The Roman Dominate: The Barracks Emperors (II)
by: P. Dionysius Mus
PARS I | PARS II | PARS III | PARS IV | PARS V | PARS VI | PARS VII | PARS VIII | PARS IX | PARS X

Flavius Claudius Iulianus ('Julian the Apostate'): In 351 Constantius II, perturbed by the death of his brother Constans and subsequent disorders in the West, appointed Gallus as his "Caesar"; that is, as his coadjutor and eventual successor. Gallus was a failure and was executed near Pola in Italy (now Pula, Croatia) in 354. Constantius, again in need of a Caesar of his own house, after much hesitation summoned Iulianus from Greece, whence the latter arrived "still wearing his student's gown." In November 355, at the age of 23, he was duly proclaimed and invested as Caesar, an honour which he accepted with justifiable foreboding.

The Emperor gave Iulianus his sister Helena as wife. She died after five years of marriage - the fate of their issue, if any, is unknown. Iulianus was at once dispatched to Gaul, where he proved a resolute and successful commander. He defeated and expelled the Alemanni and the Franks, feats that aroused the jealousy of Constantius, who kept Iulianus short of funds and under secret surveillance. In 360, while Iulianus was wintering at Paris, the Emperor sent a demand for a number of his best troops, ostensibly for service in the East but in reality to weaken Iulianus. Iulianus's army thereupon hailed him as Augustus. This naturally infuriated Constantius, who refused any accommodation. Iulianus, realizing that war between himself and Constantius was now inevitable, decided to move first.

But, before the clash could come, Constantius died near Tarsus (November 361), having on his deathbed accepted the inevitable by bequeathing the empire to Iulianus. Iulianus, now sole Augustus, greatly simplified the life of the palace and reduced its expenses. He issued proclamations in which he declared his intention to rule as a philosopher, on the model of Marcus Aurelius. All Christian bishops exiled by Constantius were allowed to return to their sees (although the purpose of this may have been to promote dissension among the Christians), and an edict of 361 proclaimed freedom of worship for all religions. But this initial toleration of Christianity was coupled with a determination to revive paganism and raise it to the level of an official religion with an established hierarchy.

Iulianus apparently saw himself as the head of a pagan church. He performed animal sacrifices and was a staunch defender of pagan orthodoxy, issuing doctrinal instructions to his clergy. Not surprisingly, this incipient fanaticism soon led from apparent toleration to outright suppression and persecution of Christians. Pagans were openly preferred for high official appointments, and Christians were expelled from the army and prohibited from teaching. The latter action led Ammianus, who admired Iulianus's virtues and was himself an adherent of the traditional religion, to censure the Emperor: "That was inhumane, and better committed to oblivion, that he forbade teachers of rhetoric and literature to practice their profession if they were followers of the Christian religion." Iulianus wrote an attack on Christianity that is known today only by fragmentary citation. "The trickery of the Galileans"--his usual term--has nothing divine in it, he argues; it appeals to rustics only, it is made up of fables and irrational falsehoods. Here perhaps may be detected the sunset snobbery of the Athens of his day. Though professing to be a Neoplatonist and a sun worshipper, Iulianus himself was an addict of superstition rather than religion, according to Ammianus. His project to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem was designed rather to insult the Christians than to please the Jews, who, for long accustomed to the worship of the synagogue, would have found the revival of animal sacrifice acutely embarrassing. The plan was dropped when it was reported (as it was on both an earlier and a later occasion) that "balls of fire" had issued from the old foundations and scared away the workmen.

Christian cities were penalized, and churches were burned in Damascus and Beirut. Bishops, including the great Athanasius, were banished. One was horribly tortured. Bacchus was installed in the Christian basilicas of Emesa (modern Homs, Syria) and Epiphaneia (modern Hamah, Syria). At Antioch, where Iulianus was preparing for a campaign against the Persians, his closing of the great basilica and the removal of the relics of the martyr Babylas from the sacred grove of Daphne annoyed the Christians. His priggish austerity did not endear him to the pagans, either, and both were equally incensed by his pamphlet entitled Misopogon ("Beard Hater"), in which he assailed the Antiochenes for the ridicule that they poured on him for his personal conduct, his religion, and his claim to be a philosopher on the strength of his beard.

The invasion of Persian territory was always a lure in antiquity and one to which Iulianus was not immune. Motivated by a desire for military glory and a decision to reassert Rome's preeminence in the East, he assembled, despite counsels of prudence from Rome and the Levant, the largest Roman army (65,000 strong and backed by a river fleet) ever to head a campaign against Persia. The Persians, aided by the desert, famine, treachery, and the incompetence of the Romans, once again proved themselves superior. During a disastrous retreat from the walls of Ctesiphon, below modern Baghdad, Iulianus was wounded by a spear thrown "no one knew whence," which pierced his liver. He died the next night at the age of 31, having been emperor for 20 months. Iulianus's religious policy had no lasting effect. It had shown, however, that paganism, as a religion, was doomed. It is perhaps sad, in retrospect, that the odium of proving it should rest on Iulianus, who with a little less venom and more tact might have been remembered for his many virtues rather than for his two fatal blunders.

Iovianus: Iovianus took part in the expedition of the emperor Iulianus against Sassanian Persia and was proclaimed emperor by his troops after Iulianus was killed on June 26, 363. To extricate his army from Persia, the new ruler immediately concluded a peace, ceding to the Persians all Roman territory east of the Tigris River, together with the cities of Singara (modern Sinjar, Iraq) and Nisibis (modern Nusaybin, Turkey).

Some of Iovianus's contemporaries, believing that the army could have fought its way out, considered this treaty to be dishonourable. As a Christian, Iovianus suppressed the paganism that had been allowed to flourish under his predecessor. Magical practices were forbidden and gifts to churches restored. While still on his way from the frontier to Constantinople he died at Dadastana on the borders of Bithynia and Galatia and was buried in the church of the Holy Apostles in the capital. He was succeeded as emperor by Valentinianus.

Valentinianus and Valens: Valentinianus, the son of an army officer stationed in Pannonia (in central Europe), joined the army and served with his father in Africa. According to some sources, when Valentinianus was a tribune in the forces of Iulianus (emperor 360-363), he was disgraced for refusal to renounce Christianity. He did serve, however, in Iulianus' Persian expedition of 363, and was promoted by Iulianus' successor, Iovianus, who died soon afterward (Feb. 17, 364).

Nine days later the commanders of the army proclaimed Valentinianus emperor at Nicaea (modern Iznik, Turkey). On March 28 he appointed his younger brother Valens as co-ruler and assigned him to govern the East, while Valentinianus retained the West. Both agreed to allow religious toleration, which, unlike Valens, Valentinianus maintained throughout his reign. Valens was an Arian Christian who persecuted Catholics while interfering little with the pagans. Bishops who had been restored by the emperor Iulianus were banished, although near the end of his reign Valens relented somewhat and allowed these exiles to return. Displaying inexhaustible energy, Valentinianus set about fortifying and defending the borders. In January 365, his generals in Gaul were defeated by the Germanic Alemanni; by October, Valentinianus had set up residence in Paris, from which he directed operations against the invaders. His general Iovinus defeated them three times. At Durocatalaunum (modern Châlons-sur-Marne, France), in the third engagement, Iovinus inflicted heavy casualties on the Alemanni, securing Gaul for years to come.

Meanwhile, in 367, the Emperor moved to Ambiani (modern Amiens, France) to be in closer communication with his general Theodosius (father of the later emperor Theodosius I), who was defending Britain from Saxon, Pictish, and Scottish invaders. In order to strengthen the line of succession, Valentinianus proclaimed his nine-year-old son, Gratianus, as co-emperor (Aug. 24, 367). Two months later Valentinianus took up residence at Trier (now in Germany). He remained there for seven years, devoting his attention to the construction of an elaborate system of fortifications on the Rhine. Then, an invasion of Pannonia by the Quadi in 375 brought Valentinianus to Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica, Yugoslavia), where he soon fell sick and died.

Despite his achievements, Valentinianus gained a reputation for irritability and cruelty. He frequently chose ministers of the worst character who ruthlessly oppressed the provincials. Valens was assigned to rule the Eastern part of the empire, but soon Valens was challenged by the pagan Procopius, who had himself been proclaimed emperor in Constantinople (September 365). When Valens marched from Antioch to confront the usurper, Procopius was deserted by many of his troops; on May 27, 366, he was betrayed and put to death. Valens next waged war on the Visigoths, who had aided Procopius and were threatening to invade Thrace. In May 367 the Emperor crossed the Danube and devastated the Visigothic territories (in modern Romania). Two years later he invaded the area again and decisively defeated the tribe.

After suppressing the conspiracy of Theodorus at Antioch in the winter of 371-372, Valens became involved in war with the Persians. He achieved a victory in Mesopotamia but in 376 was obliged to make peace on unfavourable terms. In that year the Visigoths, defeated and pursued by the Huns, were allowed by Valens' generals to settle in Roman territory south of the Danube. Soon the tribe rebelled against the Romans and engaged the Emperor in the great Battle of Adrianople (modern Edirne, Turkey) on Aug. 9, 378. The poor tactics employed by Valens led to the total defeat of his army, and the Emperor himself was numbered among the fallen.

Gratianus, Valens and Valentinianus II: Valentinianus II was the son of the emperor Valentinianus I and his second wife, Justina. On Nov. 22, 375, five days after the death of his father, the four-year-old Valentinianus II was proclaimed emperor at Aquincum (modern Budapest). The declaration was made without the knowledge or consent of the two reigning emperors, Valens and Gratianus, but they later accepted Valentinianus II and allowed him to rule (through his mother) Italy, Africa, and Illyricum.

In 383 Gratianus was put to death by the usurper Magnus Maximus, and in 387 Maximus invaded Italy. Valentinianus II and his mother fled to Thessalonica, Greece, to the dominions of the new Eastern emperor, Theodosius I. After the overthrow of Maximus by Theodosius in 388, Valentinianus II was restored to his rule. But in 392 the young emperor was found dead in his palace at Vienna, perhaps murdered by agents of Arbogast, whom he had sought to dismiss from the regency of Gaul.

Theodosius: Theodosius I or Theodosius the Great, Roman emperor of the East (379-95) and emperor of the West (394-95), was son of Theodosius, the general of Valentinianus I. He became military governor of Moesia in 375, but following the execution of his father in 376 he retired to Spain. He remained there until Emperor Gratianus chose him to rule the East in 378, after the defeat and death of Valens in the battle of Adrianopolis.

Theodosius, whom Gratianus made co-Augustus in 379, took up arms against the Visigoths, who were plundering the Balkan Peninsula. By 381 he had achieved an advantageous peace, permitting the Ostrogoths to settle in Pannonia and the Visigoths in Northern Thracia. In return he secured their services as soldiers, and soon Gothic influence predominated in the army. In 383, Gratianus was murdered; Theodosius was forced to recognize the usurper, Maximus, as emperor in the West outside Italy, where Gratianus' brother and legal successor, Valentinianus II, held authority.

When Maximus seized Italy, Theodosius attacked him, put him to death (388), and restored Valentinianus II. But Arbogast, the Frankish general of Valentinianus II, assumed the power in Gaul, and in 392, Valentinianus II, who had sought to recover Gaul, was strangled, perhaps on the order of Arbogast, who installed the puppet emperor Eugenius. Theodosius again went to Italy. In 394 he met a large army commanded by Arbogast and Eugenius and consisting mostly of pagan barbarians. Defeated on the first day of battle, he refused to retreat, and on the following day, with the battle cry "Where is the God of Theodosius", won a resounding victory. Eugenius and Arbogast were slain. Having previously named his son Arcadius as his co-emperor in the East, he now proclaimed his younger son, Honorius, as his co-emperor in the West. Theodosius died the following year, and the Roman Empire remained divided into West and East.

The reign of Theodosius is most notable for its prominence in the history of the Christian Church. Baptized in 380, Theodosius soon afterward issued an edict condemning Arianism and making belief in the Trinity the test of orthodoxy; subsequent edicts practically extinguished Arianism and paganism within the empire. Under his direction the First Council of Constantinopolis was convened. The most eminent church figure of his reign was Saint Ambrosius, bishop of Milan. When Theodosius ordered a massacre in Salonica to punish the citizens for a rebellion against the garrison, he had to humble himself in the cathedral of Milan before Ambrosius lifted his excommunication.
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