Photo of Julia HillnerProfessor Julia Hillner

M.A., Ph.D. (Bonn)

Professor of Medieval History

Late Antiquity; in particular the city of Rome; the family; crime and punishment.

+44 (0)114 22 22564 | Jessop West 3.09

Semester One 2017/18: On Research Leave



Julia Hillner joined the Department of History in 2008. She studied for her degrees at the Universit​ies​ of Bonn, Perugia and Padova and graduated with a PhD in Ancient History in 2001. Before coming to Sheffield she worked ​for the AHRB funded project "Religion, Dynasty and Patronage in Rome, c. 440-840", as a Teaching Fellow in Early Christianity, and as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, all at the University of Manchester.​ Julia's research has been funded by the British Academy, the AHRC and the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation. She is the Principal Investigator of The Migration of Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity a Co-Director of the Medieval and Ancient Research Centre at the University of Sheffield (MARCUS) , and a member of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters of the British School at Rome​

Grants and Awards

2016 PROSE Awards Honorable Mention for Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: CUP, 2015)

Follow-on Fellowship, Alexander-von-Humboldt Stiftung, Autumn Semester 2017-18
AHRC Research grant for the project ‘The Migration of Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity, 325-600AD’ (2014-2017)
Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, Alexander-von-Humboldt Stiftung (2011/12)
Senate Award for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Collaboration Category, Sheffield (2011)
British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowship (2003-2008)
Graduiertenförderung des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen (1998-2000)

Professional Roles

Julia is a member of the Faculty of Archaeology, History and Letters of the British School at Rome (2017-2021)

She is also a member of the Associazione Internazionale di Archeologia Classica (AIAC)​


Current Research

Julia’s research interests focus on anything to do with late Roman law: from the political, social and philosophical contexts of its production and codification at the imperial centre, to legal practices ‘on the ground’ and how they helped individuals to shape their relationships and environment.

She has a particular interest in the transformations of the family and the household in the period 300-750 and how these transformations are reflected in legal norms and practices. She has published widely on related topics: from the urban context of the family and property holding, particularly in the late antique city of Rome, to issues of authority, hierarchy and discipline within the household and how these have influenced concepts and practices of public punishment in late antiquity.

Julia currently has three research projects: the first one, funded by the AHRC, is a collaborative project with colleagues at the Universities of Halle, Aarhus and Vienna, investigating the cultural encounters generated by legal banishment of religious dissidents in late antiquity and their influence on the development and institutionalisation of the Christian church in this period. Within this project, Julia investigates how exiled clerics' social relationships, in particular with members of their households and with women, structured their experiences and the memory of their exile. She is particularly interested in the possibilities of social network analysis to assess the roles of such more 'marginal' people. For further information and publication plans see

Julia's second project is a biography of Helena, mother of the first Christian emperor Constantine (under contract with Oxford University Press, for the Women in Antiquity series). This book will examine Helena's life and reception against the background of female networks within and across the imperial and royal dynasties of late antiquity and against the social and legal parametres of female life in the late Roman empire.

Finally, Julia is working on a monograph project provisionally entitled Women, Criminality and Justice in Late Antiquity. This project investigates the role of gender in structuring both late antique conceptualisations of ‘crime’ and actual criminal procedure. It seeks to understand how the social, cultural and political changes in this period affected the ways in which female criminals were treated and the ways through which women sought and dispensed justice. It also considers gendered discourses around the definition of both male and female crime and punishment. Julia has been awarded funding from the Alexander-von-Humboldt foundation for this project.

Julia is also a founding member, with Dr Charles West (History) and Dr Jane Rempel, of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities' interdisciplinary Medieval and Ancient Research Seminar (MARS) part of the The Medieval and Ancient Research Centre at the University of Sheffield (MARCUS). She is also a founding member of the University of Sheffield's Interpersonal Violence Research Group, a collaboration between colleagues in History, Geography, Law, Education and Health which
aims to develop knowledge about interpersonal abuse violence and how it should be managed.​

Research Supervision

Julia teaches social history of the Roman and late Roman empire. She is happy to supervise students interested in any aspect of this area, in particular those with interests in the city of Rome, the family, monasticism, crime and punishment, and late Roman and early medieval law.

Current Students

Robert Heffron - Gendered Spaces in Rome and Constantinople

Simon Hosie - The Purpose of Bureaucratic Inventories in Late Antiquity.

Harry Mawdsley - Exile in the Post-Roman Sucessor States.

Hannah Probert - Fatherhood between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

Further information on research opportunities within the department.


Full list of Publications


ed. with J. Ulrich and J. Engberg, Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity (Frankfurt, Peter Lang: 2016)

Christianity the context of Antiquity Covered. with J. Ulrich and J. Engberg, Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity (Frankfurt, Peter Lang: 2016)

This volume results from the international research project ‘The Migration of Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity (325‒c.600)’. The project is a collaboration between the Department of History at the University of Sheffield, the Seminar für Kirchengeschichte at the University of Halle, and the Department of Culture and Society at Aarhus University. Ten chapters of the volume are revised versions of papers delivered at the XVII International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford in 2015. The three chapters of the first part of the volume discuss the question of "Clerical Exile and Social Control". The second part offers five selected case studies from the 3rd to the 6th centuries. The final part deals with discourses, memories, and legacies of clerical exile in late antiquity.

Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Winner of a 2016 PROSE Awards Honorable Mention

Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late AntiquityPrison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Winner of a 2016 PROSE Awards Honorable Mention

This book traces the long-term genesis of the sixth-century Roman legal penalty of forced monastic penance. The late antique evidence on this penal institution runs counter to a scholarly consensus that Roman legal principle did not acknowledge the use of corrective punitive confinement. Dr Hillner argues that forced monastic penance was a product of a late Roman penal landscape that was more complex than previous models of Roman punishment have allowed. She focuses on invigoration of classical normative discourses around punishment as education through Christian concepts of penance, on social uses of corrective confinement that can be found in a vast range of public and private scenarios and spaces, as well as on a literary Christian tradition that gave the experience of punitive imprisonment a new meaning. The book makes an important contribution to recent debates about the interplay between penal strategies and penal practices in the late Roman world.

ed. with K. Cooper, Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Julia Hillner Religion, Dynasty and Patronage book covered. with K. Cooper, Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900
(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Traces the central role played by aristocratic patronage in the transformation of the city of Rome at the end of antiquity. It moves away from privileging the administrative and institutional developments related to the rise of papal authority as the paramount theme in the city's post-classical history. Instead the focus shifts to the networks of reciprocity between patrons and their dependents. Using material culture and social theory to challenge traditional readings of the textual sources, the volume undermines the teleological picture of ecclesiastical sources such as the Liber Pontificalis, and presents the lay, clerical, and ascetic populations of the city of Rome at the end of antiquity as interacting in a fluid environment of alliance-building and status negotiation. By focusing on the city whose aristocracy is the best documented of any ancient population, the volume makes an important contribution to understanding the role played by elites across the end of antiquity.

Jedes Haus ist eine Stadt: Privatimmobilien im spätantiken Rom
(Bonn, R. Habelt 2004)

Julia Hillner Jedes Haus ist eine Stadt book coverJedes Haus ist eine Stadt: Privatimmobilien im spätantiken Rom
(Bonn, R. Habelt 2004)

Articles and Chapters

‘Anicia Iuliana and the Collectio Avellana: What Difference Do Her Letters Make?’, in A. Evers (ed.), Emperors, Bishops, Senators: The Evidence of the Collectio Avellana (Leuven: Peeters, forthcoming)

‘Female Crime and Female Confinement in Late Antiquity’, in K. Cooper, J. Wood (eds.), The Violence of Small Worlds: Conflict and Social Control in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming)

'Constantia, half-sister of Constantine and wife of Licinius', Oxford Classical Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)

'Approaches to Clerical Exile: Strategies, Experiences, Memories and Social Networks', in J. Hillner, J. Ulrich, J. Engberg (eds.), Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2016), 11-43.

‘Confined Exiles: An Aspect of the Late Antique Prison System’, Millennium. Jahrbuch zur Geschichte und Kultur des ersten Jahrtausend 10 (2013)

‘Family Violence: Punishment and Abuse in the Late Roman Household’ in S. Tougher and L. Brubaker (eds.), Approaching the Byzantine Family (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013)

'Gregory the Great´s prisons: Monastic confinement in early Byzantine Italy', Journal of Early Christian Studies 19 (2011)

'L´enfermement monastique au VIe siècle' in J. Claustre, I. Heullant-Donant (eds.), Enfermement. Le cloître et la prison (Ve-XVIIIe siècle) (Paris : Sorbonne, 2011)

'Monks and Children: Corporal Punishment in Late Antiquity', European Review of History: Revue europeenne d'histoire 16 (2009)

'Monastic Imprisonment in Justinian's Novels', Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 (2007)

'Families, Patronage, and the Titular Churches of Rome', Religion, Dynasty, and Patronage in Early Christian Rome, 300-900 (Cambridge: CUP, 2007)

'Clerics, Property, and Patronage: The Case of the Roman Titular Churches', Antiquité tardive 14 (2006)

'Domus, Family, and Inheritance: The Senatorial Family House in Late Antique Rome', Journal of Roman Studies 93 (2003)

'Le chiese paleocristiane di Roma e l'occupazione degli spazi pubblici', Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi sulle Chiese di Roma (IV-X secolo) "Ecclesiae urbis", (Vatican City: PIAC, 2002)

'Die Berufsangaben und Adressen auf den stadtrömischen Sklavenhalsbändern', Historia 50 (2001)


Module Leader

The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, HST236

The Fall of the Roman Empire in the West, HST236

This module explores one of the classic problems of world history, conventionally seen in terms of 'decline and fall', but recently reinterpreted in a more positive light with a new emphasis on 'transition', 'transformation', and the cultural diversity of a period now generally known as Late Antiquity. These themes are explored through a lively historiographical debate, backed up with a wide range of informative and entertaining primary sources, which offer ample scope for the development of Course Assigments. Students acquire a good general awareness of the last century of the western Roman empire, but also explore a number of important comparative themes in history such as authority, community and identity, why empires exist, and how they end.

Rome and its Empire (14-235 AD), HST294 (Level 2 module)

Rome and its Empire (14-235 AD), HST294

As one of the most enduring among past empires, Rome has cast a long shadow. British colonial forces, the architects of American independence, and Italian Fascists have all looked to Rome for historical lessons and inspiration. Yet, what was life really like in an empire that grew from a small city-state in central Italy to stretch from Hadrian’s Wall and along the deserts of North Africa all the way to the Euphrates? How ‘Roman’ did the inhabitants of the empire become and did it matter? This module provides an introduction to the themes, sources and methods involved in studying the Roman empire at the height of its power, between the consolidation of a monarchical style of government at the death of Augustus and the beginning of this government’s ‘crisis’ in the third century. It draws on a wide variety of sources, including narrative history, letters, legal texts, inscriptions, coinage, architecture and artefacts. We will particularly focus on traditional and current scholarly debates surrounding the ‘Romanisation’ of the vastly different territories under Roman rule, the relationship between local and Roman identities, as well as definitions of Roman forms of ‘imperialism’ and strategies of cohesion.

Match of the Day: The Nika Riot in 532, HST2025 (Level 2 module)

Match of the Day: The Nika Riot in 532, HST2025

On Tuesday, 13 January 532, a chariot race in Constantinople's Hippodrome got out of control. Shouting 'Nika!' ('Conquer!'), the fans of the two competing Circus factions united in anger against the emperor Justinian. The week-long riot that followed was the most violent event Constantinople had ever seen. It is also the best documented, yet most enigmatic riot in late antique history. Circus riots were frequent and usually easily suppressed events in late antique cities, so what was different about this one? This module analyses the different contemporary and later accounts of the Nika riot in detail as a way into the study of sixth-century Byzantine society, and more broadly into the dynamic relationship of sport events and mass violence, the imperial authorities' varied responses to crowd behaviour, and the interaction of different social groups in moments of crisis in the late antique urban context.

The Phoenix City: Rome in Late Antiquity (300-600), HST3113/3114 (Level 3 Special Subject module)

The Phoenix City: Rome in Late Antiquity (300-600), HST3113/3114

At the end of antiquity the city of Rome had lost its emperor and had experienced military sacks, natural disasters, impoverishment of its population and decay of its classical urban fabric. Yet, like a Phoenix, the 'eternal city' re-invented itself, acquiring a new identity as the centre of Western Christendom which would define its status for many centuries to come. Studying Rome in late antiquity therefore means exploring three cultural aspects fundamental to European history in a moment of crucial encounter: the classical heritage, 'barbarian' invasion, and Catholic Christianity.

The history of the city of Rome in late antiquity has traditionally been told as a straightforward shift of power from emperor to pope between the reign of Constantine (306-337) and the pontificate of Gregory the Great (590-604). The story conveys the image that the rising power of the papacy determined the political, social and cultural transformation of urban space and urban identity in late antique Rome. However, this (rather teleological) narrative overlooks, on the one hand, the continuing relationship between late Roman emperors and the city of Rome, and, on the other, the presence in Rome of a powerful local and imperial elite, the senatorial aristocracy.

Drawing on literature, letters, laws, sermons, inscriptions, archaeology, art objects and material culture, this module therefore focuses on the complex processes of negotiation, conflict and collaboration between the imperial court – and, from 476, its Ostrogothic successor –, the clergy, and the senatorial aristocracy. This approach is informed by the investigation of recurrent themes of late antique urban history, such as city administration, building programmes, urban economies, religious conflicts, rituals of urban life, patronage and charity, and the cult of the saints. In this way we will establish overlapping or conflicting visions and experiences of the city of Rome within the three social groups studied, as well as their respective relationships with the urban population.

Crime and Punishment in Late Antiquity, HST6033 (Postgraduate module)

Crime and Punishment in Late Antiquity, HST6033 (Postgraduate module)

Late Antiquity (c. 300-600) was a period of transformation in punitive concepts; yet, historians have traditionally debated about the defining characteristics of this transformation. On the one hand, the period witnessed a proliferation of criminal law and an increase in rhetoric on law and order, which is usually interpreted as an imperial attempt to control and capitalize on social anxiety in a time of crisis, rather than as a reflection of an increase in crime itself. On the other hand, due to a Christian discourse on human sinfulness and the rise of Christian penance, some violent forms of legal punishment were gradually discarded, while a growing number of people, in particular clerics and monks, came to be exempted from secular jurisdiction. This module will examine the complex late antique developments concerning the definition of crime and practices of punishment by analyzing a range of sources, including secular and ecclesiastical law, papyri, historiography, educational literature, sermons and monastic rules. It will investigate topics such as the relationship between Christianity and imperial law; new types of crime concerning sexual behavior and religious identity; the relationship between legal norms and court practice; the rise of episcopal jurisdiction; and the beginning of a concept of punishment as reform.

Writing Late Antique Lives, HST6084 (Postgraduate module)

Writing Late Antique Lives, HST6084 (Postgraduate module)

Recent years have seen publication of several biographies examining the lives of prominent figures experiencing the end of the Roman empire. The empress Galla Placidia (d. 450) alone was the subject of two major studies appearing, respectively, in 2011 and 2015. This attention by late antique historians to the personal and the specific is remarkable for a field that, since the appearance of Peter Brown’s seminal The World of Late Antiquity in 1971, values the study of large political, social, and religious transformations and dynamics over the study of individual agency. It is, among others, a sign that academic publishers appreciate biography as an accessible window into this period for a wider readership.

This module explores the possibilities and challenges of life-writing as a form of late antique historiography. The main focus of the module is on human life, but it also considers the application of the biographical method to other subjects with a 'life-cycle', e.g. objects. It discusses methods of how modern biographers may deal with the fragmentary or polemical nature of late antique sources (written and non-written), as well as with the frequent absence of 'ego-documents' (documents produced by the subject of study themselves) characteristic for this period. Students also explore how modern biographers may understand and hence use late antique biographical genres, such as hagiography (saints' lives). The module will further invite students to reflect on the potentially exclusionary nature of the biographical genre for the study of some aspects of late antiquity, and how considerations of social attributes such as gender, social status and ethnicity can be integrated into this form of history-writing. Finally, the module examines – in a hands-on fashion – how such methodological approaches and requirements of analytical rigour can be balanced with an accessible, immediate or even narrative style often expected of biographical writing.

Public Engagement

Public Engagement

Julia is a committee member of the Sheffield branch of the Classical Association, which she chaired in 2010-11. In 2015-6 Julia supervised research into the history of the Sheffield Classical Association, conducted by Isobel Bowden and supported by a SURE project grant of the University of Sheffield. The results of this project can be found on the branch's website.

Julia is also on the Roman Society's Panel of Lecturers and can be booked for local Classical Association and school talks. She has recently given lectures in Bangor, Hull, Cardiff, Leeds, Edinburgh and Newcastle-under-Lyme.

In The Media

Julia is a regular contributor to the department's History Matters blog.

Administrative Duties

Current Administrative Duties

Julia is currently Departmental Director of Innovation and Research (Sem 1, 2016-7) and is also Co-Director of the Medieval and Ancient Research Centre University of Sheffield (MARCUS).