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Module HTA-3117:
Roman Frontier Society

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Karen Pollock

Overall aims and purpose

From its early beginnings archaeology has played a pivotal role in shaping perceptions of life on the boundaries on the Roman Empire. Early interest concentrated on the military aspects of frontier life, but advances in scientific techniques, coupled with the application of new methodologies, have broadened understanding of other site types and engendered a more holistic approach to frontier studies. This thematic module explores the complexity and diversity of frontier society in the Welsh and northern frontiers of Roman Britain. Drawing on archaeological, historical and environmental evidence, students will gain a detailed knowledge of key military, urban and rural sites, together with a critical awareness of current issues and concepts surrounding the social dynamics, evolution and development of frontier communities.

Course content

One of the key themes of this module is the interaction between the Roman army and native populations, and the subsequent evolution of distinct frontier societies. Contextualisation will be central to the investigation of the archaeology. Examination of material evidence from military and civilian sites will include settlement, burial and environmental evidence. Iconographic and epigraphic evidence will also be examined, as will contemporary written sources (e.g. the Vindolanda letters). Key issues explored will centre on continuity and change, and topics will include syncretism and native resistance. The history of Roman scholarship and its influence on perceptions of frontier life forms an important aspect of this course, with particular emphasis given to current post-colonial approaches.

Assessment Criteria


Good students (B- to B+) will demonstrate a solid level of achievement and depth of knowledge in all the criteria in the C- to C+ range, and will in addition exhibit constructive engagement with different types of historical writing and historiographical interpretation. Ideas will be communicated effectively and written work will include a good range of sources/reading and demonstrate a clear understanding of the issues and of the existing interpretations expressed in a well-structured, relevant, and focused argument. Students at the top end of this band will engage with and critique the ideas that they come across, and synthesise the various interpretations they find to reach their own considered conclusions. Written work will be correctly presented with references and bibliography where appropriate.


Threshold students (D- and D) will have done only a minimum of reading, and their work will often be based partly on lecture notes and/or basic textbooks. They will demonstrate in their written assessments some knowledge of at least parts of the relevant field, and will make at least partially-successful attempts to frame an argument which engages with historical controversies, but they will fail to discuss some large and vital aspects of a topic; and/or deploy only some relevant material but partly fail to combine it into a coherent whole; and/or deploy some evidence to support individual points but often fail to do so and/or show difficulty weighing evidence (thereby relying on unsuitable or irrelevant evidence when making a point). Alternatively or additionally, the presentation of the work might also be poor, with bad grammar and/or punctuation, careless typos and spelling errors, and a lack of effective and correct referencing.

C- to C+

Students in this band (C- to C+) will demonstrate a satisfactory range of achievement or depth of knowledge of most parts of the module, and will make successful, if occasionally inconsistent, attempts to develop those skills appropriate to the study of History at undergraduate level. In the case of the written assessments, the answers will attempt to focus on the question, although might drift into narrative, and will show some evidence of solid reading and research. The argument might lose direction and might not be adequately clear at the bottom of this category. Written work will be presented reasonably well with only limited errors in grammar, punctuation, and referencing, and not to the extent that they obscure meaning.


Excellent students (A- and above) will show strong achievement across all the criteria combined with particularly impressive depths of knowledge and/or subtlety of analysis. In written work, they will support their arguments with a wealth of relevant detail/examples. They will also demonstrate an acute awareness of the relevant historiography and give an account of why the conclusions reached are important within a particular historical debate. They may show a particularly subtle approach to possible objections, nuancing their argument in the light of counter-examples, or producing an interesting synthesis of various contrasting positions. Overall, the standards of content, argument, and analysis expected will be consistently superior to top upper-second work. Standards of presentation will also be high.

Learning outcomes

  1. Show a critical awareness that archaeological evidence can be interpreted in different ways (with particularl attention paid to the development of Romano-British society).

  2. Form effective arguments and support them with relevant evidence.

  3. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different theoretical approaches.

  4. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of the archaeology of the Roman frontiers of Britain, together with a critical understanding of the key issues and concepts within modern scholarship in this field.

  5. The ability to carry out detailed site analysis: to include the contextualising of archaeology within the wider Roman landscape and identifying potential future research.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
CASE STUDY Desk-based study of a specific site

Desk-based study, 2,000 -2,500 words in length.

ESSAY One essay (2,500 words) 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 11
Fieldwork 8
Seminar 9
Private study 172

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Safety-Consciousness - Having an awareness of your immediate environment, and confidence in adhering to health and safety regulations
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • problem solving to develop solutions to understand the past
  • understanding the complexity of change over time; in specific contexts and chronologies
  • being sensitive to the differences, or the "otherness" of the past, and the difficulty to using it as a guide to present or future action
  • being sensitive to the role of perceptions of the past in contemporary cultures
  • producing logical and structured arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • planning, designing, executing and documenting a programme of research, working independently
  • marshalling and critically appraising other people's arguments, including listening and questioning
  • demonstrating a positive and can-do approach to practical problems
  • making effective and appropriate forms of visual presentation
  • making effective and appropriate use of relevant information technology
  • making critical and effective use of information retrieval skills using paper-based and electronic resources
  • collaborating effectively in a team via experience of working in a group
  • critical evaluation of one's own and others' opinions
  • engaging with relevant aspects of current agendas such as global perspectives, public engagement, employability, enterprise, and creativity


Resource implications for students


Reading list

Introductory bibliography. There is an extensive reading list but core tests include: Arnold, J. & Davies, J.D., (2000) Roman & Early Medieval Wales; Bailey, G.B., (2003) The Antonine Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier; Birley, A., (2002) Garrison Life at Vindolanda: a band of brothers; Birley, R., (2009) Vindolanda: a Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall; Black, E.W., (2001) ‘The first-century historians of Roman Britain, OJA 20 (4), 415-428; Bowman, A.K. (1998) Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier; Burnham, C. & Davies, J.L. (2010) Roman Frontiers in Wales and the Marches (RCHAM); Collingwood, R.G. & Wright, R.P. (1995), The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, Vol. 1: inscriptions on stone; Cool, H.E.M. (2004) The Roman Cemetery at Brougham, Cumbria: excavations 1966-7, Britannia Mono. 21; Evans, E. (2000) The Caerleon Canabae: excavations in the Civil Settlement 1984-90; Gardner, A., (2007) ‘Fluid Frontiers: cultural interaction on the Edge of Empire, Stanford Journal of Archaeology, 5, 43-60 Hope, V., (2003) Trophies and Tombstones: commemorating the Roman Soldier’, World Archaeology, 35:1, 79-97; Hopewell, D.’Roman Fort Environs in North-West Wales, Britannia 36, 225-69; Ireland, S., (2008), Roman Britain: a sourcebook; Mason, D.J.P. (2001) Roman Chester: City of the Eagles; Whittaker, C.R. (1994), Frontiers of the Roman Empire; Woolliscroft, D.J. & Hoffmann, B. (2006), Rome’s First Frontier: The Flavian Occupation of Scotland;

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: