Ecclesiastical history (Socrates Scholasticus)/Book III/Chapter I
- Chapter I. — Of Julian; his Lineage and Education; his Elevation to the Throne; his Apostasy to Paganism.
The Emperor Constantius died on the frontiers of Cilicia on the 3rd of November, during the consulate of Taurus and Florentius; Julian leaving the western parts of the empire about the 11th of December following, under the same consulate, came to Constantinople, where he was proclaimed emperor. And as I must needs speak of the character of this prince who was eminently distinguished for his learning, let not his admirers expect that I should attempt a pompous rhetorical style, as if it were necessary to make the delineation correspond with the dignity of the subject: for my object being to compile a history of the Christian religion, it is both proper in order to the being better understood, and consistent with my original purpose, to maintain a humble and unaffected style. However, it is proper to describe his person, birth, education, and the manner in which he became possessed of the sovereignty; and in order to do this it will be needful to enter into some antecedent details. Constantine who gave Byzantium his own name, had two brothers named Dalmatius and Constantius, the offspring of the same father, but by a different mother. The former of these had a son who bore his own name: the latter had two sons, Gallus and Julian. Now as on the death of Constantine who founded Constantinople, the soldiery had put the younger brother Dalmatius to death, the lives of his two orphan children were also endangered: but a disease which threatened to be fatal preserved Gallus from the violence of his father’s murderers; while the tenderness of Julian’s age—for he was only eight years old at the time—protected him. The emperor’s jealousy toward them having been gradually subdued, Gallus attended the schools at Ephesus in Ionia, in which country considerable hereditary possessions had been left them. And Julian, when he was grown up, pursued his studies at Constantinople, going constantly to the palace, where the schools then were, in plain clothes, under the superintendence of the eunuch Mardonius. In grammar Nicocles the Lacædemonian was his instructor; and Ecebolius the Sophist, who was at that time a Christian, taught him rhetoric: for the emperor had made the provision that he should have no pagan masters, lest he should be seduced to the pagan superstitions. For Julian was a Christian at the beginning. His proficiency in literature soon became so remarkable, that it began to be said that he was capable of governing the Roman empire; and this popular rumor becoming generally diffused, greatly disquieted the emperor’s mind, so that he had him removed from the Great City to Nicomedia, forbidding him at the same time to frequent the school of Libanius the Syrian Sophist. For Libanius having been driven at that time from Constantinople, by a combination of the educators there, had retired to Nicomedia, where he opened a school. Here he gave vent to his indignation against the educators in the treatise he composed regarding them. Julian was, however, interdicted from being his auditor, because Libanius was a pagan in religion: nevertheless he privately procured his orations, which he not only greatly admired, but also frequently and with close study perused. As he was becoming very expert in the rhetorical art, Maximus the philosopher arrived at Nicomedia (not the Byzantine, Euclid’s father) but the Ephesian, whom the emperor Valentinian afterwards caused to be executed as a practicer of magic. This took place later; at that time the only thing that attracted him to Nicomedia was the fame of Julian. From him [Julian] received, in addition to the principles of philosophy, his own religious sentiments, and a desire to possess the empire. When these things reached the ears of the emperor, Julian, between hope and fear, became very anxious to lull the suspicions which had been awakened, and therefore began to assume the external semblance of what he once was in reality. He was shaved to the very skin, and pretended to live a monastic life: and while in private he pursued his philosophical studies, in public he read the sacred writings of the Christians, and moreover was constituted a reader in the church of Nicomedia. Thus by these specious pretexts he succeeded in averting the emperor’s displeasure. Now he did all this from fear, but he by no means abandoned his hope; telling his friends that happier times were not far distant, when he should possess the imperial sway. In this condition of things his brother Gallus having been created Cæsar, on his way to the East came to Nicomedia to see him. But when not long after this Gallus was slain, Julian was suspected by the emperor; wherefore he directed that a guard should be set over him: he soon, however, found means of escaping from them, and fleeing from place to place he managed to be in safety. At last the Empress Eusebia having discovered his retreat, persuaded the emperor to leave him uninjured, and permit him to go to Athens to pursue his philosophical studies. From thence—to be brief—the emperor recalled him, and after created him Cæsar; in addition to this, uniting him in marriage to his own sister Helen, he sent him against the barbarians. For the barbarians whom the Emperor Constantius had engaged as auxiliary forces against the tyrant Magnentius, having proved of no use against the usurper, were beginning to pillage the Roman cities. And inasmuch as he was young he ordered him to undertake nothing without consulting the other military chiefs.
Now these generals having obtained such authority, became lax in their duties, and the barbarians in consequence strengthened themselves. Julian perceiving this allowed the commanders to give themselves up to luxury and revelling, but exerted himself to infuse courage into the soldiery, offering a stipulated reward to any one who should kill a barbarian. This measure effectually weakened the enemy and at the same time conciliated to himself the affections of the army. It is reported that as he was entering a town a civic crown which was suspended between two pillars fell upon his head, which it exactly fitted: upon which all present gave a shout of admiration, regarding it as a presage of his one day becoming emperor. Some have affirmed that Constantius sent him against the barbarians, in the hope that he would perish in an engagement with them. I know not whether those who say this speak the truth; but it certainly is improbable that he should have first contracted so near an alliance with him, and then have sought his destruction to the prejudice of his own interests. Let each form his own judgment of the matter. Julian’s complaint to the emperor of the inertness of his military officers procured for him a coadjutor in the command more in sympathy with his own ardor; and by their combined efforts such an assault was made upon the barbarians, that they sent him an embassy, assuring him that they had been ordered by the emperor’s letters, which were produced, to march into the Roman territories. But he cast the ambassador into prison, and vigorously attacking the forces of the enemy, totally defeated them; and having taken their king prisoner, he sent him alive to Constantius. Immediately after this brilliant success he was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers; and inasmuch as there was no imperial crown at hand, one of his guards took the chain which he wore about his own neck, and bound it around Julian’s head. Thus Julian became emperor: but whether he subsequently conducted himself as became a philosopher, let my readers determine. For he neither entered into communication with Constantius by an embassy, nor paid him the least homage in acknowledgment of past favors; but constituting other governors over the provinces, he conducted everything just as it pleased him. Moreover, he sought to bring Constantius into contempt, by reciting publicly in every city the letters which he had written to the barbarians; and thus having rendered the inhabitants of these places disaffected, they were easily induced to revolt from Constantius to himself. After this he no longer wore the mask of Christianity, but everywhere opened the pagan temples, offering sacrifice to the idols; and designating himself ‘Pontifex Maximus,’ gave permission to such as would to celebrate their superstitious festivals. In this manner he managed to excite a civil war against Constantius; and thus, as far as he was concerned, he would have involved the empire in all the disastrous consequences of a war. For this philosopher’s aim could not have been attained without much bloodshed: but God, in the sovereignty of his own councils, checked the fury of these antagonists without detriment to the state, by the removal of one of them. For when Julian arrived among the Thracians, intelligence was brought him that Constantius was dead; and thus was the Roman empire at that time preserved from the intestine strife that threatened it. Julian forthwith made his public entry into Constantinople; and considered with himself how he might best conciliate the masses and secure popular favor. Accordingly he had recourse to the following measures: he knew that Constantius had rendered himself odious to the defenders of the homoousian faith by having driven them from the churches, and proscribed their bishops. He was also aware that the pagans were extremely discontented because of the prohibitions which prevented their sacrificing to their gods, and were very anxious to get their temples opened, with liberty to exercise their idolatrous rites. In fact, he was sensible that while both these classes secretly entertained rancorous feelings against his predecessor, the people in general were exceedingly exasperated by the violence of the eunuchs, and especially by the rapacity of Eusebius the chief officer of the imperial bed-chamber. Under these circumstances he treated all parties with subtlety: with some he dissimulated; others he attached to himself by conferring obligations upon them, for he was fond of affecting beneficence; but to all in common he manifested his own predilection for the idolatry of the heathens. And first in order to brand the memory of Constantius by making him appear to have been cruel toward his subjects, he recalled the exiled bishops, and restored to them their confiscated estates. He next commanded the suitable agents to see that the pagan temples should be opened without delay. Then he directed that such individuals as had been victims of the extortionate conduct of the eunuchs, should receive back the property of which they had been plundered. Eusebius, the chief of the imperial bed-chamber, he punished with death, not only on account of the injuries he had inflicted on others, but because he was assured that it was through his machinations that his brother Gallus had been killed. The body of Constantius he honored with an imperial funeral, but expelled the eunuchs, barbers, and cooks from the palace. The eunuchs he dispensed with, because they were unnecessary in consequence of his wife’s decease, as he had resolved not to marry again; the cooks, because he maintained a very simple table; and the barbers, because he said one was sufficient for a great many persons. These he dismissed for the reasons given; he also reduced the majority of the secretaries to their former condition, and appointed for those who were retained a salary befitting their office. The mode of public traveling and conveyance of necessaries he also reformed, abolishing the use of mules, oxen, and asses for this purpose, and permitting horses only to be so employed. These various retrenchments were highly lauded by some few, but strongly reprobated by all others, as tending to bring the imperial dignity into contempt, by stripping it of those appendages of pomp and magnificence which exercise so powerful an influence over the minds of the vulgar. Not only so, but at night he was accustomed to sit up composing orations which he afterwards delivered in the senate: though in fact he was the first and only emperor since the time of Julius Cæsar who made speeches in that assembly. To those who were eminent for literary attainments, he extended the most flattering patronage, and especially to those who were professional philosophers; in consequence of which, abundance of pretenders to learning of this sort resorted to the palace from all quarters, wearing their palliums, being more conspicuous for their costume than their erudition. These impostors, who invariably adopted the religious sentiments of their prince, were all inimical to the welfare of the Christians; and Julian himself, whose excessive vanity prompted him to deride all his predecessors in a book which he wrote entitled The Cæsars, was led by the same haughty disposition to compose treatises against the Christians also. The expulsion of the cooks and barbers is in a manner becoming a philosopher indeed, but not an emperor; but ridiculing and caricaturing of others is neither the part of the philosopher nor that of the emperor: for such personages ought to be superior to the influence of jealousy and detraction. An emperor may be a philosopher in all that regards moderation and self-control; but should a philosopher attempt to imitate what might become an emperor, he would frequently depart from his own principles. We have thus briefly spoken of the Emperor Julian, tracing his extraction, education, temper of mind, and the way in which he became invested with the imperial power.
- December, 361 a.d. This proclamation must be distinguished from the one in Gaul (II. 47); the latter was the proclamation by the army, and occurred during the lifetime of Constantius.
- Cf. I. 1.
- See Bingham, Eccl. Antiq. VI. 4, end.
- The ‘reader,’ ἀναγνώστης , lector, was commonly a young man possessed of a good voice, who read the Scriptures from the pulpit or reading-desk (not the altar). Bennett, Christ. Archæol. p. 374.
- See Smith, Dict. of Greek and Rom. Antiq. See also, on sacrificing to idols as a sign of apostacy, Bingham, Eccl. Antiq. XVI. iv. 5.
- See II. 7, 13, 16, &c.
- It is difficult to determine in what particulars the improvements mentioned here were made. Gregory Nazianzen, Contra Julianum, I. lxxv., confesses that Julian had made reforms in the matter.
- See chap. 23.