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Courses / Modules / HIST3227 Emperor Julian and the Last Pagans of Rome Part 1, Julian: hero and apostate

Emperor Julian and the Last Pagans of Rome Part 1, Julian: hero and apostate

When you'll study it
Semester 1
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 6
Module lead
Helen Spurling

Module overview

Julian was sole emperor of Rome for scarcely twenty months, dying in 363CE at the head of his army during a spectacularly miscalculated invasion of modern-day Iraq. His short life and untimely death ensured that he has remained an enigmatic figure: a warrior who also loved classical literature and has left us with more writings than any other emperor; the last pagan emperor, who tried to reverse the spread of Christianity, yet was also the first emperor to be educated as a Christian; a legitimate member of the imperial house of Constantine, who nonetheless usurped the throne. In this module, we will use Julian’s life as a lens to explore various aspects of Late Roman elite society in the mid fourth century CE, ranging from education to politics, to religion, to urban life. Throughout we will consider the value of a biographical approach to history, and the relationship between personal details of Julian’s life and wider cultural and political trends at the end of the Roman Empire.

This module will begin by surveying the role of the emperor in the late Roman world, particularly in the aftermath of the revolutionary reforms of Julian’s uncle Constantine the Great, and the religious upheavals of the early fourth century. We will then trace Julian’s career chronologically, through a detailed examination of the many texts that Julian has left us (speeches, letters, and laws), together with the works by his contemporaries and material evidence. We will follow him during key episodes in his life, from his exiled youth, via his university life in Athens, his appointment as junior emperor by his hated cousin Constantius II, his rebellion, to his brief sole reign, during which he tried to marginalize and suppress Christianity. This chronological structure will be interspersed with thematic studies on education, politics, philosophy, and the military.

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