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Libanius as imagined in an eighteenth-century woodcut.

Libanius (Greek: Λιβάνιος, Libanios; c. 314 – 392 or 393) was a Greek teacher of rhetoric of the Sophist school. During the rise of Christian hegemony in the later Roman Empire, he remained unconverted and in religious matters was a pagan Hellene.


Libanius was born into a once-influential, deeply cultured family of Antioch that had recently come into diminished circumstances. At fourteen years old he began his study of rhetoric, for which he withdrew from public life and devoted himself to philosophy. Unfamiliar with Latin literature, he deplored its influence.

Libanius used his arts of rhetoric to advance various private and political causes. He attacked the increasing imperial pressures on the traditional city-oriented culture that had been supported and dominated by the local upper classes.

He studied in Athens and began his career in Constantinople as a private tutor. He was temporarily exiled to Nicomedia but returned to Constantinople and taught there until 354.[1] Before his exile, Libanius was a friend of the emperor Julian, with whom some correspondence survives, and in whose memory he wrote a series of orations; they were composed between 362 and 365. In 354 he accepted the chair of rhetoric in Antioch, his birthplace, where he stayed until his death. His pupils included both pagans and Christians.[1]

The surviving works of Libanius, which include over 1,600 letters and 64 speeches, are valuable as a historical source for the changing world of the later 4th century.[1] His oration "A Reply To Aristides On Behalf Of The Dancers" is one of the most important records of Roman concert dance, particularly that immensely popular form known as pantomime.[2] His first Oration I is an autobiographical narrative, first written in 374 and revised throughout his life, a scholar's account that ends as an old exile's private journal.

Although Libanius was not a Christian his students included such notable Christians as John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia.[3] Despite his friendship with the restorationist Emperor Julian he was made an honorary praetorian prefect by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I.


  • 64 orations in the three fields of oratory: judicial, deliberative and epideictic, both orations as if delivered in public and orations meant to be privately read (aloud) in the study. The two volumes of selections in the Loeb Classical Library devote one volume to Libanius' orations that bear on the emperor Julian, the other on Theodosius; the most famous is his "Lamentation" about the desecration of the temples (Περὶ τῶν Ἱερῶν);
  • 51 declamationes, a traditional public-speaking format of Rhetoric in Antiquity, taking set topics with historical and mythological themes (translations into English by e.g. D.A. Russell, "Libanius: Imaginary Speeches"; M. Johansson, "Libanius' Declamations 9 and 10";
  • 57 hypotheses or introductions to Demosthenes' orations (written ca 352), in which he sets them in historical context for the novice reader, without polemics;
  • several dozen model writing exercises, Progymnasmata, that were used in his courses of instruction and became widely admired models of good style;
  • 1545 letters have been preserved, more letters than those of Cicero. Some 400 additional letters in Latin were later accepted, purporting to be translations, but a dispassionate examination of the texts themselves shows them to be misattributed or forgeries, by the Italian humanist Francesco Zambeccari in the 15th century. Among his correspondents there was Censorius Datianus.

English editions[edit]

  • Scott Bradbury, Selected Letters of Libanius. Liverpool, University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-85323-509-0
  • Raffaella Cribiore, The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. (Includes translation of c. 200 letters dealing with the school and its students. Reviewed in Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews.)
  • Margaret E. Molloy: Libanius and the Dancers, Olms-Weidmann, Hildesheim 1996 ISBN 3-487-10220-X
  • A.F. Norman, Libanius: Selected Works, 2 volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Loeb Classical Library, 1969-1977.
  • A.F. Norman, Libanius: Autobiography and Selected Letters, 2 volumes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Loeb Classical Library, 1993. Reviewed in Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews.)
  • Lieve Van Hoof, Libanius: a critical introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2014)


  1. ^ a b c Speake, Graham, ed. (1994). Dictionary of Ancient History. London: Penguin Books. p. 370. ISBN 0-14-051260-8.
  2. ^ Alessandra Zanobi, Ancient Pantomime and its Reception, Article retrieved April 2016 [1]
  3. ^ Cameron, A. (1998) "Education and literary culture" in Cameron, A. and Garnsey, P. (eds.) The Cambridge ancient history: Vol. XIII The late empire, A.D. 337-425. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 668-669.

External links[edit]