Julian, 40

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Julian Augustus

At the beginning of February we arrived at Como, a town on a lake about thirty miles north of Milan. Here I remained a prisoner for six months. I was allowed to see no one except the servants who had come with me. Letters from Oribasius and Maximus were not delivered. I might as well have been dead. I consoled myself with reading the complete works of Pliny the Younger, who had lived at Como. I remember with what loathing I read his famous description of “darling Como”. I hated the place, including the blue-green lake.

During this time I had no idea what was happening in the outside world, which was probably just as well for I was the subject of fierce debate in the Sacred Consistory. According to Eusebius: “He is another Gallus. He must be put to death.” A majority of the Consistory agreed with the Chamberlain. Surprisingly enough, the opposition was led by the Empress Eusebia. Though she was not a member of the Consistory, she was able to make her views known. “Julian has committed no crime. His loyalty has never been seriously questioned. He is the last surviving male member of the imperial house. Until such time as we provide the Emperor with a son, Julian is heir to the principate. But should Julian be executed and should the Emperor then—heaven forbid—die without issue, the house of Constantine is at an end and there will be chaos in the empire.”

Eusebia finally prevailed. But it took her six months of argument, during which time Constantius said not a word. He merely listened and brooded and waited.

At the beginning of June a court chamberlain arrived at Como. “The most noble Julian is to wait upon the divine Empress Eusebia.” I was startled: the Empress, not the Emperor? I tried to question the chamberlain but he would say no more than that I was to be given a private audience; no, he could not tell me if the Emperor would receive me; no, he was not even certain that the Emperor was at Milan; he revelled in being uninformative.

We entered Milan through a door in one of the watchtowers. In complete secrecy, I was hurried through narrow back streets to a side entrance of the palace. Once inside the palace I was met by chamberlains who took me straight to the apartment of the Empress.

Eusebia was handsomer than her portraits. The eyes and mouth, which appeared so severe when rendered in marble, in life were not severe at all, merely sad. A flame-coloured robe set off her pale face and black hair. She was not much older than I.

“We are pleased to receive our cousin, the most noble Julian,” she murmured formally. She motioned to one of her ladies-in-waiting, who came forward with a folding stool and placed it beside the Empress’s silver chair.

“We hope our cousin enjoyed his stay at Lake Como.”

“The lake is very beautiful, Augusta.” At a gesture from her, I sat on the stool.

“Yes. The Emperor and I enjoy the lake.”

For what seemed an eternity, we discussed that wretched lake. All the while she was studying me carefully. And I must say I was studying her. Eusebia was Constantius’s second wife. His first wife had been Galla, the half-sister of Gallus. Galla had the same mother as Gallus, who had the same father as I, but I never knew her, and I don’t think Gallus ever met his sister more than once or twice. When Galla died, Constantius promptly married Eusebia. It was said that he had always been in love with her. She came from an excellent consular family. She was a popular figure at court, and on more than one occasion she had saved innocent men from Constantius’s eunuchs.

“We have been told that you are planning to become a priest.”

“I was at a monastery, when I was… told to come to Milan.” I started to stammer as I often do when I am nervous. The letter “m” gives me particular trouble.

“But do you seriously want to be a priest?”

“I don’t know. I prefer philosophy, I think. I would like to live at Athens.”

“You have no interest in politics?” She smiled as she said this, knowing what my answer must necessarily be.

“No! None, Augusta.”

“Yet you have certain responsibilities to the state. You are imperial.”

“The Augustus needs no help from me.”

“That is not quite true.” She clapped her hands and the two ladies-in-waiting withdrew, closing cedar doors softly behind them.

“Nothing is secret in a palace,” she said. “One is never alone.”

“Aren’t we alone now?”

Eusebia clapped her hands again. Two eunuchs appeared from behind pillars at the opposite end of the room. She waved them away.

“They can hear but they cannot speak. A precaution. But then there are others listening whom one knows nothing about.”

“The secret agents?”

She nodded. “Everything we say to one another in this room they can hear.”

“But where…?”

She smiled at my bewilderment. “Who knows where? But one knows they are always present.”

“They even spy on you?”

“Especially on the Empress.” She was serene. “It has always been like this in palaces. So remember to speak… carefully.”

“Or not at all!”

She laughed. I found myself relaxing somewhat. I almost trusted her. She became serious. “The Emperor has given me permission to talk to you. He was reluctant. I don’t need to tell you that since the Gallus affair he has felt himself entirely surrounded by traitors. He trusts no one.”

“But I…”

“He trusts you least of all.” This was blunt. But I was grateful for her candour. “Against his own good judgment, he raised your brother up. Within months, Gallus and Constantia were plotting to usurp the throne.”

“Are you so certain?”

“We have proof.”

“I am told that secret agents often invent ‘proof’.”

She shrugged. “In this case it was not necessary. Constantia was indiscreet. I never trusted her. But that is over with. You are now the potential threat.”

“Easily solved,” I said with more bitterness than I intended. “Execute me.”

“There are those who advise this.” She was as much to the point as I. “But I am not one. As you know, as the whole world knows, Constantius cannot have a child.” Her face set bleakly. “I have been assured by my confessor that this is heaven’s judgment upon my husband for having caused the deaths of so many members of his own family. Not that he wasn’t justified,” she added loyally. “But justified or not, there is a curse on those who kill their own kind, That curse is on Constantius. He has no heir and I am certain that he will never have one, if he puts you to death.”

There it was at last. My sense of relief was enormous, and perfectly visible in my face.

“Yes. You are safe. For the time being. But there still remains the problem of what to do with you. We had hoped you would take holy orders.”

“If it is required, I shall.” Yes, I said that. I am giving as honest an account as I can of my life. At that moment, I would have worshipped the ears of a mule to save my life.

But Eusebia was not insistent. “Your love of learning also seems genuine.” She smiled. “Oh, we know whom you see, what books you read. There is very little that has escaped the attention of the Chamberlain’s office.”

“Then they know that it is my wish to be a philosopher.”

“Yes. And I believe that the Emperor will grant you your wish.”

“I shall be eternally grateful, and loyal. He has nothing to fear from me, ever…” I babbled on enthusiastically.

Eusebia watched me, amused. Then when I ran out of breath, she said: “Gallus made him much the same speech.”

On that dampening note she rose, ending the interview. “I shall try to arrange an interview for you with the Emperor. It won’t be easy. He is shy.” At the time I found this hard to believe, but of course Eusebia was right. Constantius feared all human encounters. One of the reasons he was so fond of eunuchs was that, by and large, they are not quite human.

Published in: on September 16, 2018 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Julian, 39

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
On 1 January 355 a warrant was issued for my arrest. But by then I had joined a religious order at Nicomedia. I am sure that at first none of the monks knew who I was, for I had come to them with head shaved and I looked like any other novice, Oribasius also protected me. When the imperial messenger arrived at Pergamon to arrest me, Oribasius said that I had gone to Constantinople.

I was a monk for six weeks. I found the life surprisingly pleasant. I enjoyed the austerity and the mild physical labour. The monks themselves were not very inspiring. I suppose some must have had the religious sense but the majority were simply vagrants who had tired of the road and its discomforts. They treated the monastery as though it were some sort of hostel rather than a place to serve the One God. Yet they were easy to get along with, and had it not been for the Galilean rituals I could have been quite happy.

I don’t suppose I shall ever know how I was discovered. Perhaps one of the monks recognized me or perhaps the secret agents in checking the rolls of the various monasteries for new arrivals had grown suspicious. No matter how it was done, it was done swiftly and efficiently. I was in the kitchen of the monastery, helping the baker to fire his oven, when a detachment of household troops came clattering in. Their commander saluted me. “The most noble Julian is to accompany us to Milan, by order of the Augustus.”

I made no protest. The monks stared in silence as I was taken from them and marched through the cold streets of Nicomedia to the imperial palace. Here I was received by the city prefect. He was nervous. Under similar circumstances five years earlier, Gallus had been ordered to Milan and he had been made Caesar of the East. The same fate might befall me. It was hard for an official to know how to behave.

“Naturally, we regret these security precautions.” The prefect indicated the guards. “But you will understand that the Grand Chamberlain’s office was, as always, most specific. No details were omitted.”

I was polite and non-committal. I was also somewhat cheered to learn that my military escort was to be commanded by Victor, the same officer I had met at Macellum.

Victor was apologetic. “I don’t enjoy this duty. I hope you realize that.”

“Neither do I.”

Victor frowned. “I particularly dislike taking a priest from a monastery.”

“I am not exactly a priest.”

“Even so, you were prepared to take orders. No one has the right to keep a man from God, not even the Emperor.” Victor is a devout Galilean; at that time he was convinced that I was also one. I said nothing to disabuse him.

The next day we set out for Constantinople. Though I was treated like a prince, not a prisoner, I took it as a bad omen that we were to follow the same overland route to Italy that Gallus had taken a few months before.

As we were leaving Nicomedia, I noticed a head on a pike. I hardly glanced at it, since there is almost always the head of some felon or other on display at the main gate of every town.

“I am sorry,” said Victor suddenly. “But we were ordered to use this gate.”

“Sorry for what?”

“To lead you past your brother’s head.”

“Gallus?” I turned clear round in my saddle and looked again at the head. The face had been so mutilated that the features were unrecognizable, but there was no mistaking the blond hair, matted though it was with dirt and blood.

“The Emperor has had it displayed in every city in the East.” I shut my eyes, on the verge of nausea.

“Your brother had many good qualities,” said Victor. “It was a pity.” Ever since, I have respected Victor. In those days when secret agents were everywhere and no man was safe, it took courage to say something good of a man executed for treason. Victor was equally outspoken in my defence. It was his view that the two charges made against me by the Grand Chamberlain’s office were not serious (that I had left Macellum without permission; that I had met Gallus in Constantinople when he was already accused of treason). Of the first charge I was innocent. The Grand Chamberlain himself had written Bishop George, giving me permission to go wherever I chose in the East. I had wisely kept a copy of this letter. As for the second charge, I had been summoned to Constantinople by the then reigning Caesar of the East. How could I refuse my lawful lord? “You have nothing to fear,” said Victor. But I was not optimistic.

Since I was travelling as a prince, I was greeted at each city by the local dignitaries. Concerned as I was about my own fate, I was still able to take some pleasure in seeing new things. I was particularly pleased when Victor allowed me to visit Ilios, a modern city near the ruins of ancient Troy.

At Ilios I was taken round by the local bishop. At first my heart sank: a Galilean bishop was the last sort of person who would be interested in showing me the temples of the true gods. But to my surprise, Bishop Pegasius was an ardent Hellenist. In fact, he was the one who was surprised when I asked him if we might visit the temples of Hector and Achilles.

“But of course. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. But I am surprised that you are interested in old monuments.”

“I am a child of Homer.”

“So is every educated man. But we are also Christians. Your piety is well known to us even here.” I could not be sure if he was being ironic or not. My friendship with Maximus was general knowledge and a good many Galileans were suspicious of me. On the other hand, my arrest in a monastery had given rise to a whole new legend: the priest-prince. In this role, I explained to the bishop that it was merely as a student of Homer that I wanted to see the famous temples our ancestors had built to those gods (false gods!) and heroes who had fought in this haunted place.

Pegasius took me first to the small temple which contains the famous bronze statue of Hector, said to be done from life. In the unroofed courtyard which surrounds the temple there also stands a colossal statue of Achilles, facing Hector in effigy as in life. To my astonishment, the altars in the courtyard were smouldering with sacrifice, while the statue of Hector shone from a recent anointing.

I turned to the Bishop. “What do these fires mean? Do the people still worship Hector?”

Pegasius was bland. “Of course they do. After all, it would be unnatural not to worship our brave men in the same way that we worship the martyrs who also lived here.”

“I’m not sure it is the same thing,” I said primly.

“Well, at least we have managed to preserve many beautiful works of art.” Then Pegasius proceeded to show me the temples of Athena and Achilles, both in perfect repair. I noted too, that whenever he passed the image of an old god, he did not hiss and make the sign of the cross the way most Galileans do, fearing contamination.

Pegasius proved to be a marvellous guide to Troy. I was particularly moved when he showed me the sarcophagus of Achilles. “There he lies, the fierce Achilles.” He tapped the ancient marble. “A hero and a giant—actually, a giant. Some years ago we opened the tomb and found the bones of a man seven feet tall, and where his heel had been there was the head of an arrow.”

It was awesome to be so close to the legendary past. Pegasius could see that I was impressed. Despite all efforts to the contrary, I am transparent as water. “Those were great days,” he said softly.

“They will come again,” I blurted out.

“I pray that you are right,” said the bishop of Ilios. Today this same Pegasius is my high priest of Cappadocia. He was never a Galilean though he pretended to be one, thinking that by rising to a position of importance among that depraved sect he would be able to preserve the temples of our ancestors. Now he revels in his freedom.

Priscus: And now he revels in life at the Persian court, where, according to gossip, he is a convert to Persian sun worship. Julian took up with the oddest people.

Published in: on August 26, 2018 at 9:11 am  Comments Off on Julian, 39  
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Julian, 38

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Julian Augustus

In the late autumn of 354 I learned of the sudden death of Constantia. I wrote Gallus a letter of condolence which was not answered. He was already having his difficulties at Antioch, where Constantius had earlier sent him a messenger who rudely ordered him to return to Milan. Gallus, quite rightly, refused to go. He knew what his fate would be. Instead he sent Constantia to the Emperor, hoping that she might make peace between them. But when she died of a fever in Bithynia, he knew that he must either obey Constantius or begin a civil war. Tricked by the eunuchs who assured him that he would be safe in Milan, Gallus set out for the West. On the way he sent me a message, ordering me to meet him at Constantinople. I obeyed.
 

Libanius:

It is fascinating to observe how a man with Julian’s objectivity and passion for truth can so blandly protect his brother’s memory. Not one word about the murders of Montius and Domitian, nor any mention of the treason trials. I suspect Julian is more interested in constructing his case against Constantius than he is in telling what actually happened… a human failing.
 

Julian Augustus

I met Gallus at the back of the imperial box in the Hippodrome. The box is actually a two-storey pavilion connected by a long corridor to the Sacred Palace. On the first floor there are rooms for musicians and minor functionaries; the second floor contains a suite of rooms used by the imperial family.

The horse races were going on when I arrived. Through the curtains which covered the door to the box, I could hear the crowd cheering its favourite drivers. Suddenly Gallus flung aside the curtain.

“Stay there,” he said. He let the curtain fall. He was pale. His hands shook. His voice was low, his manner furtive. “Now listen to me. I know what people are saying: that I shall never return from Milan alive. But don’t believe them. I am still Caesar.” He gestured at the curtain. “You should have heard the way the crowd cheered me just now. They are with me. Also, I have an army waiting in Serbia, Theban troops who are loyal. Everything has been carefully planned. When they join me, I shall be ready to deal with Constantius.” But his face revealed the uncertainty his words tried to dispel.

“You will go into rebellion?”

“I hope not. I hope for a truce. But who can tell? Now I wanted to see you to tell you that if anything should happen to me, go into a monastery. Take holy orders if you have to. That’s the only way you will be safe. Then…” He looked suddenly quite lost. “Avenge me.”

“But I am sure that the Emperor…” I started to gabble, but I was interrupted by a stout red-faced man who saluted me cheerfully. “Most noble Julian, I am Count Lucillianus, attached to the Caesar as his…”

“Jailer!” Gallus grinned like a wolf.

“The Caesar enjoys making fun of me.” He turned to Gallus. “The crowd is waiting for you to give the victor’s crown to Thorax. He just won the chariot race.”

Gallus turned abruptly and drew aside the curtain. For an instant he stood silhouetted against dazzling blue sky. The mob behind him sounded like a storm at sea.

“Isn’t the most noble Julian joining us” asked Lucillianus, aware that I had instinctively stepped back from the harsh light and sudden sound.

“No!” said Gallus. “He is to be a priest.” Then he let the curtain fall behind him; and that was that.

* * *

The rest of the story is well known. Gallus and his “jailers” took the overland route through Illyria. All troops were moved from the garrisons along the route, and Gallus could call on no one to support him. At Hadrianopolis, the Theban legions were indeed waiting, but Gallus was nor allowed to see them. He was now a prisoner in all but name. Then in Austria, he was arrested by the infamous Count Barbatio, who had been until recently the commander of his own guard.

Gallus was imprisoned at Histria; here his trial was held. The Grand Chamberlain Eusebius presided. Gallus was indicted for all the crimes which had taken place in Syria during the four years of his reign. Most of the charges against him were absurd and the trial itself was a farce, but Constantius enjoyed the show of legality almost as much as he disliked the idea of justice. Gallus’s only defence was to blame his wife for everything. This was unworthy of him; but then there was nothing that he could say or do which would save him. Also, by accusing Constantius’s sister of a thousand crimes (she was guilty of many more), Gallus was able to strike one last blow at his implacable enemy. Furious at the form the defence took, Constantius ordered Gallus executed.

My brother’s head was cut off early in the evening of 9 December 354. His arms were bound behind him as though he were a common criminal. He made no last statement. Or if he did, it has been suppressed. He was twenty-eight when he died. They say that in his last days he suffered terribly from bad dreams. Of the men of the imperial family, only Constantius and I were left.

Published in: on August 12, 2018 at 12:21 pm  Comments Off on Julian, 38  
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Julian, 37

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Priscus: I always thought Julian might have been a happier man had he been a bit more like Gallus. No one can say that Gallus did not enjoy himself. His was an exemplary life of complete self-indulgence. I could not be more envious of him.
 
Libanius: Obviously Priscus has found his ideal.

Within months of the state visit to Pergamon, Gallus fell. For two years the Emperor had been receiving disquieting reports about Gallus. Nebridius had told him bluntly that if Gallus were not removed as Caesar there would be civil war in Syria. In his last letter to Constantius, Thalassios had said much the same thing.

One final incident brought matters to a head. The food shortage had grown worse. The lower classes were rioting. Having failed at price fixing, Gallus determined to leave Antioch as quickly as possible. As pretext, he announced that he was planning to invade Persia (though he did not have sufficient troops to conquer a mud village on the Nile).

The day Gallus left the city, the senate met him in front of the memorial to Julius Caesar. A considerable crowd had also turned out to see him, but they were not interested in saying farewell to their Caesar. They wanted food, and they said so. They made the most terrible racket. I know. I was there. I have never seen such an angry mob. Behind a row of household troops with drawn swords, the Caesar and the senate exchanged formalities while all around us the mob roared, pressing closer and closer to where we stood. Even Gallus was alarmed.

Then Theophilus, the governor of Syria, came forward to make a speech to the Caesar. Now Theophilus was an excellent official but he was not popular. Why? Who knows? The Antiochenes are completely frivolous in public matters. If a cruel tyrant is witty, they will adore him. But if their ruler is a good man, slow of speech, they will despise him. They despised Theophilus. They jeered his speech. Then the mob began to shout: “Food! Food!”

During this, I watched Gallus. At first he looked baffled; then alarmed; then—one could observe his very thought-crafty. He raised his hand for silence. But the shouting continued. So Theophilus motioned to the drummers, who set up an ominous rolling. The crowd fell silent.

Gallus spoke. “My good people, the heart of your Caesar grieves for you. Yet he is puzzled. You say you lack food. But why? There is food in Antioch. There is plenty of grain in the warehouses. Your Caesar put it there for you.”

“Then give it to us!” A voice rang out.

Gallus shook his head. “But it is yours already. Your governor knows this.” He turned to the stunned governor. “Theophilus, I have told you to feed the people. Why have you disobeyed me? Why have you been so cruel? Even if you are in league with the speculators, you must take pity on the people. The poor are hungry, Theophilus. Feed them!”

In all my long life I have never witnessed such a vicious scene. Gallus deliberately incited the people against his own governor. Then he rode off at the head of the legions, leaving us to the now violent mob. Like the rest of the senate, I bolted. Fortunately no one was hurt except Theophilus, who was torn to pieces. That day Gallus lost what small support he had among us.

When Constantius received news of the Theophilus affair, he realized at last that Gallus must be recalled. But it is easier to create a Caesar than to destroy one. Constantius knew that if he were to move against Gallus, there would be civil war. So Constantius proceeded cautiously. His first move was to order Gallus’s army to rendezvous in Serbia, preparatory to a campaign on the Danube. Inactive troops, said Constantius in a diplomatic letter to the Caesar, are prone to mutiny. So Gallus was left with only his personal guard and a single detachment of targeteers. Then Constantius instructed the prefect Domitian (until recently Count of the Sacred Largesse and a financial expert) to proceed to Syria, as though on a routine tour of the provinces. At Antioch, Domitian was to persuade Gallus to obey the Emperor’s order to come to Milan “for consultation”. Unfortunately, Domitian was vain and overbearing and perfectly confident that no one was so clever as he. I don’t know why, but this seems to be a common trait of finance ministers.

Domitian arrived at Antioch to find Gallus again in residence, after a month’s campaign on the Persian border. But instead of going first to the Caesar’s palace as protocol requires, Domitian proceeded to military headquarters, announcing that he was too ill to come to court. For several weeks Domitian remained at headquarters, plotting against Gallus and sending back highly coloured reports to the Emperor concerning the Caesar’s doings. At last Gallus ordered Domitian to present himself at a meeting of the consistory. He did, and in a scene of unrivalled insolence Domitian told Gallus that if he did not immediately obey the Emperor and go to Milan, “I shall personally order your supplies cut off.” He then marched out of the palace and returned to headquarters, where he thought he was safe.

I was not present at that historic meeting of the Caesar’s consistory, but I have been told by those who were there that it was an astonishing confrontation and that for once all sympathy was with the Caesar who had been insulted.

Gallus promptly struck back. He ordered Domitian arrested on a charge of lèse majesté. To give the gloss of legitimacy to this arrest, he sent his legal adviser, the quaestor Montius, to instruct the troops in how to behave.

Montius was an elderly man, with a passion for correct procedure. He told Gallus bluntly that the Caesar had no authority over a prefect engaged on the Emperor’s business. Gallus ignored this advice. Montius then appeared before the troops who had been called to assembly, and he told them that what Gallus intended to do was not only illegal but highly dangerous and that any soldier who obeyed the Caesar would be committing treason. “But should you decide to arrest the Emperor’s prefect then I advise you first to overthrow the Emperor’s statues, so that your revolt will at least be honest.”

The troops were confused, to say the least. But not for long. When Gallus heard what Montius had done, he rushed to the assembly ground and harangued the troops as only he knew how to do.

“I am in danger. You are in danger. We are all in danger because of would-be usurpers, some of whom sit in my own consistory.” And he turned fiercely on the courageous old Montius. “Yes, even the quaestor Montius is involved in this conspiracy. He plots against me, as well as against Constantius. He tells you that I may not arrest an insolent prefect because he is on imperial business. But I have the right to discipline any official in the East. I would be untrue to my oath to Constantius if I did not keep order in Antioch.” And so on.

By the time Gallus had finished, the troops were with him. While he stood by, they murdered Montius. Next they marched on military headquarters. No attempt was made to resist them. They found Domitian in the commandant’s private office on the second floor. They threw the wretched prefect down the stairs (which are very steep: I once badly twisted my ankle going up them). Then they dragged the bodies of Domitian and Montius side by side through the streets of Antioch.

Gallus was now thoroughly frightened. Though his troops were adequate for controlling Antioch, he was in no position to resist Constantius, and it was perfectly plain that the two would soon be in open conflict. Yet Gallus still pretended to be carrying out the Emperor’s orders when he declared martial law and arrested those whom he suspected of plotting against him. This turned out to be half the senate. I withdrew to Daphne during this troubled time.

Gallus set up a military tribunal and arraigned before it all those who had been accused of treason. During the trials Constantia sat behind a curtain listening to the testimony; every now and then she would poke her head into the courtroom to ask a question or to give an opinion. It was a ludicrous display. Hearsay was now accepted as fact, and no one was safe.

In a dyeshop a secret agent noticed a purple robe of the sort only an emperor may wear. It was immediately assumed that the cloak had been ordered by a would-be usurper. The shopowner wisely vanished but they found his files. Although there was no mention of a purple cloak having been ordered, the secret service did come up with a letter from a deacon inquiring when “the work will be ready”. That was enough. “The work” was the purple cloak, according to the secret service, which had no other evidence. The guiltless deacon was arrested, tortured, tried, and put to death. This was typical of the “justice” at Gallus’s court.

Having failed to persuade Gallus to come to Milan, Constantius ordered his sister Constantia to attend him. Confident that she could patch up the differences between her husband and her brother, she set out for Milan. But en route the lady died of fever, and that was the end for Gallus. Though he was by now perfectly willing to declare himself Augustus in the East, he lacked the military power to withstand Constantius. He was in a quandary.

Finally a letter arrived from Constantius that was most amiable in tone. The Emperor reminded Gallus that under Diocletian a Caesar always obeyed his Augustus, citing the famous case of the Caesar Galerius who walked a mile on foot because the Augustus Diocletian was displeased with him. This letter was delivered by Scudilo, a master diplomatist who told Gallus privately that Constantius wished him no harm.

Did Gallus believe this? It seems impossible. But he was by now a desperate man. He was also completely demoralized by his wife’s death. To everyone’s amazement, he agreed to go to Milan. However, he insisted on travelling by way of Constantinople, where as the reigning Caesar he presided over the games in the Hippodrome. But Julian describes this scene.

Published in: on July 22, 2018 at 9:55 am  Comments Off on Julian, 37  
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Julian, 36

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

Julian Augustus

In the autumn of 353, Gallus made a state visit to Pergamon. It was the first time we had met since we were boys at Macellum. I stood with the town prefect and the local dignitaries in front of the senate house and watched Gallus receive the homage of the city.

During the five years since we had seen one another, I had become a man with a full beard. But Gallus had remained exactly as he was, the beautiful youth whom all admired. I confess that I had a return of the old emotion when he embraced me formally and I looked once again into those familiar blue eyes. What was the old emotion? A loss of will, I should say. Whatever he wanted me to do I would do. Gallus, by existing, robbed me of strength.

“We are pleased to see once again our beloved and most noble brother.” Gallus had by now completely assumed the imperial manner. Before I could reply, Gallus had turned to the bishop of Pergamon. “He is, we have heard, a pillar of the true church.”

“Indeed, Caesar, the most noble Julian is a worthy son of holy church.” I was extremely grateful to the bishop. Also, I was rather pleased that my efforts to appear a devout Galilean had been so successful.

Gallus then made a graceful speech to the city fathers, who were so charmed by him that they were obviously puzzled at how this enchanting creature had ever got the reputation of being a cruel and frivolous despot. Gallus could charm anyone, even me.

That night a dinner was given him at the prefect’s palace. He behaved himself quite well, though I noticed that he did not cut his wine with water. As a result, he was drunk by the end of the evening. Yet he maintained his dignity and only a slight slowness of speech betrayed his state. Though I sat beside him during dinner, he did not speak to me once. All his efforts were bent on delighting the city prefect. I was miserable, wondering in what way I had managed to offend him. Oribasius, who sat across the room with the minor functionaries of the court, winked at me encouragingly. But I was not encouraged.

The dinner ended, Gallus suddenly turned to me and said, “You come with me.” And so I followed him as he moved through the bowing courtiers to his bedroom, where two eunuchs were waiting for him.

I had never before seen the etiquette of a Caesar’s bedchamber and I watched, fascinated, as the eunuchs, murmuring ceremonial phrases, undressed Gallus while he lolled in an ivory chair, completely unaware of them. He was without self-consciousness or modesty. When he was completely undressed, he waved them away with the command “Bring us wine!” Then while the wine was served us, he talked to me or rather at me. In the lamplight his face glowed red from drink and the blond hair looked white as it fell across his brow. The body, I noticed, though still beautifully shaped, was beginning to grow thick at the belly.

“Constantia wants to know you. She talks of you often. But of course she couldn’t come here. One of us must always be at Antioch. Spies. Traitors. No one is honest. Do you realize that? No one. You can never trust anyone, not even your own flesh and blood.”

I tried to protest loyalty at this point. But Gallus ignored me. “All men are evil. I found that out early. They are born in sin, live in sin, die in sin. Only God can save us. I pray that he will save me.” Gallus made the sign of a cross on his bare chest.

“But it is a fine thing in an evil world to be Caesar. From here?” he indicated a height, “you can see them all. You can see them at their games. But they can’t see you. Sometimes at night, I walk the streets in disguise. I listen to them. I watch them, knowing I can do anything to them I want and no one can touch me. If I want to rape a woman or kill a man in an alley, I can. Sometimes I do.” He frowned. “But it is evil. I know it. I try not to. Yet I feel that when I do these things there is something higher which acts through me. I am a child of God. Unworthy as I am, he created me and to him I shall return. What I am, he wanted me to be. That is why I am good.”

I must say I was stunned by this particular self-estimate. But my face showed only respectful interest.

“I build churches. I establish religious orders. I stamp out heresy wherever I find it. I am an active agent for the good. I must be. It is what I was born for. I can hardly believe you are my brother.” He shifted his thought without a pause. He looked at me for the first time. The famous blue eyes were bloodshot in the full lamplight.

Half-brother, Gallus.”

“Even so. We are the same blood, which is what matters. That is what binds me to Constantius. And you to me. We are the chosen of God to do the work of his church on earth.”

At this point an extraordinarily pretty girl slipped quietly into the room. Gallus did not acknowledge her presence, so neither did I. He continued to talk and drink, while she made love to him in front of me. I suppose it was the most embarrassing moment of my life. I tried not to watch. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the floor. But my eyes continually strayed back to my brother as he reclined on the couch, hardly moving, as the girl with infinite skill and delicacy served him.

“Constantius will do anything I ask him. That is what blood means. He will also listen to his sister, my wife. She is the most important woman in the world. A perfect wife, a great queen.” He shifted his position on the couch so that his legs were spread apart.

“I hope you marry well. You could, you know. Constantius has another sister, Helena. She’s much older than you, but that makes no difference when it is a matter of blood. Perhaps he will marry you to her. Perhaps he will even make you a Caesar, like me. Would that please you?”

I almost missed the question, my eyes riveted on what the girl was doing. Oribasius says that I am a prude. I suppose he is right. I know that I was sweating with nervous tension as I watched the ravishing of Gallus. “No,” I stammered. “I have no wish to be Caesar. Only a student. I am perfectly happy.”

“Everyone lies,” said Gallus sadly. “Even you. Even flesh and blood. But there’s very little chance of your being raised up. Very little. I have the East, Constantius the West. You are not needed. Do you have girls in your household?”

“One.” My voice broke nervously.

“One!” He shook his head wonderingly. “And your friend? The one you live with?”

“Oribasius.”

“Is he your lover?”

“No!”

“I wondered. It’s perfectly all right. You’re not Hadrian. What you do doesn’t matter. Though if you like boys, I suggest you keep to slaves. It’s politically dangerous to have anything to do with a man of your own class.”

“I am not interested…” I began, but he continued right through me.

“Slaves are always best. Particularly stableboys and grooms.” The blue eyes flashed suddenly: for an instant his face was transfigured by malice. He wanted me to recall what I had seen that day in the clearing. “But suit yourself. Anyway, my only advice to you, my only warning to you, not only as your brother but as your ruler…” He stopped suddenly and took a deep breath. The girl had finished. She got to her feet and stood in front of him, head bowed. He smiled, charmingly. Then he reached up and with all his strength struck her full in the face. She staggered back, but made no sound. Then at a gesture from him, she withdrew.

Gallus turned to me as though nothing had happened and picked up his sentence where he had left off. “…under no circumstances are you to see this magician Maximus. There are already enough rumours that you may have lost your faith. I know that you haven’t. How could you? We are of the house of Constantine the Great, the equal of the Apostles. We are the chosen of God. But even so…” He yawned. He lay back on the couch. “Even so…” he repeated and shut his eyes. I waited a moment for him to continue. But he was asleep.

The eunuchs reappeared. One placed a silk coverlet over Gallus. The other removed the wine. They acted as though what I had witnessed was a perfectly ordinary evening; perhaps it was. As Gallus began drunkenly to snore, I tiptoed from the room.

Published in: on July 15, 2018 at 12:03 am  Comments Off on Julian, 36  
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Julian, 35

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Priscus: This is simply not true. From certain things both Julian and Maximus said to me, I know that they were busy plotting to make Julian emperor. Maximus was not about to waste his time on a minor prince, nor was Oribasius—even though his friendship with Julian was genuine, or as genuine as anyone’s relations can ever be with a prince.

I have been told of at least one séance where Maximus was advised by one of his invisible friends that Julian was destined to become emperor. I also know that Sosipatra and a number of other magicians were secret partisans. Of course, after Julian became emperor, every magician in Asia claimed to have had a band in his success. I can’t think why Julian wanted to deny what so many of us know to have been true. Perhaps to discourage others from plotting against him, as he plotted against Constantius.

Libanius: “Plotted” is the wrong word, though of course Julian is disingenuous in his narrative. I agree with Priscus that Maxim and Oribasius were already looking forward to the day when their friend would be, if not Augustus, at least Caesar. I am also perfectly certain that Maximus consulted forbidden oracles, and all the rest. Sosipatra told me as much a few years ago: “The goddess Cybele always favored Julian, and said so. We were all so grateful to her for her aid.”

But I strongly doubt that there was any political plot. How could there be? Julian had very little money. He was guarded by a detachment of household troops whose commander was directly answerable to the Grand Chamberlain. Also, I do not believe that Julian at this point wanted the principate. He was a devoted student. He was terrified of the court. He had never commanded a single soldier in war or peace. How could he then, at the age of twenty, dream of becoming emperor? Or rather he might “dream”—in fact we know that he did—but he could hardly have planned to take the throne.

Published in: on July 8, 2018 at 10:00 pm  Comments Off on Julian, 35  
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Julian, 34

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Julian Augustus

After Aetius’s visit to me, I met Maximus only in secret. I arranged this by seeing to it that the guards who accompanied me were brothers in Mithras. I don’t think I was once betrayed during the three years I lived with Oribasius at Pergamon. I also made a point of becoming a friend of the bishop of the city. With him, I observed every Galilean festival. I hated myself for this deception, but I had no choice.

During these years, I was free to travel wherever I pleased in the East. I could even visit Constantinople, though the Chamberlain’s office suggested tactfully that I not live there since it was, after all, the imperial capital without, at present, an emperor in residence, which meant that any visit I chose to make could be construed as… I understood perfectly and stayed away.

My request for permission to go to Athens was rejected. I don’t know why. Gallus sent me several invitations to come to Antioch, but I was always able to avoid accepting them. I think he was relieved not to have me near him. However, he was most conscientious in his role as older brother and guardian, not to mention ruler. I received weekly bulletins from him asking about my spiritual health. He was eager, he said, for me to be a devout and good man, like himself. I think he was perfectly sincere in his exhortations. His fault was a common one. He simply did not know what he was; he saw no flaw in himself, a not unusual blindness and preferable, on the whole, to being unable to find any virtue in oneself.

My friendship with Oribasius is the only intimate one I have ever had—the result, I suppose, of having never known the ordinary life of a family. Oribasius is both friend and brother, even though we are not much alike in disposition. He is skeptical and experimental, interested only in the material world. I am the opposite. He balances me. Or tries to. And I think at times I give him some inkling of what the metaphysical is like. For nearly four years we lived together, traveled together, studied together. We even shared a mistress for a time, though this caused some disturbance since I found, to my surprise, that I have a jealous nature.

I had never forgiven the Antiochene at Macellum for preferring Gallus to me. Yet I should have. After all, Gallus was older and handsomer than I. Even so, I had been resentful. I did not realize to what extent, until I was again put in exactly the same situation. One afternoon I overheard Oribasius and our mutual mistress—a blue-eyed Gaul—making love. I heard their heavy breathing. I beard the leather thongs of the bed creak. Suddenly I wanted to murder them both. I knew then exactly what it was like to be Gallus, and I almost fainted at the violence of my own response. But the moment quickly passed and I was filled with shame.

During those years, Maximus taught me many things. He showed me mysteries. He made it possible for me to contemplate the One. He was the perfect teacher. Also, contrary to legend, he did not in any way try to excite my ambition. We never spoke of my becoming emperor. It was the one forbidden subject.

Published in: on July 1, 2018 at 8:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 33

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Libanius: Yes, I do know. At the beginning, we all had great hopes for Gallus. I recall vividly Gallus’s first appearance before the senate of Antioch. How hopeful we were! He was indeed as handsome as men say, though that day he was suffering from a heat rash, as fair people sometimes do in our sultry climate. But despite a mottled face, he carried himself well. He looked as one born to rule. He made us a most graceful speech. Afterwards, I was presented to him by my old friend Bishop Meletius.

“Oh, yes,” Gallus frowned. “You are that teacher-fellow who denies God.”

“I deny God nothing, Caesar. My heart is open to him at all times.”

“Libanius is really most admirable, Caesar.” Meletius always enjoyed making me suffer.

“I am sure he is.” Then Gallus gave me a smile so dazzling that I was quite overwhelmed. “Come see me,” he said, “and I shall personally convert you.”

A few weeks later, to my surprise, I received an invitation to the palace. When I arrived at the appointed hour, I was shown into a large room where, side by side on a couch, lay Gallus and Constantia.

In the center of the room two nude boxers were pummeling one another to death. When I had recovered from my first shock at this indecent display, I tried to make my presence known. I coughed: I mumbled a greeting. But I was ignored. Gallus and Constantia were completely absorbed by the bloody spectacle. As the world knows, I hate gladiatorial demonstrations because they reduce men to the level of beasts—and I do not mean those unfortunates who are forced to perform. I mean those who watch.

I was particularly shocked by Constantia. It was hard to realize that this bright-eyed unwomanly spectator was the daughter of Constantine the Great, sister of the Augustus, wife of the Caesar. She seemed more like an unusually cruel courtesan. Yet she was distinguished-looking in the Flavian way-big jaw, large nose, gray eyes. As we watched the sweating, bloody men, she would occasionally shout to one or the other, “Kill him!” Whenever a particularly effective blow was dealt, she would gasp in a curiously intimate way, like a woman in the sexual act. Constantia was most
alarming.

We watched those boxers until one man finally killed the other. As the loser fell, Gallus leapt from his couch and threw his arms around the bloody victor, as though he had done him some extraordinary service. Then Gallus began to kick the dead man, laughing and shouting gleefully. He looked perfectly deranged. I have never seen a man’s face quite so revealing of the beast within.

“Stop it, Gallus!” Constantia had noticed me at last. She was on her feet.

“What?” He looked at her blankly. Then be saw me. “Oh, yes,” he said. He straightened his tunic. Slaves came forward and removed the dead boxer. Constantia approached me with a radiant smile. “How happy we are to see the famous Libanius here, in our palace.” I saluted her formally, noticing with some surprise that her normal voice was low and musical, and that her Greek was excellent. In an instant she had transformed herself from Fury to queen.

Gallus came forward and gave me his hand to kiss. I got blood on my lips.

“Good, very good,” he said, eyes unfocused like a man drunk. Then without another word, the Caesar of the East and his queen swept past me and that was the end of the only private audience I was ever to have with either of them. I was most unnerved.

During the next few years the misdeeds of the couple were beyond anything since Caligula. (Editor’s interpolated note: Although Vidal was anti-Christian, he did not know that the Christians falsified the biography of Caligula.) To begin with, they were both eager for money. To further her political objectives Constantia needed all the gold she could amass. She tried everything: blackmail, the sale of public offices, confiscation.

One of her fund-raising attempts involved a family I knew. It was a peculiar situation. When the daughter married an extremely handsome youth from Alexandria, her mother, an ordinarily demure matron—or we all thought—promptly fell in love with him. For a year she tried unsuccessfully to seduce her son-in-law. Finally, he told her that if she did not stop importuning him, he would return to Alexandria. Quite out of her mind with rage, the woman went to Constantia and offered that noble queen a small fortune for the arrest and execution of her son-in-law. Constantia took the money; and the unfortunate youth was executed on a trumped-up charge. Then Constantia, who was not without a certain bitter humor, sent the matron her son-in-law’s genitals with a brief note: “At last!” The woman lost her mind. Antioch was scandalized. And the days of terror began.

At times it seemed almost as if Gallus and Constantia had deliberately studied the lives of previous monsters with an eye to recreating old deeds of horror. Nero used to roam the streets at night with a band of rowdies, pretending he was an ordinary young buck on the town. So did Gallus. Caligula used to ask people what they thought of the emperor and if their answer was unflattering, he would butcher them on the spot. So did Gallus. Or tried to.

Unfortunately for him, Antioch—unlike early imperial Rome—has the most elaborate street lighting in the world. Our night is like the noon in most cities, so Gallus was almost always recognized. As a result, the praetorian prefect of the East, Thalassios, was able to persuade him that not only was it unbecoming for a Caesar to rove the streets at night, it was also dangerous. Gallus abandoned his prowling.

During Gallus’s third year as Caesar, there was a famine in Syria. When the food shortages at Antioch began, Gallus tried to fix prices at a level which would make it possible for everyone to buy grain. Even wise rulers from time to time make this mistake. It never works since the result is usually the precise opposite of the one intended. Grain is either held back from the market or bought up by speculators who resell it at a huge profit, increasing the famine. Men are like this and there is nothing to be done about them.

The senate of Antioch has many faults, but its members are sound businessmen with an understanding of the market which is their life. They warned Gallus of the dangers of his policy. He ordered them to obey him. When they continued to resist him, he sent his own guards into the senate chamber, arrested the leading senators and condemned them to death.

Antioch had reason to be grateful to both Thalassios and Nebridius, the Count of the East. These two brave men told Gallus that if he went through with the executions, they would appeal to Augustus and demand the Caesar’s removal. It was a brave thing to do, and to everyone’s surprise they carried the day. Gallus released the senators, and that was the end of the matter.

For some months Antioch was relieved to know that in Thalassios the city had a defender. But then Thalassios died of fever. Of course it was rumored that he had been poisoned, but I happen to know that it was indeed the fever that he died of, as we shared the doctor. But I do not mean to write the history of Gallus, which is so well known.

Published in: on June 24, 2018 at 11:36 am  Comments (1)  
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Julian, 32

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 
Priscus: I can. And you certainly can! After all, you were living at Antioch while that little beast was Caesar.

Curiously enough, Julian almost never mentioned Gallus to me, or to anyone. I have always had a theory—somewhat borne out by the memoir—that Julian was unnaturally attracted to his brother. He continually refers to his beauty. He also tends to write of him in that hurt tone one uses to describe a lover who has been cold. Julian professes to find mysterious what everyone else found only too obvious: Gallus’s cruelty. Julian was naïve, as I find myself continually observing (if I repeat myself, do forgive me and blame it on our age).

Actually, the member of the family for whom I have the most sympathy is Constantius. He was quite a good ruler, you know. We tend to undervalue him because his intelligence was of the second rank, and his religious mania troubling. But he governed well, considering that he had problems of a sort which might have made any man a monster. He made some of his worst mistakes for the best of reasons, like creating Gallus Caesar.

It is significant that Julian blames Gallus’s wife for the reign of terror in the East. I had always thought that they were equally to blame. But you lived through what must have been a terrible time. You doubtless know who was responsible for what.

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 12:00 pm  Comments Off on Julian, 32  
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Julian, 31

Julian presiding at a conference of Sectarians
(Edward Armitage, 1875)

 

VI

“Naturally the Caesar is concerned.”

“But without cause.”

“Without cause? You are a pupil of Maximus.”

“I am also a pupil of Ecebolius.”

“But he has not been with you for a year. Your brother feels that you are in need of a spiritual guide, especially now.”

“But Maximus is responsible.”

“Maximus is not a Christian. Are you?” The question came at me like a stone from a sling. I stared a long moment at the blackrobed Deacon Aetius of Antioch. He stared serenely back. I was close to panic. What did they know of me at Gallus’s court?

“How can you doubt that I am a Christian?” I said finally. “I was instructed by two great bishops. I am a church reader. I attend every important church ceremony here at Pergamon.” I looked at him, simulating righteousness doubted. “Where could such a rumour get started? If there is such a rumour.”

“You cannot be seen too often in the company of a man like Maximus without people wondering.”

“What shall I do?”

“Give him up.” The answer was prompt.

“Is that my brother’s order?”

“It is my suggestion. Your brother is concerned. That is all. He sent me here to question you. I have.”

“Are you satisfied?”

Aetius smiled. “Nothing ever satisfies me, most noble Julian. But I shall tell the Caesar that you are a regular communicant of the church. I shall also tell him that you will no longer study with Maximus.”

“If that is the wisest course, then that is the course I shall take.” This ambiguity seemed to satisfy Aetius. My friends often tell me that I might have made a good lawyer. As I escorted Aetius to the street, he looked about him and said, ‘The owner of this house…’

“… is Oribasius.”

“An excellent physician.”

“Is it wise for me to see him?” I could not resist this.

“A highly suitable companion,” said Aetius smoothly. He paused at the door to the street. “Your brother, the Caesar, often wonders why you do not come to visit him at Antioch. He feels that court life might have a… ‘polishing’ effect upon you. The word is his, not mine.”

“I’m afraid I was not made for a court, even one as celebrated as my brother’s. I resist all attempts to polish me, and I detest politicians.”

“A wise aversion.”

“And a true one. I want only to live as I do, as a student.”

“Studying to what end?”

“To know myself. What else?”

“Yes. What else?” Aetius got into his carriage. “Be very careful, most noble Julian. And remember: a prince has no friends. Ever.”

“Thank you, Deacon.”

Aetius departed. I went back into the house. Oribasius was waiting for me.

“You heard every word?” I hardly made a question of it. Oribasius and I have never had any secrets between us. On principle, he eavesdrops.

“We’ve been indiscreet, to say the least.”

I nodded. I was gloomy. “I suppose I shall have to stop seeing Maximus, at least for a while.”

“You might also insist that he not talk to everyone about his famous pupil.”

I sighed. I knew that Maximus tended—tends—to trade on his relationship with me. Princes get very used to that. I don’t resent it. In fact, I am happy if my friends prosper as a result of knowing me. I had learned Oribasius’ lesson, and I do not expect to be loved for myself. After all, I don’t love others for themselves, only for what they can teach me. Since nothing is free, to each his price.

I summoned a secretary and wrote Maximus asking him to remain at Ephesus until further notice. I also wrote a note to the bishop of Pergamon to tell him that I would read the lesson on the following Sunday.

“Hypocrite,” said Oribasius when the secretary had gone.

“A tong-lived hypocrite is preferable to a dead… what?” I often have trouble finishing epigrams. Or rather I start one without having first thought through to the end, a bad habit.

“A dead reader. Aetius has a good deal of influence with Gallus, hasn’t he?”

“So they say. He is his confessor. But who can control my brother?” Without thinking, I had lowered my voice to a whisper. For Gallus had become as suspicious of treason as Constantius. His spies were everywhere.

I blame Gallus’s wife Constantia for the overt change in his character. She was Constantius’ sister and took it for granted that conspiracy is the natural business of the human race. I never met this famous lady but I am told that she was as cruel as Gallus, and far more intelligent. She was also ambitious, which he was not. He was quite content to remain Caesar in the East. But she wanted him to be the Augustus and she plotted the death of her own brother to achieve this end. As for Gallus, even now I cannot bear to write about his reign.

Published in: on April 22, 2018 at 12:01 am  Comments Off on Julian, 31  
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