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CLAS343 Archaeology and the Fall of the Roman Empire

A study of the archaeological evidence for the collapse and disappearance of the Roman Empire, and of ancient and modern interpretations of these events.

The Fall of the Roman Empire is considered to be a watershed moment in Western history, marking an important conceptual division between the classical Mediterranean world and Medieval Europe. In fact, The Fall of Rome was not a single event, nor has anyone yet identified a single root cause for the Empire's demise. Instead, this was a drawn out process that spanned several centuries, across a period characterised by a long list of fascinating developments: the rise of Christianity, barbarian invasions, rampant corruption in the aristocratic classes, uncertainty in the imperial succession, an increasingly unstable financial system, the unpredictable actions of the Roman armies and the often seditious activities of ambitious military commanders.

In this paper, we will explore the actual changes that took place in this dynamic period, which spans from circa 200 to 500 CE. Our analysis will rely on both the ancient written sources and on contemporary archaeological evidence as we reconstruct the effects of the Empire's fall on everyday life. Ongoing archaeological work in some of the important cities of the post-Roman Mediterranean allows us to develop a state-of-the-field perspective on the fall of the western Roman Empire and its impact on the people who lived in that world.

Paper title Archaeology and the Fall of the Roman Empire
Paper code CLAS343
Subject Classical Studies
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level CLAS, GREK or LATN points
CLAS 443
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Teaching staff
Dr Dan Osland
Paper Structure

Dr Dan Osland will provide two 50-minute lectures per week, guiding participants through the archaeological and historical evidence related to the late Roman world and the collapse of the western Roman empire. Participants are encouraged to take active part in evaluating the sources and drawing conclusions from the available evidence.

Internal Assessment 70%


The Fall of the Western Roman Empire: An Archaeological and Historical Perspective. N. Christie. 2011. Bloomsbury.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman City. W. Liebeschuetz. 2001. Oxford.

Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West, 376 - 568. Guy Halsall​. 2007. Cambridge.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • An understanding of the historical context of the period that incorporated the fall of the Roman Empire
  • An understanding of the key factors that contributed to Rome's fall
  • A familiarity with the archaeological record from this period
  • The ability to evaluate the available archaeological and historical evidence from this complex period of European history
  • The skills of effective written communication, including the construction of clear and logical scholarly argument

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Monday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41
Wednesday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41