The Birth of Europe

Course summary

The Birth of Europe


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

The period from the end of the Roman era to c. 1000 was a time of exciting changes that saw the building of those medieval states that were to become Europe.  It also saw the rise of two religions that were destined to dominate the medieval world: Christianity and Islam. 

In recent years historical research and archaeological excavations have done an enormous amount to cast light on what used to be referred to as the 'Dark Ages'. This course uses the latest evidence from history and archaeology to give an understanding of this fascinating period.  There will be a field trip to Porchester Castle and Winchester - both examples of Roman sites that show continued use in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.


The Fall of Rome

The Roman frontiers and the Germanic tribes outside of the Empire

The crisis of the third century

The division of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern Empire.

Why the Western Roman Empire failed

The Barbarian invasions: a period of Germanic migrations culminating in the sacking of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths and in 455 by the Vandals, and with the deposition of the western emperor, Romulus Augustulus in 476

Why the urban-based structure of antiquity was replaced.

How the Roman Empire was replaced with radically different political systems


"Long-haired Kings"

The rise of the Merovingian Empire.

The discovery of the burial of Childeric I

Clovis I and the unification of the Franks

The spread of Christianity and the role of the monasteries.

The establishment of the Christian church as the central social institution.

The rise of Islam and the Muslim Conquests

Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours AD 732


Charlemagne and his Empire

The end of the Merovingian Dynasty

The Carolingian Dynasty

The expansion of the Frankish realm

Charlemagne's Empire and the unity of western Europe

Charlemagne's palace at Aachen and the trappings of antiquity

The court of Charlemagne

Viking attacks in Europe

Charles the Bald's defences against the Vikings


Field Trip to Portchester Castle and Winchester

Portchester Castle was built as one of the Roman period 'Forts of the Saxon Shore' - a late third century AD fortification.  Excavations within the area of the fort have revealed Anglo-Saxon settlement beginning in the sixth century and culminating in the construction of a late-Saxon 'burh' - a fortification built against the Vikings.

Winchester was a Roman town which has been extensively excavated.  Excavation has also shown that Anglo-Saxon settlement of a non-urban nature existed within the walled area and that in the late-Saxon period the area was re-built as an urban 'burh'.


Anglo-Saxons, Picts and Scots

The Anglo-Saxon settlement of England

The Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity

'Celtic' Kingship and the 'Celtic' church

The Synod of Whitby and the official acceptance of the Roman church in England

The growth of urban sites in England and in Ireland

The establishment of the 'Danelaw'

The 10th-century monastic revival and the Regularis Concordia

Field Trip:

Destination: Portchester Castle and Winchester

Excursion Rating: Demanding

Excursion Ratings: Key
(as rated by course tutors)
Easy: Up to an hour's walk on even ground or less than half an hour's walk on rough ground.
Moderate: Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.
Demanding: More than two hours' walk on even ground or up to two hours' walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.

Recommended reading

Innes, M. Introduction to Early Medieval Western Europe, 300 – 900. Routledge. 2007.

Wells, P. S. Barbarians to Angels: The Dark Ages Reconsidered. W.W.Norton & Co.  2009 (Kindle)

Wickham, C. Framing the Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400 – 800. Oxford University Press 2006 (Kindle)


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century. Bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

The fee £1490  includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available for couples or those who wish to share with a friend. Those couples wishing to book a twin room should contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

There are also a few standard rooms available which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but the bath and toilet facilities on each staircase are shared. To apply for one of these rooms please select the ‘Programme Fee (with single standard accommodation and meals)’ option on the application form.  Early application for these rooms is essential.

Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room). If you wish to book a twin set, please contact us direct, as these rooms cannot be booked online.

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


Programme Fee (single en-suite accom. and meals and field trip): £1555.00
Programme Fee (single standard accom. and meals and field trip): £1375.00


Mr David Beard


David Beard is a freelance archaeologist and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland specializing in medieval archaeology, especially the Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. He has been involved in continuing education for many years having taught for the Universities of Oxford, London, Essex and Ulster.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Monday, 1 May 2017 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.