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Julian The Apostate (Flavius Claudius Julianus)

See also Julian the Apostate

JULIAN THE APOSTATE (Flavius Claudius Julianus) (c. 331-63). Roman emperor who endeavored to restore pagan religion. Born in Constantinople, he was the son of Julius Constantius, brother of Constantine I. His mother, Baslina, died soon after his birth. In 337 all his family apart from a half-brother, Gallus, were murdered by soldiers to ensure undisputed succession of Constantine’s sons. Educated under Mardonius and Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia, in 341 he was sent with Gallus to Macellum, a remote castle in Cappadocia. Returning to Constantinople (347), he studied grammar and rhetoric until exiled again to Nicomedia, where, listening to Libanius the philosopher, he was awakened to the glories of classical Greece. Hitherto a Christian by conviction, now he was won over to the old gods; hence his nickname “the Apostate.”

When Gallus was executed (354), he escaped, thanks to the intercession of Empress Eusebia, and he was allowed to continue his studies in Athens. Trouble in Gaul forced Constantius to make him Caesar (355). He married Julian to his sister Helena and sent him to govern Gaul, where he achieved some notable military victories. Proclaimed Augustus by his troops (360) when Constantius died unexpectedly, he was everywhere acknowledged sole ruler (361).

Immediately Julian set about restoring the old religions. He issued an edict of universal toleration, swept away the court sycophants, became Pontifex Maximus in more than name, and ordered the restoration of the old cultus, reopening the temples and reviving the sacrifices. He even attempted to rebuild the Temple of the Jews at Jerusalem. At first tolerant of Christians—indeed, exiled Nicenes like Athanasius were permitted to return—later he began a persecuting policy. His efforts were doomed to failure, as he himself discovered at Antioch. The old religions were moribund, and his philosophic version of them never existed. The revival ended with his death on campaign in Persia.