Julian, 77

Chapter XV

On 6 January, the Galileans celebrate something called the feast of the Epiphany. It is the day the Galilean is supposed to have been baptized. Suspecting my dislike of the Galileans, Nebridius announced to the city that I would attend the feast of the Epiphany at the Vienne charnel house, a brand-new basilica paid for by Helena’s numerous gifts to the bishops. I was furious but dared not show it. I am sorry to say Oribasius was amused at my predicament.

Grimly, I did what I had to do. I spent two hours meditating on the thighbone of some villain who had been eaten by lions at Rome, while the bishop delivered a considerable sermon at me, praying that I would throw the weight of my majesty against the enemy Arians. He even turned political by suggesting that as Constantius was Arian and I possibly Athanasian, the line might then be drawn between us in all things, and the side of “truth” (also the side of the majority, he added pointedly) would prevail, supporting my throne like columns, I believe was his metaphor, or it may have been holy caryatids. When it came time to pray, my words were addressed to the Galilean but my heart spoke to Zeus.

The winter was a time of waiting. I was now ready to march. All that I needed was a sign from heaven. Though the prefect at Rome would not allow my emissaries to consult the Sibylline books, a friendly priest of the old order was able to look at a part of that book which describes our period. According to his secret report, I would indeed be the next emperor. My reign would be stormy but long. That is all I ask for: time. Time to make an old world young again, to make winter spring, to free the One God from the triple monster of the atheists. Give me twenty years, O Helios, and I will fill the earth with praise for your light, and illuminate the dark windings of Hades’ kingdom! Even as Persephone returned to Demeter, so shall our time’s living-dead return to your arms, which are light, which is life, which is all! […]

* * *

“What do you want?” Oribasius had divined my mood, as he so often does.

“To restore the gods.”

“But if they are real and do exist…”

“They are real! There is no ‘if’! They do exist!” I was fierce. His laughter stopped me. “Then they exist. But if they exist, they are always present, and so there’s no need to ‘restore’ them.”

“But we must worship what God tells us to.”

“So the Christians say.”

“Ah, but theirs is a false god, and I mean to destroy them.” Oribasius stiffened at the word “destroy”. “Kill them?”

“No. I shall not allow them the pleasure of martyrdom. Besides, at the rate they kill one another, it would be gratuitous for me to intervene. No, I shall fight them with reason and example. I shall reopen the temples and reorganize the priesthood. We shall put Hellenism on such a footing that people will choose it of their own free will.”

“I wonder.” Oribasius was thoughtful. “They are rich, well organized. Most important, they educate the children.”

“We shall do the same!” I was thinking as I spoke; I had no plan. “Even better, we could take the schools away from them.”

“If you could…”

“The Emperor can.”

“It might work. Otherwise…”


“You would have to reign as a bloody tyrant and even then you’d lose.”

“I am not so pessimistic.” But Oribasius had put an idea into my head, one which will save us all. Curiously enough, though we had often spoken of what it would be like when I became emperor, none of us had ever really considered in much detail what form the contest between Hellenism and the Galileans would take. We agreed that when I could I would publicly repudiate the Nazarene, but none of us had thought what the reaction might be, particularly from the common people of whom perhaps half are Galilean. Only the army is truly religious. The men worship Mithras. There are few Galileans in the ranks, though a third of the officers believe in the triple monster.

We talked until it was morning. Just as the sun appeared over the world’s edge, like an omen, Dagalaif returned to camp with Count Lucillianus as prisoner. […]

* * *

On the night of 20 November I was working late. Lamps filled with cheap oil smoked abominably. The three night secretaries sat at a long table, mountains of parchment stacked in front of them. At a separate table I was writing a letter to my uncle Julian, trying to reassure him—and myself—that victory was certain. I had just finished the letter with one of those postscripts which even old friends say they cannot decipher, when I heard footsteps quickly approaching. Without ceremony the door flew open. The clerks and I leapt to our feet. One never knows if assassins are at hand. But it was Oribasius, out of breath, a letter in his hand.

“It’s happened!” he gasped. Then he did something he had never done before. He dropped on his knees before me, and offered me the letter. “This is for you… Augustus.”

I read the first line. Then the words blurred together and I could read no more. “Constantius is dead.” As I said those extraordinary words, the clerks one by one fell to their knees. Then, as in a dream, the room began to fill with people.

All knew what had happened. All paid me silent homage for I had, miraculously, with the stopping of one man’s breath, become sole Augustus, Emperor of Rome, Lord of the world. To my astonishment, I wept.

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Julian, 76

Priscus: We were besieged for a month. A number of our deserters had gone over to the Germans and reported on our weakness. Encouraged by this, and excited at the thought of capturing a Roman Caesar, King Chnodomar marched on Sens. It was a difficult time and we owed our lives, finally, to Julian’s energy and intelligence. Though he could not make us cheerful or even confident, he at least kept us dutiful and modestly hopeful.

That night the call to arms was sounded. Men rushed to their posts on the battlements. The Germans could be seen less than half a mile away, illuminated by burning farmhouses. It had been the neighing of farm horses that had disturbed our after-dinner conversation. Had the Germans been quieter, they might have taken the city. Fortunately for us, every last one of them was drunk.

During the next few days, Julian’s mood changed from almost boisterous excitement to grim rage. He was positive that he had been deliberately abandoned. This suspicion was confirmed when a messenger arrived from Rheims to say that Marcellus would not come to our aid; he pleaded weakness. He also insisted that Julian had sufficient men to repulse the Germans.

Our rations were nearly gone when the Germans departed as suddenly as they had arrived. Long sieges bored them. Julian immediately sent to Vienne for supplies. He then recalled all his troops to Sens and the remainder of the winter was passed, if not in comfort, at least without fear of sudden annihilation. Julian also wrote Constantius a full account of Marcellus’s refusal to come to his aid. It was a splendid document. I know; Sallust and I helped to write it. So splendid was it, in fact, that unlike most state papers this one had an effect. Marcellus was recalled to Milan and after a short interval Julian finally got what he wanted, the command of the armies of Gaul.


______ 卐 ______


Editor’s note:

To date I have been copying and pasting the entire novel by Gore Vidal, on Sundays, until chapter XI. The idea was obviously to invite the visitor to acquire a hard copy of the novel.

Julian’s quote on this day is the last one following that custom. From now on I will only cite those passages of Julian that have made an impression on me, omitting the others.

Published in: on September 22, 2019 at 8:56 am  Comments Off on Julian, 76  

Julian, 75

The Alexamenos graffito (also known as the graffito blasfemo, or blasphemous graffito) is a piece of Roman graffiti scratched in plaster on the wall of a room near the Palatine Hill in Rome, which has now been removed and is in the Palatine Hill Museum. It may be the earliest surviving depiction of Jesus and, if so, competes with an engraved gem as the earliest known pictorial representation of the Crucifixion of Jesus. It is hard to date, but has been estimated to have been made around 200 C.E. The image seems to show a young man worshipping a crucified, donkey-headed figure. The Greek inscription approximately translates to ‘Alexamenos worships [his] god’, indicating that the graffito was apparently meant to mock a Christian named Alexamenos.


______ 卐 ______


While we were talking amiably, I heard far off the uneasy neighing of horses, but thought nothing of it. Then Oribasius mentioned those Hebrew books which the Galileans refer to as the old testament. This was a favourite subject with me. So much so that I forgot Helena was in the room. “I admire the Jews because of their devotion to a single god. I also admire them because of their self-discipline. But I deplore the way they interpret their god. He is supposed to be universal, but he is interested only in them…”

“Christ,” said my wife suddenly, “was sent by God to all of us.” There was an embarrassed silence.

“The issue,” I said finally, with great gentleness, “is just that: would the One God intervene in such a way?”

“We believe that He did.”

The room was now completely still save for the far-off sound of horses. My companions were on edge.

“Yet is it not written in the so-called gospel of John, that ‘out of Galilee arises no prophet’?”

“God is God, not a prophet,” said Helena.

“But the idea of the Nazarene’s mission, in his own words, is taken from the old testament, which is Jewish, which says that a prophet—a messiah—will one day come to the Jews, but not God himself.”

“That is a difficulty,” she admitted.

“In fact,” and I was stupidly blunt, “there is almost no connection between what the Galileans believe and what the Nazarene preached. More to the point, I see nothing in the Jewish text that would allow for such a monstrosity as the triple god. The Jews were monotheists. The Galileans are atheists.”

I had gone too far. Helena rose, bowed, and withdrew, accompanied by her ladies.

My companions were alarmed. Priscus spoke first. “What a gift you have, Caesar, for making the difficult impossible!”

The others agreed. I asked their forgiveness. “Anyway,” I said, not believing my own words, “we can trust Helena.”

“I hope so.” Sallust was gloomy.

“One must be true to what is true,” I said, wishing as I so often do that I had held my tongue.

There was a sudden shouting in the streets. We all sprang to our feet. We had hardly got to the door when an officer arrived to report that Sens was being attacked. Elsewhere I describe what happened and I shall not repeat it here.

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Julian, 74

Julian Augustus

After the victories described, I went into winter quarters at a pleasant town called Sens whose particular virtue was that it kept me at a proper distance from Florentius at Vienne and Marcellus at Rheims.

During those months Helena kept much to herself. She had several ladies with her from the court at Milan and I think that she was reasonably content, though she was not in good health: because of her age, the birth had been a difficult one. I was always ill at ease with Helena. I could hardly forget that she was the sister of my enemy. For a long time I was uncertain to which of us she was loyal. I do know that she kept up a considerable correspondence with her brother (since destroyed; by whom? very mysterious); as a result, I was careful to say nothing in her presence which might make Constantius suspicious. This self-restraint was a considerable burden for me.

Only once did Helena reveal that she had some idea of what was in my mind and heart. It was in December. We had dined frugally in my office, which was easier to heat than the state apartments. Several braziers gave forth sufficient heat—at least for me; Priscus used to complain bitterly of my meanness in this regard. Helena sat with her ladies at the opposite end of the room, listening to one of the women sing Greek songs, while Oribasius, Sallust, Priscus and I reclined on couches at the other end of the room.

We spoke idly at first, as one does after supper. We touched on the military situation. It was not good. Despite my victory at Cologne, Florentius had left me with only two legions. The rest of my army had been recalled to Rheims and Vienne. I was in the same position I had been my first winter at Vienne, a prince with no principality. Only now I carried a larger burden. But as the old saying goes, “A pack-saddle is put on an ox; that is surely no burden for me.” It was my task not only to hold Sens but to protect the neighbouring villages from the German tribes who were, even in the dead of winter, moving restlessly from town to town, burning and pillaging. In fact, Chnodomar himself had sworn that he would hang me before the spring thaw. To garrison the near-by towns, I was obliged to give up two-thirds of the soldiers under my command. Added to this, we were faced with an unusual number of desertions, especially among the Italian soldiers.

“Any man who deserts should be executed,” said Sallust, “publicly, before the legions.”

“It is remarkably difficult, General,” said Priscus in his sly way, “to execute a deserter. First, you must catch him.”

“The only solution,” I said, “is victory. If we are successful, the men will be loyal. There are few deserters in a winning army.”

“But we are neither winning nor an army,” said Priscus with unpleasant accuracy.

“Which is exactly what the Emperor wants.” Oribasius spoke too loudly. I silenced him with a gesture. Helena had heard this but she made no sign.

“I am sure the divine Emperor, my cousin and colleague, is eager for us to succeed in driving the Germans from Gaul.” Actually, I had received no word from Constantius since taking up residence at Sens. I assumed that he was angry with me for not returning to Vienne.

Then Priscus asked me to read from the panegyric I was writing on Eusebia. I sent for a notary, who brought me the manuscript. I read a few pages, not liking it at all. The work was rough. I said so.

“Probably,” said the wicked Priscus, “because it is nearly sincere.”

The others laughed. At Vienne I had written a lengthy panegyric of Constantius which—if I say so myself—was a masterpiece, carefully ordered and beautifully composed. The art of panegyric does not necessarily exclude honesty, though one’s true feelings are perfectly irrelevant to the final composition, which is artifice, not truth. Even Constantius realized that I had created something marvellous and wrote me a letter in his own hand, filled with misspellings and errors of syntax. I then tried to write a panegyric on Eusebia, and found it difficult; no doubt, as Priscus suggested, because of my true regard for the subject. Also, I was honour bound not to reveal to what extent she had saved my life. This was limiting.

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Julian, 73

Julian Augustus

At Rheims I reviewed the legions as they marched through the city gates, all of us sweating in the hot August sun. It was a lowering day, humid and ill-omened. As I stood on the platform outside the city gate, gnats whirring about my head and sweat trickling down my face, a message from Vienne was handed to me. It was a brief note from Florentius. My wife had been delivered of a boy who had died shortly afterwards. She was in good health. That was all.

It is an odd thing to be the father of a son and the grieving father of a dead son, all in the same instant. I handed the letter to Sallust. Then I turned back to the legions who were marching rhythmically now in Pyrrhic measure to the sound of pipes.

Priscus: The midwife cut too short the child’s umbilical cord. We later learned that she had been paid to do this by the Empress Eusebia. Yet I never heard Julian refer to Eusebia in any but the most glowing terms. It is sad how tangled the relations among princes become… What a ridiculous statement! We are all in the habit of censuring the great, as if we were popular playwrights, when in fact ordinary folk are quite as devious and as wilful and as desperate to survive (if not to prevail) as are the great; particularly philosophers.

Julian skips the rest of that year’s campaign with a note that a section from his earlier book will be inserted. That will be your task. Personally, I find his book on the Gallic wars almost as boring as Julius Caesar’s. I say “almost” because a description of something one has lived through can never be entirely dull. But descriptions of battles soon pall. I would suggest—although you have not asked for my literary advice—that you keep the military inserts to a minimum.

Julian’s autumn campaign was a success. He fought a set battle at Brumath which strategists regard as a model of brilliant warfare. I wouldn’t know. At the time I thought it confusing, but it opened the road to Cologne. That part of the world, by the way, is quite lovely, especially a spot called the Confluence, where obviously—two rivers join, the Moselle and the Rhine, at a town called Remagen—ours; just past Remagen is an old Roman tower which commands the countryside. Not far from Remagen is Cologne, which to everyone’s amazement Julian regained, after a brief battle.

We remained at Cologne all of September. Julian was in excellent form. Several of the Frankish chiefs paid him court and he both charmed and awed them, a rare gift which he apparently shared, if one is to trust Cicero, with Julius Caesar.

A light note of no consequence: Oribasius bet me one gold piece that Constantius would take revenge on Julian for lying to Marcellus. I bet him that he would not. I won the gold piece. We then spent the winter at Sens, a depressing provincial town north of Vienne. It was nearly the last winter for all of us.

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Julian, 72


On 22 June I left Vienne at the head of an army of twelve thousand men—cuirassiers, crossbowmen and infantry. The whole town came out to see us off. Florentius radiated irony, while Marcellus could hardly disguise his amusement. I am sure that they thought this was the last they would see of me. Helena bade me farewell with stoic dignity. She was the essence of a Roman matron, quite prepared for me to return upon my shield.

It was a sunny day as we rode out of the city. On my right was Sallust and on my left Oribasius. Directly in front of me a standard-bearer carried a hideously lifelike image of Constantius, crowned and wearing the imperial robe. My cousin had recently sent me this effigy, with a long set of instructions on how I was to show it off. He also reminded me that I had not been sent to Gaul as monarch but as a representative of the Emperor whose principal task was to display the imperial robe and image to the people. Despite this small humiliation, I was in high spirits as we took to the road.

We arrived at Autun 26 June. On that same day I defeated the Germans and set the city free. Note to secretary: At this point insert relevant chapter from my book, The Gallic Wars. It should be that section which covers the campaign from Autun to Auxerre to Troyes to Rheims, where I passed the month of August.

Priscus: As Julian described, Sallust on his right, Oribasius on his left, and myself just behind.

His official account of the campaign is generally accurate. From Julius Caesar on, commanders tend to give themselves the best of it in their memoirs, but Julian was usually honest. Of course he tended not to mention his mistakes.

He does not tell how he lost the better part of a legion through carelessness: he sent them through a forest where he had been warned that there were Germans… and there were Germans. But in general, Julian was a cautious commander. He seldom committed a man unless he was certain that the odds were in his favour. Or so the experts assure us. I know practically nothing of military matters, even though I served with Julian both in Gaul and Persia. I was not of course a soldier, though I did fight from time to time, with no pleasure. I experienced none of that blood lust he referred to some pages back, a rather surprising admission because in conversation Julian never once admitted to a liking for war.

Sallust took care of all details. He was most capable and in every way an admirable man. Too admirable, perhaps? One often had the feeling that he was playing a part (usually that of Marcus Aurelius); he was invariably demure and diffident and modest and sensible, all those things the world believes it admires. Which is the point. Less self-conscious men invariably have traits we do not admire. The good and the bad are all mixed together. Sallust was all good. That must have taken intense self- discipline as well as the awareness that he was indeed trying to be something he was not. But no matter what his motives, he was impressive, and a good influence on Julian.

Julian lifted the siege at Autun. He then marched north to Auxerre. He rested there a few days. He always took every possible opportunity to refresh his troops, unlike so many generals who drive them past their strength. From Auxerre we moved to Troyes. This was a difficult journey. We were continually harassed by Germans. They are a frightening-looking people, tall and muscular, with long hair dyed bright red, a tribal custom. They dress pretty much like us, wearing armour pilfered from Roman corpses. In open country, they are easily vanquished, but in forests they are dangerous.

At Troyes we spent several hours outside the walls trying to explain to the frightened garrison that we were not Germans and that this was indeed the Caesar. Finally Julian himself, with that “hideously lifelike” image of Constantius beside him, ordered the people to open the gates.

We stayed at Troyes a day. Then we moved on to Rheims. Julian had previously agreed with Florentius that the main army of Gaul would be concentrated there in August, preparatory to retaking Cologne. So Marcellus was already at Rheims when we got there. Shortly after we arrived, a military council was called. Weary from the long ride and longing for the baths, I accompanied Julian and Sallust to the meeting.

Marcellus was hardly pleased to find Julian so obviously thriving on military life. When Julian inquired if the troops were ready, he was told that they were not. When would they be ready? Evasion. Finally: a major offensive was not possible this year.

Then Julian rose and lied with the genius of a Ulysses. I could hardly believe my ears. He spoke first in sorrow. “I had hoped to find all of you here eager and ready to fight the tribes. Instead, I find nothing is planned and we are on the defensive, as usual.” Marcellus began to mutter dangerously but Julian was in full flow. You know what he was like when the spirit (often identified as Helios) was upon him.

“I was sent here, General, by the divine Emperor to show his image to the barbarians. I was also sent here to recover the cities you have lost. I was sent here to drive the savages back to their forests beyond the Rhine. I have sworn as Caesar to conquer them or to die.”

“But Caesar, we…” That was all Marcellus was allowed to say. As Julian talked through him, he withdrew a document from his tunic. It was the booklet on etiquette that Constantius had given him. “Do you see this, General? All of you?” Julian waved it like a standard in the air. No one could tell what it was exactly, but the imperial seal was perfectly visible.

“It is from the divine Emperor. It is to me. It arrived by special messenger at Autun. It contains orders. We are to regain Cologne. Those are his commands and we are his slaves. We have no choice but to obey.”

There was consternation on Marcellus’s side of the council table. No one had heard of these instructions for the excellent reason that they did not exist. But the bold lie worked largely because Marcellus was a true politician in the sense that he could not admit that there was anything which he ought to know that in fact he did not know. He gave Julian the army.

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Julian, 71

In May the plan to strike directly at Strasburg was submitted by Sallust and me to Florentius and his general, Marcellus. It was promptly dismissed. We argued. We begged. We promised victory. But they would not listen.

“We are not yet ready to commit the army to a major battle. This is not the time.” As Marcellus was provincial commander-in-chief, I was forced to obey.

“At what time,” I asked, looking about the council chamber (we were in the prefect’s palace), “will we be able to obey the Emperor and drive the Germans out of Gaul?”

Florentius was suave. His manner to me, although still condescending, was more cautious than before. Obviously, I was not to fall without careful effort on his part.

“May I propose to the Caesar a compromise?” Florentius played with a delicate purse of deerskin, containing his god, gold. “We have not the men for a major campaign. Until the Emperor sends reinforcements, which he is not apt to do this year since he is already committed on the Danube, we must confine ourselves to holding what we have, and to regaining what we can, without too much risk.”

Florentius clapped his hands, and a secretary who was squatting against a wall sprang to his feet. Florentius was most imperial in his ways, but then, praetorian prefects are important men. At this time Florentius governed Morocco, Spain, Gaul and Britain. The secretary held up a map of Gaul.

Florentius pointed to a town called Autun, just north of us. “We have received news that the town is besieged.” I almost asked why I had not been told before, but I held my tongue. “Now if the Caesar chooses, he might-with General Sallust”—Florentius addressed a small crooked smile at Sallust, whose face remained politely attentive—“relieve Autun. It is an old city. The walls were once impregnable but they are now in considerable disrepair, like nearly all our defences, I’m afraid. There is not much of a garrison but the townspeople are valiant.”

I told him quickly that nothing would please me more. I would go immediately to the relief of Autun.

“Of course,” said Florentius, “it will take several weeks to equip your troops, to assemble supplies, to…”

“One good thing,” Marcellus interrupted, “you won’t have to worry about siege engines. Even if the Germans capture the city before you get there, they won’t occupy it. They never do.”

“But what about Cologne and Strasbourg?”

“Destroyed,” said Marcellus, with almost as much pleasure as if he personally had done the destroying. “But not occupied. The Germans are frightened of cities. They won’t stay in one overnight.”

“Their custom,” said Florentius, “is to occupy the countryside around a city and starve the inhabitants. When the city finally capitulates, they burn it and move on.”

“How many troops will I be allowed?”

“We are not certain just yet. There are other… contingencies.” Florentius shifted from hand to hand the purse of gold. “But in a few weeks we shall know and then the Caesar may begin his first… Gallic war.” This jibe was crude but I had learned not to show offence.

“Then see to it, Prefect,” I said, as royally as possible, and accompanied by Sallust I left the palace.

As we walked through the city streets to my villa, not even the memory of Florentius’s contempt could shatter the delight I took in the thought of action. “Just one successful campaign and Constantius will give me the whole army!”

“Perhaps.” Sallust was thoughtful. We crossed the square, where carts from the countryside were gathering with the first of the season’s produce. Two guards followed me at a discreet distance. Though I was Caesar, the townspeople were by now quite used to seeing me wander alone in the streets and where before they had done me frightened obeisance, they now greeted me—respectfully of course—as a neighbour.

“Only….” Sallust stopped.

“Only if I have too great a victory, Constantius will see to it that I never command an army again.”


I shrugged. “I must take my chances. Besides, after the Danube, Constantius will have to face the Persians. He’ll have no choice except to trust me. There’s no one else. If I can hold Gaul, then he must let me.”

“But suppose he does not go against Persia? Suppose he moves against you?”

“Suppose I am struck dead by… that cart?” And we both leaped to the side of the road as a bullock-cart rumbled past us while its driver loudly cursed it and us and the gods who had made him late for market. “It will be all right, Sallust,” I said as we approached the villa. “I have had signs.”

Sallust accepted this, for he knew that I was under the special protection of Hermes, who is the swift intelligence of the universe.

Published in: on July 14, 2019 at 11:58 am  Comments Off on Julian, 71  

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)  

Julian, 69

Julian Augustus

It is not easy to understand the Gauls. Their ways are strange to us, despite their many years as Roman subjects. I think they are the handsomest of the world’s people. Both men and women are tall and fair-skinned, often with blue eyes and blond hair. They are forever washing their clothes and bodies. One can go from one end of the province to the other without seeing a man or woman in soiled or ragged clothes. Laundry hangs drying beside every hovel, no matter how poor.

But despite their beauty, they are remarkably quarrelsome. Both men and women speak with curiously loud voices, braying their vowels and sounding hard their consonants. Whenever I gave justice, I used to be deafened by the rival lawyers and claimants, all bellowing like wounded bulls.

They boast that in a fight one Gaul is worth ten Italians. I’m afraid this is true.

They love battle. They have both the strength and heart for it. And their women love fighting, too. It is not at all unusual for a Gaul in the heat of battle to call to his wife to aid him. When she does, his strength increases tenfold. With my own eyes I have seen Gallic women attack the enemy, teeth gnashing, necks corded with veins, large white arms revolving like the cross-piece of a windmill, while their feet kick like shots discharged by catapult. They are formidable.

The Gallic men take pride in military service, unlike the Italians, who think nothing of cutting off their own thumbs to thwart the state’s recruiting officers. Gauls, however, delight in blood-letting, and they would be the greatest of all soldiers but for two reasons: they do not take well to military discipline, and they are drunks. At the most inconvenient moments a commander of Gallic troops is apt to find his soldiers mad with drink, under the excuse that such and such a day is holy and must be marked with a little wine or one of those powerful drinks they brew from grain and vegetables.

I shall not describe my campaigns in Gaul, for I have already published an account of them which flatterers declare is the equal of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries. I will say that I put more care into writing about the Gallic wars than I did in fighting them! But I shall record some of the things which I could not reveal at the time.

Published in: on June 30, 2019 at 12:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Julian, 68

Constantius never meant me to take actual command of the province. I was to be a ceremonial figure, reminding the Gauls by my presence that Constantius had committed, if not a full army, at least his flesh and blood to the task of rallying a frightened people to the defence of the province. Florentius wielded all actual power. He was in direct charge of the army at Vienne and his personal courier service held together the various legions scattered about Gaul. Most of them, incidentally, were trapped in fortresses, for the Germans had laid siege to every sizeable town and military installation from the Rhine to the North Sea.

Only last year, in going through Constantius’s secret archives—a fascinating if at times depressing experience, rather like hearing what people say behind one’s back—I came across his instructions to Florentius. Now that I have read them I am more tolerant of the prefect; he was merely carrying out orders. Constantius wrote—I am paraphrasing, for the documents are all at Constantinople that this “dearly beloved kinsman the Caesar Julian” was to be looked upon as a cadet in the art of war and as a novice in the business of government. Florentius was to be that pupil’s dedicated tutor, to instruct, edify and guard him against evil companions and wrong judgments. In other words, I was to be put to school. Military matters were to be kept from me. I was to be watched for signs of ambitio, as the Romans say, a word no other language has devised, meaning that sort of worldly ambition which is injurious to the balance of the state.

My first year in Gaul did teach me a good deal, not only in the art of war but also in the arts of concealment and patience. I became a second Ulysses, hiding my time. I was not allowed to attend the military council. But from time to time I was briefed on the general military situation. I was not encouraged by what I was told. Though the army of Gaul was considerable, Florentius had no intention of committing it in battle.

We did nothing. Fortunately our enemy Chnodomar did nothing either; his promised offensive never materialized. He declared himself quite pleased to control the Rhine and our largest cities. I was eager to engage him, but I did not command a single soldier, excepting my doughty Italian bodyguard. I was also in need of money. My salary as Caesar was supposed to be paid by the quarter, but the Count of the Sacred Largesse was always late in making payments. I lived entirely on credit my first year in Gaul, and credit was not easily come by when there were daily rumours that I was in disfavour and might be recalled at any moment. I was also irritated to discover that the villa where I lived was not the palace of the Caesar but a sort of guest-house where official visitors were housed. The city palace was on the Rhone; and here Florentius and his considerable court were richly housed. He lived like the Caesar, I lived like a poor relation. But there were compensations. I had Oribasius with me, as well as Priscus, who arrived in March from Athens.

Priscus: I should add a bit to Julian’s account of his relations with Florentius. The praetorian prefect was avaricious but capable. More to the point, he was following the Emperor’s instructions to the letter. I always thought Julian was unduly bitter about him. Of course, on several public occasions the prefect humiliated him. I remember one military review when there was no place for Julian on the dais. So the Caesar was forced to watch “his” troops from the crowd, surrounded by old women selling sausages. That was probably Florentius’s revenge for Julian’s behaviour at their first meeting.

To Constantius’s credit… why is one always trying to find good things to say about the bad? Is it our uneasy knowledge that their version of us would be precisely the same as ours of them, from another viewpoint and a conflicting interest? In any case, Constantius was perfectly correct in not allowing a youth with no military or administrative experience to take over the direction of a difficult war which older and supposedly wiser soldiers had nearly lost. No one could have known then that Julian was a military genius, except possibly himself. I almost find myself believing in that Helios of his when I contemplate his Gallic victories.

But at this time he lived much as a student in the villa next to the city wall. His “court”, as it had to be termed, was no more than a hundred people, counting slaves. We dined meagrely. There was never enough wine. But the conversation was good. Oribasius kept us all amused as well as healthy. He was, even then, compiling remedies from every witch he could find, and trying them out on us. Eutherius was also an amiable companion.

I note with some amusement that though Julian mentions specifically my joining him at Vienne, he says nothing of the far more important person who arrived at the new year: his wife Helena. I was not present when she came to Vienne but I am told that she arrived with a luxurious suite of hairdressers, seamstresses, cooks, eunuchs, and wagon-loads of fine clothes and jewels. I don’t think she ever got over the shock of that cold depressing villa. But Julian was always very kind to her, though somewhat absent-minded. He would start to leave table without her, or openly make plans for a visit to a near by town and then forget to include her in the arrangements. I think she liked him a good deal more than he liked her. Not that he disliked her; rather, he was profoundly indifferent. I doubt if he performed his conjugal duties often. Even so, she was twice pregnant in the four years they were married.

My chief memory of Helena is her valiant attempts not to look bored when Julian was talking excitedly about those things which interested him and mystified her. Fortunately, she had learned the royal art of yawning without opening the mouth; but if one watched her very carefully, whenever there was talk of Plato or lamblichos or you, my dear Libanius (great triad!), one could see her nostrils dilate suspiciously from time to time. I am certain that we literally bored Helena to death.

Libanius: I cannot imagine anyone finding it remarkable that Julian should speak of Plato, Iamblichos and myself as being of a quality. But one can always trust Priscus to be envious. “Great triad!” indeed! Simply because he has failed as a philosopher and a teacher, he would like to bring down all his contemporaries to his own level. Well, he will fail in that, too.

Published in: on June 16, 2019 at 9:08 am  Comments Off on Julian, 68