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Professor Caroline Humfress

BA and MA (Cantab,); PhD, History (Cantab.)

Professor in History

Contact details

Department of History, Classics and Archaeology
Birkbeck, University of London
Room 2.11
27 Russell Square

Tel: + 44 (0)20 7631 6489


  • Caroline Humfress has worked at Birkbeck since 2004. She was Asst. Professor of Rhetoric and Law at the University of California, Berkeley from 2000-04 and before that was ‘Carlyle Research Fellow in the History of Political Thought’ at the University of Oxford and a Junior Research Fellow at Queens’ College, University of Cambridge.

Research and teaching

  • Introduction
  • What is the ‘state’ and how might it (how should it) relate to law and religion? Developing theoretical approaches from the disciplines of sociology, anthropology and law, my research explores this fundamental question with specific reference to pre-modern empires and the Roman Empire in particular. I am especially interested in law and religion ‘on the ground’: how did individuals and groups attempt to ‘work’ the systems and structures within which they lived, and what can this teach us about how societies function today?
  • Research interests
  • Roman law and legal history (Classical, Post-classical, Medieval); Modern legal theory; law and anthropology.
  • Religious, cultural and political history of Late Antiquity (c.285-c. 600 AD).
  • History of Ideas (Classical, Medieval and Modern periods).
  • Teaching
  • I convene the MA History of Ideas and teach on a number of modules at BA and MA level including:
  • From Ancient to Medieval Societies (undergraduate group 1)
  • Religion, Magic and Society in Late Antiquity (undergraduate group 2)
  • Death, Ancestors and the Afterlife (undergraduate group 2)
  • Ancient Political Thought and its Medieval Legacy (MA)
  • Religion and the State c.200-600 (MA)
  • PhD supervision
  • Current PhD students’ topics include:
  • Prudentius and the Poetry of Hispania
  • Proclus
  • “Legally Roman: Legal Culture and Imperial Rule in the Age of the Severi”
  • “The Books of Numa: Writing, Tradition and the Making of Roman Religion”


  • Books
  • Law and Empire: Ideas, Practices Actors (Leuven: Brill, 2013). Co-edited volume.
  • Being Christian in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). Co-edited volume.
  • Encyclopaedia of Political Theory (Los Angeles and London: Sage International Publications, 2010). Co-edited, 3 volumes.
  • Orthodoxy and the Courts in Late Antiquity (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • The Evolution of the Late Antique World (with Peter Garnsey), (Cambridge, Orchard Academic, 2001)
  • Articles and chapters (most recent)
  • “Patristic Sources” in Johnston, D., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Roman Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • “Thinking through Legal Pluralism: ‘Forum shopping’ in the Later Roman Empire” in Duindam, J., Harries, J., Humfress, C. and Hurvitz, N., Law and Empire (Leiden: Brill, 2013)
  • “Laws’ Empire: Roman Universalism and Legal Practice” in du Plessis, P.J., New Frontiers: Law and Society in the Roman World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). Reprinted in Rapp, C. and Drake, H., The Transformation of City and Citizenship in the Classical World: From the Fifth Century BCE to the Fifth Century CE (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
  • “Law and Custom under Rome” in Rio, A. (ed.) Custom in the Middle Ages (London: Hellenic Studies Institute, 2012), 23-47
  • "Controversialist: Augustine in Combat" in Vessey, M., ed., The Blackwell Companion to Augustine (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 323-335
  • “Bishops and Lawcourts in Late Antiquity: How Not to Make Sense of the Legal Evidence”, Journal of Early Christian Studies 19.3 (Fall 2011), 375-400
  • Lectures
  • In Spring 2013 I will be giving the Carlyle Lectures at the University of Oxford: “Laws’ Empire. Rethinking Law and Life under Rome, 212 – 565 AD”.


  • Radio 4, ‘In Our Time’ with Melvyn Bragg, invited panelist on live discussions (broadcast 21/04/11 and 27/12/07):
  • Channel 4, historical consultant and “talking head” for series, “Christianity: A History”. UK broadcast Jan. – Feb. 2009; also shown in USA, Australia, Europe:
  • Radio 4, invited discussant for recorded programme “Who killed Christianity”, with David Starkey (broadcast 17/01/2006):

Professional membership

  • Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
  • Member of The Society of Legal Scholars
  • Editorial board member of The Journal of Roman Studies, Roman Legal Tradition and the Journal of Late Antiquity.

Honours and awards

  • Leverhulme Prize (2009-2012)
  • Awarded Il Premio della Corte Costituzionale della Reppublica Italiana for 2007 monograph (2010)
  • Co-recipient of a 3.3 million euro European Union (FP7) ‘Marie-Curie Initial Training Network’ grant (to begin January 2013)

Current activities

  • ‘Training Lead’ for EU ‘Initial Training Network’ award: Power and Institutions in the Medieval Islamic and Christian Worlds.
  • Co-editor and co-lead for The Cambridge Comparative History of Ancient Law project. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the Maitland Trust and Yale Law School (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press)