Julian the Apostate, or Flavius Claudius Iulianus (331June 26, 363), was a Roman emperor (361363) of the Constantinian dynasty. He was the last pagan Roman emperor, and tried to reform the traditional worship to stop the decay of his world.

Julian and religion[]

Julian is called by Christians the "Apostate" because he converted from Christianity to paganism.

After becoming emperor, Julian tried to restore the lost strength of Rome. He supported the restoration of the old pagan faith, and on 4 February 362, Julian promulgated an edict to guarantee freedom of religion. Julian decreed the reopening of pagan temples, the restitution of alienated temple properties, and he called back Christian bishops that were exiled by church edicts.

In 363, Julian, on his way to engage Persia, stopped at the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In keeping with his effort to foster religions other than Christianity, Julian ordered the temple rebuilt. A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort: "Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the Roman governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt."

The failure to rebuild the temple has been ascribed to an earthquake, common in the region, and to the Jewish hostility to the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire.


In March 363, Julian started his campaign against the Sassanid Empire, with the goal of taking back the Roman cities conquered by the Sassanids under the rule of Constantius II which his cousin had failed to take back.

Receiving encouragement from an oracle in the old Sibylline Books from Rome, and moving forward from Antioch with about 90,000 men, Julian entered Sassanid territory.

He arrived under the walls of the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon, but even after defeating a superior Sassanid army, he could not take the Persian capital. Also Procopius did not return with his troops, so Julian decided to lead his army back to the safety of the Roman borders.

During this retreat, on 26 June 363, Julian was killed. Acccording to Libanius , Julian was assassinated by a Christian who was one of his own soldiers.

Considered apocryphal is the report that his dying words were Vicisti, Galilaee ("You have won, Galilean"), supposedly expressing his recognition that, with his death, Christianity would become the Empire's state religion. The phrase introduces the 1866 poem Hymn to Proserpine, which was Algernon Swinburne's elaboration of what Julian might have felt at the triumph of Christianity.

Julian as a writer[]

Julian wrote several works in Greek, some of which have come down to us.

  • Hymn to King Helios
  • Hymn to the Mother of the Gods
  • Two panegyrics to Constantius
  • Misopogon or "Beard Hater" - a light-hearted account of his clash with the inhabitants of Antioch after he was mocked for his beard and generally scruffy appearance for an emperor
  • The Caesars - a humorous tale of a contest between some of the most notable Roman emperors. This was a satiric attack upon the recent Constantine, whose worth, both as a Christian and as the leader of the Roman Empire, Julian severely questions.
  • Against the Galilaeans - a critique of Christianity, only partially preserved, thanks to Cyril of Alexandria's rebuttal Against Julian.

The works of Julian were edited and translated by Wilmer Cave Wright as The Works of the Emperor Julian (3 vols.). London, 1923.

See also[]


Primary sources[]

Works by Julian[]

Works about Julian[]

Secondary sources[]

  • Roberts, Walter E., and Michael DiMaio, "Julian the Apostate (360-363 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis (2002)
  • Athanassiadi, Polymnia. Julian. An Intellectual Biography. Routledge, London, 1992, ISBN 0-415-07763-X.
  • Bowersock, Glen Warren. Julian the Apostate. London, 1978.
  • Lascaratos, John and Dionysios Voros. 2000. Fatal Wounding of the Byzantine Emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363 A.D.): Approach to the Contribution of Ancient Surgery. World J. Surg. 24: 615-619.
  • Lenski, Noel Emmanuel. Failure of Empire: Valens and the Roman State in the Fourth Century AD. UC Press: London, 2003.
  • Lieu, Samuel N. From Constantine to Julian: A Source History. Routledge: New York, 1996.
  • Murdoch, Adrian. The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World, Stroud, 2005, ISBN 0-7509-4048-4.
  • Rohrbacher, David. Historians of Late Antiquity. Routledge: New York, 2002.
  • Smith, Rowland. Julian's gods: religion and philosophy in the thought and action of Julian the Apostate, London, 1995, ISBN 0-415-03487-6.

External links[]

Panegyric upon Julian by Libanius, who knew Julian well and admired him