The Ammianus Marcellinus Electronic Project
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Julian in the eyes of Ammianus -- By Michel Mulder

Julian the Apostate was a cousin of Constantius II. He started his career first far away from the courts of Constantius. He was a gifted student, eager to learn from the classics. He studied a great diversity of philosophical currents. In 355 A.D. Constantius appointed him Caesar in Gaul. After successful battles his legions made him Augustus in Paris in 360 A.D.. After some hesitation he accepted the title and prepared for war against Constantius. A battle between the two Augusti never took place because of the death of Constantius (3 Nov. 361, Tarsus), making Julian the only legitimate emperor.

After a stay in Constantinople Julian went on to the east, preparing for an expedition against the Persians. In this campaign, in June 363, he tragically died, at the age of 33.

Ammianus Marcellinus gives in his Res Gestae an elaborate description of Julian as Ceasar and Augustus. Julian was Ammianus’ hero, but he still gives us a good view on the emperor.

Virtues of Julian according to Ammianus

Julian was a good emperor and leader to his legions. He ate the same food as the common soldiers did, or worse (25.2.2). He could easily stay awake a long time, doing his daily work and studying the classics at night, in which he is said to have excelled Alexander the Great (16.5.4-5). Julian was a man of modesty (temperantia). He avoided sexual excess, and sex altogether after the death of his wife, Helena, and he was moderate with eating and drinking (25.4.2-6). Julian was also a wise man (prudentia), and had skills in war and peace, was greatly inclined to courtesy, and he disliked pomp and circumstance. He had great affection for the administration of justice, and was sometimes an unbending judge. He held strict censorship of morals and had a contempt for riches and other material things (25.4.7).

Julian is also known as a righteous man. In judgement he sought for justice (iustitia), and in the same manner he held consideration of circumstances. He more frequently threatened men with the sword than that he actually used it (25.4.8-9). He had tactical and strategical skills, proven during different campaigns. This scientia rei militaris (25.4.11) he combined with the willingness to undergo the same burden as his troops had to go through, and with personal audacity in battle (25.4.10). For his authority (auctoritas) he was feared, but loved by his troops. They would do anything he asked, even when underpaid and willing to mutiny (25.4.12-13).

In civil affairs, he was generous to his friends. He taxed people lightly, compared with his predecessors. An example is the remission of the crown-money, which every emperor was presented with. Julian also cancelled old debts, made huge by long standing, and he persisted on the fair treatment by the treasury of private persons and individuals, in matters of taxation and land ownership (25.4.15).

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