Ammianus Marcellinus

Charles Johnston describes how, in the fourth century A.D., the Roman Empire was near its end, but its sophisticated life found a lucid recorder in Ammianus of Antioch. 

The Roman Empire of the fourth century A.D. seems curiously close to our own time. Western Europe had acquired a uniform culture and a settled habit of civilized life. There was an organized Empire-wide structure of trade and communications. Christianity had become the official religion and those who remained pagans were living in an increasingly Christian environment.

At the same time, the self-confidence of the early Empire had gone and been replaced by a mood of indeterminate apprehension. A sophisticated, materialistic way of living co-existed with deep inner anxiety in a manner that strikes the modern reader as entirely contemporary.

Western Europe was soon to break up before the barbarian invasions, and the old civilization vanish; Constantinople continued as the New Rome - but in a form absolutely foreign and exotic. In the fourth century we are lucky to find two highly articulate and sympathetic writers who can speak to us in a direct and moving way with the accent of their times.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.