The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Social Mobility in the Later Roman Empire: The evidence of Ausonius

M. K. Hopkinsa1

a1 Department of Sociology, University of Leicester

The description Ausonius has given us of his family and of the teachers and professors of Bordeaux in the mid-fourth century is exceptional among our sources because of its detail and completeness. There is no reason to suppose that the picture he gives is untypical of life in the provinces and it makes a welcome change from the histories of aristocratic politics at Rome or Constantinople. It provides an excellent opportunity for a pilot study in which we may see how the conflicting elements of social status were in practice reconciled and applied. In the traditional, and still prevalent view, the society of the Later Roman Empire was ‘crushed … in the iron clamp of castes separated from one another by barriers which could not be passed’. The evidence of Ausonius suggests that this judgement should be qualified. The society of the fourth century may have been stable. It was not static.