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Hidden Polemics: Ammianus' Digression On Egypt (Res Gestae 21.15-16)

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Chapter Summary

One of the most interesting problems concerning the fourth century historian Ammianus Marcellinus is his attitude towards Christianity. There is consensus nowadays that the historian was a pagan, whose personal beliefs might, without disrespect, be summed up as a form of 'Vulgärneuplatonismus'. The small number of explicit references to religious matters in the remaining books of the Res gestae would suggest the latter, especially since in these books the author is dealing with the reigns of Constantius II Augustus and Julian, to whom religious policy was obviously of primary importance. Still, there are many places in which Ammianus, without naming Christianity, can be shown to defend beliefs that are contrary to the decrees of Christian emperors like Constantius and Theodosius the Great in the Codex Theodosianus. For the study of Ammianus' digression two Greek texts are of paramount importance, the description of Egypt by Herodotus and Plato's Timaeus.

Keywords: Ammianus Marcellinus; Christianity; Constantius; Constantius II Augustus; Julian; Res gestae ; Theodosius



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