Julian the Apostate

(Flavius Claudius Julianus)


Julian the Apostate is best known for doing what he could during his short reign, to restore the rights of paganism and discourage the rising influence of the Christian church. If he had reigned longer, some of his policies may have had some effect, but as it was, they only sowed confusion, made worse by the ongoing rift within the church over the Arian heresy. Most of Julian's life was spent watching Constantine's unified empire disintegrate after being divided and left to his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans. First, rivalry between the brothers, then usurpers, and finally barbarian invasions, disrupted the long peace that the empire had enjoyed under Constantine.

Julian and his elder brother Gallus were nephews of Constantine, rather then sons. They resided at the imperial court, but in their youth, did not expect to be in line for the throne. However, the sons of Constantine did not reign peaceably together, and all three died before producing another heir. Constantine II was killed after a reign of only three years in a battle with Constans. The empire was then divided between Constans and Constantius. Ten years later, Constans was killed by Magentius, a usurper in the West, and Julian's elder brother Gallus, was summoned to oppose the usurper. The usurper was defeated, but Gallus was killed shortly thereafter, and Constantius sent Julian to resist the barbarians in Gaul. At the same time he was declared Caesar, or next in line to the throne.

Julian had spent most of his life in study, rather than in camp, but he was popular with the soldiers and succeeded very well in repelling the Germanic barbarians that had invaded Gaul. He ruled the western empire very effectively, even though he was not officially recognized as Augustus by Constantius. When Constantius requested his help in fending off Persian invaders in the East, Julian sent his best troops, but his soldiers mutinied against Constantius, and declared for Julian. Before the matter was resolved between the two leaders, Constantius died, and the entire empire fell to Julian. He ruled for only two years, before being killed in a skirmish with the Persians. He was succeeded by Jovian, a Christian general of his army. Jovian ruled only briefly before being succeeded by Valentinian I.

Key events during the life of julian1:

Constantine the Great, uncle of Julian, dies; empire is passed to three sons.
Death of Constantine II, in a battle against Constans;
Julian and brother Gallus were sent to Cappadocia.
Death of Constans; eastern empire in hands of Constantius; western empire in hands of usurper.
Gallus appointed Caear; sent to face usurper.
Gallus assassinated; Julian appointed Caesar and sent to Gaul.
  Successfully combats Franks and Alemanni in Gaul. Julian consolidates power in West.
Julian sent soldiers to Persia to help Constantius, but his soldiers declared for Julian.
Constantius died before resolving conflict with Julian; Julian inherited both East and West.
Julian issues edict of religious toleration; tries to restore paganism.
Killed in skirmish while fighting Persians in the East.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Roman Empire Divided  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
End of the Western Empire in  Famous Men of Rome  by  John H. Haaren & A. B. Poland

Image Links

The Later Roman Emperors
 in Greatest Nations - Rome

Short Biography
Constantine II Eldest son of Constatine, ruled in the West.
Constantius II Middle son of Constantine, ruled in the East.
Constans Youngest son of Constantine, ruled West after death of Constantine II.
Gallus Older brother of Julian, warred against Magentius, but killed by Constantius.
Magnentius Usurper who took over western empire from Constans; killed by Constantius.
Jovian Elected by the Roman army after the unexpected death of Julian, to lead the empire.