HIST 203 – Early Middle Ages (Fall 2015)

Office: Holton 328
Phone: (414) 229-5767
Messages: History Department, tel. (414) 229-4361
E-mail: carlin@uwm.edu
Home page: sites.uwm.edu/carlin/
Office hours: Tuesdays 11 AM – 12 noon, and by appointment

Teaching Assistant: Samantha Kailas
E-mail: slkailas@uwm.edu
Office: Holton 375
Phone: (414) 229-6700
Office hours: Mondays 2 – 4 pm, and by appointment

Discussion sections are designed to engage students with the course materials through discussion, activities, and written assignments. Please bring the assigned readings (either on paper or in electronic format) to your discussion every week, and be prepared to discuss them.

DIS 601 11-11:50AM Thursday MER G47

DIS 602 12-12:50PM Thursday MER 321

DIS 603 2-2:50PM Thursday NWQ B 6422

DIS 605 10-10:50AM Friday BOL B72

Course description: This course will survey the history of Europe in the early middle ages, c. AD 500-1000. During the first ten weeks of the semester we will examine the broad history of the period, and we will look at some individual events and developments and trace their long-term effects on European society. These special topics will include the collapse of the Roman empire in the West and its survival in the East, the spread of Christianity and Islam, the invasions and migrations of the Germanic peoples in Western Europe (including the Anglo-Saxons, the Franks, and the Vikings), and the rise and fall of the Carolingian empire. In the latter part of the semester we will examine in some detail the conditions of daily life in early medieval Europe. To do all this we will read works by modern scholars who have attempted to reconstruct pieces of the medieval past, and also accounts by medieval people of their own world as they saw it, and we will consider examples of the art, architecture, and material culture of the period.

Course objectives: This course should provide you with a good overview of European history between AD 500 and 1000, and enable you to understand the significance both of outstanding individual careers and events, and of broad and long-term historical patterns. It should also enable you to develop important skills in:

  • reading and evaluating sources carefully and critically
  • identifying and analyzing a wide variety of types of evidence
  • using such evidence to reconstruct and interpret the past
  • combining research and analysis with thoughtful writing to produce clear, original, and persuasive arguments

There are two required textbooks:
Bennett, Judith M. Medieval Europe: A Short History. 11th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010 [for 2011].

Riché, Pierre. Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. Trans. Jo Ann McNamara. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

There are also numerous required online readings (listed below under Topics and Readings).

Email and Internet access: You will require an email account and access to the Internet for this class. All UWM students receive a free UWM email account, and have free Internet access via UWM computer terminals and WiFi in UWM buildings. The History Department regularly contacts students via their assigned UWM email addresses. If you routinely use another email service provider (e.g., Gmail or Yahoo!) instead of your assigned UWM email, please go immediately into your UWM email account and put a “forward” command on it, to forward all incoming email messages to the account that you routinely use. This is your responsibility; the History Department reflectors use UWM e-addresses only. (To put a forward command on your UWM email account: enter your Office 365 account and click on “?” to open the Help app. Type “forward mail” and then follow the directions to forward email to your desired account.)

Papers: There is one required, 5-page, research paper (described at the end of this syllabus). The paper is due in the lecture class on Thursday, 5 Nov. 2015.

Exams: There will be two exams: an in-class midterm (covering material from weeks 1-6) on Thursday, 8 October 2015, and a final exam (covering material from weeks 7-15) on Saturday, 19 December 2015 (7:30-9:30 AM). The final exam date and time are set by the University and cannot be altered. No alternative day or time for the final exam will be possible.

Grading and deadlines: Your final grade will be based on your research paper (25%); your midterm exam (25%); your final exam (25%); your attendance at both lectures and discussions, and your participation and work in your discussion section (25%). The research paper is due and exams will be held on the dates specified above. Late work will not be accepted, except in cases of major illness or emergency (it is your responsibility to contact me – not your TA — immediately in such a case).

Attendance: Your regular attendance is essential, both at lectures and discussion sections. Students who fail to attend class (including discussion sections) or contact me during the first week of classes may be dropped administratively.

Electronic devices in class: You may use a laptop or tablet computer in class, but ONLY for work related to this class. This is a zero-tolerance policy: any off-task computer use will result in the immediate forfeiture of the privilege of using a computer in class for the remainder of the semester. All other electronic devices, including phones, must be turned off and stowed away during class.

Disabilities: If you have a disability, it is essential that you contact me early in the semester to discuss any help or accommodation you may need.

Academic Advising in History: All L&S students have to declare and complete an academic major to graduate. If you have earned in excess of 45 credits and have not yet declared a major, you are encouraged to do so. If you are interested in declaring a major or minor in History, or require academic advising in History, please visit the Department of History’s undergraduate program web page, at: http://uwm.edu/history/undergraduate/.

Academic integrity at UWM: UWM and I expect each student to be honest in academic performance. Failure to do so may result in discipline under rules published by the Board of Regents (UWS 14). The penalties for academic misconduct such as cheating or plagiarism can include a grade of “F” for the course and expulsion from the University.

UWM policies on course-related matters: See the website of the Secretary of the University, at: https://www4.uwm.edu/secu/news_events/upload/Syllabus-Links.pdf

Topics and Readings

Week 1: Introduction

3 Sept. –

Introduction to course

Week 2: The Roman Empire; The Origins and Spread of Christianity

8 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. xx (“Web Sites”), 1-9

Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 1-6, 9-11. Use any edition of the New Testament, or use either of the editions below:
http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/acts-asv.html (American Standard Version, 1901)
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=51&chapter=1&version=49 (New American Standard Version, 1995)

10 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 9-18

Eusebius: The Conversion of Constantine, 312
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

The Nicene Creed, 325

Theodosius the Great, Law-code (excerpts): On religion
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Hypatia of Alexandria (d. 415): Read the editor’s introduction, and then scroll down and read all three accounts of her life and murder

Week 3: the Collapse of Roman Power in the West; the Barbarian Invasions

15 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 19-23

Tacitus, Germania (read the first of the two texts)
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

17 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 23-27

Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks: The reign of Clovis
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Biographical sketch of Clotilda, Clovis’s queen

Theodoric the Ostrogoth (via his secretary, Cassiodorus): Letters
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book I, Chap. 15: The coming of the Anglo-Saxons

Week 4: Early Western Christendom, c. 500-700

22 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 28-40

Venantius Fortunatus: Life of St. Radegund
(If the McMaster website is unavailable, use the following website:)

24 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 40-50

The Rule of St. Benedict
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People: Missionaries in England

Week 5: Byzantium and Islam

29 Sept. –

Bennett, pp. 51-65

Procopius, On the Buildings (De Ædificiis): Hagia Sophia
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Procopius, On the Wars (De Bello Gothico): the Byzantine silk industry, and the racing factions (see both websites below)
(if the main website is down, use the archived versions of these sources at:)

1 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 65-79

The Qur’an: Extracts from Surahs 1 and 47, on faith

Week 6: the Islamic World; Midterm Exam

6 Oct. –

“The Origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam” (short article by Hussein

Abdulwaheed Amin, Editor of IslamForToday.com)

The Qur’an: Extracts from Surahs 4 and 2, on women, Moses, Jesus, and righteousness

The Hadith (extracts): On the 5 pillars of Islam; on trade

Yakut: Baghdad under the Abbasids, c. AD 1000
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

8 Oct. –


[All discussion sections will meet next week in the Library]

Week 7: Carolingian Europe

13 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 80-90

Riché, pp. 41-6 (the palace), 90-8 (life at court)

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne: Extracts from Book III
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

15 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 91-101

Riché, pp. 3-23 (the Carolingian world)

Charlemagne: Capitulary De villis
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Inventory of Charlemagne’s estate at Asnapium [=modern Annapes; the mysterious word “gramalmin” in this inventory is a misreading of “gramalium” (pot-hook)]
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Week 8: the New Invasion: Muslims, Magyars, and Vikings

20 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 102-111

The Vikings attack the Franks, c. 843-912 (read all three texts)
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Viking ship-building and navigation (see both websites below)


Viking ships (see both websites below):
(Viking picture stone from the Swedish island of Gotland, depicting land and sea battles)
(the Gokstad, Oseberg, and Tune ships)

The Cuerdale hoard, c. 905-910: the largest known Viking Age silver hoard from Western Europe

22 Oct. –

Saga of Grettir the Strong, Chaps. 1-18


Ibn Fadlan: Description of the Rus, 921 (read as far as “Questions and answers about Eaters of the Dead and 13th Warrior“)

Week 9: Europe Survives the Siege

27 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 111-122

Asser, Life of King Alfred
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

The Peace of God proclaimed in the archdiocese of Bordeaux, 989
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

29 Oct. –

Bennett, pp. 123-130

“Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, Tenth-Century Poet and Playwright” (biographical essay by Brenda M. Johnson on the German canoness who was the first medieval playwright)

Week 10: Early Medieval Society; Daily Work

3 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 101-9, 110-30 (Carolingian people), 133-42 (farming), 142-51 (stock breeding, crafts)

5 Nov. –



Week 11: The Early Medieval Church

10 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 35-40 (monasteries), 84-89 (prelates), 109-10 (rural priests)

12 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 230-42 (liturgy, churches and their furnishings, penance, liturgical calendar), 269-72 (sanctuary and hospitality)

Week 12: Formal Education: Popular Religion

17 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 74-76 (aristocratic training), 191-7 (clerical training), 203-29 (education and learning)

19 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 181-90 (paganism, magic, astrology, marvels), 197-202 (popular religious instruction), 242-5 (prayer associations), 273-88 (relics and pilgrimage)

Week 13: Lordship and Justice

24 Nov. –

Riché, pp. 67-71 (estate administration), 257-8 (the poor), 259-68 (royal justice and lay protectors)

The law of the Salian Franks
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Judgment by ordeal
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

26 Nov. –


Week 14: Daily Life; Hardships

1 Dec. –

Riché, pp. 47-56, 61-3 (demography, sex, and marriage), 159-77 (housing, clothing, hygiene, food)

3 Dec. –

Riché, pp. 24-8 (landscape), 76-81 (war), 249-54 (hardships)

Aelfric, Colloquy (“On Laborers”), c. AD 1000
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)

Week 15: Riddles, Poetry, and Tales

8 Dec. –

Alcuin of York, “The Debate Between Pippin and Alcuin”


Anglo-Saxon poetry and riddles from the Exeter Book: Excerpts from The Ruin and The Wanderer, and three riddles

Two tales from The 1001 Nights (translated by Sir Richard Burton):
“The Ruined Man Who Became Rich Again Through a Dream”
“The Sweep and the Noble Lady”

10 Dec. –


Research Paper for History 203

Choose one of the following topics:

You are a Frankish peasant (male or female) of the time of Charlemagne. Describe your life and work over the course of a single year. Topics to discuss could include the location of your village, your status (free peasant or serf or slave), the members of your household, your house and its furnishings, your diet and clothing, the work you do in the house and/or on the farm, and the pleasures and difficulties of your life. You should also make it clear why you are relating this account. Is it to tell an intended spouse what your life is like? To describe your life to your grandchildren? To explain to your lord why you were caught poaching game or pilfering something from his estate? Or what?

You are a Viking (male) of the ninth century. Describe your attack on an English village, town, or monastery. You should locate and describe the village, town or monastery, and say why it was chosen for attack. Other topics to discuss could include the time of year (and weather), leadership, numbers, transport, tactics, weapons, and outcome. You should make it clear why you are relating this account. Is it to glorify yourself or your war-leader? To justify yourself for a raid that went wrong? To criticize someone else? To provide a factual historical account of a stirring adventure? Or what?

You are a Benedictine monk or nun living in the tenth century. Describe what life is like in your abbey. You should include its name and location, and describe its physical arrangements, wealth or poverty, residents (monks or nuns, novices, boarders, servants), living conditions, work, regulations, and routines. You might also discuss whether or not your abbey attracts aristocratic or royal patronage, and why, and how that affects the lives of the monks or nuns. You should make it clear why you are writing this account. Is it to please your abbot or abbess? To attract new novices? To appeal for donations? As a preface to a history of your abbey? Or what?

In your youth (male or female) you were a member of Charlemagne’s court. Now, in your old age, write a memoir of your experiences there. Topics to discuss could include your position at Charlemagne’s court, how long you spent there, your recollections of the king and of other members of his court, the politics of the day, the living conditions at court, comparisons and contrasts between the time when you are writing and Charlemagne’s day. You should also make it clear why you are writing this memoir. Is it to enhance your own reputation? To enhance or damage the reputation of others? To record what you perceive as an important piece of history as impartially as possible? To dispute what other contemporary historians have written? Or what?

Your paper must be five, double-spaced, typescript pages long, exclusive of the Endnotes and Bibliography. It must be submitted in paper copy, using 12-point font, with one-inch margins and numbered pages. Your paper must be stapled or secured with some other sturdy fastener, not a paperclip.

The point is to produce a piece of genuine historical research, packed with factual details, so no fantasy and no time-travelers, please.

Your paper must be based on a minimum of two primary sources and three scholarly secondary sources. Use only sources that are directly relevant to your own paper topic. Encyclopedias are permissible as sources of general background reading (and must be cited if used), but may not be used as any of the three required secondary sources.

All ONLINE SOURCES (Including Wikipedia) ARE PROHIBITED except for:

Primary sources available online (e.g., chronicles, charters, photographs of artifacts)
Scholarly books or journal articles available online (e.g., through JSTOR)
Maps and other illustrations (optional; for use in an appendix to your paper)

Remember that primary sources, which include artifacts as well as texts, date from the period that you are studying; they are “eyewitness” sources. Examples of primary sources for early medieval Europe include texts such as chronicles, poems, and law-codes, and artifacts such as pottery, coins, skeletons, or buildings. It is OK to use as primary sources medieval texts in modern English translations, and to use photographs (but not drawings) of artifacts. You are welcome to use relevant primary sources from this syllabus; I have also put links to a small selection of online primary sources on my homepage, at:

Secondary sources date from after the period that you are studying; they are not “eyewitness” sources. Examples of secondary sources include modern books, articles, maps, and drawings that attempt to reconstruct some aspect of the early medieval past. Use only scholarly secondary sources, which are fully documented with footnotes or endnotes; a bibliography alone is insufficient. Thus, our textbook by Judith Bennett not a scholarly secondary source, but Pierre Riché’s book is.

If you are still unclear about the difference between primary and secondary sources, see either your TA or me, or read the essay “Why study history from primary sources?” available online at:
(if the main website is down, use the archived version of this source at:)


Your paper must be fully documented in the format of the CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE (CMOS), and must include both endnotes AND bibliography. (Parenthetical citations are NOT acceptable.) College-level writing, using correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, also is required. For guidelines on paper-writing and CMOS documentation, see my brief guide, “Documenting Your History Paper” (https://sites.uwm.edu/carlin/documenting-your-history-paper/), or consult any of the other online style and documentation guides listed on my homepage, at: sites.uwm.edu/carlin

The paper is due in the lecture class on Thursday, 5 Nov. 2015. You may not submit it electronically or by fax. No extensions will be allowed on the paper except in the case of major illness or emergency; it is your responsibility to contact me immediately in such a case. Late papers will not be accepted.