Flavius Claudius Julianus, known as Julian, was a nephew of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the official religion of Rome. Julian renounced Christianity and attempted to restore the pagan* gods of ancient Rome. As a result of his renunciation, he was nicknamed the Apostate* by Christian writers.
Julian was born in the imperial* capital of Constantinople. He was the son of Julius Constantius, half-brother of Constantine (the Great). Constantine’s son and successor, Constantius II, executed all rival family members, except for his cousin Julian. The young boy was raised in captivity in Cappadocia in Asia Minor and, although educated as a Christian, admired the classics* and the pagan gods. Julian studied philosophy* at Ephesus and Athens and was initiated into the mystery cults of Eleusis and Mithraism. The Eleusinian Mysteries were ancient religious rituals honoring the Greek goddess Demeter. Mithraism was a religion that worshiped the ancient Persian supreme god Ahura Mazda and his ally Mithras.
Julian’s studies were interrupted by a summons to the palace from Constantius. The emperor had no heir to succeed him and appointed Julian Caesar in A.D. 355. The young man was placed in command of Britain and Gaul. Julian was popular with his troops. Following a mutiny against Constantius, the soldiers declared Julian emperor in A.D. 360.
As soon as he became emperor, Julian declared his belief in paganism. He withdrew all privileges from the church and its leaders, and he expelled Christians from positions of authority. Pagan cults and temples were restored, and regular sacrifices were encouraged. Julian was an accomplished writer and used his talent to compose hymns to his favorite deities. He even visited the famous oracle at Delphi for advice.
Julian had military ambitions, too, and tried to launch an invasion against Persia but was mortally wounded in battle in A.D. 363. His marriage had produced no children, and the reforms he began came to an end soon after his death. (See also Rome, History of.)
* pagan referring to a belief in more than one god; non-Christian
* apostate one who renounces his or her religious faith; renegade
* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire
* classics the literature of ancient Greece and Rome
* philosophy study of ideas, including science