roman history online course

Want to learn more about roman history? I love the Romans, especially Marcus Aurelius. We’re two peas in a pod you could say. This course will teach you all about the roman history: starting with the early roman civilization and ending with the fall of Rome. This course is filled with information that will prepare you for any future career in the arts, sciences, or anywhere else.

The Roman Empire: introducing some key terms

Course description

This free course, The Roman Empire: Introducing some key terms, will define basic concepts and terms that are essential for an understanding of the culture and identity of the Roman Empire. Terms such as ‘Roman Empire’ and ‘imperium’ will be introduced in the context of the formation and expansion of the empire, and the course will provide you with the background for further study of the Roman Empire.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand the terminology associated with the culture, identity and power relevant to the Roman Empire, as treated both in ancient sources and modern scholarship and presentation.

This course covers the history of Rome from its humble beginnings to the 5th century A.D. The first half covers Kingship to Republican form; the conquest of Italy; Roman expansion: Pyrrhus, Punic Wars and provinces; classes, courts, and the Roman revolution; Augustus and the formation of empire. The second half covers Virgil to the Vandals; major social, economic, political and religious trends at Rome and in the provinces. There is an emphasis on the use of primary sources in translation.

From ancient Rome to the rise of the Roman empire, Roman history is steeped in myths, legends and acts of power. It’s well known for its military expansion, tyrannical emperors and architectural style that can still be admired today.

Learn about Romans and the key events that shaped their lives with FutureLearn’s online Roman history courses. Through primary sources and historical accounts, you’ll discover what Roman society, religion and politics were like thousands of years ago.

Understand how Roman infrastructure was used by the public, including the Colosseum and Roman Baths. Discover the lives of notable figures such as Nero and Julius Caesar as well as the ordinary Romans that lived under their rule. Roman history courses will inspire you to learn more about the city or even plan a trip to see the historic sites for yourself.

The ‘Decline and Fall’ (or ‘transformation’) of the Roman empire has long been a fascinating and controversial topic which invites comparisons with the modern world. But how, why and, indeed, did Rome fall?

We will examine the period from Diocletian’s ‘restoration’ of the Empire to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the last western emperor, in AD 476. Touching on many engaging historical, social, artistic, political, and religious issues, and brushing shoulders with a variety of engaging emperors, empresses, eunuchs, Christians, pagans and barbarians, this course aims to be an interesting, and perhaps surprising, look at one of the most important periods in world history.

Listen to Dr Steve Kershaw talking about the course:

An introduction to various aspects of the intriguing history, vibrant culture and fascinating personalities of Ancient Rome and its enemies during its ‘decline and fall’ (or ‘transformation’) in the last two centuries of the Empire in the West.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

Unit 1: Sources and Context

  • What do we know, and how do we know it?
  • The state of the Roman world at the start of the course

Unit 2: Diocletian and the Dominate – the Empire Strikes Back

  • Diocletian and Maximianus
  • The Tetrarchy
  • The Army, the Economy and the Law
  • Challenges from Within and Without
  • The Great Persecution

Unit 3: Christianity Ascendant: Constantine the Great

  • Power Struggles and the Rise of Constantine
  • ‘With This be Victorious’
  • Constantine’s Christian Empire
  • Constantine’s Secular Empire
  • Constantine’s Baptism and Death

Unit 4: Constantine’s Heirs and Julian the Apostate

  • The Heirs of Constantine
  • Ammianus Marcellinus
  • Julian the Apostate
  • Christianity Reborn

Unit 5: The East/West Divide

  • Brothers in Arms: Valentinian and Valens
  • Theodosius I
  • Religious and Political Divisions

Unit 6: The Northern Barbarians – the Huns, Goths and others

  • Mapping ‘Barbaricum’
  • Ethnicity
  • Roman attitudes to barbarians
  • Barbarian attitudes towards Romans
  • The Goths
  • The Hun
  • Defining the barbarian and the Roman

Unit 7: The Sack of Rome

  • A Divided Empire with Child Emperors
  • Alaric the Visigoth and Stilicho the Half-Vandal
  • The death of the Gladiators
  • The Roma withdrawal from Britain
  • The Sack of Rome (410)
  • The Death of Alaric

Unit 8: Roman Empresses; Barbarian Kings

  • The Post-Alaric Aftershocks
  • Power struggles in Spain, Gaul, Britain, Italy and Africa
  • The Eastern court of Theodosius II
  • Communications, trade and the land
  • Imperial women

Unit 9: The End of Rome in the West

  • Rome’s defences in the late Empire
  • The Survival of Rome in the East: 450 Onwards
  • Attila the Hun
  • Endgame: the Fall/transformation of Rome in the West
  • The Last Western Emperor

Unit 10: Epilogue: ‘Fall’ or ‘Transformation’ – how, why, and indeed, did Rome fall?

  • The (210) Causes of the Fall of the Roman Empire
  • The Fall (or Transformation) of Rome in the West
  • Good Thing/Bad Thing?
  • The Fall of Rome and the 21st Century

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following textbooks:

Christie, N., The Fall of the Western Roman Empire: An Archaeological and Historical Perspective (2011). Bloomsbury, London, New York.
Goldsworthy, A., The Fall of the West: The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower (2009). Weidenfield & Nicolson, London.
Kershaw, S. P., A Brief History of the Roman Empire (2013). Robinson, London.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting the final course assignment. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.


Course Fee£312.00
Take this course for CATS points£10.00


Dr Steve Kershaw

Steve Kershaw has taught for the department since 1998. He has been fascinated by the culture of the Greek Bronze Age ever since he first encountered the works of Homer.

Course aims

Course Aim:
This course aims to explore the history and culture of Ancient Rome throughout the last two centuries of the Empire in the West.

Course objectives:

  • Gain a knowledge of a crucial era in the history of imperial Rome.
  • Examine, understand and assess that history in its social and cultural context.
  • Develop skills of historical, literary and artistic observation and analysis with further applications in study, work and leisure, and provide an interesting, enjoyable and relevant course of study.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you will have gained the following understanding:

  • The general outline of the history and culture of Imperial Rome in the two centuries prior to the deposition of Romulus Augustulus in AD 476, gained through a variety of types of literary, artistic and archaeological evidence.
  • The nature of archaeological and historical evidence and the problems of interpretation.
  • The historical context of Roman and ‘barbarian’ civilisation studied through their literature, art and architecture.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the ‘Book’ or ‘Apply’ button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

About the author

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