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Rosamond McKitterick on Roman authority in early medieval Europe

  • Date recorded: 7 Feb 2017

  • Duration: 50:56

'The Franks are clearly presented as successors to the Romans, but with their own special place in a past that stretched back to the creation of the world.'

– Rosamond McKitterick

About this video

In the 2017 Foxcroft Lecture, Cambridge scholar Rosamond McKitterick looks at how and why the authority of Rome was established in early medieval Europe.

After dominating Western Europe for more than 1000 years, the mighty Roman Empire began a long process of transformation in the 4th century AD, as Germanic groups were integrated into Roman territories.

During the political and social changes of the 4th century AD, the cultural and intellectual authority of the classical past never waned. Books, and the texts they contained, played a major role in creating this cultural continuity between ancient Rome and its medieval inheritors. 

Rosamond describes how Carolingian scribes contributed to the survival and transmission of medieval Roman texts, and presented ancient knowledge in innovative ways to accomodate new needs and new institutions.

This process involved not only the adoption and promotion of written culture for administrative, legal, religious, and educational purposes and the universal use of Latin, but also the transmission into new contexts of secular, scientific and early Christian texts from the classical and late antique Greek and Roman traditions.

The annual Foxcroft Lecture was held at the Library on 7 February 2017.


Rosamond McKitterick is Professor Emerita of Medieval History at the University of Cambridge, formerly Director of Research in the Faculty of History, a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College and, since 2011, Chair of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters of the British School at Rome.

She received her first degree from the University of Western Australia in 1970. She also holds the degrees of MA, PhD and Litt.D from the University of Cambridge, and studied palaeography as a graduate student at the University of Munich from 1974 to 1975.

She is Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and Royal Society for the Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce in Britain, a Korrespondierendes Mitglied of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica and of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and a Corresponding Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America.

In 2002, Rosamond held a visiting fellowship at the British School at Rome and in 2005–6, she was a Fellow-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study. Rosamond was awarded the Dr AH Heineken International Prize for History in 2010 by the Royal Dutch Academy, and in 2015 she was the LECTIO Professor at KU Leuven.

Rosamond has written and edited 26 books to date. She has also written 160 articles and chapters in other books.