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Roman Emperor - Julian

Updated on November 30, 2009
Image courtesy of CNG coins
Image courtesy of CNG coins

331 AD - 363 AD

Flavius Claudius Julianus, born around 331 A.D. in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) the youngest son of Julius Constantius and Basilina, and nephew of Constantine the Great. He was brought up a Christian but early in life became a convert to paganism. Often called Julian the Apostate, he was the last pagan emperor of Rome.

On the death of Constantine in 337, at the instigation of his three sons, a terrible massacre took place in which Julian and his elder half-brother, Gallus, alone escaped the fate of their relatives. Educated under strict supervision at Nicomedia until 344, he and his brother were removed to Macellum in Cappadocia. In early life he became greatly attached to Greek culture, secretly abandoning Christianity.

Julian and his half brother Gallus were reared in seclusion and given a thorough Christian education but the young Julian developed an interest in pagan philosophy and literature. He was permitted to study in various centres of learning, including Athens. After the execution of Gallus in 354 he was recalled to Constantinople and the following year was appointed Caesar by Constantius II, whose sister Helena he married.

Sent to Gaul in 355 A.D. where he successfully subdued the Alamanni and the Franks, he proved himself a tactical genius in military affairs and won the love and respect of the army. He was entrusted with the government of Gaul, and in 357 defeated the Alamanni at Strasbourg. He took up his residence in Lutetia (Paris), wisely administered the laws and relieved the people of some of the heavy taxes.

The emperor, becoming jealous of his increasing popularity, asked him to send troops to fight on the eastern frontier (Persia), his men mutinied and proclaimed Julian emperor. At first Julian tried to placate Constantius but eventually decided to face him in battle. However, before the two armies met, Constantius died and Julian became the undisputed sole emperor.

As emperor, Julian announced his conversion to paganism, which earned him the title Apostate. Although Julian renounced Christianity and attempted to restore the heathen religion, he did not persecute Christians. He now openly declared his apostasy, and proclaimed universal toleration within his realms: but he deprived the Church of its former privileges, and in the offices of state gave preference to pagans. His short reign is best remembered for his efforts to organise paganism as a worthy rival to Christianity. It is not known exactly when Julian renounced his Christian upbringing but certainly as soon as he became emperor he declared himself a pagan. He reinstituted pagan rituals, reopened the temples and encouraged animal sacrifice. He also attempted to reorganise the Sagan priesthood along Christian lines, Julian did not initially persecute the Christians but hoped that their own internal differences and the lack of imperial support would bring about their downfall, however, he later took sterner measures against them, expelling Christians from the army and prohibiting them from teaching.

Julian assembled the largest army ever known to attack Persia. He marched through Antioch into Mesopotamia and Assyria, until he reached the walls of Ctesiphon (363). He was misled by the treachery of a Persian nobleman who advised him to march inland to meet the forces of Shapur II. His men suffered from thirst and were overcome by the heat. The campaign was unsuccessful and in the retreat from the Persian capital of Ctesiphon he was killed. He was succeeded by Jovian.

His extant writings are The Caesars (a satire in Senecan vein on the Caesars), Misopogon, eight Orations (panegyrics on Constantius and the empress Eusebia, and comments on the philosophy of the Cynics) and a series of over 70 letters, though the authenticity of some is disputed. His treatise Against the Christians is lost.


  • New Age Encyclopaedia, Seventh Edition edited by D. A. Girling, Bay Books, 1983. Volume 16, Page 149.
  • The New International Illustrated Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, 1954. Page 509.
  • Dictionary of World History, 1993, Helicon Publishing. Page 324.
  • New Knowledge Library - Universal Reference Encyclopedia, Volume 15, Bay Books, 1981. Page 1424.
  • Merit Students Encyclopedia, Volume 10, P.F. Collier Inc, 1979. Page 250.


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    • Kmadhav profile image


      9 years ago from New delhi

      you recall my memory about Constantine and his family................


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