Bryan Ward-Perkins
Fellow and Tutor in Medieval History


I have been a Fellow at Trinity since 1981, and am now the ‘Senior Fellow’ (which only means I have been here longer than anyone else). My undergraduate degree, and doctorate, were in History, but I have also been a practicing archaeologist (working mainly in Italy), and am happy using the evidence of both material objects and texts in my work. All my research has been within ‘Late Antiquity’, the period between about 300 and 700 AD, which saw the collapse of the western Roman empire and the rise of both Christianity and Islam. All periods of history are interesting and important, but I find this one particularly absorbing because it witnessed vast cultural change, and because the evidence for it, though extensive, is not overwhelming. My wide-ranging interests in Late Antiquity led me to set up the ‘Oxford Centre for Late Antiquity’, a community that links some eighty academics, working within the period in six different Faculties of the University. From 2012 to 2016 I was seconded from Trinity to run the Ertegun Programme and Ertegun House, which were set up for graduate scholars in the Humanities through a remarkable benefaction from Mrs Mica Ertegun: .


I teach widely in the period between around 300 and 1100 AD, supervise doctoral students, and do some teaching for Master’s students – all primarily within Late Antiquity.  


Over the years, although always centred on Late Antiquity, my research interests have shifted considerably. (I am happier taking on a new subject, than digging yet deeper into an old one). For my doctorate, I studied the remarkable shifts in urban patronage that altered the face of cities in Italy between the 4th and the 9th centuries, while also excavating some of the first early medieval domestic houses discovered in the peninsula. I then broadened my interests to examine the dramatic economic changes that occurred, empire-wide, within this period, which I explored in chapters for the Cambridge Ancient History, and in my book The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization. Then, in collaboration with an art-historian, I moved on to examine the topic of how statuary was used in the late Roman period, and of why it eventually wholly disappeared. This project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, produced an on-line database, and a print discussion volume (currently in press).

Since the beginning of 2014 I have been the Principal Investigator of a very large project, supported by a European Research Council ‘Advanced Grant’, investigating the emergence and development of the cult of Christian saints. The Cult of Saints is mapping, across six ancient languages (Armenian, Georgian, Syriac, Coptic, Greek and Latin), the process that led Christians to believe that dead ‘saints’ could intercede for them in Heaven, and hence help them with their troubles on earth. The Cult of Saints is employing six Research Associates and will last five years. On All Saints’ Day 2017 it launched its freely-available online database of the evidence; it will also publish more conventional print publications.

Selected Publications

  • ‘A most unusual empire: Rome in the fourth century’, in C. Rapp and H. Drake (eds.), City-Empire-Christendom: Changing Contexts of Power and Identity in Antiquity (CUP, 2014).
  • ‘Rome and Constantinople compared’, in L. Grig & G. Kelly (eds.), Capitals of the Late Empire (Oxford University Press, 2012).
  • With R.R.R. Smith, U. Gehn, J. Lenaghan and C. Machado, The Last Statues of Antiquity, a searchable on-line database of all the evidence for new statuary in the late Roman empire, published May 2012.
  • The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (OUP, 2005). [Translations into French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish.]
  • ‘Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become more British?’, English Historical Review CXV, 2000, 513-33.
  • Joint editor (with Averil Cameron and Michael Whitby), The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. XIV, AD 425-600, (CUP, 2000).
  • ‘Continuitists, catastrophists and the towns of post-Roman northern Italy’, Papers of the British School at Rome 65 (1997), 157-76.
  • From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Urban Public Building in Northern and Central Italy AD 300-850 (OUP 1984).
  • ‘Two Byzantine houses at Luni’, Papers of the British School at Rome 49 (1981), 91-8.