John S. Ott
Fall 2017
Portland State University

HST 354U:
Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000
(T, Th 10:00-11:50, CH 382)

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, exploring both historical and historiographical debates. Topics will include: how the pluralistic and polytheistic cultures of the Roman empire gradually embraced monotheism; state-formation, affinity groups, and 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 individual's contribution to the class dynamic will be weighted in the assessment of grades. Guidelines for all assignments will be posted here in advance of deadlines. Student performance will be evaluated according to the following criteria, on a scale of 1000 points:

  Guidelines for all assignments will be made available in advance of assignment due-dates.

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 extremely easy.  Plagiarized assignments will automatically receive an ‘F’/0 grade.  Students will be required to resubmit the assignment, and will be deducted in their assignment grade an amount appropriate to the late paper policy given in the assignment guidelines.  Repeated or particularly egregious offenses may be the cause for additional formal action.  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): 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

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

E-mail policy

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

- E-mail is not ideal for urgent matters.  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 (9/26) Introduction

Lecture: A box and a burial

Handout: Course syllabus

TH (9/28) ‘Rome, mother of mortals, mother of gods’  |  Reading  Guide #1  |


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

Lecture: The Empire around 300: Diocletian and Constantine

T (10/3) Power, wealth and patronage in the later Empire  |   Reading Guide #2  |


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

                              MAP QUIZ, IN CLASS

TH (10/5) A barbarian Empire


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 76-108

Lecture: The ‘barbarization’ of Rome

T (10/10) ‘Christian times’


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 50-75

Lecture: The many Christianities of Late Antiquity

TH (10/12) Conversion of Europe


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 (10/17) The rise of the Frankish kingdoms   |   Reading Guide # 3   |


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 111-129

Lecture: The world of Gregory of Tours

TH (10/19) The Franks


Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 170-202

T (10/24) Women, gender, and sanctity in a dark age


TH (10/26)  Byzantium under Justinian and Theodora

  • Prokopios, The Secret History, ed. and trans. Anthony Kaldellis (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2010), pp. 28-31, 36-65 (Course reserves)
Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 170-202

Lecture: The Byzantine Empire in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries


T (10/31) Muslim Iberia


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

Lecture: The Islamic inheritance of Rome


III.  The Carolingian Empire: renewal and innovation

TH (11/2) The Carolingians: Renovatio of Empire  |  Reading Guide #4  |


  • 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”; “The General Capitulary for the Missi from 802” (PSR, pp. 31-71)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 375-392

Lecture: The Pippinids’ Rise to Power

T (11/7) Pathways to power: kin networks and family alliances


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: “Dhuoda’s Advice to Her Son” (PSR, pp. 72-80);

  • Gerd Althoff, “Kin-Groups,” chap. 2 in Family, Friends, and Followers (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 23-64 (Course reserves)

TH (11/9) Learning and Belief in the Ninth Century


  • Early Medieval Europe Reader: “Five Poems of Alcuin”; “Alcuin’s Dialogue with Young Prince Pepin”; “Freculf Dedicates His Book”; “Gottschalk and the Predestination Controversy”; “Popular and Learned Beliefs: Two Specimens”; “Ratramnus and the Dog-Headed Humans” (PSR, pp. 81-109)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 405-426

Lecture: Education and learning in the Carolingian World

IV. Carolingian dissolution

T (11/14) After Charlemagne: A divided society


  • 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. 110-146)

Examine: Early Medieval Europe Reader, “The Treaty of Verdun (843)” (PSR, pp. 147-149)

Optional: Wickham, Inheritance, pp. 392-404

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

TH (11/16) The bonds of peasant society


·        Early Medieval Europe Primary Source Reader: “The Polyptique of Saint-Germain-des-Prés”; “The Polyptique of the Church of Marseilles”; “Agobard of Lyons and the Popular Belief in Weather Magic”; “Of Bread and Provisions”; “St-Riquier (Centula): Its Precious Goods” (PSR, pp. 167-191);

·        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

T (11/21) Vikings!


·        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. 150-166)

·        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 (11/28) The Ottonians and Byzantium


·        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 (11/30) Social anxieties and the struggle for peace


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

·        Raimbaud, archbishop of Arles, “Letter to the Clergy of Italy concerning the Truce of God,” trans. J. S. Ott (On-line)

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


T (12/5) – Final Exam (10:15-12:05)