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The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World [Paperback]

Adrian Murdoch
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Sep 2005
Since his death on a Persian battlefield in AD 363, the violent end of the Emperor Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus, 332-363) has become synonymous with the death of paganism. Vilified throughout history as the 'Apostate', the young philosopher-warrior was the last and arguably the most potent threat to Christianity. "The Last Pagan" examines Julian's emergence as the sole survivor of a political dynasty soaked in blood, and traces his journey from an aristocratic Christian childhood to his initiation into pagan cults and his mission to establish paganism as the dominant faith of the Roman world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press Ltd; New Ed edition (15 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0750940484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0750940481
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,647,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"British historian Adrian Murdoch's "The Last Pagan "(the phrase comes from the English poet Swinburne)""is a thorough-going biography of Julian. In this book, we get a strong sense of the history of the fourth century, which is the age of the decline of the Roman empire made famous by English historian Edward Gibbon, who Murdoch asserts, made Julian the hero of his work." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Adrian Murdoch is an historian and journalist. Educated in Scotland and at The Queen's College, Oxford, he is a regular contributor to The Herald. He has written 'The Romans in Germany' and is co-translator of an anthology on Roman decadence. His book 'Death in the Forest: Romes Greatest Defeat' will be published by Sutton early in 2006.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - as far as it goes 8 Feb 2006
By Jocko
Sutton have something of a reputation for quirky, incoherant and under-researched books on intriguing historical figures.
This is not one of them. The Last Pagan combines the accessability of a well-written popular biography with the fully-sourced rigour of an academic text. Its friendly but frank assessment of Julian - who emerges as a first-class second-rate mind, a pedantic, schoolboyish prig and yet a hero - is entirely convincing. To my knowledge, there is no better introduction to the man.
But...The book's one weakness seems to me to be in the very area of interest to most readers. Murdoch appears to have a rather naive understanding of Hellenistic "paganism". It was far more than worshipping a load of old gods and a scholarly fondness for Homer. We get little real sense of what Julian believed. I imagine that most readers would be startled to learn that the Emperor was as monotheistic as a medieval Pope. The intellectual, spiritual and religious issues of the time - in contrast to their political consequences - are oddly underplayed.
Yet that information can be found elsewhere. This is a very good book, which I warmly recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ruler as a man 19 Jun 2009
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About two decades ago I read the somewhat scholarly work by Bowersock on this fascinating character, and a popular history had been long overdue. The story of this short but eventful period can be well told because of the richness of the sources, including Ammianus the army officer who served under Julian, Libanius the somewhat pompous and self-important rhetorician from Antioch who befriended Julian, and not least the copious surviving literary output from Julian himself, giving a valuable insight into the mind of an emperor not seen since that of Marcus Aurelius two centuries previously.

Whilst for much of history being a hate figure, in recent times Julian seems to have become something of a hero figure amongst the left-wing anti-Christian intelligentsia, seemingly on the basis of nothing other than your enemy's enemy being your friend. Murdoch however invites us, as he says in his closing remarks, to see "a ruler as a man", and his excellent biography serves this aim well in presenting us with a portrait of the character of Julian, neither hagiography nor hatchet job.

Despite what some people might suppose, Julian was not quite as tolerant of Christians as has been at times made out by people trying to present him as the very antithesis of Christian intolerance.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good & overdue biography 7 May 2006
I have never understood why Julian the Apostate isn't better known. A new biography was overdue and this is an excellent attempt.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A biography of Julian it is - but a description of the death of the pagan world it is not. There is only one mention of Theodosius I can remember and he was responsible for decapitating paganism and who knows, opening the doors to Islam as well - when the Romans gave wings to monotheism.

This is a very easily readable sketch about Julian's life - not an intimate portrait. Starting at Julian's heroic death, it takes us back to his unlikely rise through the jaws of Emperor Constantine's children and their filial, power struggles as emperors of Rome - including the Eastern Empire which Julian was to help the Romans to lose. The book is richly sourced. The end chapters describe Julian's impact and reputation - I'm not sure I agree with the author's appraisal of good vs bad. Julian stands out as a human being, a failed hero, a shadow of Alexander the Great.

Julian was not really an Apostate as he was labelled given that Paganism was still alive at his time - even if it was a receding force. It was in the fifth century that Paganism really died and the civilisations of Egypt and the near East in a pagan context were obiliterated.

I get the impression that Julian tried to impose a form of Paganism that was not necessarily true to tradition as a "standard religion" (like Christianity) - and paganism never worked like that. The gods were not with Julian when he went for Sharpur the Emperor of Persia after which he met his death.

We get a good impression of the later Roman empire and one of the few emperors you can really admire. For his laws, his intellect and strangely - his tolerance as well. I believe the book should lead to further reading.

I don't think this book does any justice to its subtitle - (and the death of the ancient world) you would have to go elsewhere to find this - to the 420s CE.

Overall, a very digestible, well explained compendium with excellent references.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant biography 28 May 2006
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Julian has not had a good popular biography for many years, so this book was overdue, and a pleasure to read. One of the most fascinating historical figures - like Claudius an academic Imperial achiever never expected to become emperor - Julian in addition battled to restore paganism in the face of Christianity. Murdoch has done him justice in this easy to read biography.
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