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Print of the Historiae adversus paganos from 1561

Paulus Orosius (* around 385, † around 418) was a late antique historian and Christian theologian born in Hispania (possibly in Braga in the province of Gallaecia ) .


As a Christian priest, Orosius showed an interest in the dispute over Priscillianism , which was spreading in his native land, and it is possible that because of this he visited Augustine in Hippo in 413 or 414. After he had remained for some time in Africa as his pupil, he was sent by him to Palestine in 415 with a letter of recommendation to the church father Jerome , then to Bethlehem .

The primary purpose of his mission (aside from a pilgrimage and perhaps the acquisition of relics ) was to receive further instruction from Jerome on the issues raised by the Priscillians and Origenists ; in fact, however, Orosius was apparently supposed to position Hieronymus (and others) against Augustine's opponent Pelagius , who had lived in Palestine since the Synod of Carthage in 411 and also found some acceptance there.

The result of Orosius' arrival was that John, the bishop of Jerusalem , was induced to convene a synod in his residence for June 415, at which Orosius reported on the decisions of Carthage and read those passages from Augustine's writings that were directed against Pelagius. Success was hardly to be expected with the oriental Christians, who often hardly understood Latin and whose sense of piety was previously expressed by Pelagius' question et quis est mihi Augustinus? had been touched.

All Orosius achieved was John's promise to send a letter and an embassy to Rome to see Bishop Innocent I there. After waiting long enough to take note of the unfavorable decisions of the Synod of Diospolis or Lydda in December of the same year, Orosius returned to North Africa, where he is believed to have died. According to Gennadius , he brought recently discovered relics of the martyr Stephen of Palestine to Menorca , where they were used in the conversion of the Jews .


The earliest work by Orosius, Consultatio sive commonitorium ad Augustinum de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum , explains its aim in the title; it was written soon after his arrival in Africa and is usually printed in the works of Augustine before his answer Contra Priscillianistas et Origenistas liber ad Orosium .

His next treatise, Liber apologeticus de arbitrii libertate , he wrote during his stay in Palestine and in connection with the controversy that preoccupied him there. It is a sharp and not always fair criticism of Pelagianism from the standpoint of Augustine.

Orosius' by far the most famous work, the Historiae adversum Paganos , was begun at Augustine's suggestion, to which the text is also dedicated. When Augustine suggested this task, he had already begun his own work De civitate Dei , and it is then in many cases the same arguments that were further elaborated by his pupil Orosius - above all, the attempted proof, based on a historical-philosophical consideration, that the world with the Christianity's appearance has by no means gotten worse, but rather comparable and even worse catastrophes have occurred in the past, which it draws as a story of suffering. The project had become necessary because, due to the apparent decline of the Western Roman Empire since around 400 and especially since the conquest of Rome by Alaric I in 410, the number of voices that blamed the turning away from the old gods for the difficult situation had increased. Augustine and Orosius wanted to show that the Romans had also been hit by catastrophes in earlier times, which is why Christianity cannot be blamed for the current problems, the importance of which is also partly downplayed.

The work of Orosius, a kind of chronicle of the catastrophes that befell mankind up to the year 417, is the earliest example of the systematic use of the year counting from urbe condita (even if this counting, calculated by Marcus Terentius Varro , was much earlier by authors like Titus Livy had been used). The work Historiae is unfortunately not very precise and not instructive; there is also no need for literary commentary. However, it was the first attempt to write the history of the world from a decidedly Christian perspective as the history of a humanity led by God. Its purpose is also its worth in the eyes of the “Orthodox”, and the Hormesta , Ormesta or Ormista , as it is also known, for no known reason, quickly achieved great popularity. Over two hundred manuscripts of this work have been preserved, including a free and abridged translation for the British King Alfred (Old English text with the Latin model, edited by H. Sweet, 1883).

The sources that Orosius used cannot be clearly identified in all cases. In addition to the Old and New Testaments , Titus Livius (whose work Orosius was probably only available in a short version), Justin , Florus , Eutrop and Hieronymus' revised version of the Chronicle of Eusebius of Caesarea were considered as models. Other sources such as Caesar's De bello Gallico , Suetonius and Tacitus are cited by Orosius by name, but today it is usually assumed that he did not see these works directly. At the beginning of the historical work there is a section dealing with cosmography, the description of the entire known earth. It was also published as a separate work, often together with a cosmography by Iulius Honorius .

In the Middle Ages, the histories of Orosius were among the most important historical works of all and were available in an unusually large number of libraries. Accordingly, they were also read and used by many later writers, such as Jordanes , Isidor of Seville , Gregor of Tours , Beda Venerabilis , Adam of Bremen , Honorius Augustodunensis , Otto von Freising , the author of the Saxon Chronicle , Martin von Troppau and others. Under the title Kitāb Hurūšiūš ("Book of Orosius") the work was also translated into Arabic and later one of the sources for Ibn Chaldūn . The dating of this translation is uncertain, traditionally a translation under or even by al-Hakam II of Córdoba is assumed, but the editor Mayte Penelas speaks out because of some passages in the Aḫbār mulūk al-Andalus (“The deeds of the kings of al- Andalus ”) by the historiographer Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Rāzī (“ el moro Rasis ”) for an earlier translation and suspects - also because of Christian interpolations - that a Mozarabic judge was involved in this.

Editions and translations


  • Georg Schepss (ed.): Priscilliani quae supersunt accedit Orosii Commonitorium de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum (= Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum . Volume 18). F. Tempsky, Vienna 1889, pp. 149–157 (critical edition of the Commonitorium de errore Priscillianistarum et Origenistarum; digitized version ).
  • Karl Zangemeister (Ed.): Pauli Orosii Historiarum adversum paganos libri VII accedit eiusdem liber apologeticus (= Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Volume 5). Gerold, Vienna 1882 (critical edition of the Historien and Liber apologeticus; digitized version ).
  • The Old English Orosius, ed. By Janet Bately (= Early English Text Society, Supplementary Series 8). Oxford, etc. 1980, ISBN 0-19-722406-7 .
  • Mayte Penelas: Kitāb Hurūšiūš. Traducción arabe de las 'Historiae adversus Paganos' de Orosio (= Fuentes Arábico-Hispanas. Volume 26). Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid 2001, ISBN 84-00-07923-X (edition of the Arabic translation).



  • Hartwin Brandt : Historia magistra vitae? Orosius and the Late Antique Historiography. In: Andreas Goltz, Hartmut Leppin , Heinrich Schlange-Schöningen : Beyond the borders. Contributions to historiography in the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages (= Millennium Studies. Volume 25). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-020646-3 , pp. 121-133.
  • Justus Cobet : Orosius' world history. Tradition and construction. In: Hermes . Volume 137, 2009, pp. 60-92.
  • Justus Cobet: Orosius. In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity . Volume 26, Hiersemann, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-7772-1509-9 , Sp. 567-576
  • Hans-Werner Goetz : The historical theology of Orosius (= impulses of research. Volume 32). Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1980, ISBN 3-534-08325-3 .
  • Hans-Werner Goetz: Orosius and the barbarians. In: Historia . Volume 29, 1980, pp. 356-376.
  • Gerhard Hingst: On open source questions with Orosius. Vienna 1973.
  • Suzanne Karrer: The Gallic War at Orosius. Zurich 1969.
  • Benoit Lacroix: Orose et ses idées (= Université de Montréal. Publications de l'Institut d'études médiévales. Volume 18). Montréal / Paris 1965.
  • Adolf Lippold : Rome and the barbarians in the judgment of Orosius. Dissertation, Erlangen 1952.
  • Adolf Lippold: Orosius, Christian apologist and Roman citizen. In: Philologus . Volume 113, 1969, pp. 92-105.
  • Adolf Lippold: Greek-Macedonian history with Orosius. In: Chiron . Volume 1, 1971, pp. 437-455.
  • Peter Van Nuffelen : Orosius and the Rhetoric of History . Oxford 2012 (current standard work).
    • See the critical review by Hans-Werner Goetz: Orosius and his “Seven History Books Against the Heiden”: Theology of History or Rhetoric? Critical comments on a new release. In: Archives for cultural history. Volume 96, 2014, pp. 187-198.

Web links

Wikisource: Orosius  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Werner Goetz: The theology of history of Orosius. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1980, p. 12 f.
  2. Hans-Werner Goetz: The theology of history of Orosius. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1980, pp. 25–28.
  3. For the history of the impact of histories, see the overview in Hans-Werner Goetz: Die Geschichtstheologie des Orosius. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1980, pp. 148-165.