Ancient History & Civilisation


Afterword: A Funeral and a Usurpation

[16] What then remained but for the corpse of the impious one to be carried home by the Romans, although he had closed his career in this manner? For we also have one dead of our own, in the prince that deceased before this one: so let us take, in this point also, of the difference between the two, whether this conduces to the felicity or to the misery of the departed. The one is followed to the tomb with public benedictions and processions, and, in fact, with all our solemnities, nocturnal chants, and torchlight followings, wherewith we Christians use to do honour to a pious departure from this world. The assembly meets, the carrying forth of the corpse takes place amidst the weeping of all; and, if one can believe the story, which is spread about by common reports, when the corpse was passing over Mount Taurus, on it way to his native city (that city of the same name with those princes and of illustrious name) a sound from the heights was heard by some of the train, as though of persons playing on musical instruments and accompanying them- these being, I suppose, the angelic hosts, in honour to his piety and a funereal recompense of his virtue. For although he had seemed to shake the foundations of the true faith, this, nevertheless, must be laid to the charge of his subordinates’ stupidity and unsoundness, who, getting hold of a soul that was unsuspicious and not firmly grounded in religion, nor able to see the pitfalls in its path, led it astray what way they pleased, and under the pretence of correctness of doctrine, converted his zeal into sin. [17] We, however, more commonly out of regard for his father (who had laid the foundation of imperial power and the Christian religion) as well as for the inheritance of the Faith that had come to him by descent – we reverenced with good reason the earthly Tabernacle of him that had spent his life in reigning righteously, that had finished his course with a holy end, and had left the supremacy to our side. And when the corpse drew near to the great imperial city, what needs it to mention the cortège of the whole army and the escort under arms that attended as upon the living emperor, or the crowd that poured forth from the splendid city, the most splendid that was ever seen, or ever will be? Even that audacious and bold person, decorated with the still new purple, and therefore, as was natural, full of pride, himself forms a part of the funereal honour paid his predecessor, paying and receiving the same obligation, partly out of constraint, partly (they say) of his own free will, for the whole army, even though they submitted to the existing authority, nevertheless paid more respect to the deceased, for the reason that, somehow or other, we are naturally inclined to sympathise more with recent misfortune, mingling regret with our love, and adding compassion to the two. For this reason they could not endure that the departed one should not be honoured, and received like an emperor; so they persuade, nay, compel the rebel to go to meet the corpse in befitting form, that is, stripping his brow of the diadem, and with head bent before his sovereign, as was right, thus to escort the corpse, in company with the bearers, to the tomb and to the famous Church of the Apostles, who received the holy race, and now guard their remains, which receive almost equal honours with their own! In this way our emperor was interred.1

By the time Gregory of Nazianzus wrote his fifth oration in late 365/early 3662 against the emperor Julian “the Apostate”, Constantius II’s immediate successor had been dead for over two years. However, such was the intense nature of the cultural and political issues raised by Julian’s brief reign of some seventeen months for the empire that the impact of his time as an emperor continued to demand the attention of Christian intellectuals like Gregory. Or. 5, frequently although not entirely correctly paired with Gregory’s other attack (Or. 4) on Julian’s life and legacy, continued to question the legitimacy of Julian’s reign in light of the events unfolding in the eastern empire with the usurpation of Procopius, a former comes under Julian with a family tie to the Constantinian dynasty, and to challenge Julian’s deification and ongoing reputation among sections of the populace.3 In both orations against Julian, Gregory distilled the primary offences of the emperor and imagined their transfer onto a stele,4 an inscribed proclamation of the crimes and misdemeanours of Julian, set up in public for all to judge:

Here is a pillar for you, raised by our hands, more lofty and more conspicuous than the ‘Pillars of Hercules’; for they were set up to commemorate one labour, and are only visible to such as visit that part of the world; but this pillar cannot fail as it moves about to be known to all men in all places; and which the time to come, I well know, will receive, holding up as it does, to infamy you and your actions, and warning all that remain never to venture upon any such rebellion against God, lest if they do the same things, they may meet with the same retribution!

(Or. 5.42)5

Following his excoriation of Julian’s Persian campaign, where the emperor was killed in action on 26 June 363 outside Ctesiphon, Gregory compares, in an encomiastic fashion, the funerals of Julian and Constantius II. Julian’s funeral is portrayed as entirely fitting for a figure of such derision (among Christians!): His cortège was escorted by clowns and mime artists, while the public made derisory comments as the funeral procession moved along its route. His body was transferred to Tarsus where on “consecrated ground without honour”, Julian was buried in “a tomb accursed, a temple abominable” (Or. 5.18; in a later oration (Or. 21.33), Gregory claims that the burial site was hit by an earthquake).6 By contrast, Constantius’ funeral was an exemplary pompa funebris befitting the imperial status of the honorand7: The deceased emperor was accompanied “with all our solemnities, nocturnal chants, and torchlight followings” (Or. 5.16), arriving in Constantinople in the manner of an adventus for a living emperor8: The crowd poured forth to watch the emperor’s arrival in the splendid imperial city accompanied under escort by the whole army, where he was interned in the Church of the (Holy) Apostles. Gregory also recounts the rumour that as Constantius’ body crossed the pass of Mount Taurus, the angelic host was heard playing “in honour to his piety and a funereal recompense of his virtue” (Or. 5.16).

From Gregory’s point of view, the comparison was straightforward. Constantius deserved honours meet for an imperial funeral because he had been a Christian emperor. Unlike Julian, Constantius and the emperors before him were “lovers of Christ”, a point made by Gregory at the beginning of Or. 4 (4.3). The funeral honours were fitting in spite of the fact that Constantius had sided with the opponents of Nicaea and the homoousious during his reign. With the (re-)emergence of Nicene formulations asserting the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father in the aftermath of the Homoian triumph of Constantinople in 360, Gregory became a key figure in the developing pro-Nicene cause of the 370s and 380s.9 Gregory’s rejection of the subordinationist compromises of the late 350s and early 360s and his commitment to Nicaea were longstanding,10 but in light of the dualistic parameters set by a literary invective,11 Constantius the homoian emperor was still infinitely preferable to his apostate cousin. Gregory could regard Constantius, therefore, as “our emperor”, while at the same time voicing the complaint that Constantius had been led astray, “a soul unsuspicious and not firmly grounded in religion … under the pretence of correctness of doctrine”, by stupid and unsound subordinates, with the result that the “foundations of the true faith” were shaken (Or. 5.16); a similar-sounding complaint was made by Gregory against the homoian-leaning Valens in his funeral oration for Basil.12 Gregory’s position illustrates neatly that memories of Constantius softened or hardened in the period after his death, the manner of memorialisation contingent on the circumstances and context for his memory’s mobilisation. Thus, for Gregory, Constantius was the emblem of Christian emperorship:

… of him [Constantius] above all the rest, inasmuch as he had grown up together with the inheritance of Christ, had augmented it to the utmost of his power, had made it strong through duration, so that he became on that account the most celebrated of all the sovereigns that had gone before. (Or. 4.3).

(This is followed by Gregory’s censure of Constantius for having raised Julian and failing to recognise that he would become the enemy of Christ, thereby demonstrating that Gregory was aware of Julian’s biography as outlined in pro-Julianic narratives which his own orations were seeking to overturn)13

In this regard, religion and dynasty were interlocked. While Julian had been a member of the Constantinian family, his “membership” of that dynasty had been annulled as a result of his efforts to initiate a religious revolution that unpicked the Christian legacy of his cousins and uncle. Christianity, even an aberrant species, made Constantius a legitimate emperor.

By contrast, the usurpation of Procopius sought to capitalise on the legacies of both Constantius and Julian. For Procopius, Julian was as much Constantius’ rightful heir as he (Procopius) was Julian’s. The recently initiated reigns of the “Pannonian Emperors”, Valentinian I and Valens, by contrast, marked a hiatus in legitimate dynastic succession when, in the (alleged) words of Procopius himself, “a base Pannonian should shake and trample upon the world, to gain a throne which he never so much as dared to pray for”.14 Procopius had been designated Julian’s successor by the emperor himself (“Julian is said to have handed his purple mantle to his relative Procopius”),15 his status as heir apparent evident in his role as an overseer of Julian’s burial in Tarsus in Cilicia.16 However, Jovian’s accession spelt danger for Procopius,17 and he disappeared, resurfacing only after Jovian’s death,18 when he reappeared in late summer 365 in Constantinople. His family connection to Julian is traditionally thought to lie on the side of Julian’s mother, Basilina,19 but since no wife or offspring outlived Julian, Procopius legitimised his position by appealing to the immediate family of Constantius II and by utilising associations with the Constantinian dynasty more widely. The imperial city bearing the name of the dynasty’s founder was the base for Procopius’ revolt against Valens and the excesses of his father-in-law, Petronius,20 beginning in September 365 (Ammianus, 26.6.7). With Valens preoccupied by Gothic incursions into Thrace, Procopius convinced the Constantinian legiones palatinae, the Divitenses and the Tungricani Iuniores, to desert to him during their stopover in Constantinople. The baths of Anastasia,21 the half-sister of Constantine I, were the location for a meeting of the usurper and the army on 28 September (Cons. Const. s.a. 365: “a night robber and public enemy appeared in Constantinople”22), which Ammianus portrays as culminating in an impromptu elevation (26.6.15–16). The public acceptance of Procopius’ rise appears to have been hastened by the excesses of Petronius, and in this regard his usurpation followed the template of an alternative ruler appearing to challenge imperial corruption. However, Procopius clearly understood the importance of imperial pedigree to his cause, and appealed during his first address on the tribunal outside the senate in Constantinople to his proximity to the imperial family of Constantine.23 His links with the dynasty appear key to the readiness of Constantinople to endorse his move, and they were fundamental to his acceptance by the Divitenses and Tungricani and a further detachment of cavalry and infantry which passed through the city on the way to Thrace.24 Faustina, the third wife of Constantius II whom he had married following the death of Eusebia in 361,25 and their daughter, Constantia, born in the months following Constantius’ death, had likely resided in Constantinople following Constantius’ burial in the city’s Church of the Holy Apostles.26 They were now brought forward to cement the loyalty of the troops: Procopius is said to have cradled the infant Constantia in his arms in order to evoke his association with the deceased emperor, “visual evidence that he belonged to the Constantinian dynasty”.27 However, the link to Constantius was not only exploited to cement his acclamation in Constantinople. Procopius imbued Constantius’ family with a talismanic quality and insisted that they accompany his troops on a campaign against Valens. During an engagement in the spring months of 366 at Thyatira (modern-day, Akhisar, in western Turkey), Procopius’ troops were emboldened by the sight of Constantia and her mother Faustina, who were transported around in a litter (lectica). Living links (“living emblems”28) to the ancestral imperial past were, therefore, central to winning and maintaining loyalties. Other alternatives were, of course, available. Valens countered Procopius’ parading of Constantia by bringing the aged Constantinian general,29 Arbitio, out of retirement, in order to win over the support of Procopius’ troops (it seems to have partially worked: Gomoarius defected to Valens soon afterwards).30 Procopius’ seizure of the mints in Constantinople, Cyzicus and Heraclea, led to the early production of a series of coin issues which reproduced Constantinian messaging (notably, REPARATIO FEL(icium) TEMP(orum),31 together with the evocative return of the bearded emperor on the obverse, bringing to mind Julian, the “bearded, lean-faced, ascetic philosopher”.32 However, monetary tokens of legitimacy were not in themselves sufficient to secure Procopius’ path33 certainly not when compared to the effect that the “living emblems” of the Constantinian dynasty had in terms of securing people’s support.

Procopius’ revolt failed, but lessons had been learnt. While the legacy of the Constantinian dynasty was purposely downplayed by the propagandists of the Valentinian emperors,34 the gilt-edged legitimacy of the sort conferred by imperial marriage was exploited again by the Valentinians. Valentinian I, who himself married Justina, a member of the Constantinian family, towards the end of the 360s, arranged for the twelve-year-old Constantia, the only child of Constantius II, to marry his fifteen-year-old son, Gratian, in 374.35 The dynastic sheen of the Valentinians was suitably burnished and allegations of ignobleness could be overcome. In this sense, therefore, the dynastic legacy of Constantine lay not in his sons, but in the presence of a solitary granddaughter.36


1. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 5.16–17; trans. King 1888.

2. Elm 2012: 342–343.

3. Elm 2012: 343; 433–446.

4. On Gregory’s metaphor, see Elm 2012: 2.

5. Trans. King 1888 (modified).

6. Cf. den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2005: 304–305.

7. Elm 2012: 456–457.

8. Notably, Ross 2021.

9. See esp. DelCogliano 2021; also, Hanson 1988: 699–714; McGuckin 2001: 169–227.

10. See McGuckin 2001: 111–115.

11. Cf. McGuckin 2001: 119.

12. Or. 43.30; see Lenski 2002: 244–245.

13. On the issue of the relationship between Orr. 4 and 5 with, for example, Libanius Orr. 17 and 18, see Elm 2012: 433–477.

14. Amm. Marc. 26.7.16; notably, see the comments by den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst, Teitler 2008: 209.

15. Amm. Marc. 23.3.2; 26.6.2; Zosimus 4.4.2.

16. See the comments by Johnson 2009: 103–104.

17. Amm. Marc. 26.6.3–4.

18. In contrast to the account of his voluntary retirement to his estates in Cappadocian Caesarea given by Zosimus 4.4.3, see den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2008: 132–133.

19. Outlined and discussed by Tougher 2011: 190–191.

20. PLRE 1: 690–691 (Petronius 3). A constitution (Cod. Theod. 7.22.7) addressed to Petronius patricius from April 365 mandated the recruitment of fit and able army veterans and their sons; see the commentary by den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2008: 140–146.

21. See Lenski 2002: 399, nt. 32; also, den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2008: 155–156.

22. Burgess 1993: 239.

23. Amm. Marc. 26.6.18.

24. Amm. Marc. 26. 7.9; see den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2008: 196–197.

25. Amm. Marc. 21.6.4; PLRE 1: 326.

26. Cf. McEvoy 2016: 160.

27. Den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst and Teitler 2008: 241.

28. Lenski 2002: 98; cf. McEvoy 2016: 162.

29. Amm. Marc. 26.9.4; see the note, PLRE 1: 94 (“DVX, under Constantine?”).

30. Cf. Lenski 2002: 101–102.

31. See esp. Lenski 2002: 97–104; den Boeft, Drijvers, den Hengst, Teitler 2008: 201–202.

32. Elm 2012: 471.

33. Amm. Marc. 26.7.11–12.

34. For example, Themistius Or. 6.83b; see Lenski 2002: 102.

35. See Lenski 2002: 102, nt. 210.

36. The union of Constantia and Gratian produced no children, cf. McEvoy 2016: 165, 172–174.

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