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.


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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.

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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.

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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  

Julian, 67

The next morning we continued our journey. The weather in the mountains was not yet cold, nor was there any snow except on the highest slopes. Even the soldiers, a remarkably complaining lot of Galileans, admitted that God must be with us. He should have been: they prayed incessantly. It was all they were good for.

When we crossed into Gaul, an interesting thing happened. All up and down our route my coming had been excitedly reported, for I was the first legitimate Caesar to be seen in Gaul in many years. I say “legitimate” because Gaul, traditionally, is the place for usurpers. There had been three in a decade. Each had worn the purple. Each had minted coinage. Each had accepted the oath of fealty. Each had been struck down by Constantius or fate. Now a true Caesar was at last in Gaul, and the people took heart.

Early one evening we entered our first Gallic village, set high in the mountains. The villagers were gathered along the main street to cheer me. As decoration, they had tied many wreaths of fir and pine between the houses on either side of the road. As Hemes is my witness, one of the wreaths broke loose and fell upon my head, where it fitted as close as a crown. I came to a dead halt, not certain what had happened. My first reaction was that I had been struck by a branch. Then I raised my hand and felt the wreath. The villagers were wide-eyed. Even my slovenly troops were impressed. Eutherius who was beside me murmured, “Even the gods mean for you to be crowned.”

I did not answer him, nor did I remove the wreath. Pretending that nothing had happened, I continued through the village while the inhabitants cheered me with a new intensity.

Oribasius said, “By tomorrow everyone in Gaul will know of this.”

I nodded. “And by the next day Constantius will know.” But even this thought could not depress me. I was now in a fine mood, reflecting the brilliant winter day, not to mention the love the gods had shown me.

My passage through the Gallic towns was triumphal. The weather held until we arrived at the gates of Vienne. Then black clouds rolled out of the north and a sharp wind blew. One could smell snow upon the air. Bundled in cloaks, we crossed the winterblack Rhone and entered the city at about the third hour. Cold as it was, the streets were crowded and once again there was the remarkable response. I could not understand it. Constantius inspired awe and fear, but I seemed only to evoke love… I do not mention this out of vanity but only as a puzzling fact. For all these people knew, I might be another Gallus. Yet there they were, cheering me as though I had won some important battle or increased the supply of grain. It was inexplicable but exhilarating.

Just as I came opposite the temple of Augustus and Livia, an old blind woman was thrust forward by the crowd. She fell against my horse. Guards pushed her back; she fell again. “Help her,” I ordered.

They got her to her feet. In a loud voice she asked, “Who is this?” Someone shouted, “It is the Caesar Julian!” Then she raised her blind eyes to heaven and in the voice of a Pythoness proclaimed, “He will restore the temples of the gods!” Startled, I spurred my horse through the crowd, her words still ringing in my ears.

I met Florentius in the main hall of the palace, which was to be my residence, though “palace” was hardly the word for this not very large villa. Florentius received me courteously. Yes, he received me, rather than the other way around, and he made it perfectly clear from the beginning that this was his province, not mine, even though I was Caesar and he merely praetorian prefect.

“Welcome to Gaul, Caesar,” he said. as we saluted one another. He had not thought it worth while to call in the city’s magistrates or, for that matter, any officials. Several military men attended him, and that was all. Oribasius was my only attendant.

“A warm welcome for a cold season, Prefect,” I said. “The people at least seem pleased that I have come.” I stressed the “at least”.

All of us are pleased that Augustus has seen fit to elevate you and to send you to us as a sign of his interest in the matter of Gaul.” Florentius was a small swarthy man with sharp features. I particularly recall his sinewy forearms, which were black with hairs, more like a monkey’s than a man’s.

“Augustus will indeed be pleased to learn that you approve his actions,” I said dryly. Then I walked past him to where the room’s single chair was placed on a small dais. I sat down. I could see this had some effect. The military men exchanged glances. Florentius, however, was imperturbable, even though I was sitting in his chair.

“Present the officers, Prefect.” I was as cool as my disposition ever allows me to be.

Florentius did so. The first officer was Marcellus, chief of staff of the army of Gaul. He saluted me perfunctorily. The next officer was Nevitta, a powerfully built Frank, blue-eyed, loud-voiced, a remarkable commander who serves with me now in Persia. But that day in Vienne, he treated me with such obvious disdain that I realized I would have to respond in kind, or lose all pretence of authority. Either I was Caesar or I was lost.

I turned to Florentius. I spoke carefully. “We are not so far from Milan that the respect due to the Caesar can be omitted. Field conditions do not prevail in a provincial capital, despite the reverses of our armies on the Rhine. Instruct your officers, Prefect, in their duty to us. Show them by your example what we are.” Constantius could not have done it better, and in truth I meant every word of this arrogant speech. I was convinced that I had come to Gaul to die, and I meant to die in the most honourable way possible, upholding to the end the great title that was mine.

Florentius looked astonished. The officers looked frightened. Oribasius was impressed… curious how much we enjoy those rare moments when we can by some public act impress an old friend.

In his confusion, Florentius took too long to react. So in careful imitation of Constantius, I raised my right arm and pointed with forefinger to the floor in front of me, and in a hard voice said, “We wear the purple.”

The military men with a clatter of armour dropped to their knees. Florentius, with a look of singular venom, followed suit. He kissed the robe. With that gesture, hostilities between us began. They were to continue for five years.

Published in: on June 9, 2019 at 10:24 am  Comments Off on Julian, 67  

Julian, 66



At Turin, as I received city officials in the law court, a messenger arrived from Florentius, the praetorian prefect of Gaul. The prefect thought that the Caesar should know that some weeks ago Cologne had fallen to the Germans, and the Rhine was theirs. The military situation was, Florentius wrote with what almost seemed satisfaction, grave. The German King Chnodomar had sworn to drive every Roman from Gaul within the year. This was the bad news Constantius had not told me.

While the reception continued, Oribasius and I withdrew to the prefect’s office to study the report. For some inexplicable reason the only bust to adorn the room was that of the Emperor Vitellius, a fat porker who reigned several months in the year of Nero’s death. Why Vitellius? Was the official a descendant? Did he admire the fat neck, the huge jowls of the man who was known as the greatest glutton of his day? To such irrelevances does the mind tend to fly in moments of panic. And I was panicky.

“Constantius sent me here to die. That’s why I was given no army.”

“But surely he doesn’t want to lose Gaul.”

“What does he care for Gaul? As long as he can have his court, his eunuchs, his bishops, what more does he need?” This was not accurate; in his way, Constantius was a patriot. But in my bitterness there was no stopping me. I denounced Constantius recklessly and furiously. I committed treason with every breath. When I had finished, Oribasius said, “The Emperor must have a plan. It can’t be that simple. What are those instructions he gave you?”

I had forgotten all about the packet I had been given on the road to Turin. It was still in my wallet. Eagerly, I undid the fastenings. I read quickly, with growing astonishment. “Etiquette!” I shouted finally, throwing the document across the room. “How to receive an ambassador. How to give a dinner party. There are even recipes!” Oribasius burst out laughing, but I was too far gone to find any humour in the situation.

“We’ll escape!” I said at last.

“Escape?” Oribasius looked at me as if I had gone mad.

“Yes, escape.” Curious… I never thought I would be able to write any of this. “We can desert together, you and I. It will be easy. Nothing but a piece of cloth to throw away.” I tugged at the purple that I wore. “Then we let our beards grow, and back to Athens. Philosophy for me, medicine for you.”

“No.” He said it flatly.

“Why not? Constantius will be glad to see the end of me.”

“But he won’t know it’s the end of you. He’ll think you have gone to plot against him, raise an army, become usurper.”

“But he won’t find me.”

Oribasius laughed. “How can you hide in Athens? Even with a new beard and student’s clothes, you are the same Julian everyone met a few months ago with Prohaeresius.”

“Then it won’t be Athens. I’ll find a city where I’m not known. Antioch. I can hide in Antioch. I’ll study with Libanius.”

“And do you think Libanius could hold his tongue? His vanity would betray you in a day.”


I shall say here that I never found Oribasius particularly sympathetic. Apparently, he felt the same about me. He is of course very famous nowadays (if he is still alive); but medical friends tell me that his seventy-volume encyclopedia of medicine is nothing but a vast plagiarism from Galen. After Julian’s death, he was exiled and went to the court of Persia, where I am told he is worshipped by the Persians as a god; he must have enjoyed this, for he was always vain. Also avaricious: he once charged me five gold solidi for a single treatment for gout. I could not walk for a month after.

Julian Augustus

“Then I shall find a city where no one has ever seen me or heard of me.”

“Farthest Thule. Wherever you go, officials will know who you are.”

Complete disguise? A new name?”

“You forget the secret agents. Besides, how will you live?”

“I can teach, become a tutor…”

“A slave.”

“If necessary, why not? In a proper household, a slave can be happy. I could teach the young men. I would have time to write, to lecture…”

“From the purple to a slave?” He said it with slow cold wonder.

“What do you think I am now?” I exploded. I raged. I lamented. When I finally stopped for lack of breath, Oribasius said, “You will continue into Gaul, Caesar. You will put down the German tribes, or die in the attempt.”


“Then be a slave, Julian.” It was the first time he had called me by my name since I had been raised to Caesar. Then he left me alone in the office, where I sat like a fool, mouth aiar, the hog-like face of Vitellius peering at me from above the doorway… even after three centuries in stone, he looked hungry.

I folded the letter into many squares, each smaller than the other. I thought hard. I prayed to Hermes. I went to the latticed windows and looked for the sun, my peculiar deity. I searched for a sign. At last it came. From the setting sun, light suddenly shone in my face. Yes, out of the west where Gaul was, Helios blazed darkgold in my eyes. I was to follow my god, and if death was what he required of me, then that would be my offering. If victory, then that would be our glory. Also, it was perfectly plain that I could not escape even if I wanted to. I had indeed been seized by purple death.

I returned to the citizens of Turin as though nothing had happened. As I received their homage, Oribasius looked at me questioningly. I winked. He was relieved.

Published in: on May 18, 2019 at 10:28 am  Comments (20)