Episode 5 – A Quarrel Over Unimportant Points
February 9, 2018
Episode 7 – Ambrose of Milan
March 3, 2018

Episode 6 – The Imperial Threesome

  • So let’s move on to Julian.
  • Julian’s personal religion was both pagan and philosophical; he viewed the traditional myths as allegories, in which the ancient gods were aspects of a philosophical divinity.
  • He was tutored by Eusebius of Nicomedia, the same guy who baptised Constantine on his death bed.
  • He was apparently a vegetarian.
  • The historian Ammianus Marcellinus tells us that he believed that Christian infighting was so bitter that the religion would simply destroy itself.
  • He returned to the old gods.
  • He was also prepared to write his own rebuttal of Christianity.
  • During his short reign, he wrote Contra Galilaeos (‘Against the Galileans’), which Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, claimed was one of the most important anti-Christian works that had been written, and that it was widely considered to be irrefutable, Julian used his considerable knowledge of the scriptures to highlight their contradictions.
  • For example
  • Why is there no recognition in the synoptic gospels of Jesus’ divinity?
  • He thought the use of Old Testament prophecies as harbingers of Christ is arbitrary and unjustified.
  • Why did God create Eve if he knew that she would thwart his plans for creation?
  • Unfortunately the three-book volume didn’t survive, except for when it’s quoted by Christian apologists who tried to argue against it.
  • He made a sophisticated plea for religious toleration, giving the view that each culture needed to define the supreme divinity in its own way.
  • When he became Augustus, he started a religious reformation, restoring the traditional polytheism as the state religion.
  • He didn’t try to destroy Christianity, but to drive them out of the governing classes of the empire.
  • He restored the pagan temples and repealed the stipends that Constantine had awarded to Christian bishops.
  • On 4 February 362, Julian promulgated an edict to guarantee freedom of religion.
  • This edict proclaimed that all the religions were equal before the law, and that the Roman Empire had to return to its original religious eclecticism, according to which the Roman state did not impose any religion on its provinces.
  • The edict also allowed the return from exile of dissident Christian bishops.
  • He also issued an edict that declared that all public teachers had to be approved by himself.
  • He wanted to stop Christian teachers from using pagan texts like the Iliad.
  • He wrote: “If they want to learn literature, they have Luke and Mark: Let them go back to their churches and expound on them”
  • This was an attempt to remove some of the power of the Christian schools which at that time and later used ancient Greek literature in their teachings in their effort to present the Christian religion as being superior to paganism.
  • But after several generations of pro-Christian emperors, the pagans were reluctant to just pick up where they left off.
  • On top of that, they didn’t have the funds to hold big public sacrifices and festivals, because the Constantines had stolen all of their treasuries and given them to the Christians.
  • And of course there was no single pagan religion, there were tons of them, so it was all disorganised.
  • So Julian tried to re-organise the pagan worship more in line with the Christian model.
  • He tried to introduce new moral codes for pagan priests.
  • Traditionally, there weren’t any – a priest was just an elite with social prestige and financial power to organise and pay for festivals.
  • But Julian’s attempts to tighten it up went nowhere.
  • He ended up making paganism a religion, where traditionally it had just been more of a tradition.
  • He also tried to set up a system of charity resembling the Christian model.
  • He wrote: “These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agapae, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”
  • He also wanted to re-build the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
  • Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort:
  • Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt.
  • The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to the Galilee earthquake of 363.
  • Sabotage by Christians is a possibility, as is an accidental fire.
  • Unfortunately for the world, Julian’s reign didn’t last long.
  • During a campaign in Persian, he was wounded with a spear that went through his liver and intestines.
  • He died of a hemorrhage a few days later.
  • Tradition has it that his dying words were “You have won, Galilean”.
  • In 364, Libanius stated that Julian was assassinated by a Christian who was one of his own soldiers.
  • Later Christian historians propagated the tradition that Julian was killed by the ghost of Saint Mercurius, a Christian soldier who had a shining divine sword given to him by the Archangel Michael, and who had been beheaded by the Emperor Decius in 250 CE.
  • Julian’s reign lasted less than two years.
  • He was the last pagan emperor of Rome.
  • Julian was succeeded by the even shorter-lived Emperor Jovian (8 months) who reestablished Christianity’s privileged position throughout the Empire.
  • Poor Jovian.
  • Like his father before him, he was the the commander of Constantius II’s imperial bodyguards.
  • When Julian died, he was accidentally made emperor.
  • I say accidentally, because, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, who was a near contemporary, when the name Jovianus was called out to the troops looking for their acclamation, they thought they heard Julianus, and thought Julian had recovered from his wound.
  • He was found dead in his tent rushing back to Constantinople after being defeated by the Persians.
  • Some sources say he died from eating too many mushrooms.
  • Others say he suffocated from the smoke of the fireplace in his tent.
  • Ammianus said his death was suspicious and went strangley uninvestigated.
  • But during his short reign he repealed Julian’s edicts surrounding Christianity, again making it the official state religion.
  • He also initially issued an edict of toleration, allowing the pagans to continue to worship the old gods.
  • But not long later he orderd the burning of the Library of Antioch, “at the urging of his wife, burned the temple with all the books in it with his concubines laughing and setting the fire”.
  • It had been built by Antiochus III the Great, the 6th ruler of the Seleucid empire, around 221 B.C. in Ancient Syria.
  • It was considered a rival to the great Library of Alexandria.
  • Jovian was followed by Valentinian who had a better run.
  • His rise to power was also unusual.
  • He’d been a disgraced commander under Julian and had actually been kicked out of the army for allowing the Alamanni to slip by him during a campaign in Gaul and inflict heavy losses on the Romans.
  • But after Jovian’s death, he somehow becomes Emperor.
  • He almost immediately appoints his brother, Valens, as co-Augustus.
  • Valentinian got his revenge against the Alamanni, although he suffered several more defeats in the process.
  • And he had to deal with problems in Britain, so he sent Theodosius to handle those.
  • He survived nearly 12 years in the role.
  • He died when he burst a blood vessel in his brain while yelling at some German envoys.
  • He was also a Christian, a Nicene, but kept up the policy of toleration for the pagans.
  • The best story about him, though, is the rumour that he was a polygamist.
  • Socrates Scholasticus gives an interesting account in his Historia Ecclesiastica of Valentinian’s marriages.
  • According to the text: the empress Justina “became known to Marina Severa, wife of the emperor Valentinian, and had frequent dialogue with the empress, until their intimacy at length grew to such an extent that they were accustomed to bathe together. When Severa saw Justina in the bath she was greatly struck with the beauty of the virgin, and spoke of her to the emperor; saying that the daughter of Justus was so lovely a creature, and possessed of such symmetry of form, that she herself, though a woman, was altogether charmed with her. The emperor, treasuring this description by his wife in his own mind, considered with himself how he could espouse Justina, without repudiating Severa, as she had borne him Gratian, whom he had created Augustus a little while before. He accordingly framed a law, and caused it to be published throughout all the cities, by which any man was permitted to have two lawful wives. The law was promulgated and he married Justina, by whom he had Valentinian the younger.”
  • Justina was the widow of the ursurper Magnentius, the guy we mentioned earlier to assassinated Constans for liking to have hot, sweet butt sex with barbarian men.
  • She was apparently too young to have children while married to him, which is why she was still a virgin when Valentinian started having baths with her.
  • Of course, Christianity at the time not only didn’t accept bigamy, it didn’t even allow for divorce.
  • Some scholars think this story is therefore bullshit, but hey, I like it.
  • Sound like they had some hot MFF threesomes, and I’m totally loving it.
  • His brother Valens only last a few more years.
  • Valens was an Arian Christian.
  • He infamously did a deal with the Visigoths, allowing hundreds of thousands of them to cross the Danube.
  • When they were abused by Roman generals, and refused grain during a famine, they revolted in 377.
  • After they joined forces with the Ostrogoths and eventually the Huns and Alans, they ended up defeated Valens at the Battle of Adrianople, (modern Edirne in European Turkey, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria) in the Roman province of Thracia, in 378.
  • The numbers are unclear.
  • But some sources suggest the Romans had 30,000 men versus 100,000 Goths.
  • Valens didn’t wait to be reinforced by Gratian, the son of Valentinian, who was now his co-Augustus.
  • Valens was killed during the battle.
  • We’re not sure how.
  • Some sources say he was injured by an arrow or a dart, was taken to a cottage, which was then set fire to.
  • So much for the Labarum standard meaning Jesus would assure the Christian armies of victory.
  • This was a huge defeat for the Romans, both in terms of numbers lost, as well as the optics of the whole thing.
  • One estimate is that two-thirds of the Roman army in the East was lost.
  • Including many generals and the loss of their entire arms factories on the Danube.
  • This was a turning point in military history, with heavy cavalry triumphing over Roman infantry and ushering in the age of the Medieval knight.
  • It also, of course, quickly lead to the Sacking of Rome.
  • With Valens dead, Gratian became the sole Augustus, although his infant half-brother, Valentinian II, was also Augustus in name only.
  • Gratian himself was only 19.
  • Within a year, he promoted Theodosius on 19 January 379 to govern the Eastern portion of the Empire, for reasons unknown, because Theo was a bit of a nobody.
  • But he was born in Hispania, and his father had been a successful general there.
  • Theodosius was in charge of fighting against the Goths.
  • He had some success for a few years, but then things started to turn against him, and eventually Gratian sent in some forces, and they ended up making peace with the Goths in 382.
  • In terms of the rise of Christianity, both of these guys made a lasting contribution.
  • Gratian was a Nicene.
  • He published an edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Nicene faith).
  • This was the beginning of the end of Arianism, at least in the Eastern empire.
  • As we’ll see later, the Goths most converted to Christianity too, but they were Arians for another couple of hundred years.
  • Gratian published edicts basically banning the pagan religion again.
  • He had their temples and treasuries confiscated.
  • He ordered another removal of the Altar of Victory from the Senate House at Rome.
  • Pagan Senators responded by sending an appeal to Gratian, reminding him that he was still the Pontifex Maximus and that it was his duty to see that the ancestral Pagan rites were properly performed.
  • They appealed to him to restore the Altar of Victory and the rights and privileges of the Vestal Virgins and priestly colleges.
  • Gratian, at the urging of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, didn’t even grant them an audience.
  • To top it off, he renounced the title, office, and insignia of the Pontifex Maximus.
  • Towards the end of his life, Gratian went a little mad.
  • By taking into his personal service a body of Alans (Iranian Christians), and appearing in public in the dress of a Scythian warrior, after the disaster of the Battle of Adrianople, he aroused the contempt and resentment of his Roman troops.
  • A Roman general named Magnus Maximus took advantage of this feeling to raise the standard of revolt in Britain and invaded Gaul with a large army.
  • Gratian, who was then in Paris, being deserted by his troops, fled to Lyon.
  • There, through the treachery of the governor, Gratian was delivered over to one of the rebel generals, Andragathius, and assassinated on 25 August 383.
  • He was only 24.

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