• University of Padova

Enlightening the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Archaeology in Italy

Learn what innovative methods and tools applied to the material culture of the past can tell us about the Early Middle Ages

2,384 enrolled on this course

A painting of barbarians on horseback fleeing a city

Enlightening the Dark Ages: Early Medieval Archaeology in Italy

2,384 enrolled on this course

  • 4 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

Discovering the cultural heritage of Medieval Europe through archaeology

On this archaeology course, you will explore what we can learn about the past through material culture. It focuses on the history of Medieval Europe, from the end of the Roman Empire in the West. This was a time of huge cultural, social, and environmental change.

The course covers a wide range of topics. You’ll explore the significance of changes in medieval food and health, the spread of Christianity in Europe, and migration patterns and social structures.

You will gain a sensibility for cultural heritage, focused on artefacts of material culture discovered on archaeological sites. These objects can help us understand the complexities of the late Roman Empire, by now under regular attack from Barbarian tribes.

Through material culture, we can understand how people lived, worshipped, and worked, as the new Germanic kingdoms and culture of Medieval Europe emerged.

You will also learn about the technical side of historical archaeology, covering the latest archaeological tools and techniques.

Explore the history of climate change in the early Middle Ages

This historical archaeology course also considers the history of climate change. We are clearly coming closer to the brink of climate catastrophe in the 21st century. What can we learn about how people in the Early Middle Ages reacted to climate change during their times? More broadly, you’ll consider what the history of Europe can tell us about the present.

This medieval archaeology course is delivered by the University of Padova, a research leader in the field. The University of Padova team has dug some of the most culturally significant Italian archaeological sites.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds A famous proverb says, all roads lead to Rome. In this course, we’ll take one of these roads and go back in time. I’m Alexandra Chavarria, Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Padova, and with me as your guide, we will unravel the end of the Roman Empire, a period traditionally considered as a time of crisis characterized by climatic change, political upheavals, massive migrations, and even pandemics.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds This is vital to understanding, not only the end of the Roman Empire, but also the emergence of a new world which served as the roots for modern Europe. Based on archaeological and written evidence and drawing on cutting-edge scientific methods for understanding the material culture of the past, this course will explore different aspects of this dark period in order to throw a fresh light on their causes and consequences, as well as their implications for understanding our present and immediate future.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds Focusing on archaeological research centered in Northern Italy, you will learn the main events characterizing the period between the fifth and the eighth century. We’ll also unearth how archaeologists and other researchers at the University of Padova reveal innovative historical information, thanks to the development of sophisticated tools and techniques. Journey with me as we start digging for truth.


  • Week 1

    Climatic and Environmental Changes

    • An overview of the course

      What you'll be learning, plus some important terms

    • Climate methods and study tools

      How was the climate like in the Early Middle Ages? How is it studied?

    • Natural disasters, risk, and resilience

      What natural disasters and risks were people in the past exposed to and how did they bounce back?

    • Synthesis

      A wrap-up of all that we've unpacked this week

  • Week 2

    Food and Health

    • The global Roman market and Early Medieval local economies

      The Annona system that fed an empire, the Roman diet, and Early Medieval local economies

    • Ancient diets and animals in society

      What were ancient diets like? How are they studied and what can they reveal to us about the health of past populations? How were animals treated in past societies?

    • Plagues and epidemics

      What were the plagues and epidemics that impacted ancient populations?

    • Synthesis

      A wrap-up of all that we've unpacked this week

  • Week 3

    Fortifying the Empire

    • Fortified cities

      The impetus to strengthen fortifications

    • Early Medieval fortifications in the territory

      What are the general characteristics of these fortifications and how are they connected with the aristocracy of the time?

    • The end of ancient cities

      How did ancient cities look like at the end of the Roman Empire?

    • Synthesis

      A wrap-up of all that we've unpacked this week

  • Week 4

    Migrations and social structure: strategies of survival

    • Fara and the forms of barbarian settlement

      What does fara mean and what did barbarian settlements look like?

    • Finding Lombards in the records

      What can archaeology tell us about the Lombards?

    • Excavating a Lombard settlement: Castelseprio

      Get to know more about this UNESCO World Heritage site

    • Synthesis

      A final wrap-up of the entire course!

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Create a sensibility for cultural heritage, particularly archaeological sites and material culture through a better understanding of their nature and meaning
  • Compare historical phenomena of the past with those of the present
  • Explore how innovative scientific methodologies are adding vital information about the past to traditional archaeology
  • Investigate the connections and causations between different historical events

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for anyone interested in historical archaeology, Medieval Europe, cultural heritage, or the history of climate change.

It would benefit those preparing to study archaeology or who want to explore new archaeological methodologies.

Who will you learn with?

I teach medieval archaeology at the university of Padua . I love communicating knowledge and approaching people to cultural heritage.

I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Padova. I'm also field archaeologist and bioarchaeologist, which entails the study of ancient human remains.

I'm a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Padova where I study medieval archaeology, particularly the liturgical and decorative sculptures of early medieval churches.

Who developed the course?

University of Padova

The University of Padova is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious seats of learning; it aims to provide its students with both professional training and a solid cultural background.

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Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Buy this course

$99/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Subscribe & save

$349.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Tests to boost your learning
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 11 Aug 2024

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

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