdoms and the Age of Invasions


V. Europe at the first millennium

T (11/30) The Ottonians and Byzantium | Reading Guide #9  |


  • Liudprand of Cremona, Embassy to Nicephoros Phocas, in The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona, trans. Paolo Squatriti (Washington, D.C., 2007), 238-276 (Course reserves)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 427-452

Lecture: The Ottonians

TH (12/2) Social anxieties and the struggle for peace  | Reading Guide #10  |


  • Rodulfus Glaber, The Five Books of the Histories, Book IV (pp. 170-215), ed. and trans. John France (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989) (Course reserves);

Lecture: The Age of Iron: the Year 1000 and Monastic Reform

T (12/7) Final Exam (details TBA)