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Courses / Modules / HIST3228 Emperor Julian and the Last Pagans of Rome Part 2, Julian: hero and apostate

Emperor Julian and the Last Pagans of Rome Part 2, Julian: hero and apostate

When you'll study it
Semester 2
CATS points
ECTS points
Level 6
Module lead
Helen Spurling

Module overview

What was life like for a generation left behind by the changing cultural tides during the last decades of the Roman empire? With the death of Julian in 363CE, paganism was never again endorsed by a Roman emperor; moreover, it was tainted by association with Julian’s military failure against the Persians. In the second part of this Special Subject, we will study the last generation of elite pagans (c.350-400CE), who had been contemporaries of Julian but lived well beyond his early death, and in a world that saw the steady establishment of Christianity and imposition of legal restrictions on paganism by the end of the fourth century.

Four pagan figures have left us extensive collections of their texts: Themistius, a politician and philosopher who was responsible for expanding the new senate in the (largely Christian) eastern capital of Constantinople; Libanius, a professor in the Syrian city of Antioch, who found himself in close proximity to several of Julian’s successors; Symmachus, a prominent politician and aristocrat in Rome; and Ausonius, a poet from Gaul (modern France), who became tutor to the child emperor Gratian. Using these four individuals and their letters, speeches, and other writings, we will investigate the education, careers, lifestyle, social networks, and religious inclinations of the final pagan generation, in both the East and the West of the Roman Empire during its last century as a political unity.

We will engage with a number of modern debates, asking whether it is correct to talk of a ‘conflict’ between Paganism and Christianity in this period; how both pagans and Christians claimed the inheritance of the Classical past; and what the role of civic society and provincial cities was in the running of the empire. These questions will help us understand how this group of people (who did not adhere to the new religion that was sweeping across their world and was supported by the imperial regime) could adapt, and even thrive, in such rapidly changing social, political and religious climates.

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