Collapse and Recovery: the Revival of Learning in the First Millennium
with Charles Freeman (Independent Scholar)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 27th January, 2018.

Starting with a look at traditional Roman education, we shall consider early libraries, how texts were preserved from the sixth century, and how learning was revived, especially under the Frankish king Charlemagne.  There will be illustrations of surviving texts in each session.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:          Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:          The pinnacle of Roman Education.

The Roman book world and the culture of the élite in the Roman west before the fall of the empire.

11.15 – 11.40:          Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:          The saving of the texts, 500-700.

                                In a world of vanishing literacy, the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris trace the decline of learning.  We shall also note the contributions of Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville, and discuss secular and clerical learning.

12.40 – 14.00:          Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:          Bede and the World of Latin Learning.

Cultural exchanges of the early eighth century and the formation of the monastic libraries.

14.50 – 15.10:          Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:          Charlemagne and the revival of learning.

The preservation of the texts – what was in Charlemagne’s library? Did he save classical civilization?

c.16.00:                   Thanks and Close

About Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman is a Suffolk-based freelance academic author with a wide interest in the history of the Mediterranean.. His published works include The Closing of the Western Mind (2002) and A New History of Early Christianity (2009). His most recent book,  Holy Bones , Holy Dust, How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale University Press 2011), is the first systematic history of relic cults in English. He is Historical Consultant to the Blue Guides series and has contributed to the historical introductions for the city of Rome.  He also runs study tours of the Mediterranean.


At a previous Study Day by Charles, when asked ‘What was best about the day?‘ people said:

  • The lecturer maintained our interest throughout the day. Never a dull moment.
  • Excellent speaker – so knowledgeable and interesting. Quite a complicated subject, but he made it so understandable.
  • Clear explanations of all topics
  • Charles is a riveting speaker! Very informative. Knowledgeable, clear, concise. A must for all people who are even slightly interested in the subject.


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. A chance to read a sixth century classic  that was popular throughout the Middle Ages – available in Oxford and Penguin Classics.

Scott Degregario (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Bede, Cambridge, 2010.

Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, Penguin, 2016 – an acclaimed book. The early chapters are fascinating on how early illuminated manuscripts of the first millennium are studied.

Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne, The Formation of a European Identity, Cambridge, 2008, has a good section of Charlemagne’s library, pp.345-372.

Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome, A History of Europe 400-1000. Penguin 2009 – despite being rather weighty, some chapters , Ch. 3 ‘Culture and Belief in the Christian Roman World’, Ch. 10 ‘The Power of the Visual’, Ch. 17 ‘Intellectuals and Politics’ are helpful. See also Chapter One , ‘Speaking and Writing’ from Julia Smith, Europe After Rome, Oxford, 2005.