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Julian the Apostate - 10 credits (HS3307)

Staff: Shaun Tougher

The figure of Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor (AD 361–363), provoked extreme reactions within his own lifetime amongst pagans and Christians; it appeared that Christianity and the Church, recently favoured by Constantine the Great and his sons, were about to suffer the effects of the withdrawal of that imperial favour. But Julian has also provoked extreme reactions amongst later authors and scholars up until the present day; for example, could he have changed the course of history, or was he a dinosaur in his own time, doomed to fail? This module examines Julian’s life, reign and thought within the context of contemporary Roman politics and culture, and also considers his legacy and his enduring legend.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: autumn semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

Topics for consideration are:

  • the nature of the sources for Julian and his reign
  • the family and empire of Constantine the Great
  • Julian’s early life, education and conversion
  • Julian’s Caesarship and usurpation in Gaul
  • his imperial style and policies: administrative, religious, military and civic
  • the nature of Julian’s writings and thought
  • his legacy and legend


  • To study the life, reign, and thought of Julian the Apostate within the context of the political and cultural nature of the later Roman empire.
  • To consider the legacy and legend of Julian.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • knowledge of the life, reign, and thought of Julian the Apostate within the context of the political and cultural nature of the later Roman empire, as well as a knowledge of his legacy and legend.
  • an ability to analyse the historical sources for the period: literary, visual, archaeological and documentary.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in assessed work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary source (to be bought)

Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae (available in Penguin, The Later Roman Empire)

Preliminary reading

Julian, Works, trans. W.C.Wright, 3 vols.
S. N. C. Lieu (ed.), The Emperor Julian. Panegyric and Polemic (second edition, 1989)
P. Athanassiadi, Julian: An Intellectual Biography (1992)
G. W. Bowersock, Julian the Apostate (1978)
P. Brown, ‘The last pagan emperor: Robert Browning’s The Emperor Julian’, in Society and the Holy in Late Antiquity (1982), 83–102
R. Browning, The Emperor Julian (1976)
A. Cameron, The Later Roman Empire (1993), esp. chap. 6
D. Hunt, ‘Julian’, in The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. XIII (1998), 44–77
R. B. E. Smith, Julian’s Gods (1995)
S. Tougher, Julian the Apostate (2007)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3102 Introduction to Roman History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3308 The End of Antiquity

HS3317 Roman Imperial History 31 BC–AD 138

HS3318 The Later Roman Empire AD 284–602