Classics Orosius
Peter Van Nuffelen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 March 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0359


Orosius was a Spanish priest, attested in the years 414–419. He is best known as the author of the Histories against the pagans (416–417), a world history that was conceived as a companion piece to the first ten books of Augustine’s City of God. The Histories would become the most-read history of the Middle Ages and be translated in Old English and Arabic in the 9th to the 10th centuries. Orosius also plays a secondary role in other controversies of the period. He wrote a tract against Priscillianism, and an Apology to defend himself from accusations of heresy coming from partisans of Pelagius. Finally, bringing relics of St Stephen to Spain, he landed in Minorca, sparking one of the most-discussed episodes of conversion of the Jews. If Orosius is, all in all, a minor figure in late antique history, his Histories have been treated as proof of some strongly held opinions about late antique historiography and early Christianity. The Histories, relying mainly on earlier sources, have been seen to exemplify the essentially derivative nature of late antique historiography, while its apologetic tendency has been taken as proof that Christians were not interested in historical events and subordinated everything to theological views on the course of history. Scholarship also tends to stress the gulf between Augustine’s apparent rejection of the alliance between empire and Church and Orosius’s apparent espousal of it. More recent scholarship has shed doubt on these long-held views, which are, in fact, shaped by modern theological responses to enthusiasm for dictatorial regimes found in some Christian circles in the 1930s. Scholarship on Orosius is very international, with numerous publications in Spanish, Italian, French, and German. Only starting in the early 21st century has scholarship in English picked up.

General Overviews

Brief introductions to Orosius can be found in works that survey late antique historiography, of which Rohrbacher 2002 and Zecchini 2003 are the most recent. Another way to quickly assess basic information are articles in encyclopedias, like Frend 1999 and Cobet 2014. The only monograph-length introduction is Torres Rodríguez 1985, but almost all works on the Historiae contain general introductions (see section General Studies). For the late antique context of Orosius, please consult the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Classics article “Roman History: Late Antiquity” by Eric Rebillard.

  • Cobet, Justus. 2014. Orosius. In Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum: Sachwörterbuch zur Auseinandersetzung des Christentums mit der antiken Welt. Vol. 26. Edited by Franz Joseph Dölger, Theodor Klauser, and Ernst Dassmann, 567–576. Stuttgart: Hiersemann.

    A full and detailed overview. A good place to start if one reads German.

  • Frend, William H. C. 1999.. In Augustine through the ages: An encyclopedia Edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald, 615–617. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

    Concise and clear summary of our knowledge of Orosius.

  • Rohrbacher, David. 2002. The historians of late antiquity. London and New York: Routledge. 135–149.

    A brief and lucid overview that allows comparison with other Late Antique historians.

  • Torres Rodríguez, Casimiro. 1985. Paulo Orosio, su vida y sus obres. Santiago, Chile: Fundación Barrié.

    The only work that seeks to cover the entire life and oeuvre of Orosius and hence still useful even if superseded in many aspects.

  • Zecchini, Giuseppe. 2003. Latin historiography: Jerome, Orosius, and the Western Chronicles. In Greek and Roman historiography in late antiquity: Fourth to sixth century A.D. Edited by Gabriele Marasco, 317–345. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    A good introduction to the general issues, offering a very upbeat assessment of the quality of the Histories.

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