Flavius Claudius Julianus, known also as Julian or Julian the Apostate (331 or 332 to 26 June 363), was Roman Emperor (Caesar, November 355 to February 360; Augustus, February 360 to June 363) of the Constantinian dynasty. He was the last non-Christian Roman Emperor, and expended much energy during his reign attempting to supplant the growing power of Christianity within the empire with officially revived traditional Roman religious practices.
The triumph of the party which he deserted and opposed has fixed a stain of infamy on the name of Julian; and the unsuccessful apostate has been overwhelmed with a torrent of pious invectives, of which the signal was given by the sonorous trumpet of Gregory Nazianzen.''In 363, Julian began a campaign against the Sassanid Empire. He died later that year from a wound received during a retreat during the campaign.
Flavius Claudius Julianus, born in May or June 332 in Constantinople, was the son of Julius Constantius (consul in 335), half brother of Emperor Constantine I, and his second wife, Basilina, both 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 Orient under emperor Licinius from 315 to 324. 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 Christian cousin Constantius II led a massacre of Julian's family. 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. Constantius II then saw to a strictly Arian Christian education of Julian and Gallus.
Most descriptions of the life of Julian speculate about his early psychological development and education; very little information about them has survived. 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. However, 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.
Julian wrote, in his thirty-first year, that he had spent twenty years in the "way of error" and eleven in the true way. 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.
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 Milan in 354 and kept there for a year; in the summer and fall of 355, he was permitted to study at Athens; Gregory Nazianzus met him there.
Julian's personal religion was bookish 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 orations on Helios and the Great Mother, and they are panegyrics, not theological treatises. While there are clear resemblances to other forms of Late Antique religion, which variety is most similar is controversial. He learned theurgy from Maximus, a student of Iamblichus; 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 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.
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 for him, and he was sent to Athens.
When Constantius found a Persian War on his hands, he needed a representative in Gaul. Julian was thus summoned 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 Julian 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 led an army of 13,000 men to victory against 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 in the Roman Empire, north of today's city of Tongeren, and over the Chamavi, who where expelled back to Hamaland. During his residence in Gaul, Julian also attended to non-military matters. He prevented a tax increase by the Gallic praetorian prefect Florentius and personally administered 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 troops of the Petulantes, 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, which was subsequently besieged by 23,000 men 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. He also started the Chalcedon tribunal where some followers of Constantius were tortured and killed under supervision of magister militum Arbitio.
After ascending to the imperial throne, Julian instituted political reforms distinct from his religious activities. Julian's own personality tended to ascetism and this was reflected in his new court, which was swiftly purged. Thousands of servants, eunuchs, and superfluous officials were summarily dismissed. This was Julian's attack on a system which he viewed as inefficient, corrupt, and expensive. He continually sought to reduce what he saw as burdensome and corrupt bureaucracy within the Imperial administration whether it involved civic officials, the secret agents, or the imperial post service.
Julian saw his role as emperor differently than his immediate predecessors. 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, operating under the same laws as his subjects. Functionally, this meant 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 canceled.
These reforms were not prompted by some sense of ancient liberalism. Just as 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 corvees had to be approved by him directly rather than left to the judgment 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 reflected the fact that for all his literary refinement and philosophic ideals, Julian's authority depended on the power of the army, especially the Western army which had acclaimed him.
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 reversed some favors given Christians. For example, he reversed the 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.
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.
Julian's religious status is a matter of considerable dispute. 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. 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 resistance to the re-establishment of paganism in the empire. 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. 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 required that all public teachers be approved by the Emperor; the state paid or supplemented much of their salaries. Ammianus Marcellinus explains this as intended 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. This was an attempt to remove some of the power of Christian schools which at that time and later used ancient Greek literature in their teachings in their effort to present Christian religion superior to paganism. 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 the return from exile of dissident Christian bishops. The latter was an instance of tolerance of different religious views, but may also have been seen as an attempt by Julian to foster schism and division between different Christian sects, as conflict between rival Christian sects was quite fierce.
Because Christian charities were beneficial 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:
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.
After his arrival in Antioch 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:
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. Julian's support of Jews, coming after the hostility of many earlier Emperors, meant that they called him Julian the Hellene.
After a food shortage in the city, his relationship with the citizens of Antioch worsened even more. He tried to fix the prices for grain and import 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 while Ammianus blames Julian for "a mere thirst for popularity".
Julian's ascetic lifestyle was not popular either, since his subjects were accustomed to the idea of an all-powerful emperor that placed himself well above them. Nor did he improve his dignity with his own participation in the ceremonial of bloody sacrifices. As David S. Potter says:
He then tried to address public criticism and mocking of him by issuing Misopogon or "Beard Hater". There he finally blames the people of Antioch for preferring that their ruler have his virtues in the face rather than in the soul.
In March 363, Julian began his campaign against the Sassanid Empire, with the ambitious goal of laying siege on the Sassanid capital city of Ctesiphon and retaking many of the lands the Romans had lost under Constantius II. His motivation for this ambitious operation are, 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. 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. He also saw the opportunity to replace king Shapur II with his brother Ormisdas.
It should also be considered that even Julian's authority rested on shaky ground. It was true that he was, as a grandson of Constantius Chlorus and a cousin to Constantius, a member of the ruling dynasty. Yet his ascension to Augustus was not a smooth promotion, but the result of military insurrection eased by Constantius's sudden death. Julian could count on the wholehearted support of the Western army. But the eastern army was an unknown quantity originally loyal to his cousin, and he had been compelled to make concessions to it at the Chalcedon Tribunal. Only by leading its soldiers to victory could Julian fully count on its loyalty, and the Persian campaign offered such an opportunity.
Receiving encouragement from an oracle in the old Sibylline Books mailed from Rome, and moving forward from Antioch with about 90,000 men, Julian entered Sassanid territory. Julian decided that the best way to assault the Sassanid capitol was to split this force. An army of 30,000 was sent, under the command of Procopius, to Armenia, whence, having received reinforcements from the King of Armenia, it was to attack the Sassanid capital from the north. Julian victoriously led the rest of the forces under his command into enemy territory, conquering several cities and defeating the Sassanid troops. Upon his arrival under the walls of the Sassanid capital, the forces sent to come from the North under Procopius had not arrived. Julian's forces defeated a superior Sassanid army in front of the city of Ctesiphon (Battle of Ctesiphon), however he could not take the Persian capital. Also another Sassanid force, much larger than the one he had just defeated was approaching rapidly on his position. So Julian decided to lead his army back to the safety of the Roman borders.
During this retreat, on 26 June 363, Julian died during an indecisive battle near Maranga, when the Sassanid army raided his column. While pursuing the retreating enemy with few men, Julian acted valiantly yet foolishly by rushing into battle 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.
In 364, Libanius stated 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. Joannes Malalas reports that the supposed assassination was commanded by Basil of Caesarea.. Fourteen years later, Libanius said that Julian was killed by a Saracen 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 Saracen auxiliaries in Persian service. Later Christian historians propagated the tradition that Julian was killed by a saint. Julian was succeeded by the short-lived Emperor Jovian who succeeded in reestablishing Christianity in ethos of power within 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 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 a philosophic pagan might have felt at the triumph of Christianity.
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. 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.
The most important of his lost works is his Against the Galileans, a denunciation of 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.