Professor Julia Smith

Featured Publication

Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History, 500-1000 (OUP, July 2007)

Europe After Rome

Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000 is the first single-author study in more than fifty years to offer an integrated appraisal of the early Middle Ages as a dynamic and formative period in European history. Written in an attractive and accessible style, the book makes extensive use of original sources in order to introduce early medieval men and women at all levels of society--from slave to emperor--and allows them to speak to students in their own words. It overturns traditional narratives and instead offers an entirely fresh approach to the centuries from c.500 to c.1000.
Rejecting any notion of a dominant, uniform early medieval culture, Europe after Rome argues that the fundamental characteristic of the early middle ages is diversity of experience. To explain how the men and women who lived in this period ordered their world in cultural, social, and political terms, it employs an innovative methodology that combines cultural history, regional studies, and gender history. Ranging comparatively from Ireland to Hungary and from Scotland and Scandinavia to Spain and Italy, the analysis highlights three themes: regional variation, power, and the legacy of Rome. In the context of debates about the social, religious, and cultural meaning of "Europe" in the early twenty-first century, this book seeks the origins of European cultural pluralism and diversity in the early Middle Ages.

  • Late antique and early medieval history c.400-1100
  • Medieval saints, hagiography and relics
  • Women and gender in the early Middle Ages

My current research addresses the materiality of Christian experience in the Middle Ages. I am concerned with ‘things which do things’, and use an ethnographic approach to exploring how, why and in what social contexts a wide range of material substances acquired a sacred aura, serving as mediators between humans and the divinity. The result will be a book (or possibly two books) on the emergence and development of the cult of relics from the 4th to the 11th centuries. This research draws heavily on approaches and methodologies derived from my earlier publications on the history of women and gender in the early Middle Ages (a field in which I retain a strong interest) but also has a strong cross-cultural dimension. Beyond that, I am interested in developing interdisciplinary approaches to studying the abundant material remains of late antique and early medieval relic-objects which I have discovered while undertaking field work in the treasuries of some of Europe’s oldest churches.

Prof Smith’s Birkbect Lectures at Trinity:

  • The Remains of the Saints: The Evidence of Early Medieval Relic Collections

  • Cursing and Curing, or The practice of Christianity in eighth-century Rome

  • Relics and the insular world, c. 600-c. 800

  • One site, many more meanings: The community of Saint-Maurice d'Agaune and its relic collection

  • Eleventh-Century Relic Collections and the Holy Land

  • Pippin III and the sandals of Christ

  • Relics: an evolving tradition in Latin Christianity

  • Les reliques et leurs étiquettes

  • Les étiquettes d'authentification des reliques

  • Care of Relics in Early Medieval Rome

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Sukanya Raisharma
  • Grahame MacKenzie (University of Edinburgh)

I currently teach:

Masters: Saints and Sanctity in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

Inaugural Lecture

'Thinking with Things: Reframing Relics in the Early Middle Ages'

This lecture assesses the material culture of Christianity in Europe c. 600 to c.1200 by investigating the contents of selected relic collections in France and Switzerland, and demonstrates the continuing relevance of Medieval History in the present day.