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The University of Southampton

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

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.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • The lives and careers of prominent members of Roman Society in Late Antiquity
  • The cultural, political context of the Roman empire from 363 to 395
  • 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 cultural life and religious belief in the late Roman empire.
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 the careers of elite pagans in the fourth century
  • 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 • Imperial politics after Julian • Social networks in the Ancient world • Hellenism and paideia in the East • The Inheritance of the Classics • Ancient PPE: Themistius on Politics, Philosophy and Empire • Libanius: City and School in Late Antique Antioch • Rome and Constantinople: Pagan cities or Christian Capitals? • Symmachus: Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court • Ausonius of Bordeaux: Politician and Poet • The Battle of the Frigidus and the end of Paganism? • A Generation’s Legacy

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
Preparation for scheduled sessions88
Completion of assessment task80
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Heather, P. and D. Moncur (2001). Themistius: Politics, Philosophy and Empire in the Fourth Century. 

Matthews, J.F. (1975). Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court. 

Watts, E. (2015). The Final Pagan Generation. 

Bowersock, G.W. (1990). Hellenism in Late Antiquity. 

Cameron, Al. (2011). The Last Pagans of Rome. 

Grig, L. and G. Kelly (2012). Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity. 

Sivin, H. (1993). Ausonius of Bordeaux and the Genesis of a Gallic Aristocracy. 

Cribiore, R. (2007). The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch. 

Sogno, C. (2006). Q. Aurelius Symmachus: a Political Biography. 

Van Hoof, L. (2014). Libanius: a Critical Introduction. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 50%
Written assignment 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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