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.
He studied in Athens under Diophantus the Arab and began his career in Constantinople as a private tutor. He was exiled to Nicomedia in 346 (or earlier) for around five years but returned to Constantinople and taught there until 354. 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.
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 is known to have protested against the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. In 386, he appealed without success to emperor Theodosius to prevent the destruction of a temple in Edessa, and pleaded for toleration and the preservation of the temples against the predation of Christian monks, who he claimed:
The surviving works of Libanius, which include over 1,600 letters, 64 speeches and 96 progymnasmata (rhetorical exercises), are valuable as a historical source for the changing world of the later 4th century. 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. 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. Progymnasma 8 (see below for explanation of a "progymnasma") is an imaginary summation of the prosecution's case again a physician charged with poisoning some of his patients.
Although Libanius was not a Christian his students included such notable Christians as John Chrysostom and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Despite his friendship with the pagan restorationist Emperor Julian he was made an honorary praetorian prefect by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I.