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The Last Pagan. Julian Apostata as Emperor and Intellectual


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.

Entry test
Students should by way of entry test hand in an essay of 1500 words on the basis of the book of Tougher (see Reading List). The essay question will be made available on Blackboard 10 days before the course starts, and should be handed in 48 hours before the start of the course.


Julian Apostata is one of the best known yet also one of the most enigmatic figures from Late Antiquity. Born in the imperial dynasty of Constantine, he appears to have been too young to pose a threat when Constantine died; many other members of his family were massacred. He spent his youth in relative safety, in pursuit of a literary and intellectual education in the major centres of the Roman world.

Only gradually was he drawn into the orbit of Roman imperial government, but from that point onwards he quickly gained power. More or less by chance he became sole ruler of the empire in AD 361. His tenure was of short duration, but has acquired notoriety for Julian’s attempts to return to the old Roman gods (now marked as ‘pagan’) and to reinstate the values of traditional Hellenism. His untimely death in AD 363 turned his attempts into a spectacular failure, but the brief episode would be remembered for centuries to come.

In the course we follow Julian through the ancient sources, written by himself, his pagan admirers, and his Christian opponents. We try to reconstruct his motives, and through his life explore the religious tensions of the world of late antiquity.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Ancient History: unification processes in the Graeco-Roman World, 400 BC – 400 AD; insight into the recent large-scale debates in the field with respect to both the history of mentality and socio-economic history.
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Ancient History: the comparative method; application of socio-scientific methods; specialized source knowledge, in particular of documentary sources, and more specifically epigraphy.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. Acquires knowledge about the major elements of fourth century political history;
  2. Acquires comprehension of the major strands of late-antique thinking;
  3. Acquires comprehension of the transition of paganism to Christianity in the fourth century;
  4. (ResMA only): Acquires comprehension how to evaluate complex sources that vary widely in character and are mutually contradictory;
  5. (ResMA only): Learns to take up his/her position in shifting debates about the position of late-antique paganism.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Sessions 13 × 2 hours: 26 hours

  • Preparation sessions 13 × 2 hours: 26 hours

  • Assignments 1-3 (including study literature) 3 × 10 hours: 30 hours

  • Writing paper (including study literature and sources): 196 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-17

  • Assignment 1 (Entry test)
    Measured learning objectives: 4

  • Assignment 2 (Introduction and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-6

  • Assignment 3 (Oral presentation about previously circulated chapter)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-9

  • Participation (both in class and on blackboard)
    Measured learning objectives: 8


Written paper: 70 %
Assignment 1 (Entry test): 5%
Assignment 2 (Introduction and bibliography): 10%
Assignment 3 (Oral presentation about previously circulated chapter): 10%
Participation (both in class and on blackboard): 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Should the overall mark or the final paper be unsatisfactory, papers graded with a 5 are to be revised after consultation with the instructor, whereas papers graded with a 4 or lower should be written about a new subject.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Course schedule

  • Essay question of the entry test

  • Reading list

  • Powerpoints

  • Discussion forum

Reading list

  • S. Tougher, Julian the Apostate. Debates and documents in ancient history (Edingburgh 2007).
    Pages 1-76 should have been read in advance in preparation of the entry test.
    As the whole book will be used during the course, students may want to buy their own copy.
    The book will also be made available through a Course Reserve Shelve in the University Library.

All other literature will be announced in class and/or on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. L.E. Tacoma