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The University of Southampton

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

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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The political and administrative system of the Roman empire in the fourth century CE
  • The cultural and political context of Julian from 337-363
  • The nature of political power and means of presenting an imperial image
  • Religious, philosophical and intellectual life in the fourth century
  • How to understand and analyse ancient texts in a variety of literary genres, as well as material evidence such as coins and inscriptions
  • Debates on the significance of the reign of Julian for late Roman history
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently.
  • Identify, select, and synthesise key arguments from recommended resources.
  • Participate constructively in group discussions.
  • Analyse evidence critically.
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain and discuss the factors that influenced Julian’s life and reign
  • Show familiarity with a range of primary sources
  • Apply knowledge of modern scholarship to your evaluation of ancient texts and materials
  • Critically analyse source material
  • Explain your own views on modern debates about politics, religion, and society in the fourth century CE.


An indicative list of seminar topics would include • The Roman Revolution of Constantine • Pagans and Polytheists in the fourth century CE • The Summer of Blood (337CE) • University life in Athens (350s CE) • Julian and the military: Gaul (355-360 CE) • Usurpation and Civil War (360-361 CE) • The politics of conversion • Julian in Constantinople – a civilis princeps? • A pagan revival – Julian’s philosophy and legislation • Opposition in Antioch – a Christian backlash • Disaster in Persia (363 CE) • Creating the ‘Apostate’

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: • Seminars will entail focused reading and rigorous analysis of primary sources in conjunction with wide-ranging and penetrating discussions of modern literature on the subject of Julian and his historical and cultural context. • Small and large group discussions • One-on-one appointments to provide guidance and feedback on research, writing, and dissertating Learning activities include: • preparatory reading, individual research and study prior to each class • preparing and delivering short presentations relating to aspects of the module, as directed by the tutor • close study of primary sources • participation in small and large group discussion

Follow-up work44
Wider reading or practice23
Preparation for scheduled sessions88
Completion of assessment task80
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Swain, S. (2013). Themistius, Julian and Greek Political Theory under Rome. 

Athanassiadi, P. (1981). Julian and Hellenism. 

Ross, A. J. (2016). Ammianus’ Julian: Narrative and Genre in the Res Gestae. 

Elm, S. (2012). Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome. 

Baker-Brian, N. and S. Tougher. (2012). Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate. 

Bowersock, G.W. (1978). Julian the Apostate. 

Tougher, S. (2007). Julian the Apostate. 

Teitler, H. (2017). The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity. 

Cameron, Av. and P. Garnsey (1998). The Cambridge Ancient History. ,13 .

Smith, R. (1995). Julian’s Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Timed Assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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