HIST 203 – Early Middle Ages (Fall 2020)

Martha Carlin

copyright 2020, all rights reserved
HIST 203
Lecture Outlines

Office: Holton 320
Messages: History Department, tel. (414) 229-4361
E-mail: carlin@uwm.edu
Home page: https://sites.uwm.edu/carlin/
Virtual office hours (via email): Tuesday 11 AM – 12 noon, and by appointment

Grader: Mark Langenfeld
E-mail: langenf6@uwm.edu
Virtual office hours (via email): Wednesday 2 – 4 PM, and by appointment


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, both inexpensive, and both available through UWM’s Virtual Bookstore at https://uwm.ecampus.com/shop-by-course:

Bennett, Judith M., and Sandy Bardsley. Medieval Europe: A Short History. 12th edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. You are welcome to buy either the print edition or the e-edition of this book (e-editions are available from RedShelf.com or VitalSource.com), but be sure to buy the 12th edition (new in July 2020), not an earlier edition. (We will be using the same book this Spring in History 204 (High Middle Ages), so if you think that you might take Hist 204, it would be worth your while to buy the print edition.)

Riché, Pierre. Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. Trans. Jo Ann McNamara. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978. (There is only one edition of this book, so any copy that you buy, new or second-hand, should be fine.)

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 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 are seven required mini-papers (described at the end of this syllabus), each worth 10% of your final grade. You are welcome to write more than seven of these mini-papers, in which case your seven best paper grades will be used for your final grade (10% each, for 70% of final grade).

Exams: There will be no midterm exam or final exam, but there may be in-class quizzes, which will count towards the class participation portion of your final grade.

Attendance and participation: This class is a “live” (synchronous) lecture class, and your regular “live” attendance and participation are essential. Students who fail to attend class or to contact me during the first week of classes may be dropped administratively. The participation portion of your grade will be based on in-class work, such as quizzes, polls, or other activities. Together, your attendance and participation are worth 30% of your final grade.

Grading and deadlines: Your final grade will be based on your seven (or seven best) mini-papers (10% each, for 70% of final grade), and your attendance and participation in class (30%). The mini-papers are due on the dates specified at the end of the syllabus. Late work will not be accepted, except in cases of major illness or emergency (it is your responsibility to contact me immediately in such a case).

Online protocols:
We will use Collaborate Ultra as our online class platform; you will access it from the course Canvas page. (Collaborate Ultra works best with Chrome as the browser.) All classes will be “live” (synchronous). Our course Grader, Mark Langenfeld, will be assisting me during class in taking attendance, fielding questions, etc.

Protocols for attending our online class:

  • During class, please be in a quiet room, with all other devices silenced.
  • Between 9:15 and 9:27 AM, enter the course Canvas page
  • Click on Collaborate Ultra in the left sidebar
  • Select the session (such as, “Week 1 – Thursday lecture”) and click on “Join Session” (each session will be open by 9:15 AM)
  • Follow the prompts to complete your audio and video checks
  • Click on the lavender tab (lower right) to open the Chat sidebar
  • Class will begin at 9:30 AM, and end at 10:45 AM (some classes may finish early). Attendance will be taken at multiple points during each class so, to get credit for attending and participating, please do not log in late or leave early.
  • To ask a question during class, EITHER type the question in the chat box and press “Return,” OR click on the “Raised Hand” icon and wait for Mark or me to call on you. When we call on you, please UNMUTE your microphone to speak, and then MUTE it again ASAP.
  • If possible, please have your VIDEO ON during class so that we can all see one another, as in a face-to-face 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. For UWM’s policies on academic integrity, see https://uwm.edu/academicaffairs/facultystaff/policies/academic-misconduct/

UWM policies on course-related matters: See the website of the Secretary of the University, at: https://uwm.edu/secu/wp-content/uploads/sites/122/2016/12/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 and Bardsley, pp. xi-xix (introductory matter), 1-10

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. –

Week 2 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 11-23

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 and Bardsley, pp. 23-27

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. –

Week 3 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 28-32

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


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

22 Sept. –

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 33-47

Venantius Fortunatus: Life of St. Radegund

(If the above website is unavailable, use the following website:)

24 Sept. –

Week 4 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 47-60

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 and Bardsley, pp. 61-82

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:)

Procopius, The Secret History (Anecdota): read Introduction (by webmaster Paul Halsall), “Contents” (list of chapters in The Secret History), and “By the Historian” (introduction by Procopius)

1 Oct. –

Week 5 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 83-95

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


Week 6: the Islamic World

6 Oct. –

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 96-104

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

Watch this entire documentary video:
Islam: Empire of Faith, part 1: Muhammed and the Rise of Islam (54 min.):

8 Oct. –

Week 6 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 105-107

“The Origins of the Sunni/Shia split in Islam” (short article by Hussein Abdulwaheed Amin, Editor of IslamForToday.com)

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


Week 7: Carolingian Europe

13 Oct. –

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 108-123

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. –

Week 7 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 123-132

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 and Bardsley, pp. 133-143

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 all four websites below):
(“Bildsten Stora Hammars 1” – Viking picture stone from the Swedish island of Gotland, depicting land and sea battles; alternative URL: https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bildsten#/media/Fil:Bildsten_Stora_Hammars_1_-_KMB_-_16000300017733.jpg)

The Oseberg ship: http://www.vikingskip.com/osebergskipet.htm
The Gokstad ship: http://www.vikingskip.com/gokstadskipet.htm
The Tune ship: http://www.vikingskip.com/tuneskipet.htm

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

22 Oct. –

Week 8 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Saga of Grettir the Strong, Chaps. 1-18 https://web.archive.org/web/20170226152113/http://omacl.org/Grettir/gr1-18.html

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 and Bardsley, pp. 143-156

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. –

Week 9 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Bennett and Bardsley, pp. 156-164

“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

5 Nov. –

Week 10 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

Riché, pp. 133-42 (farming), 142-51 (stock breeding, crafts)


Week 11: The Early Medieval Church

10 Nov. –

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

Allen J. Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Penitentials – A Cultural Database: penances recommended by Anglo-Saxon books of penance (penitentials) for male-female sexual sins:
http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=sexmafe (If you are doing this week’s mini -paper, see also the penances recommended for same-sex or auto-erotic sexual sins: http://www.anglo-saxon.net/penance/index.php?p=sexsame)

12 Nov. –

Week 11 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

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)

Walafrid Strabo, Hortulus (My Little Garden): The Gourd

19 Nov. –

Week 12 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

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

Allen J. Frantzen, Anglo-Saxon Penitentials – A Cultural Database: penances recommended by Anglo-Saxon books of penance (penitentials) for pagan and superstitious practices


Week 13: Lordship and Justice

24 Nov. –

Week 13 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

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. –

Week 14 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)

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; Review

8 Dec. –

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

(If the above webpage is unavailable, use the archived version at:

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

Three 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”

“The Second Voyage of Sindbad the Seaman”

10 Dec. –

Week 15 mini-paper due in Canvas by 5:00 PM today (see end of syllabus)



Mini-Papers for History 203


Each paper must be 1-2 double-spaced pages long, in a 12-pt font. It must be submitted as a Word document (.doc or .docx) via the course Canvas page.

Your paper must be based entirely on that week’s assigned readings and my online lectures and lecture outlines. No other sources are allowed, including Wikipedia. The point of the papers is to challenge you to read the assigned readings carefully, and to attend and take part in the lectures thoughtfully, and to hone your analytical and writing skills.

Your papers must address the assigned topic, and be written to a college-level standard, with good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and phrasing. Fill your papers with solid factual content, not “padding,” and avoid vague or unclear writing. Put everything in your own words; do not include any quotations at all.

Your papers must be entirely your own work. You may not copy or adapt them from someone else’s work, and you may not collaborate on them with anyone else.

You must submit a minimum of seven mini-papers. You are welcome to submit more than seven; if you do, your seven best paper grades will be used for your final grade. Your seven (or seven best) mini-papers are worth 70% of your final grade (10% each).

All papers are due in Canvas on THURSDAYS by 5:00 PM, except for Week 13 (Thanksgiving week), when it is due on Tuesday by 5:00 PM. Late papers (including paper topics from an earlier week) will not be accepted.

PAPER TOPICS (choose at least seven):

WEEK 2:         This week’s readings include three quite different accounts of the scholarly career and murder of Hypatia of Alexandria. Imagine that you are a modern investigator trying to reconstruct why Hypatia was killed and the circumstances of her death. Drawing for background on this week’s readings and lectures, analyze the three documents to identify:

(1)       Who is blamed in each account for Hypatia’s death?

(2)       What sign(s) of bias can you detect in each account?

(3)       Is each account trustworthy, or untrustworthy, and why?

WEEK 3:         This week we read two propagandistic accounts of the Germans, as seen through Roman eyes. The first account, Germania, provides an important early description of the Germanic people and their culture. It was written c. 98 CE by the Roman senator and historian Tacitus (c. 56-c. 120 CE). The second account is the depiction of the Frankish king Clovis (d. 511), founder of the Merovingian dynasty. It was written in the late 500s by Gregory, the aristocratic Gallo-Roman bishop of Tours (c. 538-594). Identify five features of Germanic culture as described by Tacitus that can also be seen in Bishop Gregory’s account of Clovis.

WEEK 4:         Much is known of the life of St. Radegund (c. 520-587), a Frankish princess forced into marriage with a Frankish king, who later fled her marriage and her royal status to live a life of celebrated holiness and self-denial in a convent in Poitiers. When Radegund died there in 587, the whole city wept. She was buried outside her convent, in a church that she had built, and her grand public funeral was conducted by her friend Gregory, bishop of Tours (c. 538-594). Drawing on two primary sources — the Life of St. Radegund written by her friend Venantius Fortunatus, and the monastic way of life for monks (and nuns) as represented by the Rule of St. Benedict — together with this week’s lectures and the readings in Bennett and Bardsley, imagine that you are Bishop Gregory at Radegund’s funeral, and write a eulogy for her as he might have delivered it.

WEEK 5:         It is the year 541. Justinian and Theodora are planning to erect a grand public monument celebrating their reign. Justinian has asked Procopius to draft the inscription that will be carved on this monument, describing the glorious achievements of the emperor and empress. Produce two versions of this inscription:

(1) A draft that Procopius would have submitted to Justinian and Theodora

(2) A malicious version, which Procopius would have included in his Secret History of their reign.

Each version of the inscription should be half a page to one page long.

WEEK 6:         The rise of Islam rapidly overthrew Byzantine hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, and established a new dominant religion and a new imperial state. Drawing on the lectures and readings in Weeks 5 and 6, identify two major reasons for Islam’s early success against the Byzantines, and three major examples of the political and cultural achievements of the Ummayad and early Abbassid caliphates.

WEEK 7:         It is the year 805. You are a distant cousin (male or female) of Charlemagne, whom you are visiting at his court at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle). Write a letter home to your family describing the emperor and his palace, and what you have seen and heard and done there. Fill your description with concrete factual information drawn from this week’s lectures, lecture outlines, and readings.

WEEK 8:         You are a modern archaeologist who has just excavated a large Viking burial mound in Norway. Drawing on this week’s lectures and readings, describe in detail 6-8 of your most important finds, and compare them with mentions of such items in Grettir’s Saga and Ibn-Fadlan’s description of the Rus Vikings.

WEEK 9:         In Week 4 we looked at the cultural flowering in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria; in Weeks 5 and 6 we traced the achievements of early Byzantium and of the early Islamic caliphates. In Week 7 we examined the Carolingian Renaissance in Francia; this week we studied the efforts of Alfred the Great to rebuild literacy and scholarship in Wessex, and some of the achievements of the Ottonian Renaissance in Germany. In an age dominated by war and violence, why was it evidently a common goal of great rulers to become the patrons of education, scholarship, art, architecture, and literature? Identify five reasons for this.

WEEK 10:       You are a male or female peasant living on a farm in Carolingian Francia. Of the four seasons of the year, which one do you consider the hardest in terms of your work, and why? Give plenty of concrete details.

WEEK 11:       You are a Carolingian bishop conducting your annual “visitation” (inspection tour) of each abbey in your diocese. You need to check for problems of all kinds, in such matters as proper adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict, the physical maintenance of the abbey buildings and furnishings, the abbey’s finances, the competence and honesty of the abbot or abbess, the behavior and morale of the monks or nuns, the training of novices, the standard of hospitality, the abbey’s local reputation, etc. Write a checklist of 20 standard questions to be asked by the bishop at each house of monks or nuns.

WEEK 12: Renowned scholars like Walafrid Strabo taught elite students in monastic schools or in royal or aristocratic households. Ordinary parish priests – many of them scantily educated themselves – taught the elements of the faith to their parishioners. Identify two ways in which Walafrid might have used his poem on gardening (Hortulus) to teach his students; and identify two ways in which parish priests might have used penitentials (handbooks of penance, of which the database in this week’s readings contains extracts) to instruct their parishioners.

WEEK 13:       Identify five features of Frankish society, culture, and concepts of justice that came up in this week’s lecture and readings from Riché, and that are reflected in the two sets of primary sources.

WEEK 14:       Aelfric (c. 955-c. 910), an English monk, wrote his Colloquy (“On Laborers”) to teach Latin to boys being schooled in his monastery. Some houses of nuns had schools for girls. Write a similar dialogue for girls that describes the daily work of girls and women. Fill your dialogue with concrete factual details, not mere chatter.

WEEK 15:       This week we read examples of literary texts from Western Europe and from the Abbassid caliphate. What do they tell us about their respective societies? Identify one major feature in common and four major differences between the two societies, their lifestyles, and their cultural preoccupations that are reflected in these sources.