`I call Zeus and all the other gods who protect cities and our race to bear witness as to my behaviour towards Constantius and my loyalty to him, and that I behaved to him as I would have chosen that my own son should behave to me.'
`... does he not rebuke and ridicule me for my folly in having served so faithfully the murderer of my father, my brothers, my cousins; the executioner as it were of my whole family' - Emperor Julian, 361.'
Julian was just thirty when he became sole ruler of the empire. It was quickly announced that the dying Constantius II had named him as his successor and this may well have been true. In just two generations the male line of Constantine's large family had virtually wiped itself out. No new challenger emerged, and Constantius' generals and officials quickly pledged their loyalty to Julian. This did not prevent a purge when the new Augustus arrived in Constantinople at the end of the year. As usual, only the names of the most prominent victims are recorded. At least four senior bureaucrats were executed - two by being publicly burnt alive - and half a dozen exiled. It was probably not the worst spate of punishments after a civil war, but for the victims and their families it was bad enough. Even Ammianus, who was generally favourable to Julian, felt that at least one of the executed men had done nothing to deserve punishment. Another victim, the notorious Paul the chain', was unlamented.'
Julian's success was stunning, but did not surprise him for he knew that he was special. Like all of Constantine's family, he was raised as a Christian. His early life was spent in the household of a bishop and he was even ordained as a junior member of the clergy, regularly taking part in services and publicly reading from the Scriptures. He also grew up in virtual captivity, aware that he would always be under suspicion with an emperor who had killed so many of his relations. To all outward appearances Julian grew up to be pious and without ambition. Secretly, he rejected both Constantius and his Christian God. Instead, he became obsessed with the old religion and literature of Greece, something which grew all the more pronounced when he was permitted as a young adult to study in Athens. Julian embraced the teachings of Neoplatonism, the dominant philosophy from the middle of the third century. It had a strong mystical element, embracing revelation as much as logic in the search for understanding. Julian was drawn to an especially extreme form of the school, in the person of Maximus of Ephesus, who was as much magician and showman as he was philosopher. Widely considered to be a charlatan, he put on displays in which he made torches spontaneously catch alight and a statue smile. Julian was thrilled by such `proof' that the old gods existed and still exercised direct power in the world.'
In common with mainstream philosophy and wider attitudes, he believed in one supreme deity who ruled over the other gods and - again, like many others including Aurelian and Constantine's father - identified this supreme god with the Sun. Julian wrote of how `from my childhood an extraordinary longing for the rays of the god penetrated deep into my soul'. He was a `follower of King Helios' (one of the many names for the deity), whose `continuous providence' held together `this divine and beautiful universe, from the highest vault of heaven to the lowest limit of the earth'. For Julian, it was a very personal and emotional faith. It appealed to his strongly ascetic inclinations and - since it was largely his own creation - satisfied his intellect. Most important of all, it was not the religion of his uncle.4
Perhaps Julian's conversion to paganism - known as apostasy, so that he is conventionally known as Julian the Apostate - would have remained no more than a typical piece of student rebellion had he not been made Caesar. Throughout his time in Gaul he concealed his inner beliefs and continued to attend Christian services with every outward sign of enthusiasm. When the civil war began he slowly pulled down the facade, invoking the old gods when he wrote to Athens and other cities to bid for their support. However, it was only after Constantius was dead that he openly rejected Christianity and began publicly to stage animal sacrifices and other rituals. Until this point he had been careful not to alienate any potential Christian supporters. Julian's victory proved to him the power of King Helios in raising him from virtual prisoner to sole emperor in only a few years, just as decades earlier Constantine's continued successes had convinced him to become a Christian.
We know a lot about Julian. Ammianus provides a detailed narrative of his reign and Julian's own writings survive in a quantity unmatched by those of any other emperor. He was the last pagan emperor - at least the last legitimate one, although one short-lived usurper later in the fourth century publicly shared his rejection of Christianity. Modern readers often find much with which they can identify - his intelligence, enthusiasm and years as a student, all of which have particular appeal to academics. For some, his hostility to Christianity also strikes a chord, although usually this is only if they ignore his passion for his own beliefs and addiction to animal sacrifice.
Closer consideration ofJulian's career and writings rapidly shatter such apparent connections and any simple image of him as a well-meaning undergraduate. He was ruthless and determined - no emperor could be anything else. There is also very little that might seem especially modern about him. Like anyone else he was a product of his times, and those times were disturbed and his own life particularly traumatic. Being born into the imperial family set anyone apart. Then to survive the massacre of his relatives and endure a youth of captivity and suspicion was scarcely normal, even for his day and age. Julian was an intelligent man, but had spent his formative years in isolation, and that is always likely to promote absolute certainty in a person's own beliefs, making it hard for them to consider alternative ideas. He does not seem to have ever had any close friends as it was inevitably difficult for anyone in the imperial family to relate to others as equals. Added to that was his secret apostasy and development of his own religion. That he was able to hide this from others for many years can only have reinforced his sense of his own cleverness. It may also have encouraged a fondness for play-acting.
Julian did not cut a very impressive figure. He was small, somewhat ungainly and inclined to twitch his head and gabble his words. In Gaul his soldiers nicknamed him `the little Greek', `the Asiatic' and `the chattering mole'. In direct contrast to the imperial styles since the tetrarchy, he grew an unkempt beard - another nickname was `the goat'. This was quite probably somewhat thin at first, but the coins minted after he had been proclaimed Augustus show him with an abundant and wild growth of facial hair. It was perhaps suitable for a philosopher, but looks far less neat than the well-trimmed beards of the Antonines. Julian idolised Marcus Aurelius as the ideal philosopher emperor. In his satirical work The Caesars he imagined a banquet on Mount Olympus where past emperors compete for the approval of the gods. Unsurprisingly, Marcus Aurelius is the ultimate winner. Julian was at home with some of the theatre and ceremony surrounding emperors in the fourth century - his acclamation at Paris was especially well stage-managed. At other times he broke the rules, rushing out of a meeting of the Senate in Constaninople to greet the arrival of Maximus of Ephesus. Emperors were not supposed to behave so informally and even many of his supporters disapproved. There were similar doubts about his drastic reduction in size of the imperial household inherited from Constantius. Many departments had certainly become swollen under the latter, but even so Julian went too far in his desire to be seen as a simple philosopher who had no need of luxuries or numerous assistants. It was felt that he had diminished the grandeur surrounding imperial rule.5
The change in style was short-lived. Julian's peculiarities, and especially his religious ideas and policy, tend to get a lot of attention, but it is important to remember that they had no long-term impact. His reign lasted for little more than two years and ended in disaster and humiliation when he was killed in Persia. The war against the Sassanids and the concessions made by the Romans to buy peace were Julian's greatest legacies to the empire.
War in the East
Julian inherited the struggle with Persia. Constantine had died before launching his grand offensive, but his preparations had only increased tensions in the region, and Constantius II had faced warfare on the eastern frontier for much of his reign. Shapur II was a strong monarch who came to the throne in 309 as an infant and ruled Persia for seventy years. The loss of territory to Rome following the victory of Galerius at the end of the third century had been a deep humiliation for the Persians and the king's principal objective was always to recover these lands. Both sides launched frequent raids into the other's territory, sometimes on a very large scale. As well as their own forces, each also made frequent use of allies, and groups such as the Saracens begin to appear more and more often in our sources.6
Control of a region depended upon holding the main cities and other fortified posts. Defensive walls were built on a massive scale by this period, invariably strengthened with projecting towers that were often abundantly equipped with heavy and light artillery. These cities all had their own water supply - indeed, that was their ultimate reason for existence - for they were all situated, usually on higher ground, where the annual rainfall was sufficient to support basic agriculture. Such strongpoints provided bases from which to launch raids or to send out parties to intercept enemy attacks. Any sizeable attacking force had to capture a city or detach troops to mount a blockade if it was not to face a serious threat to its supply lines. The Roman frontier was more heavily and densely fortified than it had been a century before, making it far harder for the Persians to repeat the deep invasions of Shapur I into the provinces.
Fortified cities and towns were vital. This inevitably meant that they were the principal focus for any attack that went beyond a raid. During Constantius' reign the Persians attacked the city of Nisibis three times, but always failed to take it. The intensity of warfare varied. Both Constantius and Shapur II had other concerns, and on several occasions shifted the bulk of their forces to wage war elsewhere. In 357 Shapur was campaigning in what is now Afghanistan and Constantius was busy on frontiers in Europe. Judging that a peace would be welcome to both sides, the praetorian prefect in charge of the eastern provinces sent envoys to the Persians suggesting that they begin negotiations. As it turned out, Shapur had already defeated his opponents, who were turned into subordinate allies. Free to move elsewhere - and also eager to give the newly conquered allies a chance to demonstrate their loyalty by providing contingents for his army - he interpreted the Romans' approach as a clear sign of weakness. He restated the old claims to Persian dominance as far as the Mediterranean and, when these demands were unsurprisingly rejected, prepared a series of major offensives.7
In 359 Shapur surprised the Romans by not following the normal invasion route into Mesopotamia. Instead, he attacked further north, avoiding Nisibis and heading instead towards the town of Amida. Ammianus Marcellinus narrowly avoided the Persian patrols to seek refuge in the town and left a vivid account of the siege that followed. Shapur may not have originally intended to stop and besiege the place, instead wanting to keep moving and reach further into the Roman provinces, plundering and taking captives. A renegade Roman official, who had defected to the enemy after he had become overwhelmed with debts, had advised that this would spread more confusion. The same man had provided the information that persuaded the Persians to take the northern route. However, as the Persian army paraded outside the city in a demonstration of strength - the distant hope was that the garrison might be overawed and persuaded to surrender - the son of a client king was killed by the bolt from a Roman ballista. Honour now demanded that Shapur satisfy the bereaved father's yearning for vengeance by taking the town.'
In a siege lasting seventy-three days, the Persians tried a mixture of direct assaults with ladders and mobile siege towers; infiltration when a party of archers climbed through a drainage tunnel to seize a tower; and engineering to bring artillery and rams against the defences. Their losses were heavy, especially in the repeated direct assaults. The Roman defenders deployed their plentiful artillery with great skill and beat back every attack. When the Persians brought up a massive artillery tower to suppress the defenders on the wall, the Romans laboured to build a huge mound behind it to regain the advantage of height for their own catapults. Unfortunately for them, the mound collapsed on to the wall itself, providing the Persians with a ready-made assault ramp into the city. Amida was stormed and sacked. Those inhabitants and soldiers who survived the ensuing massacre were led off to lives of captivity in Persia. Ammianus was one of a handful to remain hidden and then escape under cover of darkness.
Shapur had won an important if costly victory - Amida was the first major town to fall to the Persians in Constantius' reign. However, the long duration of the siege meant that the campaigning season was over and so the Persians withdrew with their captives. The collapse of the Roman mound would have made it very difficult to repair the defences, so no garrison was left behind in the ruined town. In 36o Shapur attacked again, this time following the more direct route into Mesopotamia, but still avoiding Nisibis. He stormed the city of Singara, burning it and carrying away its population as captives. On another occasion, Ammianus mentioned seeing the trail of the weak and elderly unable to keep pace with a column of prisoners and so left behind with their hamstrings cut. After this success Shapur moved against the strongly positioned fort at Bezabde and captured it. There was less damage to its walls and, after removing the population, a Persian garrison was installed. With summer almost over the king led his main army back home.'
By this time Constantius had arrived. In spite of the news of Julian's acclamation in Gaul, he decided to lead the army in an effort to recapture Bezabde. The Romans brought with them a battering ram left behind by Shapur I after one of his invasions a century before, which was assembled and proved to be still in working order. In spite of this and more modern artillery and siege engines, the Persian garrison bravely repulsed every Roman assault. With winter fast approaching Constantius reluctantly abandoned the siege. In 361 the Persians did not launch a new invasion, supposedly because their priests thought the omens were unfavourable. As importantly, the presence of stronger forces in the region under Constantius himself, and perhaps also the heavy losses in the recent sieges deterred Shapur from further aggression for the moment. Constantius waited near the eastern frontier for some time, before turning back to face Julian, but then fell ill and died.'°
Julian probably decided to launch a major invasion of Persia almost as soon as he became sole emperor. Although Shapur had only permanently occupied a single stronghold in Mesopotamia, he had destroyed two others. The balance of power had not shifted by much, but Roman prestige was severely dented and needed reassertion. More personally, Julian had won victories on the Rhine and his popularity with the army in Gaul was clear from their willingness to proclaim him Augustus. He was still largely unknown to the army in the east and many of its senior officers. Leading them in a victorious campaign would help to confirm their loyalty. Like any victor in a civil war, Julian was also eager for unambiguous glory against a foreign enemy. The greatest prestige of all would come from defeating Persia. Many emperors had dreamed of eastern conquests, but there was probably more to it than that. Julian had succeeded in everything he had attempted in the last few years. Victory against the odds in a civil war - and a miraculous victory with the convenient death of Constantius - only confirmed his sense of special destiny and divine assistance. It was no coincidence that in The Caesars Julian added Alexander the Great to the contest and granted him a distinguished place alongside Trajan, another man who had invaded Parthia. Alexander remained the great hero of the Greek tradition that Julian so cherished. Repeating his exploits would be a spectacular step in returning the world to the classical past of Julian's own imagining."
The preparations for the invasion were extensive. Supplies were stockpiled and a little later some grooms were crushed to death when a towering stack of fodder collapsed in the army's camp beside the Euphrates. Julian moved to Antioch and continued to preside over extravagant animal sacrifices, so that the troops with him were gorged with continual feasts from the victims' meat. The emperor quickly upset most of the great city's population and, in response to their jibes, composed a satire he called the `beard-hater' (misopogon). By the spring of 363 the invasion force was ready. Ammianus, who took part in the expedition, does not tell us how large it was, although he does say that some 20,000 men were engaged in manning the river barges that would carry the bulk of the army's supplies. He also notes that a diversionary force numbered some 30,000 men, and later implied that the main army was only a little larger. A later source claims that Julian's main army alone numbered 65,000. This is possible, and is certainly less than the obviously wildly inflated figures given for other armies in this period by the same author. We still need to be cautious, for it might still be an exaggeration or may include the diversionary force. It does seem safe to say that this was probably the largest Roman army sent to fight a foreign opponent in the fourth century. Julian had absolutely no experience of controlling an army even half the size of this expedition. Nor, for that matter, did any of his officers.12
The plan was to surprise Shapur, just as the Persian king had done the unexpected in 359. A diversionary army was formed under the joint command of a relative on Julian's mother's side named Procopius and another officer. Assisted by Armenian allies it was to threaten an advance along the usual routes from Mesopotamia. Shapur took the bait and led his main army to defend against this attack. Julian then advanced down the Euphrates against at first minimal opposition. The Romans passed by the ruins of Dura Europos and the monument to Emperor Gordian with little incident. The region was well watered by a system of irrigation canals and hence highly fertile. However, the Persians broke down dams to flood fields and, where this was not possible, burnt or carried off the crops to prevent them being used by the enemy. Such ruthless scorched earth tactics were common in conflicts between Rome and Persia. The Roman defenders had acted in the same way in 359, devastating the area where they expected - wrongly, as it turned out - that Shapur would advance. Julian's men could gather little food and fodder from the country they passed through, but for the moment their needs were served by the supplies carried on hundreds of river barges.
This did mean that the column had to stick close to the Euphrates and so had little choice but to storm the forts and walled towns along its route. This was done quickly, although at some cost in lives. Julian indulged his taste for dramatic play-acting in one siege when he approached the enemy-held wall with just a few men. His inspiration was an incident in the siege of Carthage in 146 BC. Then, the famous Roman general Scipio Aemilianus, accompanied by the Greek historian Polybius, had led a party of men that cut through an enemy gate. Julian and his men, however, were driven back. Perhaps such risk-taking by their commander inspired the soldiers, although it is doubtful that many had ever heard of Scipio. A good number of officers may have been more familiar with such historical examples and the emperor may well have felt that it was sufficient to impress these men. Yet on the whole, Julian seems to have been more concerned to live up to his own ideal image of the great general and link himself directly with the glories of the past. It was dangerous behaviour for any emperor, and especially for one without an obvious heir. The line between bravery and foolhardiness is often hard to draw, but it is very hard to see any practical gain that could have justified such risks. Julian's sense of his own destiny doubtless convinced him that he would survive any danger."
At another stronghold he led a small party of officers on a personal reconnaissance of the defences and fell into an ambush. Several Persians singled the emperor out because of his conspicuous uniform. He managed to cut down one of them, and the others were swiftly dealt with by his bodyguards, but it was a dangerous moment. When the place was taken Julian took great delight in emulating Alexander and the great Roman general Scipio Africanus (grandfather by adoption ofAemilianus) by treating with great respect some captive aristocratic women. To show that he was unwilling even to feel tempted by their beauty, Julian refused even to look at them. In his case, unlike his famous models, this was little sacrifice, for sex seems to have played very little part in Julian's life. When his wife died - their only child had also not survived - he made no effort to remarry in spite of the advantages of establishing a dynasty.14
After just over a month the army reached the Persian capital Ctesiphon. They had made fairly quick progress for a large army, but perhaps not quite quick enough. We cannot be certain about the original objective for the invasion - Julian may not have been that clear on this himself. Ctesiphon was an exceptionally large and strongly fortified city. The Romans lacked a sufficiently large siege train to capture it by a full-scale siege. This would in any case have taken time, creating major problems in keeping the army supplied since it had not captured significant reserves of food from the enemy. To make matters worse, Shapur had by now realised the deception - perhaps the diversionary forces were not aggressive enough - and was approaching with a large part of the main Persian army. A siege would be difficult and dangerous, and Julian quickly decided not to attempt it.
Perhaps capturing Ctesiphon had never been part of the plan, unless it could be taken by stealth or pressured into surrender. On the other hand, the Romans may simply have underestimated the scale of the task, although this would have been a serious failure given that they ought to have had good knowledge of its strength, if only from earlier campaigns. It is worth remembering that Julian's main experience of warfare came from his operations on the Rhine frontier. There, time after time, the Romans would advance quickly into enemy territory, burning villages and crops, seizing cattle and, if they could achieve surprise, killing or capturing the population. Faced with such a dreadful onslaught, the tribal kings would usually treat for peace. If they did not, then the exercise was repeated. In the civil war, a rapid attack into the heart of Constantius' territory had succeeded, albeit mainly because the emperor had so conveniently died. It is hard not to think that Julian saw his Persian expedition in much the same way - a surprise attack deep into enemy territory, capturing towns, devastating the land and defeating any force he encountered. Having shown the Persians that their king could not protect his own realm, Shapur would be forced to sue for peace and accept a treaty on Rome's terms. It is even possible that Julian expected the shock to be great enough to dethrone the king and allow him to be replaced by a royal relative who had long lived as an exile with the Romans.
If this was the plan, then it was seriously misguided. The scale was massively greater than punitive expeditions on the Rhine, both in terms of the number of soldiers involved and especially the distances. Nor was there any reason to believe that the Persians would follow the script and collapse under the pressure of the Roman attack. Shapur was a strong, well-established king with considerable resources for waging war, not some petty tribal leader. It would have taken far more to break his will or turn his subjects against him.
Julian felt unable to take Ctesiphon. He could not advance any further without risk of being cut off altogether, and there was nothing to be gained by staying where he was. Therefore, Julian decided to retreat. Rather than go back the way the army had come through the devastated lands, he decided to follow the line of the Tigris. Stories circulated that he was misled by Persians posing as deserters. Orders were given to burn the supply barges and the vast majority were destroyed before the emperor changed his mind. It would have been difficult to draw these up the Tigris against the current, but even so the gesture was a grim one for the Roman soldiers so deep in enemy country. Foraging did not prove easy on the new route. A large part of Shapur's main army had now arrived and began to harass the Roman column. Julian's men were able to defeat a Persian advance guard, but were unable to bring the main force to a decisive battle. The situation was growing increasingly desperate."
During another attack on the vanguard of the army on 26 June 363, Julian impetuously rushed to the spot without bothering to don his body armour. In the confusion and dust he outstripped his escort and was stabbed with a spear, cutting his own hand as he tried to pull the blade out. The most plausible version is that his attacker was a Saracen fighting as an ally to the Persians, but this did not stop stories circulating that his killer was a Roman - either disgusted by the predicament he had led them into or a Christian who hated his paganism. Taken to his tent, Julian died a few hours later. The emperor is supposed to have been both lucid and calm, conversing with the philosophers on deep questions until the very end. No source claims that he was much concerned with advising his generals what to do next. The stories may be invented - this was the proper way for a philosopher to die - but sound plausible. Whatever else we may think about Julian, he was clearly utterly self-absorbed."
It was later claimed that Julian had nominated Procopius as his heir. However, since he made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to seize power two years later, this may have been invented. He was not on the spot, and the senior officers and officials with the army knew that they needed to choose someone with the column. It would be far better for an emperor to negotiate directly with the Persians, who would be reluctant to trust any agreement that might quickly be rejected by a new ruler safe back within the empire. The first man chosen refused on the grounds of old age. Then some relatively junior officers proclaimed one of their number as emperor. His name was Jovian and the similarity of this to Julian (in Latin, Jovianus and Julianus) at first produced a rumour that the latter had recovered. Quickly he won enough approval to be accepted by the entire army. Much taller than the diminutive Julian, they were unable to find a purple imperial cloak long enough to reach properly down his legs. This was unsurprising, given that possession of material even vaguely resembling imperial regalia was often enough to lead to arrest and death.'7
Jovian and the army were in a tight spot. Any emperor, and especially one without any connection to the established imperial house, needed to get back to the heart of the empire quickly if he was to prevent challengers emerging. Fortunately, Shapur was willing to talk. Destroying the Roman army would have taken time and might have involved heavy casualties amongst his best troops. It was far better to negotiate from such a position of strength. He was able to extort massive concessions from the Romans. Some of the territories lost to Galerius were handed back to Persia. With them came the cities of Singara and Nisibis, which the Persians had thrice failed to capture. The populations were to be allowed to leave, but everything else was to be handed over. Finally, Jovian agreed to refrain from intervening in Armenia or supporting its monarch against the Persians. Officers like Ammianus felt that the terms of the peace were humiliating and hated most of all the sight of a Persian banner being raised over Nisibis. Yet from Jovian's point of view the concessions must have seemed necessary. He had inherited a disaster from Julian and at least he was able to save the army and himself. Most emperors placed their own survival above any other concern.I"
Faith and Government
The ceding of territory to Persia was Julian's most enduring legacy. At the start of his reign he had declared religious freedom throughout the empire, but it was clear that only some faiths were to be encouraged. The restrictions imposed on sacrifices and other pagan rituals by Constantine and his sons were removed. So were the privileges granted by them to Christian priests, notably exemption from burdensome public duties such as service as a city magistrate. Bishops were also no longer permitted to use the imperial post service when travelling. Men exiled for heresy were permitted to return, although in the case of bishops and other prominent clergy it was not made clear whether they were also restored to their former positions. Julian consciously wanted to foster the enthusiasm of many Christians for bitter internal disputes. Since in the Gospels Jesus foretold the destruction of the great Temple in Jerusalem, which actually occurred in 70, Julian gave orders for it to be rebuilt. The Jewish community was understandably cautious about embracing the ruler of an empire that had so often persecuted them in the past, but some leaders welcomed the decision. The project was quickly abandoned. Even the pagan Ammianus told the story of mysterious fireballs erupting and driving the workmen away.'9
Julian tried to create an organised pagan church - `church' is the right word for his was a heavily Christianised vision. Priests were appointed for each region. Their role and behaviour were expected to be very similar to Christian bishops. Julian felt that pagans had been badly shown up by the Christian enthusiasm for charity and his priests were to take care to look after the poor. Some of this structure was put into place. Appointments were made, and cities praised if they embraced the new system, but there is little trace of enthusiasm for Julian's particular brand of paganism. His beliefs remained essentially personal. It was the faith of a clever man, where learning, wisdom and disciplined character were to win favour from the gods. One of the things Julian most disliked about Christianity was the promise of salvation to all. In The Caesars, Constantine is rejected by all the gods until he runs to Jesus, who proclaims:
He that is a seducer, he that is a murderer, he that is sacrilegious, and infamous, let him approach without fear! For with this water I will wash him and will straightaway make him clean. And though he should be guilty of those same sins a second time, let him but smite his breast and beat his head and I will make him clean again."
Much of this is doubtless the bitterness of a man whose family had been slaughtered by his avowedly pious Christian uncle. Instead, the gods should reward only the truly virtuous and not evil-doers simply because they repented. It was not a message with wide emotional appeal.
Julian did not formally persecute Christians, or `Galileans' as he dubbed them. Some Christians were killed in rioting inspired by his decrees, both by pagan mobs and by other Christians in factional disputes. Direct persecution had not worked in the past and there was no indication that it would succeed now that the Church was openly established. Julian's attack was subtler. One measure that provoked especially strong criticism even from sympathetic pagans like Ammianus was the ban on Christians from teaching rhetoric and classical literature in public institutions. The rationale was that no one could adequately teach Homer or any of the other great texts unless they actually believed in the Olympian gods whose deeds they described - not a common view amongst philosophers other than the Neoplatonists. It was widely felt to be unfair to force Christian lecturers who had taught for many years either to recant or give up their posts. Since a traditional classical education was essential for any career in public office the aim was to force ambitious Christian parents to educate their children as pagans.2'
When Julian died, his newly designed state religion was promptly abandoned. The ban on Christians teaching was repealed and the clergy regained most of their old privileges. There was no such swift end to the doctrinal disputes that had riven the Church from Constantine onwards. In Africa the Donatists still refused to accept the orthodox Catholic Church, and the struggle had taken on a social element and become periodically violent. More widely, there were many who rejected the Nicene Creed with its explicit equality of the Trinity. Constantius II took a much more Arian viewpoint and promoted bishops who favoured this throughout the provinces under his control. Some accepted an alternative creed, where God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were of like, but not identical substance. There were many variations in just how this was understood and a whole range of sects emerged with distinct views on this and other points.
Some Christians formally rejected the world and chose to live lives of celibacy and frugality. The first monastic communities appeared in Egypt, but the idea quickly spread. Some ascetics achieved great fame for the exceptional simplicity of their lifestyle. Such people were widely revered and frequently written about, but always remained a minute fraction of the overall Christian community. The overwhelming majority of Christians married, raised families and, as opportunity and social status allowed, engaged in commerce or entered public life. It is widely believed that Christianity remained an essentially urban cult and that the population of the countryside clung for generations to the old beliefs. The word `pagan' comes from paganus, or someone who lived in the countryside (pagus). Unfortunately, we know so little about the religious life in rural areas that this remains conjectural. Paganus was usually derogatory - something like `yokel' or `hick' would give the right idea - and may just reflect the common belief of urban dwellers that countrymen were dull and backward."
Jovian was a Christian and quickly abandoned Julian's religious policy. Such concerns were not his main priority, which was to secure his position and minimise the damage to his prestige from the handover of territory to the Persians. Imperial proclamations announced the peace treaty as a great victory for Rome. There were some problems when the news of Jovian's elevation reached Gaul, although this did not develop into an organised challenge to his rule. After spending some time in Antioch, Jovian left for Constantinople but never reached his destination. Early in 364 he was found dead in his room. Fumes from a brazier and poor ventilation were held responsible. Ammianus for one suspected that Jovian had been murdered, but the verdict of accidental death by asphyxiation was publicly announced and accepted. The emperor's son was a baby - he had bawled unceasingly throughout a formal parade at Ancyra some weeks before - and there was no other heir. Without the pressure of an ongoing war, there was more time for court officials and army officers to select a new ruler. In the end, they chose an army officer named Valentinian, who was duly proclaimed as Augustus on 26 February 364.13
When the parading soldiers hailed the new emperor, they also demanded that he appoint a co-ruler - the death of two rulers in a year encouraged a desire for more stability. In spite of some blunt public advice from one Master of Soldiers - `If you love your relatives, best of emperors, choose your brother; if you love the state then pick someone else for the imperial robes' - Valentinian chose his younger brother Valens and named him as fellow Augustus. The pair divided the empire, the older brother taking the lion's share - geographically some two-thirds of the whole - and the younger being placed in charge of the east. From a family of local importance in Illyria, the brothers continued the tradition of third- and fourth-century emperors coming from the Balkans. Valens does not seem to have had an especially long or distinguished public career before his elevation. The brothers were both Christians. Valentinian supported the Church in his part of the empire and does not seem to have been especially concerned with matters of doctrine. He was tolerant of pagans, and only legislated against a small number of practices and condemned a handful of Christian sects. Valens was enthusiastically Arian, continuing the policies of Constantius II. Arianism was more common in the eastern provinces, although certainly not universal. Practical politics meant that Valens, like any emperor, employed many officials and army officers who were pagans or nonArian Christians.14
The two new emperors were frequently at war. In part this was to win the glory necessary to bolster their rule. They divided up the comitatenses, and many individual units were split into two new regiments, named seniores and juniores respectively. (The terms seem to have already been in use before this date, but most scholars believe that the bulk of units with these titles were created at this time.) For a while, at the very least, such regiments must have been severely under strength until their ranks could be filled with new recruits. The increase in the number of regiments also instantly created more posts for commanding officers, providing a good way of rewarding loyal supporters. Valentinian operated on the Rhine and Danubian frontiers, and sent subordinates to campaign in Britain and North Africa. On and off throughout his reign Valens was occupied with friction on the borders with Persia. Although the treaty of 363 was never formally abandoned, the rival sides each interpreted it in their own way. The Romans continued to involve themselves in Armenian affairs, while the Persians strove to dominate the kingdom and still hoped to regain the remaining territories lost to Galerius. There was a good deal of raiding, and some larger fighting, although the scale of warfare never matched the operations of Constantius' and Julian's reign. Valens was in Syria in 365 when he received news of a serious rebellion. Julian's relative Procopius had been proclaimed emperor outside Constantinople. Within months several provinces acknowledged the usurper.15
Procopius' only claim was his connection with Julian, who was himself related to Constantine. Having disappeared in the weeks after the latter's death, Procopius emerged from hiding and won over two army units marching past Constantinople on their way to the Danubian frontier. He had grown a beard and was depicted in this way on his coins, but, while he paraded his similarity to Julian, Procopius seems to have remained a Christian. There was clearly no wave of pagan resentment waiting to be tapped by men seeking imperial power. The usurpation began somewhat raggedly - Procopius' imperial robes were a makeshift, almost comic affair. Yet luck was with him and he began to rally more army units to his cause. When Valentinian heard the news of the rising he did not know whether or not his brother was alive or dead. He was engaged in a campaign on the Rhine and decided not to intervene, proclaiming that `Procopius was merely his own and his brother's enemy, while the Alamanni were the enemies of the entire Roman world'. After eight months, Valens was able to defeat the rebel. Procopius fled, but was handed over by his own officers and beheaded.26
Procopius started with very few supporters and gradually pieced together an army from passing units, all of them from Valens' forces. It seems extremely unlikely that he ever mustered an army of io,ooo or more men. In the end, the vast majority of his units deserted back to Valens. Even with such modest resources Procopius had come close to supplanting Valens. It was yet another demonstration of the insecurity of imperial power. Soldiers and officials could often be won over to support a rival. There was a snowball effect, Procopius' initial successes persuading more troops to join him. If a usurper gained local dominance then it was dangerous for officials and soldiers in the area not to join him. It was always better to be on the winning side, and whenever there was internal conflict people had to guess who was likely to win and act accordingly. Like other usurpations, the aftermath of Procopius' revolt brought a round of dismissals and executions, as well as promotions for those who had earned the emperor's favour, often by deserting the rebel at the right moment.'
Emperors dressed in a spectacular and ornate clothing that resembled military uniform. Their officials wore more modest versions that nevertheless reflected their delegated power and association with the ruler of the empire. Minor distinctions in colour and decoration - of tunic, headgear, cloak and even shoes - were of great importance in reflecting the hierarchy of office. A larger bureaucracy meant more posts with which to reward supporters. It also meant that many individuals came to represent imperial power wherever they happened to be. Legislation to restrict the demands made on communities by bureaucrats and soldiers suggest that they frequently took more than was necessary for the good of the state. In disturbed times such abuses were likely to be even worse.23
During Valens' reign some bandits in Syria disguised themselves as a state treasurer and his escort. Under this guise they entered a town near the end of the day and quite openly seized the house of a prominent aristocrat, announcing that he had been condemned by the emperor. The house was looted and any servants who resisted were killed before the group marched out of town before the following dawn. The success of this brazen raid reveals the general respect for and fear of imperial representatives. This particular gang thrived for some time, living in considerable luxury. In the end, imperial troops found them and massacred them all, even killing their sons in case they grew up to be bandits."
Such thefts of the symbols of imperial authority were exceptionally rare, if spectacular. Keeping a measure of control over legitimate officials, however, was an unending and extremely difficult task. Posts brought privileges with them. The higher ones gave the holder social rank. Almost all provided exemptions from expensive duties to home communities. Salaries were not especially high, at least for the more junior posts, but these were regularly boosted by bribes for favours or fees for services - the slang expression was `selling smoke'. Patronage and the exchange of favours were deeply embedded in Greco-Roman culture and such arrangements were not considered as corruption unless they went too far, distorting government decisions or resulting in the appointment of candidates staggeringly unsuited to the job. In some cases fees were formally recognised by the authorities. An inscription dating to Julian's reign from the outside wall of the town hall at Timgad in North Africa detailed the charges to both parties in bringing a legal case before the governor's court. Nothing would occur without the specified payment to each of the officials involved at every stage of the process. Charges were all assessed in quantities of grain, although whether they were actually paid in that form or converted into currency is unclear. Costs increased if the officials were required to travel any distance, for instance to serve a writ. Litigation was not cheap - although obviously that has been true in many eras, even if the specific nature of the costs has changed.3°
No emperor could know all of his officials, still less keep a close eye on all their activities. Rules could be bent or even broken altogether without this ever being brought to the emperor's attention. Therefore, more officials were appointed whose main task was to watch and report on the activities of their colleagues. Chief amongst these were the agents (agentes in rebus), and a similar task was often performed by the senior clerks (notariz). Neither group was popular either with other officials or the wider public - especially the wealthy and prominent, who were most likely to be investigated. Most emperors liked them, because they seemed to offer them more control over their own administration. Constantius II greatly increased their numbers, particularly expanding the ranks of the agents. Julian publicly dismissed many of them, but the numbers again grew rapidly after his death. Such representatives could investigate specific problems and report directly to the emperor. At best this gave him accurate information about distant problems and permitted him to make an informed decision about them. This assumed that the reports they presented were accurate. Inevitably, there was the chance for human error, as well as deliberate deception."
In the 36os the lands around Septimius Severus' home city of Lepcis were subjected to repeated raids by nomadic tribesmen from beyond the frontier. This followed the execution by the city authorities of one of the tribes' noblemen on a charge of banditry. The city councillors requested help from the local military commander, the comes Romanus. The latter gathered some units of comitatenses and then demanded 4,000 camels and supplies from the city leaders. It was normal for communities to support the armies with transport animals and food, but the quantities were wildly excessive. It is unlikely that so many animals could have been supplied at short notice, or that Romanus' forces actually needed them. Presumably he was interested in making a profit, either by selling off the bulk of the camels or accepting a bribe to make up for the shortfall in what the city gave him. The leaders of Lepcis refused out of hand, so Romanus waited for a month and then withdrew the army, leaving the city to its fate. Raids continued. As usual, these were evidently small in scale, and agriculture around the city was disrupted rather than destroyed. Yet it was all very galling to the citizens of Lepcis to see that the army was unwilling to protect them. A group of local notables was sent on an embassy to Valentinian, eventually gaining an audience with the emperor at Milan. Romanus sent his own version and this was persuasively presented by his relative, one of the senior officials of the imperial court.
At first nothing was done, but as reports of new and worse raids arrived, Valentinian decided to investigate the matter and gave this task to the clerk Palladius, who was anyway going to Africa to dispense pay to the troops. This last task was urgent and took precedence over the inquiry. Palladius came to private arrangements with the commanders of the regiments in Africa, siphoning off some of the soldiers' pay - perhaps through accepting falsely inflated returns for the number of men in each unit - and sharing the profits. When he finally came to look into the question of the raiding, the clerk quickly established Romanus' culpability. However, the latter had learned of Palladius' financial activities and blackmailed him into falsifying his report. Together they persuaded some locals to contradict the envoys and deny that there had ever been serious raids at all. Therefore, Valentinian was eventually informed that there was no truth in the accusations made against his commander in Africa. Angrily, he turned on the envoys from Lepcis for making `false' accusations against an imperial official. Some were executed, as was the civilian governor of the province who had backed their story. Other envoys were to have their tongues ripped out.
Only years later did the truth emerge in the aftermath of a tribal rebellion in North Africa, which eventually turned into an attempted usurpation. Romanus was discredited for provoking this episode and placed under arrest. Amongst his papers was a letter from Palladius revealing their secret arrangement. The former clerk had already been dismissed from service. He was arrested, but, being held overnight in a church during a festival, evaded the supervision of his guards and hanged himself. A few of the envoys had been in hiding and so had avoided the savage punishment decreed for them. They now served as witnesses, as those who had backed Romanus' and Palladius' story were sought out and punished."
The whole squalid episode had lasted for over a decade. It revealed starkly the dependence of the emperor on his officials, and the difficulty of establishing what was actually happening in the provinces. The imperial view was limited and the increase in bureaucracy had if anything made it more distant, for all information was filtered and refined by others before it reached the emperor himself. The savagery of the imperial response - both to the envoys and their supporters, and then ultimately to the conspirators when this was exposed - was typical of the fourth century and revealed it to be a very different world from the early empire. In the first and second centuries provincial communities were able to bring unpopular governors to trial after their term of office was over. They might or might not win their case - several of Pliny's predecessors in Bithynia had been found guilty - and the outcome might or might not be just, but the worst that failure would cost them was the waste of money and effort. No one would be executed or mutilated if a prosecution failed."
The Romanus scandal was exceptional. Corruption on such a scale did not pervade the entire administration of the empire and in the end due process caught up with the surviving conspirators. Yet the episode is too readily brushed aside by some modern scholars, eager as always to shed a favourable light on the fourth-century empire. It did reveal what was possible and while it is right to note that behaviour that would seem corrupt to modern eyes would have been perfectly acceptable to the Romans, Romanus and Palladius went far beyond that. Most of all it showed how poorly the government could function. Not only was nothing done about a genuine problem of raiding bands, but the emperor was unable even to find out correctly what had happened.34
The governmental system did most of what emperors required of it. It allowed them to harness sufficient resources to support the army. Its complex structure and divided responsibilities also helped to protect them from usurpers. The bureaucracy itself had steadily acquired a life of its own. Departments might bicker for power, but they rarely shrank in size for very long. Officials pursued careers to win themselves wealth, prestige, honours and privileges. The efficient running of the empire was too distant an ambition for individuals and departments within the bureaucracy. Human nature being what it is, such an object was too far removed from their more immediate ambitions. The imperial government more often than not coped with what was required of it in the day-to-day running of the empire. In the last years of Valens' reign, it was to show itself far less capable of dealing with a crisis.