The Transformations of the Year 600 AD
with Professor Guy Halsall (University of York)
at Sutton Hoo on Saturday, 16th June, 2018

This study day will examine and try to explain how Western Europe was transformed in the later sixth and earlier seventh centuries.  St Augustine’s mission to England and the Sutton Hoo ship burial were part of major, continent-wide changes.

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:      Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:      Political Background

This session will, by way of introduction, set out the political historical background to the period of change that I will be exploring today.  This will mean going back to the second quarter of the sixth century and the beginning of the Emperor Justinian I’s wars of ‘reconquest’.  I will take us through the key events in Italy, Spain, Gaul and Britain up until the middle of the seventh century.  Although the period is rich in incident, are there any events that would explain change across Western Europe?

11.15 – 11.40:      Coffee break

11.40 – 12.40:      Archaeology; Social and Economic Change

In this session I will again set out some descriptive background – describing some of the detectable changes in artefacts and decorative styles, in burial rituals, in settlements and in trade patterns.  This will make clear that a great deal was happening across Europe in the decades either side of 600.  Many of the changes that took place in Anglo-Saxon England are quite similar to those happening in France.

12.40 – 14.00:      Lunch break

14.00 – 14.50:       Explanation (1): The End of the Antique State?

In the second two sessions I will examine some possible explanations for the changes that took place (and, along the way, describe some others).  This session will look at changes in the balance of power between local leaders or aristocrats and the central governments of the west, which swung decisively towards the former.  Are we seeing here the collapse of the late antique state, with its roots in the Late Roman Empire?

14.50 – 15.10:      Tea break

15.10 – 16.00:      Explanation (2): Changing Minds?

My second session of ‘explanations’ aims to modify, expand and deepen the first, by exploring issues to do with ‘mentalités’ – outlooks, states of mind, world-views.  These will centre upon two closely related issues.  One is ‘the end of the Roman World’ – the sense of living ‘after Rome’ and finding the old roots of authority and identity were no longer effective.  The other concerns ideas about time and especially the end of time.  I will explore a brief moment of intense concern about the end of the world.

c.16.00:                  Thanks and Close

About Professor Guy Halsall

Guy Halsall took his BA in History and Archaeology at the University of York and stayed at York for his D.Phil, on the archaeology and history of the region of Metz (north-east France) in the Merovingian period (c.450-750).  After a fellowship at Newcastle, he taught at the University of London between 1991 and 2002 before returning to York in January 2003 and being promoted to a chair there in 2006.  He has published widely on late Roman and early medieval western Europe, covering themes like social structures, age and gender, war and violence, ethnicity and barbarian migration, and humour.  He is currently working on a major study of Western Europe around 600 and a book on history itself, entitled Why History Doesn’t Matter.


When asked “What was best about the Day?” at a previous Study day by Guy respondents said:

  • Guy has a wonderful way of making the past accessible, but not at the expense of scholarship
  • Guy’s deep understanding of his subject and ability to impart that knowledge
  • An excellent speaker – a specialist in the subject who made the topic very interesting and accessible to a non-expert
  • Expertise and enthusiasm of Prof Halsall. Mastery of subject matter
  • Guy was brilliant – more please
  • Thought provoking
  • The range of knowledge particularly when answering questions
  • A new outlook on the subject
  • Content of the lectures. Overall ambience
  • The thorough research and use made of it during the day
  • Interesting to hear a new take on established historical views

Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading

Martin Carver (ed.), The Age of Sutton Hoo. North West Europe in the Seventh Century (Boydell; Woodbridge, 1992).

Patrick Geary, Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World (OUP; Oxford, 1988).

Edward James, The Franks (Blackwells; Oxford, 1988)

David Rollason,  Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The Birth of Western Society (2nd edition 2014)

Chris Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome (London 2009).

Ian N. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (Longmans; Harlow, 1994)