Julian the Apostate

By misplacedgeneral

The short-lived Emperor Julian, named the Apostate for his religious beliefs, was a man of many faces. He was a philosopher and a warrior, the very incarnation of the Philosopher King spoken of by Plato. He was a man who was both wise and understanding, yet he also was stubborn and rash in his behavior. He was a man renown for his justice and fairness, yet was often roused to dangerous passion. His behavior separated him from the many cruel and malicious peoples of his time, and he thrilled to imitate those of old. Julian was born the son of Julius Constantius, half brother of Constantine I, and his wife Basilina in 331 AD. After his half-uncle's death in 337 AD, the young Julian was orphaned during Constantius II murders, in which Julian's father and mother were victims. Julian and his brother Gallus were tutored under order from Constantius II in the Arian form of Christianity. But it is known that during his early life, Julian gave up his Christian beliefs, and adopted the way of the old gods. In 340 AD, Constantine II, the ruler of the Western Empire, died, and Constantius II after a brief civil war with the usurper Magnetius, soon controlled the entire empire.

Julian's brother, Constantius Gallus, was made Caesar by Constantius in 351 Ad. During this time, Julian spent his time at school, where he continued to hide his religious beliefs and became schooled in the Stoic philosophy. His brother was executed in 354 for his cruelty, and in 355, Julian was made Caesar of the west. It was as Caesar of the west that the best of Julian's qualities were shown. The provinces of Gaul had for many years been pillaged and plundered at will by Germanic raiders, and the provincials suffered from heavy taxation, which they could not pay. Julian, before embarking against the Germans, relieved the people from their heavy taxes, and earned much praise for his just behavior. In the ensuing campaigns against the Germans, Julian showed himself immune to hardship, suffering all the toil that his soldiers suffered, and more.

Julian displayed his ability to play upon the soldiers pride as well as any Julius Caesar. As he neared a great host of enemies near Strasbourg, Julian issued orders to make camp for the night, claiming that his men were too tired to fight. Though in reality, it was because he worried about the soldiers' confidence. The men, wishing to show they could fight, "Begged him to lead them against an enemy who was already in sight". Julian, pleased with his successful ruse, led his men to battle and inflicted great slaughter on the enemy.

Despite his successes, Julian was a target at the court of Constantius II, yet, despite all that was said of him, he never responded in kind. In this way, he was much like Scipio Africanus, who though slandered in his age, never responded in a way demeaning of himself.

During this time, Julian's greatness reached such a height, and his men took him to heart so greatly, that he was proclaimed Emperor. Julian denied these proclamations, untilled he found himself threatened with abuse. Here he displayed his characteristic wisdom and boldness and taking those soldiers he had with him, marched against the Balkans. He went with such speed that he encountered no resistance. His efforts, though, were un-needed, for Constantius, marching back to confront him, died of natural causes.

As Emperor, Julian displayed his characteristic wisdom by demoting all the flatterers and slanderers of the court. He also took to trying cases of law, and displays his usual fairness as a judge, often giving punishments that were too lenient for the crime. As Emperor, he finally declared his belief in the old gods, and after this, his harmful qualities came to bear.

Julian made a public decree that Christians could not teach in schools, which Ammianus Marcellinus considers to be one of his worst actions as Emperor. He also displayed his belief in divination, which is exemplified by his words after being proclaimed Caesar, "Wrapped in death's purple, by all powerful fate". His excesses in sacrifice reached such a high degree that he began to resemble the Emperor Marcus, who was the subject of the epigram "Greetings to Marcus from the oxen white. We're done for if you win another fight". He also displayed an innate stubbornness, in which he refused to any who told him not to launch an expedition into Persia. Despite protests from his subordinates and bad omens, Julian continued with his planned attack into Persia.

It was here in his final act that his extreme impetuosity, his deadly rash behavior, reached its pinnacle. After suffering casualties at the city of Maozamalcha, Julian burned down the city and killed all inside it, regardless of sex or age. His rage knew no bounds, and all forts and prisoners taken were massacred in the very same way. And when Julian's men mutinied, he burned all the ships he had brought with him, stranding his men on the wrong side of the Tigris, forcing them to continue the campaign.

He soon met his death, though, riding bravely through the ranks during an ambush, without cuirass or helmet, he was struck by a javelin and died soon after, without leaving an heir to take up the throne.