Violence, Justice and Social Bonds, c.400-800 - HIST5105

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


The centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire are often portrayed as a morass of feud, violence and lawlessness. This module tests this caricature by examining how early medieval rulers maintained law and order in an age when they often lacked the capacity to intervene directly to resolve conflicts. Looking across the western post-Roman 'barbarian' kingdoms and the Byzantine Empire, we shall examine a wide range of documentary and literary sources which offer fascinating perspectives on a variety of social and political conflicts. Students will gain a broad understanding of how the social order was kept together at a time when everything seemed to be falling apart. Along the way, we shall explore issues relating to crime and punishment, violence and coercion, social status, marriage and sexuality, the power of the Church, and more. How widespread was vendetta or ‘blood-feud’? Did medieval courts really use ordeals to establish innocence? Why did individuals sometimes voluntarily enter slavery? What could a woman do if she wished to divorce her husband? These are the kinds of questions students will consider in this module on conflict, law and justice in the early medieval world.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 30
Private study hours: 270
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

Essay (4,000 words) – 40%
Source Analysis (2,000 words) – 20%
Moodle Quiz – 20%
Seminar Participation & Presentation – 20%

Reassessment methods:
Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

The University is committed to ensuring that core reading materials are in accessible electronic format in line with the Kent Inclusive Practices. The most up to date reading list for each module can be found on the university's reading list pages:

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of the operation of law, custom and justice in the early Middle Ages and the relevance of these topics to the broader social and legal history of Europe.
2 evaluate critically the appropriateness of a range of methodological approaches to the study of legal history in order to combine them in an overall assessment of early medieval societies.
3 articulate an understanding of the possibilities and limitations of different types of primary sources, and show how these influence historical analysis and interpretation.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1 formulate robust historical arguments that are supported by critical evaluation of primary and secondary sources.
2 clearly express information, arguments and analysis appropriately, thus demonstrating strong communication skills.
3 exercise personal responsibility and decision-making in the course of carrying out independent research and seeking out research materials.
4 demonstrate skills in conceptualisation, reflexivity, critical thought and epistemological awareness.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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