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Iuliānus, Flavius Claudius

A Roman emperor, popularly known as “ Julian the Apostate”


( ἀποστάτης). He was born at Constantinople in A.D. 331, the youngest son of Iulius Constantius, half-brother to Constantine the Great. On the death of Constantine there was a general massacre of the male members of the younger line of the Flavian family, and among those so put to death was Julian 's father, Julian being spared only on account of his extreme youth. He was reared under close and vexatious surveillance at Macellum in Cappadocia and at Nicomedia, and the treatment which he and his family had received from nominal Christians both embittered him and led him to reject Christianity, he being also won back to paganism by the teaching of his Neoplatonic master Maximus. In 355 he studied at Athens, among his fellow-students being the future bishops Basil and Gregory Nanzianzenus. In November of the same year Julian was summoned to Milan to assume the rank of Caesar. He married the emperor's sister Helena.

During the next five years he joined the army in Germania and defeated the Alemanni near Argentoratum (Strassburg), and also subdued the Franks along the Rhine, winning at the same time the affections of the people by his courage, mildness, and simplicity. In April, 360, the emperor, becoming alarmed at Julian 's popularity, ordered away some of his best troops, upon which his soldiers revolted, and proclaimed him as Augustus. Soon after, he sent forward the greater part of his army by way of Rhaetia and Noricum, and himself with a picked body of 3000 men plunged into the Black Forest, sailing down the Danube to Sirmium in Pannonia Inferior, which he had made the rendezvous of his forces. Here he heard of the death of the emperor (November 3, 361), and here he openly proclaimed himself a pagan, sacrificing to the old gods of Rome. Though he tolerated the Jewish and the Christian religions, he did all that lay in his power to cripple the spread of the latter. He confiscated the revenues of the churches, and ordered that those who had assisted in pulling down the heathen temples should rebuild them. This was the signal for a fearful reaction and persecution against the Christians in the provinces, where many were imprisoned, tormented, and even put to death. Julian restrained or punished some of these disorders, but with no very zealous hand. There was evidently a determined struggle throughout the Empire between the old and the new religion, and Julian wished for the triumph of the former. He forbade the Christians to read, or teach to others, the works of the ancient classic writers, saying that, as they rejected the gods, they ought not to avail themselves of the learning and genius of those who believed in them. He also forbade their filling any office, civil or military, and subjected them to other disabilities and humiliations.

In July, 362, he resolved upon war with the Persians, and spent some months at Antioch. Gibbon has given a powerful, though no doubt too highly coloured, picture of the emperor—awkward, shy, and unkempt, with ink-stained fingers, long nails, and vermin-infested beard—at whom the citizens of this luxurious capital sneered and aimed lampoons. Against them in reply he directed his satire Misopogon (Μισοπώγων, “beard-hater”), and gave them a rapacious governor.

It was during his residence at Antioch that Julian undertook to aim what he thought would prove a deadly blow to Christianity. An order was issued for rebuilding the great temple of Jerusalem. The Jews were invited from all the provinces of the Empire to assemble on the holy mountain of their fathers, and a bold attempt was thus made to falsify the language of prophecy and annul the decree which the Christians believed to have been pronounced by the Almighty against his once chosen, but now rejected, people. The accomplishment of this design was intrusted to Alypius, who had been governor of Britain, and every effort was made to insure its success as well on the part of the “imperial sophist” as on that of the Jews themselves. But the attempt was an unavailing one, and is said to have been signally and miraculously interrupted. Few historical facts, indeed, rest on more abundant testimony. The narratives of Gregory Nanzianzenus and of Rufinus are confirmed in the fullest manner by Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a heathen writer. “When Alypius,” observes Ammianus, “was plying the work vigorously, and the governor of the province was lending his aid, fearful globes of fire, bursting forth repeatedly from the earth close to the foundations, scorched the workmen, and rendered the place, after frequent trials on their part, quite inaccessible.” The Jewish rabbis, in their annals, attest the same fact; and even Gibbon, though in his solemnly sneering way he styles it a “splendid and specious miracle,” is obliged to treat the evidence with respect. See Newman, Essay on the Miracles in Early Ecclesiastical History (1842).

In March, 363, Julian set out on his expedition against the Persian king Sapor, and advanced upon Ctesiphon. Proceeding still farther, with a treacherous guide and under a burning sun, he was continually assailed by the Persian cavalry; and in one of their onslaughts the emperor was wounded by a spear-thrust in the side and fell from his horse, the blood spurting from the wound. Theodoretus relates that as he saw the ghastly injury the dying man exclaimed, “Thou hast conquered, Galilaean; yet still do I renounce thee!” He passed away at midnight of June 26, 363.

Julian 's life is one of much pathetic interest, and is a sad instance of noble views distorted and of powers misapplied, with failure as the inevitable result; for, as Beugnot says, it was an accident, after which events reverted to their natural channel. Christianity was scarcely checked for a single moment in its spread, and the ill-success of its imperial opponent only added to his prestige. Julian 's extant writings are as follows: seventeen Epistles; nine Orations; a satirical sketch called Caesares (Καίσαρες Συμπόσιον), in which the deified Romulus gives a banquet to the gods and, at a separate table, to the Caesars, who are made to pass in review before Silenus, who comments upon them; and finally, the Μισοπώγων already mentioned. His work against the Christians is now lost. It was answered by Apollinarius of Laodicea and others. To the reply of Apollinarius, Julian put forth this jeu de mots, Ἀνέγνων, ἔγνων, κατέγνων (“I have read it, understood it, and condemned it”). On this, St. Basil remarked, Ἀνέγνως ἀλλ̓ οὐκ ἔγνως: εἰ γὰρ ἔγνως οὐκ ἄν κατέγνως (“Thou hast read it, but hast not understood it; for hadst thou done so, thou wouldst not have condemned it”).

Of Julian 's works, a good edition is that of Hertlein (Leipzig, 1875). See also Neander, Kaiser Julian und sein Zeitalter (1813; Eng. trans. 1850); De Broglie, L'Église et l'Empire Romain, vols. iii. and iv. (1856-69); Mücke, Flavius Claudius Iulianus nach den Quellen (1867-69); and Rendall, The Emperor Julian, with an excellent bibliography (1879).

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