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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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Constantius regarded the success of Julian with suspicion and envy. While undertaking the Persian campaign he demanded that Julian send him a reinforcement of legions from Gaul. The Gallic soldiers revolted against this demand and, lifting Julian upon a shield, they proclaimed him Augustus. The new Augustus demanded that Constantius recognize the fait accompli, but Constantius refused to do so. A civil war seemed to be unavoidable. But just at this time Constantius died. In the year 361 Julian was recognized as Emperor throughout the Empire. The adherents and favorites of Constantius were condemned to harsh punishments and persecution instigated by the new Emperor. Julian for a long time had been an enthusiastic adherent of paganism, but he was forced to hide his religious convictions until the death of Constantius. Upon becoming the full master of the Empire, he set out to realize his sacred dream of restoring his favorite religion. During the first weeks following his ascent to the throne, Julian issued an edict in connection with his cherished plan. The historian Ammianus Marcellinus described this period:

Although from his earliest childhood, Julian inclined to the worship of the gods, and gradually, as he grew up, became more attached to it, yet he was influenced by many apprehensions which made him act in things relating to that subject as secretly as he could. But when his fears were terminated, and he found himself at liberty to do what he pleased, he then showed his secret inclinations, and by plain and positive decree ordered the temples to be opened, and victims to be brought to the altars for the worship of the gods.

This edict was not unexpected, for everyone knew of Julian's leaning toward paganism. The joy of the pagans knew no bounds; to them the restoration of paganism meant not only religious freedom but religious victory as well.

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