The Religious World of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus


Jill Mitchell

Publication date: March, 2021

Pages: 351, colour

ISBN 978-615-81689-6-0               Paperback, €45.00

ISBN 978-615-6405-09-8              Hardcover, €119.00

eISBN 978-615-81793-7-9              eBook, €45.00

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CHAPTER 1. Quintus Aurelius Symmachus and His World

CHAPTER 2. Literary Pursuits, Amicitia and Aristocratic Life

CHAPTER 3. Symmachus’ Religious Landscape

CHAPTER 4. Symmachus’ Religious Language

CHAPTER 5. Symmachus’ Religious Ritual

CHAPTER 6. Symmachus and the Religious Crisis of 384

CHAPTER 7. Symmachus and the Twilight of the Gods




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Jill Mitchell
ISBN (hardcover)
ISBN (paperback)
Publication date
March, 2021
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“The Religious World of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus” examines the religious life of one of the last pagan senators of Rome, dates c. 340-402, who lived in a tumultuous time during the Late Antique period of the Roman Empire, dying just a few years before the Western Empire began to break up. Symmachus could not have imagined the political reality developing so soon after his death, so he is important as a late example of the old Roman Western aristocracy, as well as one of the last pagans of Rome. He was regarded as the foremost orator of his time and was a prolific letter-writer who had correspondents in high places and throughout the Empire. He also filled the posts of Urban Prefect of Rome and Consul - and was the opponent of Bishop Ambrose of Milan during the so-called 384 CE “Altar of Victory Dispute,” which was one episode of many leading to the “ triumph” of Christianity over traditional Roman polytheism. Symmachus’ cache of 900 private letters and his official despatches while Urban Prefect have provided the raw material for this book. 

JILL MITCHELL did a degree in Medieval and Modern History which inspired a lifelong interest in the period of Late Antiquity. After a career first as a librarian and later as a community worker with the elderly, she took up Classics in early retirement, completing first a Masters degree, and then a Ph.D. finished in 2017, on which the current volume is based. Married with two sons, she comes from Scotland, but now lives in Yorkshire. She enjoys reading, singing, eating out and travelling widely when circumstances permit.

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus was a Roman statesman and man of letters who lived in the later period of the 4th century AD. This was a time of great change in Rome with the gradual adoption of Christianity amongst the aristocracy meant that the traditional pagan religions were under threat. Symmachus sought to preserve the old ways, sometimes to his personal detriment.

In her work, Jillian Mitchell has made a careful study of his collected letters and Relationes (official dispatches) to provide a well-rounded picture of this period in Late Antiquity. We are given a glimpse into the life of a man who lived through this time of change. This eminently readable work provides an in-depth study of the man and his time.

Susan Sorek, Dept. Continuing Education, University of Oxford

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