1902 Encyclopedia > Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus) (Julian the Apostate)

Julian
(Flavius Claudius Julianus; commonly called: Julian the Apostate)
Roman emperor
(331-363 AD)




JULIAN (331-363), commonly called Julian the Apos-tate, was Roman emperor for about a year and eight months (361-363). His full name was Flavius Claudius Julianus. He was born at Constantinople in 331, being the son of Julius Constantius and his wife Basilina, and nephew of Constantine the Great. He was thus a mem-ber of the dynasty under whose auspices Christianity became the established religion of Rome.

Julian lost his mother not many months after he was born. He was only six when his imperial uncle Constan-tine died ; and one of his earliest memories must have been the fearful massacre of his father and kinsfolk, in the interest and more or less at the instigation of the sous of Constantine. Only Julian and his elder brother Gallus were spared, as they were too young to excite the fear or justify the cruelty of the murderers. From this period till his twenty-fifth year Julian passed his life in the closest retirement, jealously watched by the reigning emperor, often under immediate fear of death. He was carefully educated, however, under the supervision of the family eunuch Mardonius, and of Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, at Constantinople itself and at various places in Ionia and Bithynia, and afterwards for six years at Macellum, a remote and lonely castle in Cappadocia. He was trained to the profession of the Christian religion; but he became early attracted to the old faith, or rather to the idealized amalgam of paganism and philosophy which was current among his teachers, the rhetoricians. Cut off from all sympathy with the reigning belief by the terrible fate of his family, and with no prospect of a public career, he turned with all the eagerness of an enthusiastic temperament to the literary and philosophic studies of the time. The old Hellenic world had an irresistible attraction for him. Love for its culture was in Julian's mind intimately associated with loyalty to its religion.

In the meantime the course of events had left as sole autocrat of the Roman empire his cousin Constantius, who felt himself unequal to the enormous task, and called Julian's brother Gallus to a share of jiower. The same turn of affairs brought a great improvement in the condition of Julian, who was permitted to pursue his studies at Nicomedia. Here he made the acquaintance of some of the most eminent rhetoricians of the time, and here it was that he became confirmed in his secret devotion to the pagan faith. But the downfall of Gallus (354) yet again exposed Julian to the greatest danger. By his rash and headstrong conduct Gallus had incurred the enmity of Constantius and the eunuchs, his confidential ministers, and was put to death. Julian fell under a like suspicion, and narrowly escaped the same fate. For some months he was confined at Milan, till at the intercession of the empress Eusebia, who always had a kindness for him, he was permitted to retire to Athens (355). The few months he spent here were probably the happiest of his life. Living at the ancient hearth of Grecian culture, and amid the companionship of congenial friends, he found his dearest ambition realized in the enthusiastic study of literature and philosophy.

But a member of the Roman imperial house could not thus be allowed to escape the public responsibilities con-nected with his birth. The emperor Constantius and he were now the sole surviving male members of the family of Constantine; and, as the emperor again felt himself oppressed by the cares of government, there was no alter-native but to call Julian to his assistance. At the instance of the empress he was summoned to Milan; and there from Constantius, who had been chiefly concerned in the murder of his family, he received the hand of Helena, sister of the emperor, as also the title of Csesar and the government of Gaul. It was with extreme reluctance that Julian entered on his new dignities. Accustomed to a life of quiet study and retirement, he felt timid and awkward in the world of ceremony, suspicion, and intrigue to which he was now introduced. He knew well the danger to which he was exposed from the dark temper of the emperor and the arts of the eunuchs who were all-powerful at the court.

A task of extreme difficulty also awaited him beyond the Alps. During recent troubles the Alemanni and other German tribes had crossed the Rhine; they had burned Cologne, Treves, Strasburg, and many other flourishing cities, and extended their ravages far into the interior of Gaul. The internal government of the province had also fallen into great confusion. In spite of his inexperience, and by virtue of his native energy and ability, Julian quickly brought affairs into order. He completely over-threw the Alemanni in the great battle of Strasburg (357). The Frankish tribes which had settled on the western bank of the lower Rhine were reduced to submission. Five times in all he crossed the river to overawe the restless tribes beyond. In Gaul he rebuilt the cities which had been laid waste, re-established the administration on a just and secure footing, and as far as possible lightened the taxes, which weighed so heavily on the poor provincials. Paris was the usual residence of Julian during his govern-ment of Gaul, and his name has become inseparably associated with the early history of the city.

The position and reputation of Julian were now estab-lished. He was general of a victorious army enthusiasti-cally attached to him, and governor of a province which he had saved from ruin; but he had also become an object of fear and jealousy at the imperial court. It was accordingly resolved to weaken his power. A threatened invasion of the Persians was made an excuse for withdrawing some of the best legions from the Gallic army. Julian recognized the covert purpose of this, yet proceeded to fulfil the commands of the emperor. A sudden movement of the legions themselves decided otherwise. At Paris, on the night of the parting banquet, they forced their way into Julian's tent, and, proclaiming him emperor, offered him the alternative either of accepting the lofty title or of instant death. Julian accepted the empire, and sent an embassy with a deferential message to Constantius. The message being contemptuously disregarded, both sides p-epared for a decisive struggle. After a march of unexampled rapidity through the Black Forest and down the Danube, Julian reached Sirmium, and was on the way to Constantinople, when he received news of trie death of Constantius at Mompsocrene in Cilicia (361). Without further trouble Julian found himself everywhere acknow-ledged the sole ruler of the Roman empire.

Julian had already made a public avowal of paganism, of which he had been a secret adherent from the age of twenty. It was no ordinary profession, but the expression of a strong and even enthusiastic conviction; the restora-tion of the pagan worship was to be the great aim and controlling principle of his, government. His reign was too short to show what precise form the pagan revival might ultimately have taken, how far his feelings might have become embittered by his conflict with the Christian faith, whether persecution, violence, and civil war might not have taken the place of the moral suasion which was the method he originally affected. He issued an edict of universal toleration; but in many respects he used his imperial influence unfairly to advance the work of restora-tion. In order to deprive the Christians of the advantages of culture, and discredit them as an ignorant sect, he forbade them to teach rhetoric. The symbols of paganism and of the imperial dignity were so artfully interwoven on the standards of the legions that they could not pay the usual homage to the emperor without seeming to offer worship to the gods; and, when the soldiers came forward to receive the customary donative, they were required to throw a handful of incense on the altar. Without directly exclud-ing Christians from the high offices of state, he held that the worshippers of the gods ought to have the preference. In short, though there was no direct persecution, he exerted much more than a moral pressure to restore the power and prestige of the old faith.

Having spent the winter of 361-2 at Constantinople, Julian proceeded to Antioch to prepare for his great expedition against Persia. His stay there was a curious episode in his life. Strange to say, it is doubtful whether his pagan convictions or his ascetic life, after the fashion of an antique philosopher, gave most offence to the so-called Christians of the dissolute city. They soon grew heartily tired of each other, and Julian took up his winter quarters at Tarsus, from which in early spring he marched against Persia. At the head of a powerful and well-appointed army he advanced through Mesopotamia and Assyria as far as Ctesiphon, near which he crossed the Tigris, in face of a Persian army which he defeated. Misled by the treacher-ous advice of a Persian nobleman, he desisted from the siege of that great city, and set out to seek the main army of the enemy under King Sapor. After a long and useless march into the interior he was forced to retreat, when he found himself enveloped and harassed by the whole Persian army, in a waterless and desolate country, and at the hottest season of the year. The Romans repulsed the enemy in many an obstinate battle. In one of these, however, on the 26th of June 363, Julian, who was ever in the front, was mortally wounded. The same night he died in his tent. In the most authentic historian of his reign, Ammianus Marcellinus, we find a noble speech, which, like Socrates in the prison, he is said to have addressed to his afflicted officers. Jovianus was chosen emperor by the army, which was extricated from its perilous situation only by a very disadvantageous treaty.

From Julian's unique position as the last champion of a dying polytheism, his character has ever excited interest and been the subject of debate. Authors such as Gregory of Nazianzus have heaped the fiercest anathemas upon him ; but a just and sympathetic criticism, like Neander's, has found many noble qualities in his character and ample excuse for his leanings to a philosophic paganism. In his childhood he had seen his nearest kinsmen massacred by the heads of the new Christian state; till the age of twenty-five he held his life on sufferance, and passed it in obscurity under the most rigid and suspicious surveillance. The only sympathetic friends he met were among the heathen rhetoricians and philosophers; and he found a suitable outlet for his restless and inquiring mind only in the studies of ancient Greece. In this way he was attracted to the old paganism; but it was a paganism idealized by the philosophy of the time, and still further purified by the moral influence of the Christianity which it rejected.

In other respects Julian was no unworthy successor of the Antonines. Though brought up in a studious and pedantic solitude, he was no sooner called to the government of Gaul than he displayed all the energy, the hardihood, and the practical sagacity of an old Roman. In temperance, self-control, and zeal for the public good, as he understood it, he was unsurpassed. To these Roman qualities he added the culture, literary instincts, and speculative curiosity of a Greek. One of the most remarkable features of his public life was the perfect ease and mastery with which he associated the cares of war and statesmanship with the assiduous cultivation of literature and philosophy. Yet even his devotion to culture was not free from pedantry and dilettantism. His contemporaries observed in him a want of naturalness. He had not the moral health or the composed and reticent manhood of a Roman, or the un-self-conscious spontaneity of a Greek. He could never be at rest; he never could hold his tongue ; in the rapid torrent of his conversation he was apt to run himself out of breath ; his manner was jerky and spasmodic. He showed quite a deferential regard for the sophists and rhetoricians of the time, and advanced them to high offices of state; there was real cause for fear that he would introduce the govern-ment of pedants in the Roman empire. Last of all, his. love for the old philosophy was sadly disfigured by his devotion to the old superstitions, and in this respect he little pleased the taste of a judge like Gibbon. He was greatly given to divination; he was noted for the number of his sacrificial victims. Wits applied to him the joke that had been passed on Marcus Aurelius: " The white cattle to Marcus Caesar, greeting. If you conquer, there is an end of us."

Julian wrote several works, including—(1) Letters, eighty-three of which are preserved in the edition of Heyler, Mainz, 1828 (most of these are addressed to men of letters); (2) Orations, nine in num-ber ; (8) Ktu'o-apes ^ ~S,v(aritnov, a satirical composition, in which the dead Caisars appear at a banquet prepared in the heavens, and have to endure the caustic wit of old Silenus ; (4) 'Avriox'Kbs % Mio-owci-yav, Sijeu ct1 esprit on the inhabitants of Antioch, in which also his own person and mode of life are jocularly handled. The most important of his works, the Ka-ra Xpio-Tiav&v, has been lost, except the fragments preserved in the refutation by Cyril, latest edition by Neumann, 1881. The best edition of his entire works used to be that of Spanheim, Leipsic, 1696 ; the most recent is that of Hertlein in the Teubner series, Leipsic, vol. i. in 1875.

Of the primary sources for Julian's life and character the most important are his own works; the trustworthy and impartial historian of the period, Ammianus Marcellinus, v. 8-xxv.; the letters and orations of Julian's much esteemed friend Libanius; and the orations of his severest critic, Gregory of Nazianzus. The impression which Julian's career produced on the Christians of the East iü reflected in two Syriac romances published by J. G. E. Hoffmann {Julianas der | Abtrünnige, Leyden. 1880). Compare Nöldeke, in Z. D. M. G., 1874, vol. xxviii., p. 203 sq., 666 sq. Modern authorities are—Gibbon's Decline and Fall ; Neander, Der Kaiser Julian und sein Zeitalter, Leipsic, 1813, English translation by G. V. Cox; D. F. Strauss, Dur Romantiker auf dem Throne der Cäsaren oder Julian der Abtrünnig _ (Gesain. Schriften, vol. i., Bonn, 1876); Semisch, Juliander Abtrünnige; Rode, Geschichte der Reaction K. Julians gegen die christliche Kirche; H. Adrien NaviUe, Julien VApostat, Paris, 1877 ; and the Hulsean essay for 1876, by G. II, Kendall. (T. K.)







Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries