Ancient Albion: Art and Culture in the British Isles from Stonehenge to the Viking Invasions


Given their geographical setting at the northwestern extreme of Europe, the arts and cultures of “Albion,” or Britain and Ireland, have often been described by the term “insular” in the sense of isolated, discrete, or peripheral, yet nothing could be further from the truth. No less than six Roman emperors spent time in Britain, and four came to power there. To a great extent, Irish clerics were responsible for the survival of classical learning during the Dark Ages. Indeed, throughout history, cultural developments in the British Isles were intimately related to ideas and events on the European Continent and the Mediterranean. Following this basic premise, in the fall semester the course will examine civilization in Britain and Ireland from the late Stone Age or Megalithic period, through the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, to the coming of the Celts and the Roman conquest. In the spring, we will focus on later Roman Britain, Irish monasticism, and the emergence of Anglo-Saxon culture down to the arrival of the Vikings. At every turn, we will consider interactions with the urban civilizations to the south and west—the early Aegean, Greece, Rome, and the early medieval Continent—to discover that Albion was an integral part of the political, religious, and economic forces that have shaped the art and history of Europe up to the present time.