Dr Gareth Sears BA, PhD (Birm.)

Dr Gareth Sears

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Associate Professor in Ancient History

Contact details

Arts Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a Roman historian who teaches and researches on the city, city life and religious change in the Roman world and in particular late Roman North Africa.


  • BA in Archaeology and Ancient History (Birmingham)
  • PhD in Archaeology and Ancient History: Late Roman North African Urbanism; Decline, Continuity and Transformation (Birmingham)


The focus of my PhD and my research at Birmingham is on the relationship between religion and the city and transformations in that relationship during the late antique period, particularly in Roman Africa. My 2007 book on the late antique city and my subsequent co-written and sole-authored monographs on the city in the Roman West and the city in North Africa link to these interests and seek to examine the trajectories of development of the city under the impact of local, Roman and ultimately Christian ideas of the city. I am committed to using both literary material and archaeological evidence in my work and I have co-directed archaeological projects in both Croatia and Libya.


I teach on a wide-range of modules on Roman history and culture at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. These modules include both core Roman history lectures on Republican and Imperial history for first, second and third year students, which examine the basic chronology and key debates on Roman history and historiography. For first years I also teach a small-group ‘Project’ module that teaches basic academic skills whilst examining the late-Roman world as presented by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus. My two specialist small-group teaching modules for second and third years both consider the region of North Africa in Antiquity. One module examines Phoenician colonisation, the Carthaginian state and its religion, native kingdoms in the second century BC and the takeover of the region by Rome from the second century BC onwards. The module also considers the evolution of Roman Africa to the reign of Septimius Severus, the first Roman emperor who was born in Africa. My other specialist module considers Africa in the late fourth and early fifth century and assesses the religious debates, societal changes and urban life as demonstrated through the writings of Saint Augustine of Hippo. I also co-teach the ‘Option’ modules ‘Pompeii and Campania’ and ‘Late Antiquity’.

At MA level I co-teach the ‘Individuals in History’ historiography module that examines a series of late Republican and Imperial authors and debates how far we can reconstruct the past by using written sources that are literary products. I also teach on the Empire and Identity module that examines the city in the Roman West in the mid-late Republic and the early Imperial period; it examines theoretical approaches to the ancient city as well as the production, re-production and the abandonment of the urban form.

At UG and MA level I supervise dissertations on all areas of Roman history and culture and I am particularly interested in supervising work on urbanism and city life and religious evolution.

I am committed to delivering innovative, high quality teaching incorporating a wide-variety of teaching types and using trips, objects and literary material to help students better understand the ancient world. In 2014-15 I was nominated for the inaugural University of Birmingham Outstanding Teaching Awards by CAHA students and selected as the prize winner for the College of Arts and Law. The award remains one of my proudest achievements in higher education.

Postgraduate supervision

I have supervised and am currently supervising successful postgraduate research students on many different aspects of Roman history, literature and culture. There are several areas that I have and would consider supervising MPhil and PhD students on, but in particular:

Urbanism in the Roman Empire and in particular work on North Africa and/or on the late Roman city
North African society and history during the Roman period
Christianity and Christians in North Africa (pre AD. 450); in particular heresy and schism and their sociological background and the relationship between Christians and non-Christians in the African cities.
Paganism and syncretism in the later Roman Empire
Aspects of the history of the later Roman Empire
I am always more than happy to talk to prospective students about their projects.

Current PhD students

Elizabeth Crump (responses to autocracy in the Julio-Claudian period)
Anna Kelley (Commodity, Commerce and Economy: Re-evaluating Cotton Production and Diffusion in the First Millennium)
Chris Knibbs (female models of exemplarity in Republican, imperial and late antique writers)
Ioannis Nakas (the construction, use and evolution of the late Hellenistic and Roman harbours of the Aegean)
Joseph Scales (Religious Identity and Spatiality in 1st Century BCE Galilee) (based in UoB Theology)
Anna Thorogood (Trojan Identities in Neronian Rome)
Jessica Venner (subsistence and commercial production in the private gardens of the Roman Empire)
Andrea Zocchi (the Periphery of Lepcis Magna: Suburban Topography and Land Use) (based at Leicester on a M3C scholarship)
Current MRes students

Lluís Jerez Bertolín (Circumcellions and debt in the late antique African countryside)
Jonathan Hackett (popularity of amphitheatre games in the Roman world)
Richard Kendall (Homelessness and Beggary in Roman Cities)
Curtis Lisle (artefacts in late antique Asia Minor)
In addition, I have also supervised successful research students working on: the archaeology of Republican period Hispania; on Valerius Maximus Book 9; on temple conversion in late antique Africa; on Severan imperial women; on Julian’s Against the Galilaeans.

Find out more - our PhD Classics and Ancient History  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


Most of my work is connected with the late Roman city, particularly in Africa, both as a construct in its own right but also as the prime venue for the production of the literary and epigraphic texts that comprise a key aspect of our evidence for late Roman and late antique life. I also study it as the location of the religious conflicts that, at times, dominate the literature of the era. I am currently doing research on religion and religious change in the cities of late Roman Africa, considering issues around the survival of traditional religious practice and belief into the fifth and sixth centuries AD and syncretism between traditional beliefs and Christianity.  Recent publications include two books. One, The Cities of Roman Africa considers the evolution of urban space from the pre-Roman period until the fall of Carthage to the Vandals in AD 439 and also explores issues of social, economic and religious change and continuity. The second book, co-written with Prof. Ray Laurence (Kent) and Prof. Simon Esmonde Cleary (Birmingham), examines the evolution of the city across the provinces of the western Roman Empire during the Roman Republic and early Empire.  The City in the Roman West: 250 BC to AD 250 not only compares the processes occurring in the different regions of the West but explores the changes through an examination of different building types and, more importantly, the activities that took place in them.

Along with Dr Peter Keegan (Macquarie) and Prof. Ray Laurence (Kent) I have just edited the book Written Space in the Latin West, 200 BC to AD 300 - http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/written-space-in-the-latin-west-200-bc-to-ad-300-9781441123046/. The volume explores the creation of ‘written spaces' through the accretion of monumental inscriptions and non-official graffiti in the Latin-speaking West. The volume includes new approaches to the study of political entities, social institutions, graffiti and painting, and the differing trajectories of written spaces in the cities of Roman Africa, Italy, Spain and Gaul.

I am a co-director of the Birmingham team with Professor Vince Gaffney in a project in Split and the Cetina Valley in Croatia. This project undertook a field mission in and around Split in June-July 2009 investigating the subsurface remains of rural sites in the Cetina valley with ground penetrating radar and magnetometry. We also used a Ground Penetrating Radar to investigate the remains of Diocletian’s Palace in Split and intend to tie the results of those investigations with a 3D model of the Mausoleum of Diocletian the current Cathedral of Split that was created using a 3D laser scanner; a publication detailing the results from the season are currently in preparation.

I am currently involved in the AHRC funded ‘Curious Travellers’ project based at the University of Bradford. See:  ‘http://www.visualisingheritage.org/theteam.php’ and reports at: https://www.world-archaeology.com/category/issues/issue-82/ Special Report: Curious Travellers and https://www.academia.edu/36638127/Special_Report_Curious_Travellers_Preserving_Endangered_Heritage_Across_the_World

Previous research

I was the co-director of the Birmingham team in the Cyrenaica Archaeological Project (CAP), an international mission for the examination of the city of Cyrene, Libya, and its hinterland (see www.cyrenaica.org).  Two seasons have taken place so far.  In June-July 2006 a team from the University of Birmingham (Professor Vince Gaffney, Dr Helen Goodchild, Richard Cutler, Dr Gareth Sears) and the University of Alberta in Edmonton undertook a topographical survey using a differential GPS in the CAP concession area around the extramural Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone in the Wadi Bel Gadir.  In June 2007 a team from the University of Birmingham (Professor Vince Gaffney, Dr Chris Gaffney, Dr Andy Howard, Dr Helen Goodchild, Richard Cutler, Dr Gareth Sears) again travelled to Libya to undertake 3D laser scanning and panoramic photography in the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone and in the upper town and to use a Foerster ferex magnetometer on the Acropolis and other intramural areas. The results of these seasons are being prepared for interim publication but Birmingham Archaeology reports are already available (see below).

In 2007 I published a book on the cities of North Africa during the later Roman Empire stemming from my PhD research in 2007. Late Roman African Urbanism considers the development of the cities of North Africa during the Later Roman Empire (AD 284-439). This work considers the evolution of the city away from the ‘classical’ Roman city in the region as well as the maintenance of the urban tradition and compares these developments to those occurring elsewhere in the Roman Empire in this period.


Recent publications


Sears, G, Laurence, R & Keegan, P (eds) 2013, Written Space in the Latin West, 200 BC to AD 300. Bloomsbury Academic.

Laurence, R, Esmonde Cleary, S & Sears, G 2012, The City in the Roman West. Cambridge University Press.

Sears, G 2011, The Cities of Roman Africa. The History Press.

Laurence, R, Esmonde Cleary, A & Sears, G 2011, The City in the Roman West. Cambridge University Press.


Sears, G 2013, 'The Rhetoric of Sectarian Violence', The Journal of Late Antiquity.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Sears, G 2017, From Romanised subject to sophisticated code-switcher: Hybridity and the spread of Roman culture. in R Freedman & N Lemay-Hebert (eds), Hybridity: Law, Culture and Development. Routledge, London.

Sears, G 2016, A Catholic stronghold? religious and ethnic identities in Tipasa. in N Roy, J Nikolaus & N Mugnai (eds), De Africa Romaque: Merging cultures across North Africa. Society for Libyan Studies , Oxford, pp. 131-142. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvk8w1m1.16

Sears, G 2013, A New Era? Severan inscriptions in Africa. in G Sears, P Keegan & R Laurence (eds), Written Space in the Latin West, 200 BC to AD 300. Bloomsbury Academic.

Gaffney, V, Sears, G, Gaffney, C, Kirigin, B, Milosevic, A, Barbaric, V, Goodchild, H, Sparrow, T & Schmidt, A 2013, Visualising space and movement; a multidisciplinary approach to the Palace of Diocletian, Split. in E Ch'ng, V Gaffney & H Chapman (eds), Visual Heritage in the Digital Age. Springer, London, pp. 103-118.

Sears, G & Laurence, R 2013, Written Space. in G Sears, P Keegan & R Laurence (eds), Written Space in the Latin West, 200 BC to AD 300. Bloomsbury Academic.

Sears, G, Gaffney, V, Goodchild, H, Cuttler, R, Gaffney, C & Kane, S 2012, Deciphering ‘Lost’ Urban Landscapes at Cyrene. in N Christie & A Augenti (eds), Vrbes Extinctae: Archaeologies of Abandoned Classical Towns. Ashgate, pp. 177.


Sears, G 2011, The Fate of the Temples in North Africa. in L Lavan & M Mulryan (eds), The Archaeology of Late Antique 'Paganism'. vol. 7, Late Antique Archaeology, vol. 7, pp. 229-259.


Cuttler, R, Gaffney, C, Gaffney, V, Goodchild, H, Howard, A & Sears, G 2012, 'Changing perspectives on the city of Cyrene, Libya: Remote sensing and the management of the buried archaeological resource', pp. 65-7.

Book/Film/Article review

Sears, G 2014, 'I. JACOBS, AESTHETIC MAINTENANCE OF CIVIC SPACE: THE ‘CLASSICAL’ CITY FROM THE 4TH TO THE 7TH C. AD (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 193). Leuven: Peeters, 2013. Pp. xii + 1028, 224 figs, 17 plans. ISBN 9789042923027. €120.00. - A. LEONE, THE END OF THE PAGAN CITY: RELIGION, ECONOMY, AND URBANISM IN LATE ANTIQUE NORTH AFRICA. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xxii + 319, 49 figs. ISBN 9780199570928. £70.00.', The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 104, pp. 363-365. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0075435814001087


Sears, G 2011, 'The Fate of the Temples in North Africa', Paper presented at Conference on Archaeology of Late Antique Paganism, 2005. Leuven, Belgium, 1/01/11.

View all publications in research portal