TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day

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The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.
 

 


From Constantine to the Rise of Byzantium
 


312-867
 

 


In 313 A.D., Constantine and Licinius issued an edict of tolerance in Milan, putting the Christian religion on equal footing with existing Roman cults. Less than a century later, Christianity would become the state religion of Rome. Constantine was the first to use it as an instrument to strengthen his rule, subjecting the Church to strict political control, a practice followed bv his successors. The de facto division of the empire into a Western (Roman) and Eastern (Byzantine) became permanent in 395. While the Roman Empire declined, Byzantium rose as a new power in its own right.
 


Constantine the Great
 


In 324 Constantine was able to establish sole rule and reorganize the empire. He encouraged Christianity in all areas.
 

Following the 5 victory over their opponents in 313, 1 Constantine and Licinius divided the empire between them and issued the Edict of Milan, which guaranteed 2 Christians the right to practice their religion.

Cooperation between the two did not last long, however. From 316 on, military clashes between the adversaries took place. Constantino ultimately triumphed and exiled Licinius.

Constantine increasingly saw himself as the representative of the Christian god and protector of Christianity. He clearly recognized the potential of the new religion and wanted to tic it into the Roman ideology of the state.


5 Constantine arc, 315 a.d.,
christened after Constantine's victory
over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge


1 Marble bust of Constantine I,
the Great
 


2 The Christian symbol of the fish
early Christian mosaic, fourth c.

 

He reimbursed the Church for confiscated property and financed the construction of 4, 6 churches.


4 The Constantine basilica in Rome,
christened by Constantine in 330


6 The Grave Church in Jerusalem, christened in 326
 

 

However, the 3 "Donation of Constantine" of state-owned land to the church is a myth resulting from a document forged around 850.

Constantine implemented many new laws that were influenced by Christian standards. He repealed punishment such as gladiatorial service, maiming, and limited slavery and passed relatively progressive marriage and family laws. By emphasizing the divine right of kings, he reinforced the role of religious legitimacy in imperial rule. Any offense against a Christian emperor became sacrilege toward God and God's order. The emperor not only intervened in Church politics, but also had the final say concerning matters of faith. Many Christians began to identify with the empire that had previously persecuted them and sought to participate in its affairs. The Church adopted many organizations and state offices into its own structures.


3 The Donation of Constantine, fresco, 1246

 
 

Constantine the Great

Constantine I, byname Constantine the Great, Latin in full Flavius Valerius Constantinus (born February 27, after ad 280?, Naissus, Moesia [now Niš, Serbia]—died May 22, 337, Ancyrona, near Nicomedia, Bithynia [now İzmit, Turkey]), the first Roman emperor to profess Christianity. He not only initiated the evolution of the empire into a Christian state but also provided the impulse for a distinctively Christian culture that prepared the way for the growth of Byzantine and Western medieval culture.

Constantine was born probably in the later ad 280s. A typical product of the military governing class of the later 3rd century, he was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, an army officer, and his wife (or concubine) Helena. In ad 293 his father was raised to the rank of Caesar, or deputy emperor (as Constantius I Chlorus), and was sent to serve under Augustus (emperor) Maximian in the West. In 289 Constantius had separated from Helena in order to marry a stepdaughter of Maximian, and Constantine was brought up in the Eastern Empire at the court of the senior emperor Diocletian at Nicomedia (modern İzmit, Turkey). Constantine was seen as a youth by his future panegyrist, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, passing with Diocletian through Palestine on the way to a war in Egypt.


Career and conversion
Constantine’s experience as a member of the imperial court—a Latin-speaking institution—in the Eastern provinces left a lasting imprint on him. Educated to less than the highest literary standards of the day, he was always more at home in Latin than in Greek: later in life he had the habit of delivering edifying sermons, which he would compose in Latin and pronounce in Greek from professional translations. Christianity he encountered in court circles as well as in the cities of the East; and from 303, during the great persecution of the Christians that began at the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia and was enforced with particular intensity in the eastern parts of the empire, Christianity was a major issue of public policy. It is even possible that members of Constantine’s family were Christians.

In 305 the two emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, abdicated, to be succeeded by their respective deputy emperors, Galerius and Constantius. The latter were replaced by Galerius Valerius Maximinus in the East and Flavius Valerius Severus in the West, Constantine being passed over. Constantius requested his son’s presence from Galerius, and Constantine made his way through the territories of the hostile Severus to join his father at Gesoriacum (modern Boulogne, France). They crossed together to Britain and fought a campaign in the north before Constantius’s death at Eboracum (modern York) in 306. Immediately acclaimed emperor by the army, Constantine then threw himself into a complex series of civil wars in which Maxentius, the son of Maximian, rebelled at Rome; with his father’s help, Maxentius suppressed Severus, who had been proclaimed Western emperor by Galerius and who was then replaced by Licinius. When Maximian was rejected by his son, he joined Constantine in Gaul, only to betray Constantine and to be murdered or forced to commit suicide (310). Constantine, who in 307 had married Maximian’s daughter Fausta as his second wife, invaded Italy in 312 and after a lightning campaign defeated his brother-in-law Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge near Rome. He then confirmed an alliance that he had already entered into with Licinius (Galerius having died in 311): Constantine became Western emperor and Licinius shared the East with his rival Maximinus. Licinius defeated Maximinus and became the sole Eastern emperor but lost territory in the Balkans to Constantine in 316. After a further period of tension, Constantine attacked Licinius in 324, routing him at Adrianople and Chrysopolis (respectively, modern Edirne and Üsküdar, Turkey) and becoming sole emperor of East and West.

Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. The triumphal arch erected in his honour at Rome after the defeat of Maxentius ascribed the victory to the “inspiration of the Divinity” as well as to Constantine’s own genius. A statue set up at the same time showed Constantine himself holding aloft a cross and the legend “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.” After his victory over Licinius in 324, Constantine wrote that he had come from the farthest shores of Britain as God’s chosen instrument for the suppression of impiety, and in a letter to the Persian king Shāpūr II he proclaimed that, aided by the divine power of God, he had come to bring peace and prosperity to all lands.

Constantine’s adherence to Christianity was closely associated with his rise to power. He fought the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God, having received instructions in a dream to paint the Christian monogram () on his troops’ shields. This is the account given by the Christian apologist Lactantius; a somewhat different version, offered by Eusebius, tells of a vision seen by Constantine during the campaign against Maxentius, in which the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the legend “In this sign, conquer.” Despite the emperor’s own authority for the account, given late in life to Eusebius, it is in general more problematic than the other; but a religious experience on the march from Gaul is suggested also by a pagan orator, who in a speech of 310 referred to a vision of Apollo received by Constantine at a shrine in Gaul.

Yet to suggest that Constantine’s conversion was “politically motivated” means little in an age in which every Greek or Roman expected that political success followed from religious piety. The civil war itself fostered religious competition, each side enlisting its divine support, and it would be thought in no way unusual that Constantine should have sought divine help for his claim for power and divine justification for his acquisition of it. What is remarkable is Constantine’s subsequent development of his new religious allegiance to a strong personal commitment.


Commitment to Christianity
Shortly after the defeat of Maxentius, Constantine met Licinius at Mediolanum (modern Milan) to confirm a number of political and dynastic arrangements. A product of this meeting has become known as the Edict of Milan, which extended toleration to the Christians and restored any personal and corporate property that had been confiscated during the persecution. The extant copies of this decree are actually those posted by Licinius in the eastern parts of the empire. But Constantine went far beyond the joint policy agreed upon at Mediolanum. By 313 he had already donated to the bishop of Rome the imperial property of the Lateran, where a new cathedral, the Basilica Constantiniana (now San Giovanni in Laterano), soon rose. The church of St. Sebastian was also probably begun at this time, and it was in these early years of his reign that Constantine began issuing laws conveying upon the church and its clergy fiscal and legal privileges and immunities from civic burdens. As he said in a letter of 313 to the proconsul of Africa, the Christian clergy should not be distracted by secular offices from their religious duties “…for when they are free to render supreme service to the Divinity, it is evident that they confer great benefit upon the affairs of state.” In another such letter, directed to the bishop of Carthage, Constantine mentioned the Spanish bishop Hosius, who was important later in the reign as his adviser and possibly—since he may well have been with Constantine in Gaul before the campaign against Maxentius—instrumental in the conversion of the emperor.

Constantine’s personal “theology” emerges with particular clarity from a remarkable series of letters, extending from 313 to the early 320s, concerning the Donatist schism in North Africa. The Donatists maintained that those priests and bishops who had once lapsed from the Christian faith could not be readmitted to the church. Constantine’s chief concern was that a divided church would offend the Christian God and so bring divine vengeance upon the Roman Empire and Constantine himself. Schism, in Constantine’s view, was inspired by Satan. Its partisans were acting in defiance of the clemency of Christ, for which they might expect eternal damnation at the Last Judgment. Meanwhile, it was for the righteous members of the Christian community to show patience and long-suffering. In so doing they would be imitating Christ, and their patience would be rewarded in lieu of martyrdom—for actual martyrdom was no longer open to Christians in a time of peace for the church. Throughout, Constantine had no doubt that to remove error and to propagate the true religion were both his personal duty and a proper use of the imperial position. His claim to be “bishop of those outside the church” may be construed in this light. Other such pronouncements, expressed in letters to imperial officials and to Christian clergy, demonstrate that Constantine’s commitment to Christianity was firmer and less ambiguous than some have suggested. Eusebius confirmed what Constantine himself believed: that he had a special and personal relationship with the Christian God.

Constantine’s second involvement in an ecclesiastical issue followed the defeat of Licinius; but the Arian heresy, with its intricate explorations of the precise nature of the Trinity that were couched in difficult Greek, was as remote from Constantine’s educational background as it was from his impatient, urgent temperament. The Council of Nicaea, which opened in the early summer of 325 with an address by the emperor, had already been preceded by a letter to the chief protagonist, Arius of Alexandria, in which Constantine stated his opinion that the dispute was fostered only by excessive leisure and academic contention, that the point at issue was trivial and could be resolved without difficulty. His optimism was not justified: neither this letter nor the Council of Nicaea itself nor the second letter, in which Constantine urged acceptance of its conclusions, was adequate to solve a dispute in which the participants were as intransigent as the theological issues were subtle. Indeed, for more than 40 years after the death of Constantine, Arianism was actually the official orthodoxy of the Eastern Empire.

The Council of Nicaea coincided almost exactly with the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the reign of Constantine, at which, returning the compliment paid by the emperor’s attendance at their council, the bishops were honoured participants. But Constantine’s visit to the West in 326, to repeat the celebrations at Rome, brought the greatest political crisis of the reign. During his absence from the East, and for reasons that remain obscure, Constantine had his eldest son, the deputy emperor Crispus, and his own wife Fausta, Crispus’s stepmother, slain. Nor was the visit to Rome a success. Constantine’s refusal to take part in a pagan procession offended the Romans; and when he left after a short visit, it was never to return.


Final years
These events set the course of the last phase of the reign of Constantine. After his defeat of Licinius he had renamed Byzantium as Constantinople: immediately upon his return from the West he began to rebuild the city on a greatly enlarged pattern, as his permanent capital and the “second Rome.” The dedication of Constantinople (May 330) confirmed the divorce, which had been in the making for more than a century, between the emperors and Rome. Rome had long been unsuited to the strategic needs of the empire: it was now to be left in splendid isolation, as an enormously wealthy and prestigious city—still the emotional focus of the empire—but of limited political importance.

It was perhaps in some sense to atone for the family catastrophe of 326 that Constantine’s mother, Helena, embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her journey was attended by almsgiving and pious works and was distinguished by her church foundations at Jerusalem and at Bethlehem. By the initiative of Eutropia, Constantine’s mother-in-law, a church was also built at Mamre, where, according to an interpretation of Genesis shared by Constantine and Eusebius, Christ had first shown himself to men in God’s appearance to Abraham; but the most famous of these foundations followed the sensational discovery of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. The discovery was taken up with enthusiasm by Constantine, who instigated the building of a great new basilica at the spot, offering unlimited help with labour and materials and suggestions as to design and decoration.

Constantine’s interest in church building was expressed also at Constantinople, particularly in churches of the Holy Wisdom (the original Hagia Sophia) and of the Apostles. At Rome, the great church of St. Peter was begun in the later 320s and lavishly endowed by Constantine with plate and property. Meanwhile, churches at Trier, Aquileia, Cirta in Numidia, Nicomedia, Antioch, Gaza, Alexandria, and elsewhere owed their development, directly or indirectly, to Constantine’s interest.

The emperor was an earnest student of his religion. Even before the defeat of Licinius, he had summoned to Trier the theologian and polemicist Lactantius to be the tutor of Crispus. In later years he commissioned new copies of the Bible for the growing congregations at Constantinople. He composed a special prayer for his troops and went on campaigns with a mobile chapel in a tent. He issued numerous laws relating to Christian practice and susceptibilities: for instance, abolishing the penalty of crucifixion and the practice of branding certain criminals; enjoining the observance of Sunday and saints’ days; and extending privileges to the clergy while suppressing at least some offensive pagan practices.

Constantine had hoped to be baptized in the Jordan River, but perhaps because of the lack of opportunity to do so—together possibly with the reflection that his office necessarily involved responsibility for actions hardly compatible with the baptized state—he delayed the ceremony until the end of his life. It was while preparing for a campaign against Persia that he fell ill at Helenopolis. When treatment failed, he made to return to Constantinople but was forced to take to his bed near Nicomedia. There, Constantine received baptism, putting off the imperial purple for the white robes of a neophyte; and he died in 337. He was buried at Constantinople in his church of the Apostles, whose memorials, six on each side, flanked his tomb. Yet this was less an expression of religious megalomania than of Constantine’s literal conviction that he was the successor of the evangelists, having devoted his life and office to the spreading of Christianity.


Assessment
The reign of Constantine must be interpreted against the background of his personal commitment to Christianity. His public actions and policies, however, were not entirely without ambiguity. Roman opinion expected of its emperors not innovation but the preservation of traditional ways; Roman propaganda and political communication were conditioned, by statement, allusion, and symbol, to express these expectations. It is significant, for instance, not that the pagan gods and their legends survived for a few years on Constantine’s coinage but that they disappeared so quickly: the last of them, the relatively inoffensive “Unconquered Sun,” was eliminated just over a decade after the defeat of Maxentius.

Some of the ambiguities in Constantine’s public policies were therefore exacted by the respect due to established practice and by the difficulties of expressing, as well as of making, total changes suddenly. The suppression of paganism, by law and by the sporadic destruction of pagan shrines, is balanced by particular acts of deference. A town in Asia Minor mentioned the unanimous Christianity of its inhabitants in support of a petition to the emperor; while, on the other hand, one in Italy was allowed to hold a local festival incorporating gladiatorial games and to found a shrine of the imperial dynasty—although direct religious observance there was firmly forbidden. In an early law of Constantine, priests and public soothsayers of Rome were prohibited entry to private houses; but another law, of 320 or 321, calls for their recital of prayer “in the manner of ancient observance” if the imperial palace or any other public building were struck by lightning. Traditional country magic was tolerated by Constantine. Classical culture and education, which were intimately linked with paganism, continued to enjoy enormous prestige and influence; provincial priesthoods, which were as intimately linked with civic life, long survived the reign of Constantine. Constantinople itself was predominantly a Christian city, its dedication celebrated by Christian services; yet its foundation was also attended by a well-known pagan seer, Sopatros.

An objective assessment of Constantine’s secular achievements is not easy—partly because of the predominantly religious significance with which the emperor himself invested his reign, partly because the restlessly innovatory character that dissenting contemporaries saw in his religious policy was also applied by them to the interpretation of his secular achievement. Some of Constantine’s contributions can, in fact, be argued to have been already implicit in the trends of the last half century. So may be judged the further development, taking place in his reign, of the administrative court hierarchy and an increasing reliance upon a mobile field army, to what was considered the detriment of frontier garrisons. The establishment by Constantine of a new gold coin, the solidus, which was to survive for centuries as the basic unit of Byzantine currency, could hardly have been achieved without the work of his predecessors in restoring political and military stability after the anarchy of the 3rd century. Perhaps more directly linked with Constantine’s own political and dynastic policies was the emergence of regional praetorian prefectures with supreme authority over civil financial administration but with no direct control over military affairs; this they yielded to new magistri, or “masters,” of the cavalry and infantry forces. The reduction of the prefects’ powers was seen by some as excessively innovatory, but the principle of the division of military and civil power had already been established by Diocletian. A real innovation, from which Constantine could expect little popularity, was his institution of a new tax, the collatio lustralis. It was levied every five years upon trade and business and seems to have become genuinely oppressive.

A lavish spender, Constantine was notoriously openhanded to his supporters and was accused of promoting beyond their deserts men of inferior social status. More to the point is the accusation that his generosity was only made possible by his looting of the treasures of the pagan temples as well as by his confiscations and new taxes; and there is no doubt that some of his more prominent supporters owed their success, at least partly, to their timely adoption of the emperor’s religion.

The foundation of Constantinople, an act of crucial long-term importance, was Constantine’s personal achievement. Yet it, too, had been foreshadowed; Diocletian enhanced Nicomedia to an extent that was considered to challenge Rome. The city itself exemplified the “religious rapacity” of the emperor, being filled with the artistic spoils of the Greek temples, while some of its public buildings and some of the mansions erected for Constantine’s supporters soon showed signs of their hasty construction. Its Senate, created to match that of Rome, long lacked the aristocratic pedigree and prestige of its counterpart.

In military policy Constantine enjoyed unbroken success, with triumphs over the Franks, Sarmatians, and Goths to add to his victories in the civil wars; the latter, in particular, show a bold and imaginative mastery of strategy. Constantine was totally ruthless toward his political enemies, while his legislation, apart from its concessions to Christianity, is notable mainly for a brutality that became characteristic of late Roman enforcement of law. Politically, Constantine’s main contribution was perhaps that, in leaving the empire to his three sons, he reestablished a dynastic succession, but it was secured only by a sequence of political murders after his death.

Above all, Constantine’s achievement was perhaps greatest in social and cultural history. It was the development, after his example, of a Christianized imperial governing class that, together with his dynastic success, most firmly entrenched the privileged position of Christianity; and it was this movement of fashion, rather than the enforcement of any program of legislation, that was the basis of the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Emerging from it in the course of the 4th century were two developments that contributed fundamentally to the nature of Byzantine and Western medieval culture: the growth of a specifically Christian, biblical culture that took its place beside the traditional Classical culture of the upper classes; and the extension of new forms of religious patronage between the secular governing classes and bishops, Christian intellectuals and holy men. Constantine left much for his successors to do, but it was his personal choice made in 312 that determined the emergence of the Roman Empire as a Christian state. It is not hard to see why Eusebius regarded Constantine’s reign as the fulfillment of divine providence—nor to concede the force of Constantine’s assessment of his own role as that of the 13th Apostle.

J.F. Matthews
Donald MacGillivray Nicol

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Excerpt from a Eulogy from the

"Panegyrici Latini"

"You have, Constantine, indeed some secret with the godly spirit, who, after He has left to the lower gods all concern about us, only you He has dignified by showing himself to you directly.
Otherwise, bravest Emperor, give account of how you have triumphed."
 

 

 
 

 


Constantine's Successors


A fratricidal war destabilized the empire after Constantine's death. Ultimately Constantius II was able to continue his father's policies successfully. The attempt of Julian the Apostate to revert to paganism remained an aberration.
 

In 330 Constantine renamed the city of Byzantium 11 Constantinople as the new capital of the Roman-Christian empire.


11 Constantine founds Byzantium's new capital
under the name Constantinople in 330



By 335 he had instituted a system of imperial succession influenced by Diocletian's tetrarchy: His oldest and second sons, Constantine II and Constantius II, were to be augusti, while his youngest son Constans and his nephew Dalmatius would be caesars. However, when Constantine died in 337 in the initial stages of a planned military excursion to Persia, a few days after he had accepted a Christian 7 baptism, all three of his sons assumed the title of augustus.


7 Baptism of Constantine the Great by Pope Sylvester I,
fresco. 1246


A murderous fratricidal war flared up, during which 10 Constantius II, son of his father's first wife Fausta, had all his relatives by his father's second marriage killed.

Out of the struggle for power he emerged triumphant. After he had repulsed the attacking Persians, he actively continued his father's church policies. Because the quarrel over Arianism and other early splinter groups of Christianity threatened to destabilize the empire, Constantius attempted to foster politico-religious unity by particularly emphasizing the overarching position of the Christian emperor. His court ceremonies already bore the features of the ruler's religious zeal that were later characteristic of the son Byzantine Empire.

Constantius's successor in 361 was his cousin 8, 9 Julian, who had held the office of caesar of the West since 355 and had assumed the title of augustus against Constantius in 360. The philosophical and highly educated Julian is one of the tragic figures of late antiquity. Due to his enthusiasm for Greek philosophy and the greatness of ancient Rome, he lost his faith, reverted to paganism and attempted to suppress Christianity and install a neo-Platonic sun cult. He did not persecute the Christians, but his attempt to turn back time led to unrest in the empire. When he fell in battle against the Persians in June 363, his new sun cult broke up and the Christian historians damned him as "the Apostate." His death marked the end of rule by Constantine's dynasty.
 


10 Constantius II


8 Emperor Julian the Apostate,
fresco, ca. 1320/25


9 Julian Apostata, coin portrait
 

 
 
 

Constantius II

Constantius II, original name Flavius Julius Constantius (born Aug. 7, 317, Sirmium, Savia [now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia]—died Nov. 3, 361, Mopsucrenae, Honorias [now in Turkey]), Roman emperor from ad 337 to 361, who at first shared power with his two brothers, Constantine II (d. 340) and Constans I (d. 350), but who was sole ruler from 353 to 361.

The third son of Constantine I the Great and Fausta, Constantius served under his father as caesar from Nov. 8, 324, to Sept. 9, 337. When Constantine died on May 22, 337, the troops massacred many of his relatives, including Constantine’s half-brother, Constantius, consul in 335 and father of the future emperor Julian. In Julian’s Letter to the Athenians (361) he openly accuses Constantius of murdering his father. The historian Eutropius felt the new emperor had “permitted but not ordered” the killings. Constantius then divided the empire with his brothers, taking the eastern provinces (Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Asia, and Egypt) for himself. Between 338 and 350 he was engaged in inconclusive but extremely bloody warfare with the Persian king Shāpūr II.

In 350 Constantius returned to Europe to confront two usurpers. Vetranio, commander of the Danube forces, had taken power in Illyricum (now located in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula); the rest of Europe was seized by the barbarian officer Magnentius, who in 350 executed Constans, the ruler in the West. At Naissus (modern Niš, Serbia), Constantius persuaded Vetranio to abdicate, and on Sept. 22, 351, he crushed Magnentius at Mursa (modern Osijek, Croatia). During this struggle Constantius appointed as caesar his cousin Gallus to be administrator of the East. But Gallus proved to be a despotic ruler, and in 354 Constantius recalled him and had him executed. After campaigning against the Sarmatian, Suebi, and Quadi tribes on the Danube in 357–358, Constantius returned east to fight Shāpūr, who had renewed his attacks on the eastern frontier (359). In 361 Constantius was recalled to the West by the revolt of Julian, his caesar in Gaul since 355, but became ill on the way and died.

As sole ruler after 353, Constantius tried to create religious unity in the empire under Arian Christianity. He passed laws against paganism, and the historian Ammianus Marcellinus portrays him as deeply moved on a visit to Rome in 356. He twice (339, 356) exiled the influential orthodox bishop of Alexandria, but the religious unity he sought was short-lived.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Julian the Apostate

Julian, byname Julian the Apostate, Latin Julianus Apostata, original name Flavius Claudius Julianus (born ad 331/332, Constantinople—died June 26/27, 363, Ctesiphon, Mesopotamia), Roman emperor from ad 361 to 363, nephew of Constantine the Great, and noted scholar and military leader who was proclaimed emperor by his troops. A persistent enemy of Christianity, he publicly announced his conversion to paganism in 361, thus acquiring the epithet “the Apostate.”


Early life
Julian was a younger son of Julius Constantius, the half brother of Constantine I (the Great), and his second wife, Basilina. In 337, when Julian was five, his cousin (the third son of Constantine I), also called Constantius, became emperor in the East as Constantius II and in 350, with the death of his brother Constans I, sole legitimate emperor (though there were two usurpers who were not overthrown until 353). The army, determined to have none but Constantine I’s sons as his successors, murdered the other possible aspirants. Constantius II had had Julian’s father killed in or just after 337, and an elder brother of Julian was killed in 341. Basilina had died soon after the birth of Julian, who was thus early left an orphan. With his surviving half brother, Gallus, seven years his senior, he was brought up in obscurity, first by Eusebius, Arian bishop of Nicomedia in Bithynia, and later at the remote estate of Macellum in Cappadocia. By the patronage of Eusebia, wife of Constantius II, Julian, at age 19, was allowed to continue his education, first at Como and later in Greece. In 351 he converted to the pagan Neoplatonism, recently “reformed” by Iamblichus, and was initiated into theurgy by Maximus of Ephesus.

His physical appearance is described thus by his contemporary and comrade-in-arms, Ammianus Marcellinus:

He was of medium stature, his hair was soft, as if it had been combed, his beard rough and pointed. His eyes were fine and flashing, an indication of the nimbleness of his mind. He had handsome eyebrows, a straight nose, rather a large mouth with a drooping lower lip. His neck was thick and slightly bent, his shoulders broad and big. From top to toe he was well-knit, and so was strong and a good runner.

His statue in the Louvre generally confirms this description, showing him as a stocky, rather diffident-looking philosopher.

Julian’s freedom as a student had a powerful influence on him and ensured that for the first time in a century the future emperor would be a man of culture. He studied at Pergamum, at Ephesus, and later at Athens. He adopted the cult of the Unconquered Sun.

That his literary talent was considerable is demonstrated in his surviving works, most of which illustrate his deep love of Hellenic culture. Julian had been baptized and raised as a Christian, but, although he outwardly conformed until he was supreme, Christianity in its official guise meant to him the religion of those who had murdered his father, his brother, and many of his relations and, as such, was hardly likely to commend itself to him. He found far more solace in his philosophic speculations. This reaction has sometimes been defended as natural but eccentric. Natural it certainly was, but it is a misinterpretation of the age to imagine that Julian was alone in preferring Hellenism to Christianity. Society, and particularly the educated society in which Julian was at home, was in fact still largely if not predominantly pagan. Even bishops were proud of their Greek culture; no one was proud of the exotic degeneracy and extravagance of the court of Constantius. It is not surprising that Julian’s austerity, chastity, and enthusiasm for the heritage of Greece found a sympathetic response among many of his cousin’s subjects.


Rise to supremacy
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 (now Pula, Croatia) in 354. Constantius, again in need of a caesar of his own house, after much hesitation summoned Julian from Greece, whence the latter arrived “still wearing his student’s gown.” On November 6, 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 Julian his sister Helena as wife. She died after five years of marriage—the fate of their issue, if any, is unknown. Julian 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 Julian short of funds and under secret surveillance. In 360, while Julian 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 Julian. Julian’s army thereupon hailed him as Augustus. This naturally infuriated Constantius, who refused any accommodation. Julian, 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 Julian.


Policies as emperor
Julian, 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. Julian apparently saw himself as the head of a pagan church. He performed animal sacrifices and was a staunch defender of a sort 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 classical literature and philosophy. The latter action led Ammianus, who admired Julian’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.

Julian wrote an attack on Christianity, “Against the Galileans,” 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, and 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, Julian 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, the Greco-Roman god associated with nature, wine, and ecstasy, was installed in the Christian basilicas of Emesa (modern Ḥimṣ, Syria) and Epiphaneia (modern Ḥamāh, Syria). At Antioch, where Julian 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 Julian 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, Julian was wounded by a spear thrown “no one knew whence,” which pierced his liver. He died the next night at age 31, having been emperor for 20 months.

Julian’s religious policy had no lasting effect. It had shown that paganism, as a religion, was doomed. It is perhaps sad, in retrospect, that the odium of proving it should rest on Julian, who with a little less venom and more tact might have been remembered for his many virtues rather than for his two fatal blunders.

Stewart Henry Perowne
E. Christian Kopff

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

Arianism

Arianism, as formulated by the Alexandrian priest Arius, taught that Jesus Christ was divine, but only of like substance to God and there had been a time when he was not of divine substance.

The teachings that were finally accepted at the council at Nicaea in 325 were formulated by Athanasius, who stated that Christ "was consubstantial ["of one substance"] and uncreated and co-eternal with the Father." Nonetheless, the "Arian heresy" continued and split Christianity between the 4th and 7th centuries, as some emperors and many of the Germanic peoples were adherents of Arianism.
 

 

 


The council at Nicaea 325 in Iznik, fresco, ca, 1600

 

 
 


Arianism


Encyclopaedia Britannica

Christian heresy

A Christian heresy first proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius. It affirmed that Christ is not truly divine but a created being. Arius’ basic premise was the uniqueness of God, who is alone self-existent and immutable; the Son, who is not self-existent, cannot be God. Because the Godhead is unique, it cannot be shared or communicated, so the Son cannot be God. Because the Godhead is immutable, the Son, who is mutable, being represented in the Gospels as subject to growth and change, cannot be God. The Son must, therefore, be deemed a creature who has been called into existence out of nothing and has had a beginning. Moreover, the Son can have no direct knowledge of the Father since the Son is finite and of a different order of existence.

According to its opponents, especially the bishop Athanasius, Arius’ teaching reduced the Son to a demigod, reintroduced polytheism (since worship of the Son was not abandoned), and undermined the Christian concept of redemption since only he who was truly God could be deemed to have reconciled man to the Godhead.

The controversy seemed to have been brought to an end by the Council of Nicaea (ad 325), which condemned Arius and his teaching and issued a creed to safeguard orthodox Christian belief. This creed states that the Son is homoousion tō Patri (“of one substance with the Father”), thus declaring him to be all that the Father is: he is completely divine. In fact, however, this was only the beginning of a long-protracted dispute.

From 325 to 337, when the emperor Constantine died, the Arian leaders, exiled after the Council of Nicaea, tried by intrigue to return to their churches and sees and to banish their enemies. They were partly successful.

From 337 to 350 Constans, sympathetic to the orthodox Christians, was emperor in the West, and Constantius II, sympathetic to the Arians, was emperor in the East. At a church council held at Antioch (341), an affirmation of faith that omitted the homoousion clause was issued. Another church council was held at Sardica (modern Sofia) in 342, but little was achieved by either council.

In 350 Constantius became sole ruler of the empire, and under his leadership the Nicene party (orthodox Christians) was largely crushed. The extreme Arians then declared that the Son was “unlike” (anomoios) the Father. These anomoeans succeeded in having their views endorsed at Sirmium in 357, but their extremism stimulated the moderates, who asserted that the Son was “of similar substance” (homoiousios) with the Father. Constantius at first supported these homoiousians but soon transferred his support to the homoeans, led by Acacius, who affirmed that the Son was “like” (homoios) the Father. Their views were approved in 360 at Constantinople, where all previous creeds were rejected, the term ousia (“substance,” or “stuff”) was repudiated, and a statement of faith was issued stating that the Son was “like the Father who begot him.”

After Constantius’ death (361), the orthodox Christian majority in the West consolidated its position. The persecution of orthodox Christians conducted by the (Arian) emperor Valens (364–378) in the East and the success of the teaching of Basil the Great of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus led the homoiousian majority in the East to realize its fundamental agreement with the Nicene party. When the emperors Gratian (367–383) and Theodosius I (379–395) took up the defense of orthodoxy, Arianism collapsed. In 381 the second ecumenical council met at Constantinople. Arianism was proscribed, and a statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, was approved.

Although this ended the heresy in the empire, Arianism continued among some of the Germanic tribes to the end of the 7th century. In modern times some Unitarians are virtually Arians in that they are unwilling either to reduce Christ to a mere human being or to attribute to him a divine nature identical with that of the Father. The Christology of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also, is a form of Arianism; they regard Arius as a forerunner of Charles Taze Russell, the founder of their movement.

 

 



Ceiling Mosaic of the Arian Baptistry