The Emperor Julian 1

A little while back, I mentioned the Roman Emperor Julian in passing. He was the Emperor who tried to restore paganism as the state religion of the Roman Empire, after Constantine had legalized Christianity. He was actually quite an interesting historical figure, so I thought I would write a little more about him.

IMPERATOR - imperator DOMINVS·NOSTER - our lor...
Julian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Julian was born Flavius Claudius Julianus in May or June ofA.D. 331 or 332. His father was Julius Constantius, the half-brother of the Emperor Constantine I and his mother was named Basilina. Both parents were Christians so Julian was raised as a Christian. When Constantine died in 337, his three surviving sons; Constantius II, Constantine II, and Constans divided the Roman Empire among them. (Evidently Constantine was not too original in naming his children.) Constantius II got the wealthier eastern half of the empire while the other two brothers each received a share of the western half. The three brothers then slaughtered every remaining member of their family who could possibly have a claim to the throne. Only Julian and his half-brother Gallus were spared because of their youth.

Julian grew up in the province of Bithynia under the care of his maternal grandmother and was taught by Eusebius, the Bishop of Nicomedia and a eunuch named Mardonius. He had a Christian education and had a thorough knowledge of the Bible, which he used later in life to attack the Christian faith. He was also educated in the old Greek and Roman classics. Meanwhile his cousins fell out among themselves and began to quarrel over their inheritance. Constans and Constantine II fought a war in which Constantine was killed in 340. Constans turned out to be a cruel ruler and was killed by the usurper Magnentius in 350. Julian lived an uncertain life, sometimes exiled to one of the imperial estates, sometimes summoned to play a role at court.

It may be the savage behavior of Julian’s cousins that turned him against Christianity. He may have decided that if that was the way Christian rulers acted, he wanted no part of it. His continuing studies in philosophy probably also played a role in his conversion to paganism. He began to study Neoplatonism in 351. In 355 he moved to Athens, which had become something of a university town, to continue his studies in philosophy. While he was in Athens, he was initiated into the Eleusinian Mystery cult. Julian would probably been happy spending the rest of his life in Athens, studying and teaching, but that was not to be his fate.

In 351, Constantius made Julian’s brother Gallus Caesar over the Eastern Empire, while he marched west to deal with Magnentius. In the late Roman Empire, “Caesar” was a title given to a junior Emperor while “Augustus” referred to the senior Emperor. Gallus was corrupt and brutal so when Constantius finished his business in the west he had Gallus arrested and executed. In 355, Constantius  summoned Julian to Mediolanum (modern Milan) which had become the western capital of the Empire and made him Caesar over the West, charging Julan with the task of driving out the German tribes which were raiding into Gaul. Over the next three years, Julian revealed an unexpected talent for military affairs. His soldiers were victorious in nearly every battle with the Germans and not only did he drive them back across the Rhein, but he even invaded Germany and compelled several kingdoms to submit to Roman authority. His soldiers adored him and hailed Julian as the new Julius Caesar.

Constantius II
Constantius II

Back east, Constantius was not happy.  He had been having difficulties with the Sassanid Persians and Julian’s successes made him look bad in comparison. Constantius also knew that over successful generals had a way of becoming Emperors. In 360, he sent orders west for half of Julian’s forces to be transferred east for the war with Persian. Julian’s troops did not want to leave Gaul so they proclaimed him Augustus. It is not known to what extent this was something Julian wanted, but he must have realized that he had no choice but to go ahead and allow himself to be made Emperor. Constantius would never have believed that it wasn’t Julian’s idea so he had to either fight or die.

Julian marched with his army east while Constantius left Constantinople to meet Julian in battle. Fortunately, the Roman Empire was spared yet another civil war. In November 361, Constantius died of natural causes. In his will, he declared Julian to be sole Augustus or Emperor. Julian quickly traveled to Constantinople to be made Emperor.

This post is longer than I had expected so I will cut it in half. I will post the rest of the story of the Emperor Julian tomorrow.

%d bloggers like this: