The Fall of Rome (Online)


The ‘Decline and Fall' (or 'transformation') of the Roman empire has long been a fascinating and controversial topic which invites comparisons with the modern world. But how, why and, indeed, did Rome fall?

We will examine the period from Diocletian’s ‘restoration' of the Empire to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the last western emperor, in AD 476. Touching on many engaging historical, social, artistic, political, and religious issues, and brushing shoulders with a variety of engaging emperors, empresses, eunuchs, Christians, pagans and barbarians, this course aims to be an interesting, and perhaps surprising, look at one of the most important periods in world history.

Listen to Dr Steve Kershaw talking about the course:

An introduction to various aspects of the intriguing history, vibrant culture and fascinating personalities of Ancient Rome and its enemies during its ‘decline and fall' (or 'transformation') in the last two centuries of the Empire in the West.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Sources and Context

  • Source material
  • Assembling our written sources
  • Geography
  • The Omnishambles of 235-285
  • The challenges facing Rome in 285

Unit 2: Diocletian and the Dominate – The Empire strikes back (276–305)

  • The restoration of order: Principate to Dominate - The Tetrarchy
  • Reorganising the Roman Empire
  • Reorganising the Roman army
  • Reorganising the Roman government
  • The urban environment
  • Internal and external threats: The Great Persecution
  • Taking stock

Unit 3: Christianity ascendant: Constantine the Great (305-337)

  • From Eboracum to the Pons Milvius (305-312)
  • Constantine’s vision
  •  The Arch of Constantine
  • Constantine’s Christian Empire
  • Constantine’s Pagan Empire
  • Beata Tranquilitas, Baptism and death
  • Further exploration / building your library
  • First assessed assignment

Unit 4: Constantine’s heirs and Julian the Apostate (337 – 364)

  • Constantine’s heirs
  • Christians V Pagans; Christians V Christians
  • Ammianus Marcellinus
  • The reign of Constantius II (337-361) – Challenging times
  • Julian the Apostate
  • Christianity reborn: Taking stock

Unit 5: The East/West divide (364 – 395)

  • The decisive East/West split in the Roman Empire
  • From the ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’ to the Battle of Adrianople
  • The reign of Theodosius I ‘The Great’
  • Magnus Maximus
  • Roman Christianity
  • Taking stock: An irrevocable split and the death of Paganism?

Unit 6: The northern barbarians – Goths, Huns et al.

  • The multi-layered nature of ethnic identity
  • Roman attitudes towards barbarians
  • Barbarian attitudes towards Romans
  • The Goths
  • The Huns
  • Defining the barbarian; defining the Roman

Unit 7: The Sack of Rome (395 – 411)

  • A divided Empire with child Emperors (395)
  •  Alaric and Stilicho
  • The death of the Gladiators
  • The Roman withdrawal from Britain
  • Alaric’s Sack of Rome (410) and death (411)
  • Ramifications (historical and psychological) of Alaric’s Sack of Rome
  • Further study / building your library
  • Second assessed assignment

Unit 8: Roman Empresses; Barbarian kings (411 – 450)

  • The situation at the death of Alaric
  • Power struggles in Spain, Gaul, Britain, Italy and Africa
  • The Eastern court of Theodosius II: Political, religious and dynastic intrigue
  • Religion and the law
  • Communications, trade and the land
  • Imperial women

Unit 9: The end of Rome in the West (450 – 476)

  • Rome’s defences in the late Empire
  • The survival of the Empire in the East
  • Attila the Hun
  • Endgame: The fall/transformation of Rome in the West
  • Romulus Augustulus: The last Emperorof the West
  • Drawing conclusions

Unit 10: Epilogue: ‘Fall’ or ‘Transformation’ – how, why, and indeed, did Rome fall?

  • Consolidation / revision
  • Evidence
  • The (210) causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Fall or transformation?
  • Good thing / bad thing?
  • The Fall of Rome and the 21st Century
  • Further exploration / building your library
  • Course conclusion

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Description Costs
Course Fee £350.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Steve Kershaw

Steve Kershaw has taught for the department since 1998. He has been fascinated by the culture of the Greek Bronze Age ever since he first encountered the works of Homer.

Course aims

Course Aim:
This course aims to explore the history and culture of Ancient Rome throughout the last two centuries of the Empire in the West.

Course objectives:

  • Gain a knowledge of a crucial era in the history of imperial Rome.
  • Examine, understand and assess that history in its social and cultural context.
  • Develop skills of historical, literary and artistic observation and analysis with further applications in study, work and leisure, and provide an interesting, enjoyable and relevant course of study.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will have gained the following understanding:

  • The general outline of the history and culture of Imperial Rome in the two centuries prior to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in AD 476, gained through a variety of types of literary, artistic and archaeological evidence.
  • The nature of archaeological and historical evidence and the problems of interpretation.
  • The historical context of Roman and ‘barbarian’ civilisation studied through their literature, art and architecture.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.