Members-only podcast episode

Storytime: Reading Eunapius, Part III: The Diviners’ Purge and the End of the Theurgic Revolution

This is a special podcast episode for SHWEP members only

Join now to listen

[Corrigendum: Sorry, folks; the Theodosius we mentioned as the predicted emperor to succeed Valens was actually Theodorus.]

In our final Storytime episode exploring Eunapius of Sardis’ chronicle of the ‘last pagan generation’, we consider the fate of Maximus of Ephesus after the death of Julian. Things do not go well: for a moment there it looks like Maximus almost has victory in his grasp against all odds, but he comes to a sticky end.

An episode replete with discursus, historical contextualisation, and speculation, but also featuring some detailed testimony as to how one late-antique system of divination actually functioned!

Works Cited in this Episode:


Ammianus Marcellinus:

  • Julian’s few bad qualities, among which was an over-fondness for sacrificing: XXV.17.
  • The origins of the problems with Persia, and exoneration of Julian’s Persian adventure: XXV.23-27.
  • Julian’s death: XXV.3; his death-speech: XXV.3.13-20.
  • How the divination worked: XXIX.1.28-31.
  • Maximus’ death in the anti-divinatory persecutions by Valens: XXIX,1.42. Cf. Zosimus (the Christian historian, not the other guy) IV.15.
  • Valens had pretty good reasons to be paranoid: XXIX.1.15-18.
  • Book-burnings: XXIX.1.41. Entire libraries being proactively burnt in the eastern provinces: XXIX.2.4.
  • Numerius, the baby-necromancer: XXIX.2.17.


  • Max and Julian do divinations: 477.
  • They set out for Persia, Julian dies, what happens next: 478-80.


Nicholas Marshall. The Meaning of Theurgy: A Minimalistic Approach to Theurgy and Previous Understandings of the Term in the Study of Late Antique Religion. PhD thesis, Aarhus Universitet, 2016.

Anne Shephard in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, s.v. Maximus of Ephesus: accessed online.

Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler 2013 [see below].

Recommended Reading:

Filipe Delfim Santos. ‘Maxime (d’Éphèse?)’. In Richard Goulet, editor. Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, Tome IV: De Labeo a Ovidius. CNRS Éditions, Paris, 2005.

R. Penella. Greek Philosophers and Sophists in the Fourth Century A.D. Studies in Eunapius of Sardis. Leeds, 1990.

Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: The Invention of a Ritual Tradition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2013.

Edward J Watts. The Final Pagan Generation: Rome’s Unexpected Path to Christianity. University of California Press, Berkeley, 2020.

Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922.