Julian, 70

The winter 355-356 was a painful one for me. I had no authority. I was ignored by the praetorian prefect. I had no duties, except to make an occasional progress through the countryside. Yet whenever I did show myself to the Gauls, I attracted large crowds. Even on the frostiest winter days, the people would come from miles around to look at me, and cheer me on. I was much moved even though I was aware that often as not they hailed me not as Julian Caesar but as Julius Caesar. Indeed, there was a legend among the peasants that the great Julius had once vowed that he would return from the grave to protect Gaul from its enemies; many thought the time had now come for the dead general to keep his promise, and that I was he.

Out of these progresses came several unexpected victories for us. One town, besieged by Germans, took heart at the presence of the Caesar, and the townspeople drove the enemy from their fields. Another town in Aquitania, defended only by old men, repulsed a German attack, shouting my name as war-cry and talisman of victory.

In Aquitania I fought my first “battle”. We were passing two abreast through a thick forest, when a band of Germans fell upon us. For a moment I was afraid my Italians would break and run. But they held their ground. That is all one needs when taken by surprise. In those first few minutes of attack an alert commander can rally his troops and strike back, if they hold fast initially.

Fortunately, we were at the forest’s edge. I ordered the men at the front to divert the Germans while the men at the rear got through the forest to the open plain. In a matter of minutes, our men were free of the woods. There were no casualties. Then, when we began to get the better of the Germans, they promptly fled: first one, then another, then several at a time.

Suddenly I heard myself shouting, “After them! Cut them off!” My troops obeyed. The Germans were now in full flight, back into the forest. “A silver piece for every German head!” I shouted. This bloodthirsty cry was taken up by my officers. It was the incentive needed. Roaring with excitement and greed, my troops fell upon the enemy. By the end of the day, a hundred German heads had been brought to me.

I have described this engagement not because it was of military importance—it was not—but because this was my first taste of battle. Unlike nearly all my predecessors (not to mention any conscientious patrician), I was quite without military experience. I had never even seen a man killed in battle. I had always preferred peace to war, study to action, life to death. Yet there I was shouting myself hoarse on the edge of a Gallic forest, with a small hill of bloody human heads in front of me. Was I sickened? or ashamed? Neither. I was excited in a way that men who choose to serve Aphrodite are excited by love. I still prefer philosophy to war, but nothing else. How I came to be like this is a mystery whose origin must be divine, determined by that fierce sun who is the genesis of all men and the protector of kings.

As we rode back to Vienne in the pale winter light, I trembled with an excitement that was close to joy, for I knew now that I would survive. Until that moment, I had not been certain of myself. For all that I knew, I might have been a coward or, worse, too paralysed by the confusion of the moment to make those swift decisions without which no battle was ever won. Yet when the shouting had begun and the blood flowed, I was exalted. I saw what had to be done with perfect clarity, and I did it.

This skirmish was not taken very seriously at Vienne. What was taken seriously, however, was the fact that Constantius had named me his fellow consul for the new year. It was his eighth consulship, my first. I was pleased, but only moderately. I have never understood why men so value this ancient title. The consul has no power (unless he also happens to be emperor), yet ambitious men will spend a fortune to be admitted to consular rank. Of course, one’s name will be known for ever, since all dates are figured by consulates. Even so, I am not much drawn to any form which has lost its meaning. Yet at my investiture, Florentius was almost civil, which was something gained. In a private meeting, he told me, “We plan an offensive in the late spring. You will, if you choose, take part.”

“As commander?”

“Caesar commands all of Gaul.”

“Caesar is most sensible of his high place. But am I to lead the armies? Am I to plan the war?”

“You will be our guide in all things, Caesar.” He was evasive. Clearly, he was not about to give up control of the province. But a beginning was made. The wall was breached. Now it was up to me to exploit this small change for the better.

When Florentius had departed, I sent for Sallust, my military adviser. He had been assigned to me when I first arrived in Gaul and I am forever in Constantius’s debt for having brought the two of us together. Sallust is both Roman soldier and Greek philosopher. What higher compliment can I give him? When we met, Sallust was in his late forties. He is tall, slow of speech but swift of mind; he comes of an ancient Roman family and like so many Romans of the aristocracy he has never wavered in his allegiance to the true gods. A close friend of such distinguished Hellenists as Symmachus and Praetextatus, he published some years ago a classic defence of our religion, On the Gods and the World. As Maximus is my guide to mysteries and Libanius my model for literary style, so Sallust remains my ideal of what a man should be.

Sallust was as pleased as I by the news. Together we studied a map of Gaul, and decided that the best move would be to strike directly at Strasbourg. This large city not only commanded a considerable part of the Rhine; it was also being used as a centre of operations by King Chnodomar. Its recapture would greatly strengthen us and weaken the enemy.

“There is a lesson in this,” said Sallust suddenly.

“In what?”

“Why are the Germans in Gaul?”

“Plunder. Desire for more territory. Why do the barbarian tribes ever move from place to place?”

“They are in Gaul because Constantius invited the tribes to help him against Magnentius. They helped him. And then they remained in Gaul.”

The point was well taken. One must never appeal for help to barbarians. Engage them as mercenaries, bribe them if that is the only way to keep the peace, but never allow a tribe to move into Roman territory for eventually they will attempt to seize what is Roman for themselves.

Even as Sallust and I were talking, Constantius was on the Danube, fighting two rebel tribes he had once allowed to settle there. Sallust then told me that there was conclusive evidence that Florentius was dealing secretly with certain of the German chiefs. Some he paid on the sly to remain where they were; others paid him not to disturb their present holdings. Carefully Sallust and I constructed our case against Florentius.

Published in: on July 7, 2019 at 12:50 pm  Comments (4)  

4 Comments

  1. “never allow a tribe to move into Roman territory for eventually they will attempt to seize what is Roman for themselves.”

    Apparently this lesson was forgotten long ago by many. Look at any Western nation and you can see it in action.

  2. The 1970’s BBC TV series “I, Claudius” was mentioned in an earlier thread. I highly recommend its first season to ones below 40 years age. Not only for its great depiction of Roman life at its height, but to see how different TV was made back then when the average western IQ was over 100.

    • I disagree a hundred percent.

      The script of that series subscribes the character assassination of both Nero and Caligula: stories concocted by Semitic Christians in times when they invented the lies about pre-Christian Roman emperors that continue to poison our culture.

      Perhaps you haven’t read the masthead of this site?

      • Apologies, I have been diverting some threads with historical interest rather than the lessons from the history.

        “I, Claudius” is a visual aid to the series you’ve been posting on “Julian” which is beautifully written. I watched “I,Claudius” on VHS some 13 years ago, I remember been surprised by the injection of some christian conversion themes in the story, and the last few episodes are degenerate and perverse, although it is showing the decline of Rome….


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