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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Julian the Apostate (361-363)


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Page 10

In the spring of 363 Julian left Antioch and started out on his Persian campaign, during which he was mortally wounded by a spear. He died shortly after being transported to his tent. No one knew exactly who struck the fatal blow, and later many versions of this incident became current. Among them, of course, was the version that the Emperor was killed by the Christians. Christian historians, however, relate the well-known legend that the Emperor threw a handful of his own blood (from his wound) into the air and exclaimed, Thou hast conquered. Oh, Galilaean! His army generals and close friends gathered about the dying Emperor in his tent and Julian addressed to them his farewell message. This speech is preserved in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus (xxv, 3, 15-20). While anticipating his death with philosophical calmness, the Emperor presented a defense of his life and actions, and, feeling that his strength was ebbing, he expressed the hope that a good sovereign might be found to take his place. However, he did not name any successor. Noticing that all around him were weeping, he reproved them with still undiminished authority, saying that it was humiliating to mourn for an emperor who was just united to heaven and the stars. He died at midnight, on June 26, in the year 363, at the age of thirty-two. The famous rhetorician Libanius compared the death of Julian to the death of Socrates.

The army proclaimed as emperor the head of the court guards, Jovian, a Christian of the Nicene Creed. Forced by the king of Persia, Jovian had to sign a peace treaty according to which Persia obtained several provinces on the eastern bank of the Tigris, The death of Julian was greeted with joy by the Christians. Christian writers named the Emperor dragon, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, and monster. But he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in a porphyry sarcophagus.

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