Philosopher, Byzantine Emperor (331 – 363)

Flavius Claudius Julianus was Caesar of the Roman Empire and Emperor of the Byzantine Empire during the latter’s first years of establishment. He was also a Neoplatonic philosopher with rich philosophic and scientific work. The Christians gave him the name “Apostate”, which they use to this day, because he did not accept Christianity. He was the only Byzantine Emperor who opposed Christianity as the new state religion and struggled to revive the Ancient Greek religion, philosophy and spirit, in spite of being Emperor only 20 months.

He was born in Constantinople and was the nephew of Constantine, the first Byzantine Emperor. He studied philosophy, rhetoric and science in Athens, then returned to Constantinople where he served as Caesar of the Roman Empire from 335 to 360 together with Constantius II and then alone from 361 until his death in 363.

Julian was the only Byzantine Emperor who was not a Christian. He reigned at a time when Hellenism was being hunted down in favour of Christianity that was quickly gaining a fertile ground and imposed as the new religion. Followers of the “old religion” were persecuted and their temples destroyed. Julian saw this as a threat against the Hellenic thought and decided to take actions to stop the dissemination of Christianity.

Aside from his military and economical reforms, by far the largest part of his politics was aimed at reviving the Greek civilization. He issued proclamation on the freedom of worshiping all religions, banned Christians from teaching in public education or occupying positions in politics and the military and obliged them to pay for the damages they had done on the Ancient Greek temples. Numerous Greek cities began regaining their former glory. Festivals and games in Olympias, Delphi and Antioch were revived, temples and cities that were mere ruins were repaired such as Athens, Macedonia, Epirus, Nicopolis, Eleusis and philosophic schools were protected by edict. Philosophers and priests were sent throughout the empire to promote the Greek civilization, which they successfully accomplished without bloodshed.

In parallel, Julian was involved with Neoplatonism, a continuation of the Platonic philosophy established by Plotinus and Iamblichus. He wrote numerous treatises on philosophy and astronomy as well as hymns and publicly supported Aristarchus’ heliocentric model.

Julian was not against Christianity; rather, he wanted to bring an order so that both religions were practiced. In his own words, he did not want the Christians to be killed, beaten or treated badly. He founded public hotels where people were treated independently of their religion. He did not forbid Christians to practice their religion nor did he persecute them, as he was against violence. Indeed, Christians were tolerant to his reforms.

During his last days as Emperor he embarked on an expedition to Mesopotamia to defeat the Persians. He was assassinated by a Christian on the way back. Shortly after, his reforms did not last and the situation was reverted back to how it originally was before his reign as Emperor. Destruction, persecutions and slaughter continued, reaching the apex with the destruction of the Library of Antioch by the Christians.

Julian remains a controversial figure who distinguished for his military and spiritual virtues. His big love for Greece and his ill efforts to reconcile the tensions between the two religions resulted to much unnecessary hate against him, even by modern scholars. The goal of his life to revive the Greek spirit would not be realized until 1000 years later by Georgios Plethon – Gemistus.


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