Julian the Apostate

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Flavius Claudius Iulianus
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Flavius Claudius Iulianus, also known as Julian the Apostate, was the last pagan Roman Emperor.
Reign 3 November 361 -
June 26, 363
Born 331
Died June 26, 363
Maranga, Mesopotamia
Predecessor Constantius II, cousin
Successor Jovian, general present at the time of his death
Wife/wives Helena (355)
Issue None known
Dynasty Constantinian dynasty
Father Julius Constantius
Mother Basilina

Flavius Claudius Iulianus (331June 26, 363), was a Roman Emperor (361363) of the Constantinian dynasty. He was the last pagan Roman Emperor, and tried to reform the traditional worship as a measure to stop the decay of his world.

His philosophical studies earned him the attribute the Philosopher during the period of his life and of those of his successors. Christian sources commonly refer to him as Julian the Apostate, because of his rejection of Christianity and conversion to Theurgy, a late form of Neoplatonism.<ref name="Neo Pagan">Modern Neo-Pagans (particularly reconstructionists) sometimes refer to him as "Julian the Faithful", in direct opposition to the pejorative implications of the common epithet "the Apostate".</ref> He is also sometimes referred to as Julian II, to distinguish him from Didius Julianus.


[edit] Life

[edit] Early years

Image:Solidus Julian.jpg
Julian solidus, c. 361. The reverse bears a reference to the military strength of the Roman Empire.

Julian, born in 331 in Constantinople, was the son of Julius Constantius, half brother of Emperor Constantine I, and his second wife, Basilina. His paternal grandparents were Western Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus and his second wife, Flavia Maximiana Theodora. His maternal grandfather was Caeionius Iulianus Camenius.

In the turmoil after the death of Constantine in 337, in order to establish himself as sole emperor, Julian's zealous Arian Christian cousin Constantius II led a massacre of Julian's family. Constantius ordered the murdering of many descendants from the second marriage of Constantius Chlorus and Theodora, leaving only Constantine II, Constans, Julian and Julian's half brother Gallus as surviving males related to Emperor Constantine. Constantius II, Constans, and Constantine II were proclaimed joint emperors, each ruling a portion of Roman territory. Constantius II then saw to a strict Arian Christian education of the surviving Julian and his brother Gallus.

In traditional accounts of his life, considerable weight is given to Julian’s early psychological development and education. Initially growing up in Bithynia, raised by his maternal grandmother, at the age of seven he was tutored by Eusebius, the Arian Christian Bishop of Nicomedia, and Mardonius, a Gothic eunuch. However, in 342, both Julian and his half-brother Gallus were exiled to the imperial estate of Macellum in Cappadocia. Here he met the Christian bishop George. At the age of 18, the exile was lifted and he dwelt briefly in Constantinople and Nicomedia.

In 351, Julian returned to Asia Minor to study Neoplatonism under Aedesius, and later to study the Iamblichan Neoplatonism from Maximus of Ephesus. During his studies in Athens, Julian met Gregory Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea, two Christian saints.

The later emperor’s study of Iamblichus of Chalcis and theurgy are a source of criticism from his primary chronicler, Ammianus Marcellinus.

[edit] Rise to power

Image:153 Julianus II.jpg
Julian in military dress. Despite having received no military education, Julian proved to be a good military commander, obtaining an important victory in Gaul and leading a Roman army under the walls of the Sassanid Empire capital.

Constantine II died in 340 when he attacked his brother Constans. Constans fell in 350 in the war against the usurper Magnentius. Julian's brother, Constantius Gallus, was made Caesar of the East (351) by Constantius II, while he himself defeated Magnentius, but shortly afterwards Gallus, who had imposed a rule of terror during his brief reign, was executed (354), and Julian himself briefly imprisoned. However Constantius still had to deal with the Sassanid threat in the East, and so he turned to his last remaining male relative, Julian. He was called to the emperor in Mediolanum (Milan) and, on 6 November 355, made Caesar of the West and married to Constantius' sister Helena.

In the years afterwards he fought the Germanic tribes that tried to intrude upon the Roman Empire. He won back Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) in 356, during his first campaign in Gaul. The following summer he defeated the Alamanni at the Battle of Strasbourg, a major Roman victory. In 358, Julian gained victories over the Salian Franks on the Lower Rhine, settling them in Toxandria, near the city of Xanten, and over the Chamavi. During his residence in Gaul, Julian also attended to non-military matters. He prevented a tax increase by the Gallic praetorian prefect Florianus and personally administrated the province of Belgica Secunda.

In the fourth year of his campaign in Gaul, the Sassanid Emperor Shapur II invaded Mesopotamia and took the city of Amida after a 73 day siege. In February 360, Constantius ordered Julian to send Gallic troops to his eastern army. This provoked an insurrection by Petulantes troops, who proclaimed Julian emperor in Paris, and led to a very swift military campaign to secure or win the allegiance of others. From June to August of that year, Julian led a successful campaign against the Attuarian Franks.

That same June, forces loyal to Constantius II captured the city of Aquileia on the north Adriatic coast, and was subsequently besieged by forces loyal to Julian. Civil war was avoided only by the death of Constantius II, who, in his last will, recognized Julian as his rightful successor.

Among his first actions, Julian reduced the expenses of the imperial court, removing all the eunuchs from the offices. He reduced the luxury of the court established with Constantius, reducing at the same time the number of servants and of the guard.

[edit] Julian and religion

Julian is called by Christians "the Apostate" because he converted from Christianity to paganism. He himself, as attested to in private letters between him and the rhetorician Libanius, had Christianity forced on him as a child by his cousin Constantius II, who was a zealous Arian Christian and would have not tolerated a pagan relative.[citation needed] "Reacting violently against the Christian teaching that he had received in a lonely and miserable childhood," A.H.M. Jones observes, "he had developed a passionate interest in the art, literature and mythology of Greece and had grown to detest the new religion which condemned all he loved as pernicious vanity. He was of a strongly religious temperament, and found solace in the pantheistic mysticism which contemporary Neoplatonist philosophers taught."<ref name="Mysticism">Jones, A.H.M., The Later Roman Empire, 284-602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, 1986, p. 120.</ref> After his conversion to Hellenism he devoted his life to protecting and restoring the fame and security of this tradition.

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 the old Roman faith, based on polytheism. He also forced the Christian church to return the riches, or fines equalling them, looted from the pagan temples after the Christian religion was made legitimate by Constantine. 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 thirteenth-century China."<ref name="Brown">Brown, Peter, The World of Late Antiquity, W.W. Norton, New York, 1971, p. 93.</ref>

Julian reduced the influence of Christian bishops in public offices. The lands taken by the Church were to be returned to their original owners, and the bishops lost the privilege to travel for free, at expenses of the State.

On 4 February 362, Julian promulgated an edict to guarantee freedom of religion, reverting 353 and 356 edicts by Constantius II which had made Christianity, de facto, the most influential religion in the Roman Empire.[citation needed] This edict proclaimed that all the religions were equal in front of the Law, and that the Roman Empire had to return to its original religious eclectism, according to which the Roman State did not impose any religion on its provinces.

He suppressed the official bias against pagans and allowed them to once again repair their temples, a practice that was forbidden after the first Christian Emperor Constantine's official encouragement of Nicene Christianity.[citation needed] During his earlier years, while studying at Athens, Julian became acquainted with two men who later became both bishops and saints: Gregory Nazianzus and Basil the Great; in the same period, Julian was also initiated to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which he would later try to restore. Constantine and his immediate successors had forbidden the upkeep of pagan temples, and many temples were destroyed and pagan worshippers of the old religions killed during the reign of Constantine and his successors.[citation needed] The extent to which the emperors approved or commanded these destructions and killings is disputed, but it is certain they did not prevent them.[citation needed]
Image:Saint Mercurius killing Iulian.jpg
Coptic icon showing Saint Mercurius killing Julian. According to a tradition, Saint Basil (an old school-mate of Julian) had been imprisoned at the start of Julian's Sassanid campaign. Basil prayed to Mercurius to help him, and the saint appeared in vision to Basil, claiming to have speared Julian to death.

Julian's religious status is a matter of considerable dispute. He did not practice normative civic Roman cult of the earlier empire, but a kind of esoterical approach to classical philosophy sometimes identified as theurgy and also neoplatonism. According to Christian historian Socrates Scholasticus (iii, 21), Julian believed himself to be Alexander the Great in another body via transmigration of souls, as taught by Plato and Pythagoras.

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 in resistance to the re-establishment of pagan acceptance in the empire.<ref name="Persecution">Julian, Epistulae, 52.436A ff.</ref> 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 practise of the Christian view of theurgy and demand that suppression of the Christian set of Mysteries.<ref name="Theurgy">See Theourgia-Demiourgia John P Anton.</ref> The Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches retell a story concerning two of his bodyguards who were Christian. When Julian came to Antioch, he prohibited the veneration of the relics. The two bodyguards opposed the edict, and were executed at Julian's command. The Orthodox Church remembers them as saints Juventinus and Maximos.

In his School Edict Julian forbids Christian teachers from using the pagan scripts (such as the Iliad) that formed the core of Roman 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.<ref name="Brown"/> This was an attempt to remove some of the power of Christian schools which at that time and later have used at large ancient Greek litterature in their teachings in their effort to present Christian religion superior to the previous. The edict was also a severe financial blow, as 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 alienated temple properties, and called back Christian bishops that were exiled by church edicts. The latter was an instance of tolerance of different religious views, but may also have been seen as an attempt by Julian to widen a schism between different Christian sects, further weakening the Christian movement as a whole.<ref>Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae Libri XXXI, 22.5.4.</ref>

Because Christian charities were benefical to all, including pagans, it put this aspect of the Roman citizens' life out of the control of the imperial authority and under that of the church.<ref name="Charity>Many historians agree that prior to the advent of Christianity, there was a distinct lack of love-motivated charity in the ancient world, and indeed in the Roman Empire. That is not to say that there was no philanthropy in the history of the Empire - patricians long before Julian's time had been expected to finance the baths and public buildings, for example. However, this was "dictated much more by policy than by benevolence" (WEH Lecky); because love was rare in the pagan philanthropic environment, it was "alien to human nature", and part of the reason Julian's project failed was because of the inspiration of Christian agape in charity: Julian himself ultimately "conceded that the Christians outshone the pagans in their devotion to charitable work." (Thomas Woods). Sources:

  • Gerhard Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1883), 2-44
  • Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, (Washington, DC: Regenery, 2005), ISBN 0-89526-038-7
  • WEH Lecky, History of European Morals From Augustus to Charlemagne

</ref> Thus Julian envisioned the institution of a Roman philanthropic system, and cared of the behaviour and the morality of the pagan priests, in the hope that it would mitigate pagans relying on Christian charity:

Image:AnkaraColumnFar c.JPG
Julian's Column in Ankara, built in occasion of the emperor's visit to the city in 362

His care in the institution of a pagan hierarchy in opposition to the Christian one was due to his will to create a society in which every aspect of the life of the citizens was to be connected, through layers of intermediated 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 the Christian charity.<ref name="Roberts">Roberts and DiMaio.</ref>

After his arrival in Antiochia in preparation for the Persian war, the temple of Apollo burned down. Since Julian believed Christians to be responsible, their main church was closed.

In 363, Julian, on his way to engage Persia, stopped at the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In keeping with his effort to foster religions other than Christianity, Julian ordered the Temple rebuilt. 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."

The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to an earthquake, common in the region, 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.<ref name="Solomon"> See "Julian and the Jews 361-363 CE" and "Julian the Apostate and the Holy Temple".</ref>

[edit] Death

Image:Death of Julian - manuscript.jpg
The skin of Julian nailed to a gate-post, from a 15th century manuscript of The Fall of Princes, by Giovanni Boccaccio.

In March 363, Julian started his campaign against the Sassanid Empire, with the goal of taking back the Roman cities conquered by the Sassanids under the rule of Constantius II which his cousin had failed to take back.

Receiving encouragement from an oracle in the old Sibylline Books posted from Rome, and moving forward from Antioch with about 90,000 men, Julian entered Sassanid territory. An army of 30,000 was sent, under the lead of Procopius, to Armenia, whence, having received renforcements from the King of Armenia, it was to attack the Sassanid capital from the north. Julian victoriously led the Roman army into enemy territory, conquering several cities and defeating the Sassanid troops. He arrived under the walls of the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon, but even after defeating a superior Sassanid army in front of the city (Battle of Ctesiphon), he could not take the Persian capital. Also Procopius did not return with his troops, so Julian decided to lead his army back to the safety of the Roman borders.

During this retreat, on 26 June 363, Julian died near Maranga, during a victorious battle against the Sassanid army. While pursuing with few men the retreating enemy, and without wearing armor, 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, in which an attempt is made to suture the damaged intestine.

Libanius states that Julian was assassinated by a Christian who was one of his own soldiers; this charge is not corroborated by Ammianus Marcellinus or other contemporary historians. Julian was succeeded by the short-lived Emperor Jovian.

Libanius says in his epitath 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 Vicisti, Galilaee ("You have won, Galilean"), 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 Swinburne's elaboration of what Julian might have felt at the triumph of Christianity.

[edit] Julian as a writer

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

  • Hymn to King Helios
  • Hymn to the Mother of the Gods
  • Two panegyrics to Constantius

The above are hard for the modern reader to digest. The religious works contain involved philosophical speculations and the panegyrics to Constantius are formulaic and elaborate in style.

The following works, on the other hand, are quite accessible and readable.

  • Misopogon or "Beard Hater" - 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 - a humorous tale of a contest between some of the most notable Roman emperors. 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.
  • Against the Galilaeans - a critique of Christianity, only partially preserved, thanks to Cyril of Alexandria's rebuttal Against Julian.

The works of Julian were edited and translated by Wilmer Cave Wright as The Works of the Emperor Julian (3 vols.). London, 1923.

[edit] Julian in fiction

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.

Julian was the subject of a detailed, carefully researched novel, Julian (1964), by Gore Vidal, describing his life and times. It is notable for, among other things, its scathing critique of Christianity.

Also, 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.

[edit] Notes


[edit] References

[edit] Primary sources

[edit] Works by Julian

[edit] Works about Julian

[edit] Secondary sources

  • Roberts, Walter E., and Michael DiMaio, "Julian the Apostate (360-363 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis (2002)
  • Athanassiadi, Polymnia. Julian. An Intellectual Biography. Routledge, London, 1992, ISBN 0-415-07763-X.
  • Bowersock, Glen Warren. Julian the Apostate. London, 1978.
  • Lascaratos, John and Dionysios Voros. 2000. Fatal Wounding of the Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363 A.D.): Approach to the Contribution of Ancient Surgery. World J. Surg. 24: 615-619.
  • Lenski, Noel Emmanuel. Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century AD. UC Press: London, 2003.
  • Lieu, Samuel N. From Constantine to Julian: A Source History. Routledge: New York, 1996.
  • Murdoch, Adrian. The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World, Stroud, 2005, ISBN 0-7509-4048-4.
  • Rohrbacher, David. Historians of Late Antiquity. Routledge: New York, 2002.
  • Smith, Rowland. Julian's gods: religion and philosophy in the thought and action of Julian the Apostate, London, 1995, ISBN 0-415-03487-6.

[edit] External links

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Preceded by:
Constantius II
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:

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Julian the Apostate

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