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Julian the apostate

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Julian the apostate

63rd Emperor of the Roman Empire
Antioch minted in 360-363
Reign Caesar: 6 November 355 – February 360.
Augustus: February 360 – 3 November 361.
Sole Augustus: 3 November 361 – 26 June 363
Full name Flavius Claudius Julianus (from birth to accession);
Flavius Claudius Julianus Caesar (as Caesar);
Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (as Augustus)
Born 331 or 332
Birthplace Constantinople
Died 26 June 363 (aged 31 or 32)
Place of death Maranga, Mesopotamia
Buried Tarsus
Predecessor Constantius II, cousin
Successor Jovian, general present at the time of his death
Wife Helena
Issue None known
Dynasty Constantinian dynasty
Father Julius Constantius
Mother Basilina

Julian (Latin: Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Greek: Φλάβιος Κλαύδιος Ἰουλιανός Αὔγουστος;[1] 331/332[2]  – 26 June 363), also known as Julian the Apostate, as well as Julian the Philosopher, was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 and a noted philosopher and Greek writer.[3]

A member of the Constantinian dynasty, Julian became Caesar over the western provinces by order of Constantius II in 355 and in this role campaigned successfully against the Alamanni and Franks. Most notable was his crushing victory over the Alamanni in 357 at the Battle of Argentoratum despite being outnumbered. In 360 in Lutetia (Paris) he was acclaimed Augustus by his soldiers, sparking a civil war between Julian and Constantius. Before the two could face each other in battle, however, Constantius died, after naming Julian as his rightful successor. In 363, Julian embarked on an ambitious campaign against the Sassanid Empire. Though initially successful, Julian was mortally wounded in battle and died shortly thereafter.

Julian was a man of unusually complex character: he was "the military commander, the theosophist, the social reformer, and the man of letters".[4] He was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, and it was his desire to bring the Empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to save it from dissolution.[5] He purged the top-heavy state bureaucracy and attempted to revive traditional Roman religious practices at the cost of Christianity. His rejection of Christianity in favour of Neoplatonic paganism caused him to be called Julian the Apostate (Ἀποστάτης or Παραβάτης "Transgressor") by the church.[6] He was the last emperor of the Constantinian dynasty, the empire's first Christian dynasty.


Early life

Flavius Claudius Julianus, born in May or June 332[7] or 331 in Constantinople, was the son of Julius Constantius (consul in 335), half brother of Emperor Constantine I, and his second wife, Basilina, a woman of Greek origin.[8][9] Both of his parents were Christians. His paternal grandparents were Western Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus and his second wife, Flavia Maximiana Theodora. His maternal grandfather was Julius Julianus, praetorian prefect of the East under emperor Licinius from 315 to 324 and consul after 325.[10] The name of Julian's maternal grandmother is unknown.

In the turmoil after the death of Constantine in 337, in order to establish himself as sole emperor, Julian's zealous Arian cousin Constantius II led a massacre of most of Julian's close relatives. Constantius II ordered the murders of many descendants from the second marriage of Constantius Chlorus and Theodora, leaving only Constantius and his brothers Constantine II and Constans I, and their cousins, Julian and Gallus (Julian's half-brother), as the surviving males related to Emperor Constantine. Constantius II, Constans I, and Constantine II were proclaimed joint emperors, each ruling a portion of Roman territory. Julian and Gallus were excluded from public life, were strictly guarded in their youth, and given a Christian education. They were likely saved by their youth and at the urging of the Empress.

Initially growing up in Bithynia, raised by his maternal grandmother, at the age of seven he was under the guardianship of Eusebius of Nicomedia, the semi-Arian Christian Bishop of Nicomedia, and taught by Mardonius, a Gothic eunuch, whom Julian wrote warmly of later. After Eusebius died in 342, both Julian and Gallus were exiled to the imperial estate of Macellum in Cappadocia. Here Julian met the Christian bishop George of Cappadocia, who lent him books from the classical tradition. At the age of 18, the exile was lifted and he dwelt briefly in Constantinople and Nicomedia.[11]

He became a lector, a minor office in the Christian church, and his later writings show a detailed knowledge of the Bible, likely acquired in his early life.[12] (Looking back on his life in 362, Julian wrote, in his thirty-first year, that he had spent twenty years in the way of Christianity and twelve in the true way, i.e., the way of Helios.[13])

Julian studied Neoplatonism in Asia Minor in 351, at first under Aedesius, the philosopher, and then Neoplatonic theurgy from Aedesius' student, Maximus of Ephesus. He was summoned to Constantius' court in Mediolanum (Milan) in 354 and kept there for a year; in the summer and fall of 355, he was permitted to study in Athens. While there, Julian became acquainted with two men who later became both bishops and saints: Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great; in the same period, Julian was also initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries, which he would later try to restore.

Constantine II died in 340 when he attacked his brother Constans. Constans in turn fell in 350 in the war against the usurper Magnentius. This left Constantius II as the sole remaining emperor. In need of support, in 351 he made Julian's half-brother, Gallus, Caesar of the East, while Constantius II himself turned his attention westward to Magnentius, whom he defeated decisively that year. In 354 Gallus, who had imposed a rule of terror over the territories under his command, was executed. Julian was summoned to court, and held for a year, under suspicion of treasonable intrigue, first with his brother and then with Claudius Silvanus; he was cleared, in part because the Empress Eusebia intervened on his behalf, and he was sent to Athens. (Julian expresses his gratitude to the empress Eusebia in his third oration.[14])

Caesar in Gaul

After dealing with the rebellions of Magnentius and Sylvanus, Constantius felt he needed a permanent representative in Gaul. In 355, Julian was summoned to appear before the emperor in Mediolanum and on 6 November was made Caesar of the West, marrying Constantius' sister, Helena. Constantius, after his experience with Gallus, intended his representative to be more a figurehead than an active participant in events, so he packed Julian off to Gaul with a small retinue and Constantius' prefects in Gaul would keep him in check. At first reluctant to trade his scholarly life for war and politics, he eventually took every opportunity to involve himself in the affairs of Gaul.[15] In the following years Julian learned how to lead and then run an army, through a series of campaigns against the Germanic tribes that had settled on both sides of the Rhine.

Campaigns against Germanic kingdoms

In 356 during his first campaign he led an army to the Rhine, engaged the inhabitants there and won back several towns that had fallen into Frankish hands, including Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). With success under his belt he withdrew for the winter to Gaul, distributing his forces to protect various towns, and choosing the small town of Senon near Verdun to await the spring.[16] This turned out to be a tactical error, for he was left with insufficient forces to defend himself when a large contingent of Franks besieged the town and Julian was virtually held captive there for several months, until his general Marcellus deigned to lift the siege. Relations between Julian and Marcellus seem to have been poor. Constantius accepted Julian's report of events and Marcellus was replaced as magister equitum by Severus.[17][18]

The following year saw a combined operation planned by Constantius to regain control of the Rhine from the Germanic peoples that had spilt across the river onto the west bank. From the south his magister peditum Barbatio was to come from Milan and amass forces at Augst (near the Rhine bend), then set off north with 25,000 soldiers; Julian with 13,000 troops would move east from Durocortorum (Rheims). However, while Julian was in transit, a group of Laeti attacked Lugdunum (Lyon) and Julian was delayed in order to deal with them. This left Barbatio unsupported and deep in Alamanni territory, so he felt obliged to withdraw, retracing his steps. Thus ended the coordinated operation against the Germanic peoples.[19][20]

With Barbatio safely out of the picture, King Chnodomarius led a confederation of Alamanni forces against Julian and Severus at the of Battle of Argentoratum. The Romans were heavily outnumbered[21] and during the heat of battle a group of 600 horsemen on the right wing deserted,[22] yet, taking full advantage of the limitations of the terrain, the Romans were overwhelmingly victorious. The enemy was routed and driven into the river. King Chnodomarius was captured and later sent to Constantius in Milan.[23][24] Ammianus, who was a participant in the battle, portrays Julian in charge of events on the battlefield[25] and describes how the soldiers, because of this success, acclaimed Julian attempting to make him Augustus, an acclamation he rejected, rebuking them. He later rewarded them for their valor.[26]

Rather than chase the routed enemy across the Rhine, Julian now proceeded to follow the Rhine north, the route he followed the previous year on his way back to Gaul. At Moguntiacum (Mainz), however, he crossed the Rhine in an expedition that penetrated deep into what is today Germany, and forced three local kingdoms to submit. This action showed the Alamanni that Rome was once again present and active in the area. On his way back to winter quarters in Paris he dealt with a band of Franks that had taken control of some abandoned forts along the Meuse River.[24][27]

In 358, Julian gained victories over the Salian Franks on the Lower Rhine, settling them in Toxandria in the Roman Empire, north of today's city of Tongeren, and over the Chamavi, who were expelled back to Hamaland.

Taxation and administration

At the end of 357 Julian, with the prestige of his victory over the Alamanni to give him confidence, prevented a tax increase by the Gallic praetorian prefect Florentius and personally took charge of the province of Belgica Secunda. This was Julian's first experience with civil administration, where his views were influenced by his liberal education in Greece. Properly it was a role that belonged to the praetorian prefect. However, Florentius and Julian often clashed over the administration of Gaul. Julian's first priority, as Caesar and nominal ranking commander in Gaul, was to drive out the barbarians who had breached the Rhine frontier. However, he sought to win over the support of the civil population, which was necessary for his operations in Gaul and also to show his largely Germanic army the benefits of Imperial rule. He therefore felt it was necessary to rebuild stable and peaceful conditions in the devastated cities and countryside. For this reason, Julian clashed with Florentius over the latter's support of tax increases, as mentioned above, and Florentius's own corruption in the bureaucracy.

Constantius attempted to maintain some modicum of control over his Caesar, which explains his removal of Julian's close adviser Saturninius Secundus Salutius from Gaul. His departure stimulated the writing of Julian's oration, "Consolation Upon the Departure of Salutius".[28]

Rebellion in Paris

In the fourth year of Julian's stay in Gaul, the Sassanid Emperor, Shapur II, invaded Mesopotamia and took the city of Amida after a 73-day siege. In February 360, Constantius II ordered more than half of Julian's Gallic troops to his eastern army, the order by-passing Julian and going directly to the military commanders. Although Julian at first attempted to expedite the order, it provoked an insurrection by troops of the Petulantes, who had no desire to leave Gaul. According to the historian Zosimus, the army officers were those responsible for distributing an anonymous tract[29] expressing complaints against Constantius as well as fearing for Julian's ultimate fate. Notably absent at the time was the prefect Florentius, who was usually never far from Julian's side, though now he was kept busy organizing supplies in Vienne and away from any strife that the order could cause. Julian would later blame him for the arrival of the order from Constantius.[30] Ammianus Marcellinus even suggested that the fear of Julian gaining more popularity than himself caused Constantius to send the order on the urging of Florentius.[31]

The troops proclaimed Julian Augustus in Paris, and this in turn led to a very swift military effort to secure or win the allegiance of others. Although the full details are unclear, there is evidence to suggest that Julian may have at least partially stimulated the insurrection. If so, he went back to business as usual in Gaul, for, from June to August of that year, Julian led a successful campaign against the Attuarian Franks.[32][33] In November, Julian began openly using the title Augustus, even issuing coins with the title, sometimes with Constantius, sometimes without. He celebrated his fifth year in Gaul with a big show of games.[34]

In the spring of 361, Julian led his army into the territory of the Alamanni, where he captured their king, Vadomarius. Julian claimed that Vadomarius had been in league with Constantius, encouraging him to raid the borders of Raetia.[35] Julian then divided his forces, sending one column to Raetia, one to northern Italy and the third he led down the Danube on boats. His forces claimed control of Illyricum and his general, Nevitta, secured the pass of Succi into Thrace. He was now well out of his comfort zone and on the road to civil war.[36] (Julian would state in late November that he set off down this road "because, having been declared a public enemy, I meant to frighten him [Constantius] merely, and that our quarrel should result in intercourse on more friendly terms..."[37])

However, in June, forces loyal to Constantius captured the city of Aquileia on the north Adriatic coast, an event which threatened to cut Julian off from the rest of his forces, while Constantius's troops marched towards him from the east. Aquileia was subsequently besieged by 23,000 men loyal to Julian.[38] All Julian could do was sit it out in Naissus, the city of Constantine's birth, waiting for news and writing letters to various cities in Greece justifying his actions (of which only the letter to the Athenians has survived in its entirety).[39] Civil war was avoided only by the death on November 3 of Constantius, who, in his last will, recognized Julian as his rightful successor.

The new emperor and his administration

On December 11, 361, Julian entered Constantinople as sole emperor and, despite his rejection of Christianity, his first political act was to preside over Constantius' Christian burial, escorting the body to the Church of the Apostles, where it was placed alongside that of Constantine.[40] This act was a demonstration of his lawful right to the throne.[41] He is also now thought to have been responsible for the building of Santa Costanza on a Christian site just outside Rome as a mausoleum for his wife Helena and sister-in-law Constantina.[42]

The new Emperor rejected the style of administration of his immediate predecessors. He blamed Constantine for the state of the administration and for having abandoned the traditions of the past. He made no attempt to restore the tetrarchal system begun under Diocletian. Nor did he seek to rule as an absolute autocrat. His own philosophic notions led him to idealize the reigns of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius. In his first panegyric to Constantius, Julian described the ideal ruler as being essentially primus inter pares ("first among equals"), operating under the same laws as his subjects. While in Constantinople therefore it was not strange to see Julian frequently active in the Senate, participating in debates and making speeches, placing himself at the level of the other members of the Senate.[43]

He viewed the royal court of his predecessors as inefficient, corrupt, and expensive. Thousands of servants, eunuchs, and superfluous officials were therefore summarily dismissed. He set up the Chalcedon tribunal to deal with the corruption of the previous administration under the supervision of magister militum Arbitio. Several high-ranking officials under Constantius including the chamberlain Eusebius were found guilty and executed. (Julian was conspicuously absent from the proceedings, perhaps signaling his displeasure at their necessity.)[44] He continually sought to reduce what he saw as a burdensome and corrupt bureaucracy within the Imperial administration whether it involved civic officials, the secret agents, or the imperial post service.

Another effect of Julian's political philosophy was that the authority of the cities was expanded at the expense of the imperial bureaucracy as Julian sought to reduce direct imperial involvement in urban affairs. For example, city land owned by the imperial government was returned to the cities, city council members were compelled to resume civic authority, often against their will, and the tribute in gold by the cities called the aurum coronarium was made voluntary rather than a compulsory tax. Additionally, arrears of land taxes were cancelled.[45] This was a key reform reducing the power of corrupt imperial officials, as the unpaid taxes on land were often hard to calculate or higher than the value of the land itself. Forgiving back taxes both made Julian more popular and allowed him to increase collections of current taxes.

While he ceded much of the authority of the imperial government to the cities, Julian also took more direct control himself. For example, new taxes and corvées had to be approved by him directly rather than left to the judgement of the bureaucratic apparatus. Julian certainly had a clear idea of what he wanted Roman society to be, both in political as well as religious terms. The terrible and violent dislocation of the 3rd century meant that the Eastern Mediterranean had become the economic locus of the Empire. If the cities were treated as relatively autonomous local administrative areas, it would simplify the problems of imperial administration, which as far as Julian was concerned, should be focused on the administration of the law and defense of the empire's vast frontiers.

In replacing Constantius's political and civil appointees, Julian drew heavily from the intellectual and professional classes, or kept reliable holdovers, such as the rhetorician Themistius. His choice of consuls for the year 362 was more controversial. One was the very acceptable Claudius Mamertinus, previously the Praetorian prefect of Illyricum. The other, more surprising choice was Nevitta, Julian's trusted Frankish general. This latter appointment made overt the fact that an emperor's authority depended on the power of the army. Julian's choice of Nevitta appears to have been aimed at maintaining the support of the Western army which had acclaimed him.

Clash with the Antiochenes

After five months of dealings at the capital, Julian left Constantinople in May and moved to Antioch, arriving in mid-July and staying there for nine months before launching his fateful campaign against Persia in March 363. Antioch was a city favored by splendid temples along with a famous oracle of Apollo in nearby Daphne, which may have been cause for him choosing to reside there. It had also been used in the past as a staging place for amassing troops, a purpose which Julian intended to follow.[46]

His arrival on 18 July was well received by the Antiochenes, though it coincided with the celebration of the Adonia, a festival which marked the death of Adonis, so there was wailing and moaning in the streets—not a good omen for an arrival.[47][48]

Julian soon discovered that wealthy merchants were causing food problems, apparently by hoarding food and selling it at high prices. He hoped that the curia would deal with the issue for the situation was headed for a famine. When the curia did nothing, he spoke to the city's leading citizens, trying to persuade them to take action. Thinking that they would do the job, he turned his attention to religious matters.[48]

He tried to resurrect the ancient oracular spring of Castalia at the temple of Apollo at Daphne. After being advised that the bones of 3rd-century bishop Babylas were suppressing the god, he made a public-relations mistake in ordering the removal of the bones from the vicinity of the temple. The result was a massive Christian procession. Shortly after that, when the temple was destroyed by fire, Julian suspected the Christians and ordered stricter investigations than usual. He also shut up the chief Christian church of the city, before the investigations proved that the fire was the result of an accident.[49][50]

When the curia still took no substantial action in regards to the food shortage, Julian intervened, fixing the prices for grain and importing more from Egypt. Then landholders refused to sell theirs, claiming that the harvest was so bad that they had to be compensated with fair prices. Julian accused them of price gouging and forced them to sell. Various parts of Libanius' orations may suggest that both sides were justified to some extent[51][52] while Ammianus blames Julian for "a mere thirst for popularity".[53]

Julian's ascetic lifestyle was not popular either, since his subjects were accustomed to the idea of an all-powerful Emperor who placed himself well above them. Nor did he improve his dignity with his own participation in the ceremonial of bloody sacrifices.[54] As David S. Potter says:

They expected a man who was both removed from them by the awesome spectacle of imperial power, and would validate their interests and desires by sharing them from his Olympian height (...) He was supposed to be interested in what interested his people, and he was supposed to be dignified. He was not supposed to leap up and show his appreciation for a panegyric that it was delivered, as Julian had done on January 3, when Libanius was speaking, and ignore the chariot races.[55]

He then tried to address public criticism and mocking of him by issuing a satire ostensibly on himself, called Misopogon or "Beard Hater". There he blames the people of Antioch for preferring that their ruler have his virtues in the face rather than in the soul.

Even Julian's intellectual friends and fellow pagans were of a divided mind about this habit of talking to his subjects on an equal footing: Ammianus Marcellinus saw in that only the foolish vanity of someone "excessively anxious for empty distinction", whose "desire for popularity often led him to converse with unworthy persons".[56]

On leaving Antioch he appointed Alexander of Heliopolis as governor, a violent and cruel man whom the Antiochene Libanius, a friend of the emperor, admits on first thought was a "dishonourable" appointment. Julian himself described the man as "undeserving" of the position, but appropriate "for the avaricious and rebellious people of Antioch".[57]

The Persian campaign

Julian's rise to Augustus was the result of military insurrection eased by Constantius's sudden death. This meant that, while he could count on the wholehearted support of the Western army which had aided his rise, the Eastern army was an unknown quantity originally loyal to the Emperor he had risen against, and he had tried to woo it through the Chalcedon Tribunal. However, to solidify his position in the eyes of the eastern army, he needed to lead its soldiers to victory and a campaign against the Persians offered such an opportunity.

An audacious plan was formulated whose goal was to lay siege on the Sassanid capital city of Ctesiphon and definitively secure the eastern border. Yet the full motivation for this ambitious operation is, at best, unclear. There was no direct necessity for an invasion, as the Sassanids sent envoys in the hope of settling matters peacefully. Julian rejected this offer.[58] Ammianus states that Julian longed for revenge on the Persians and that a certain desire for combat and glory also played a role in his decision to go to war.[59]

Into enemy territory

On 5 March 363, despite a series of omens against the campaign, Julian departed from Antioch with about 65,000-83,000,[60][61] or 80,000–90,000 men,[62] and headed north toward the Euphrates. En route he was met by embassies from various small powers offering assistance, none of which he accepted. He did order the Armenian king Arsaces to muster an army and await instructions.[63] He crossed the Euphrates near Hierapolis and moved eastward to Carrhae, giving the impression that his chosen route into Persian territory was down the Tigris.[64] For this reason it seems he sent a force of 30,000 soldiers under Procopius and Sebastianus further eastward to devastate Media in conjunction with Armenian forces.[65] This was where two earlier Roman campaigns had concentrated and where the main Persian forces were soon directed.[66] Julian's strategy lay elsewhere, however. He had had a fleet built of over 1,000 ships at Samosata in order to supply his army for a march down the Euphrates and of 50 pontoon ships to facilitate river crossings. Procopius and the Armenians would march down the Tigris to meet Julian near Ctesiphon.[65] Julian's ultimate aim seems to have been "regime change" by replacing king Shapur II with his brother Hormisdas.[66][67]

After feigning a march further eastward, Julian's army turned south to Circesium at the confluence of the Khabur ("Abora") and the Euphrates arriving at the beginning of April.[65] Passing Dura on April 6, the army made good progress, bypassing towns after negotiations or besieging those which chose to oppose him. At the end of April the Romans captured the fortress of Pirisabora, which guarded the canal approach from the Euphrates to Ctesiphon on the Tigris.[68] As the army marched toward the Persian capital, the enemy broke the dikes which crossed the land, turning it into marshland, so the army's progress was slowed.[69]


By mid-May, the army had reached the vicinity of the heavily fortified Persian capital, Ctesiphon, where Julian partially unloaded some of the fleet and had his troops ferried across the Tigris by night.[70] Before the gates of the city the Romans defeated the Persians (Battle of Ctesiphon), driving them back into the city.[71]

Although the undeniable tactical success left the Roman army in control of the battlefield, the Persian capital was not taken, the main Persian army was still at large and approaching, while the Romans lacked a clear strategical objective.[72] In the council of war which followed, Julian's generals persuaded him not to mount a siege against the city, given the impregnability of its defenses and the fact that Shapur would soon arrive with a large force.[73] Julian not wanting to give up what he had gained and probably still hoping for the arrival of the column under Procopius and Sebastianus, set off east into the Persian interior, ordering the destruction of the fleet.[71] This proved to be a hasty decision, for they were on the wrong side of the Tigris with no clear means of retreat and the Persians had begun to harass them from a distance, burning any food in the Romans' path. A second council of war on 16 June 363 decided that the best course of action was to lead the army back to the safety of Roman borders, not through Mesopotamia, but northward to Corduene.[74][75]


Sassanian relief of the investiture of Ardashir II showing Mithra, Shapur II and Ahura Mazda above a defeated Julian, lying prostrate
Detail of the fallen Julian

During the withdrawal, Julian's forces suffered several attacks from Sassanid forces.[75] In one such engagement on 26 June 363, the indecisive Battle of Samarra near Maranga, Julian was wounded when the Sassanid army raided his column. In the haste of pursuing the retreating enemy, Julian chose speed rather than caution, taking only his sword and leaving his coat of mail.[76] He received a wound from a spear that reportedly pierced the lower lobe of his liver, the peritoneum and intestines. The wound was not immediately deadly. Julian was treated by his personal physician, Oribasius of Pergamum, who seems to have made every attempt to treat the wound. This probably included the irrigation of the wound with a dark wine, and a procedure known as gastrorrhaphy, the suturing of the damaged intestine. On the third day a major hemorrhage occurred and the emperor died during the night.[77][78] As Julian wished, his body was buried outside Tarsus, though it was later removed to Constantinople.[79]

In 364, Libanius stated that Julian was assassinated by a Christian who was one of his own soldiers;[80] this charge is not corroborated by Ammianus Marcellinus or other contemporary historians. John Malalas reports that the supposed assassination was commanded by Basil of Caesarea.[81] Fourteen years later, Libanius said that Julian was killed by a Saracen (Lakhmid) and this may have been confirmed by Julian's doctor Oribasius who, having examined the wound, said that it was from a spear used by a group of Lakhmid auxiliaries in Persian service.[82] Later Christian historians propagated the tradition that Julian was killed by Saint Mercurius.[83] Julian was succeeded by the short-lived Emperor Jovian who reestablished Christianity's privileged position throughout the Empire.

Libanius says in his epitaph of the deceased emperor (18.304) that "I have mentioned representations (of Julian); many cities have set him beside the images of the gods and honour him as they do the gods. Already a blessing has been besought of him in prayer, and it was not in vain. To such an extent has he literally ascended to the gods and received a share of their power from him themselves." However, no similar action was taken by the Roman central government, which would be more and more dominated by Christians in the ensuing decades.

Considered apocryphal is the report that his dying words were νενίκηκάς με, Γαλιλαῖε, or Vicisti, Galilaee ("You have won, Galilean"),[84] supposedly expressing his recognition that, with his death, Christianity would become the Empire's state religion. The phrase introduces the 1866 poem Hymn to Proserpine, which was Algernon Charles Swinburne's elaboration of what a philosophic pagan might have felt at the triumph of Christianity.


As he had requested, Julian's body was buried in Tarsus. It lay in a tomb outside the city, across a road from that of Maximinus Daia.[85]

But we learn from Zonaras that at some "later" date his body was exhumed and reburied in or near the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, where Constantine and the rest of his family lay.[86] His sarcophagus is listed as standing in a "stoa" there by Constantine Porphyrogenitus.[87] The church was demolished by the Ottoman Turks after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Today a sarcophagus of porphyry is identified as his and stands in the grounds of the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

Julian and religious issues


Julian's personal religion was both pagan and philosophical; he viewed the traditional myths as allegories, in which the ancient gods were aspects of a philosophical divinity. The chief surviving sources are his works To King Helios and To the Mother of the Gods, which were written as panegyrics, not theological treatises.

While there are clear resemblances to other forms of Late Antique religion, it is controversial as to which variety it is most similar to. He learned theurgy from Maximus of Ephesus, a student of Iamblichus;[88] his system bears some resemblance to the Neoplatonism of Plotinus; Polymnia Athanassiadi has brought new attention to his relations with Mithraism, although whether he was initiated into it remains debatable; and certain aspects of his thought (such as his reorganization of paganism under High Priests, and his fundamental monotheism) may show Christian influence. Some of these potential sources have not come down to us, and all of them influenced each other, which adds to the difficulties.[89]

According to one theory (that of G.W. Bowersock in particular), Julian's paganism was highly eccentric and atypical because it was heavily influenced by an esoteric approach to Platonic philosophy sometimes identified as theurgy and also Neoplatonism. Others (Rowland Smith, in particular) have argued that Julian's philosophical perspective was nothing unusual for a "cultured" pagan of his time, and, at any rate, that Julian's paganism was not limited to philosophy alone, and that he was deeply devoted to the same gods and goddesses as other pagans of his day.

Because of his Neoplatonist background Julian accepted the creation of humanity as described in Plato's Timaeus. Julian writes, "when Zeus was setting all things in order there fell from him drops of sacred blood, and from them, as they say, arose the race of men."[90] Further he writes, "they who had the power to create one man and one woman only, were able to create many men and women at once...."[91] His view contrasts with the Christian belief that humanity is derived from the one pair, Adam and Eve. Elsewhere he argues against the single pair origin, indicating his disbelief, noting for example, "how very different in their bodies are the Germans and Scythians from the Libyans and Ethiopians."[92][93]

The Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus was of the opinion that Julian believed himself to be Alexander the Great "in another body" via transmigration of souls, "in accordance with the teachings of Pythagoras and Plato".[94] Like Pythagoras, Julian was a vegetarian.[95]

Restoration of Paganism as state religion

After gaining the purple, Julian started a religious reformation of the state, which was intended to restore the lost strength of the Roman state. He supported the restoration of Hellenistic polytheism as the state religion. His laws tended to target wealthy and educated Christians, and his aim was not to destroy Christianity but to drive the religion out of "the governing classes of the empire — much as Buddhism was driven back into the lower classes by a revived Confucian mandarinate in 13th century China."[96]

He restored pagan temples which had been confiscated since Constantine's time, or simply appropriated by wealthy citizens; he repealed the stipends that Constantine had awarded to Christian bishops, and removed their other privileges, including a right to be consulted on appointments and to act as private courts. He also reversed some favors that had previously been given to Christians. For example, he reversed Constantine's declaration that Majuma, the port of Gaza, was a separate city. Majuma had a large Christian congregation while Gaza was still predominantly pagan.

On 4 February 362, Julian promulgated an edict to guarantee freedom of religion. This edict proclaimed that all the religions were equal before the law, and that the Roman Empire had to return to its original religious eclecticism, according to which the Roman state did not impose any religion on its provinces. Practically however, it had as its purpose the restoration of paganism at the expense of Christianity.

Juventinus and Maximus

The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches retell a story concerning two of Julian's bodyguards who were Christian. When he came to Antioch, he prohibited the veneration of the relics. The two bodyguards opposed the edict, and were executed at Julian's command. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches remember them as saints Juventinus and Maximus.

Since the persecution of Christians by past Roman Emperors had seemingly only strengthened Christianity, many of Julian's actions were designed to harass and undermine the ability of Christians to organize resistance to the re-establishment of paganism in the empire.[97] Julian's preference for a non-Christian and non-philosophical view of Iamblichus' theurgy seems to have convinced him that it was right to outlaw the practice of the Christian view of theurgy and demand the suppression of the Christian set of Mysteries.[98]

In his School Edict Julian required that all public teachers be approved by the Emperor; the state paid or supplemented much of their salaries. Ammianus Marcellinus explains this as intending to prevent Christian teachers from using pagan texts (such as the Iliad, which was widely regarded as divinely inspired) that formed the core of classical education: "If they want to learn literature, they have Luke and Mark: Let them go back to their churches and expound on them", the edict says.[96] This was an attempt to remove some of the power of the Christian schools which at that time and later used ancient Greek literature in their teachings in their effort to present the Christian religion as being superior to paganism. The edict was also a severe financial blow, because it deprived Christian scholars, tutors and teachers of many students.

In his Tolerance Edict of 362, Julian decreed the reopening of pagan temples, the restitution of confiscated temple properties, and the return from exile of dissident Christian bishops. The latter was an instance of tolerance of different religious views, but it may also have been seen as an attempt by Julian to foster schisms and divisions between different Christian sects, since conflict between rival Christian sects was quite fierce.[99]

His care in the institution of a pagan hierarchy in opposition to that of the Christians was due to his wish to create a society in which every aspect of the life of the citizens was to be connected, through layers of intermediate levels, to the consolidated figure of the Emperor — the final provider for all the needs of his people. Within this project, there was no place for a parallel institution, such as the Christian hierarchy or Christian charity.[100]


Because Christian charities were open to all, including pagans, it put this aspect of the Roman citizens lives out of the control of the Imperial authority and under that of the Church. Thus Julian envisioned the institution of a Roman philanthropic system, and cared for the behaviour and the morality of the pagan priests, in the hope that it would mitigate the reliance of pagans on Christian charity:

These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.[101]

Attempt to rebuild the Jewish Temple

In 363, not long before Julian left Antioch to launch his campaign against Persia, in keeping with his effort to foster religions other than Christianity, he ordered the Temple rebuilt.[102] A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort:

Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt.

Ammianus Marcellinus

The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to the Galilee earthquake of 363, and to the Jews' ambivalence about the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire. Divine intervention was the common view among Christian historians of the time.[103] Julian's support of Jews, coming after the hostility of many earlier Emperors, caused Jews to call him "Julian the Hellene".[104]



Julian wrote several works in Greek, some of which have come down to us.

Budé Date Work Comment Wright
I 356/7[105] Panegyric In Honour Of Constantius Written to reassure Constantius that he was on side. I
II ~June 357[105] Panegyric In Honour Of Eusebia Expresses gratitude for Eusebia's support. III
III 357/8[106] The Heroic Deeds Of Constantius Indicates his support of Constantius, while being critical. (Sometimes called "second panegyric to Constantius".) II
IV 359[28] Consolation Upon the Departure of Salutius[107] Grapples with the removal of his close advisor in Gaul. VIII
V 361[108] Letter To The Senate And People of Athens An attempt to explain the actions leading up to his rebellion.
VI early 362[109] Letter To Themistius The Philosopher Response to an ingratiating letter from Themistius, outlining J.'s political reading
VII March 362[110] To The Cynic Heracleios Attempt to set Cynics straight regarding their religious responsibilities. VII
VIII ~March 362[111] Hymn To The Mother Of The Gods A defense of Hellenism and Roman tradition. V
IX ~May 362[112] To the Uneducated Cynics Another attack on Cynics who he thought didn't follow the principles of Cynicism. VI
X December 362[113] The Caesars Satire describing a competition between Roman emperors as to who was the best. Strongly critical of Constantine.
XI December 362[114] Hymn To King Helios Attempt to describe the Roman religion as seen by Julian. IV
XII early 363[115] Misopogon, Or, Beard-Hater Written as a satire on himself, while attacking the people of Antioch for their shortcomings.
362/3[116] Against the Galilaeans Polemic against Christians, which now only survives as fragments.
362[117] Fragment Of A Letter To A Priest Attempt to counteract the aspects that he thought were positive in Christianity.
359–363 Letters Both personal and public letters from much of his career.
? Epigrams Small number of short verse works.
  • Budé indicates the numbers used by Athanassiadi given in the Budé edition (1963 & 1964) of Julian's Opera.[118]
  • Wright indicates the oration numbers provided in W.C.Wright's edition of Julian's works.

The religious works contain involved philosophical speculations, and the panegyrics to Constantius are formulaic and elaborate in style.

The Misopogon (or "Beard Hater") is a light-hearted account of his clash with the inhabitants of Antioch after he was mocked for his beard and generally scruffy appearance for an Emperor. The Caesars is a humorous tale of a contest between some of the most notable Roman Emperors: Julius Caesar, Augustus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Constantine, and also interestingly Alexander the Great. This was a satiric attack upon the recent Constantine, whose worth, both as a Christian and as the leader of the Roman Empire, Julian severely questions.

One of the most important of his lost works is his Against the Galileans, intended to refute the Christian religion. The only parts of this work which survive are those excerpted by Cyril of Alexandria, who gives extracts from the three first books in his refutation of Julian, Contra Julianum. These extracts do not give an adequate idea of the work: Cyril confesses that he had not ventured to copy several of the weightiest arguments.

These have been edited and translated several times since the Renaissance, most often separately; but all are translated in the Loeb Classical Library edition of 1913, edited by Wilmer Cave Wright.

In fiction

  • In 1847, the controversial German theologian David Friedrich Strauss published in Mannheim the pamphlet Der Romantiker auf dem Thron der Cäsaren ("A Romantic on the Throne of the Caesars"), in which Julian was satirised as "an unworldly dreamer, a man who turned nostalgia for the ancients into a way of life and whose eyes were closed to the pressing needs of the present". In fact, this was a veiled criticism of the contemporary King Frederick William IV of Prussia, known for his romantic dreams of restoring the supposed glories of feudal Medieval society.[119]
  • Julian's life inspired the play Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen.
  • Julian's life and reign were the subject of the novel The Death of the Gods (Julian the Apostate) (1895) in the trilogy of historical novels entitled "Christ and Antichrist" (1895–1904) by the Russian Symbolist poet, novelist and literary theoretician Dmitrii S. Merezhkovskii.
  • The opera Der Apostat (1924) by the composer and conductor Felix Weingartner is about Julian.
  • In 1945 Nikos Kazantzakis authored the tragedy Julian the Apostate in which the emperor is depicted as an existentialist hero committed to a struggle which he knows will be in vain. It was first staged in Paris in 1948.
  • Julian was the subject of a novel, Julian (1964), by Gore Vidal, describing his life and times. It is notable for, among other things, its scathing critique of Christianity.
  • Julian appeared in Gods and Legions, by Michael Curtis Ford (2002). Julian's tale was told by his closest companion, the Christian saint Caesarius, and accounts for the transition from a Christian philosophy student in Athens to a pagan Roman Augustus of the old nature.
  • Julian's letters are an important part of the symbolism of Michel Butor's novel La Modification.
  • The fantasy alternate history The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford, while set in the time of the Wars of the Roses, uses the reign of Julian as its point of divergence. His reign not being cut short, he was successful in disestablishing Christianity and restoring a religiously eclectic societal order which survived the fall of Rome and into the Renaissance Characters in the novel refer to him as "Julian the Wise".
  • Julian's rise and fall, as narrated by his physician Oribasius, are portrayed in Who Killed Apollo and Julian Augustus, a novel (2006) by Reynold Spector.
  • Julian's life served as the basis for the novella Julian: A Christmas Story by Robert Charles Wilson, which was nominated for a Hugo Award in 2007.
  • Julian appears in Warrior Nun Areala as supervillain Julian Salvius. There he is portrayed as having survived into modern times and as seeking revenge against the Church for having been cursed by the Christians.
  • Julian's story is also told in Imperial Renegade a Catholic historical novel by Louis de Wohl.



See also

External links

  • Laws of Julian. Two laws by Constantius II, while Julian was Caesar.
  • Imperial Laws and Letters Involving Religion, some of which are by Julian relating to Christianity.
  • A 4th century chalcedony portrait of Julian, Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum.
  • Julian's Spin Doctor: The Persian Mutiny, Article by Adam J. Bravo.
  • Rowland Smith's "Julian's Gods", Review by Thomas Banchich.
  • at the California Literary Review.
  • The Julian Society. A society of pagans that admires Julian.
Julian (emperor)
Born: 331 Died: 26 June 363
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Constantius II
Roman Emperor
360 – 363
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by
Lollianus Mavortius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Constantius II
Succeeded by
Neratius Cerealis,
Censorius Datianus
Preceded by
Flavius Eusebius,
Flavius Hypatius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Constantius II
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Claudius Mamertinus,
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Sallustius
Succeeded by

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