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Sulpicius Severus


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Latin historian who was born in Aquitania c.ad 360. A member of a prominent family, he studied law in Bordeaux and became a convert to Christianity c.389 together with his friend Paulinus of Nola. After the death of his aristocratic wife, he organized under the influence of Bishop Martin of Tours a sort of monastic life on his own estates for himself and his friends. In old age he seems to have passed through a period of Pelagianism (a Christian heresy). He died c.ad 420. Gennadius wrote a brief biography of him (Vir. ill. 19), and we have also thirteen letters to him by Paulinus. His extant works are: (1) a life of (Saint) Martin of Tours which is an apology for asceticism and is supplemented by three letters on Martin's miracles and death and by a dialogue which compares Martin's feats with those of the Egyptian hermits; (2) a universal chronicle to ad 400 which is an important source for the history of 4th-cent. events, esp. the heresy of the Priscillianists (Severus disapproved of the execution of Priscillianus). The whole book is an interesting attempt to present a ‘breviarium’ of history from the Christian point of view: it uses Christian chronographers, especially St Jerome, but also pagan writers. J. Bernays suggested (Ges. Abhandl. 2. 1885, 81 ff.) that for the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70 Sulpicius followed the lost account of Tacitus. Sallust and Tacitus are his models in the matter of style.

(1) a life of (Saint) Martin of Tours which is an apology for asceticism and is supplemented by three letters on Martin's miracles and death and by a dialogue which compares Martin's feats with those of the Egyptian hermits; (2) a universal chronicle to ad 400 which is an important source for the history of 4th-cent. events, esp. the heresy of the Priscillianists (Severus disapproved of the execution of Priscillianus).

Arnaldo Momigliano; Antony J. S. Spawforth

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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