For [Ammianus, and others of his mind], much more was at stake than the acceptance of military defeat. The death of Julian was nothing less than the death of their hero, and a fatal blow to their hopes that the Roman empire might be renewed upon the principles of an earlier age.
[I]t is hard to imagine a writer more responsive to the issues and personalities of his time, and hard to think of a topic on which, however peripheral to his own preoccupations, he does not make some contribution to our understanding.John Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus, x
On 11 December 361 CE Flavius Claudius Julianus, aged twenty-nine, arrived in Constantinople as sole ruler of the Roman empire. A few months later an equally young man from a small city in Cappadocia apologized to his family and friends for a choice that few had anticipated: he wished henceforth to lead “the true philosophical life.” Two men, two signal events in their personal lives that stand paradigmatic for a phenomenon central to John Matthews's work: the later Roman empire, seen either as a “new age” described with “more or less traditional way[s]” or as a period, as once again argued, of decline and fall.
The fate of the late Roman empire has captured the imagination of historians for a very long time (as the introduction suggests, John Matthews's more or less explicit interlocutions with Gibbon merit a study in themselves), and much of that fascination found focus and drama in the person of Emperor Julian.