Orosius Between the Classical Tradition and the Patristic Milieu

Christopher Michael Burns, Fordham University


Orosius (c. 385 – 420 AD), a fifth-century Spanish priest originally from modern Braga, Portugal, wrote a world history titled the Historiarum Aduersum Paganos Libri VII (commonly referred to as the Historiae) to complement St. Augustine’s De Ciuitate Dei. This dissertation demonstrates how the Historiae were positioned between two distinct intellectual traditions: the pagan and the Christian. Specifically, it examines Orosius’ depiction of the Punic Wars as a case study of how the Spanish priest combined a classical historiographic style with a strongly Christian moralism. Its first chapter demonstrates the similarities between Orosius’ historiography and that of the Roman historian Livy, especially as seen in their respective narratives of the Punic Wars. The second chapter expands this discussion to include poetic depictions of Carthage in Roman epic and drama from the Republic and early Empire. These parallel investigations demonstrate that Orosius’ depiction of Rome, Carthage, and the Punic Wars made use of cultural tropes and stereotypes developed by pagan Roman authors in both poetry and prose. However, they also reveal that Orosius’ narrative differs from those of his pagan predecessors because it is undergirded by a specifically Christian moralism aligned with the ongoing apologetic project of the Catholic Church in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. This Christian approach is investigated more fully in the dissertation’s third and final chapter, which explores the relation between Orosius’ moral ideas and those of his mentors St. Augustine and St. Jerome, as well as those of other patristic writers of his time and of earlier generations. Based upon these comparisons, this dissertation concludes that Orosius’ work is in fundamental continuity with both his pagan predecessors and his fellow Christian apologists, but that his apologetic intent is the true heart of his work.

Subject Area

Classical Studies|Classical literature|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Burns, Christopher Michael, "Orosius Between the Classical Tradition and the Patristic Milieu" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30688617.