Friday, June 1, 2012

Emperor Julian (Julian, The Apostate), The Last Pagan

Julian’s statue in Louvre Museum
Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus) was born on 30th April 332 in Constantinople as a member of the Constantinian Dynasty which was the first Christian dynasty of the Roman Empire. After an empery that lasted 18 months from 361 to 363, he was wounded in a war and  he died as the last Pagan emperor of the Roman Empire. His parents were Christians. In his youth, he was brought up by the significant bishops of the age, Eusebius and Mardonius in Nicomedia (today’s Izmit) and Cappadoccia churches. Yet, he accessed to classical books on philosophy through his own efforts. He went to Athens when he was twenty three years old and adopted the neo-Platonist paganism. He interrupted the Roman Empire’s process of conversion from Paganism to Christianity that started as of 2nd century and became official in 330 when the Emperor Constantine the 1st became Christian for the first time; and brought it back to Paganism. Julian’s struggle against Christianity made the church and the court angry, thue he made a great deal of enemies as a result.

Year 312- The Emperor Constantine
sees the figure of cross in the sky one night before
the Milvian Battle  and switches to Christianity from Paganism
Constantine’s Apostasy (Rubens, 1622)

In 355, Julian was assigned as the vice emperor for the Western Regions by his uncle Constantius. After the battles he won in Gaul in 357, he was declared as the emperor by his army in 360 in Paris. Then, he headed towards the East to fight against his uncle Constantius, who had been in Antioch. But his uncle suddenly got sick and died, so Julian gained the throne without the need of a civil war. He fought against the Persian Empire, which had been the most significant threat to Rome at that age. He had his headquarters in Antioch for about a year and managed the empire from there, as well. He got wounded in a war against the Persians in 363 and he died a few days later. Some claim that he was killed by a Christian soldier in his own army, not by an enemy.
He frequently created tension among the local people due to the limitations he exposed on the church in Antioch, which was a vigorous Christian city of the time. In his piece named as “Misogopon” (The Beard Hater), he wrote for the blue nosed Antioch people who were determined not to convert back to Paganism again, he told about his struggle against Christianity, the beauties of Paganism, classical philosophy and intellectual enlightenment. Between the lines, one can see his anger and disappointment with the Antioch people.

Saint Mercurius believed to have killed Julian
and saved Christianity

 “Why don’t you still give up remembering Mary as the Mother of God? What would you say if Christ came today and told “I was born from the Virgin as the first and dear man of the God, I am the first of the creatures”?
Julian, Misopogon, 362 Antioch
At those times, the classical philosophy supporters who believed in pagan religions and wished to turn back to ancient periods grew beards like the ancient philosophers as a “political symbol”. On the other hand; new current Christians got shaved. The name of his book, “beard-haters” stemmed from that. So, we see that humanity has not changed much; even 1700 years before, people could be modern or blue nosed with hair and beard. Anyway, let’s turn back to our subject; Julian was brought up by the bishops, Eusebius and Mardonius. He got a strict religious education and worked in the church when he was eighteen. So, he knew the Old and New Testaments quite well. This is why his criticism of the community he had once been a part of was so strong. In his book he told that; after having lived as a Christian for the first twenty years of his life, he chose the true way, the way of the God of Sun, Helios, which was Paganism. ( I would like to have your attention to the beauty of Bronnikow’s picturea and the similarity of the Pagan priest with Christ.)

Pagans worshipping to Helios, i.e. the Sun, like Julian.
(Pythagoreanists Are Celebrating the Sunrise, Fyodor Bronnikov, 1869)
In Constantinople, where he had stayed as an emperor for 5 months before going to Antioch, he had tried to decrease bureaucracy and fix the state issues he thought to have been managed in an inefficient, expensive and unfair way. Various sources claim that he considered himself as the “primus inter pares” i.e. “the first one among the equivalents” rather than as a noble emperor not caring for his people and senate; he negotiated with the senators rather than dictating laws. As well as being referred as “Julian, The Apostate” as he converted to Paganism from Christianity, he is also referred as the “Philosopher Julian” thanks to his fascination with classical philosophy. I think Julian resembles the “Philosopher Emperor” Marcus Aurelius, one of the prior emperors whose articles on life and ethics were published under the name “Meditations”. Both devoted themselves to classical philosophy and realized Plato’s idea of hundreds of years old: “either philosophers shall be statesmen or statesmen shall be philosophers”. I believe they were two rare men possessing two rare characteristics; intellectual richness and management skill. Despite all these good sides, Julian is seriously criticized for his elitist and despot character. He always saw the elitist pagans superior than the poor and uneducated Christians. He forced paganism to the public. But that was the very reason why Christianity attracted supporters those times. Julian’s elitist philosopher and despot sides came into life as the “Enlightened Despotism” in Europe in the 18th century. Katrina the 2nd in Russia, Joseph the 2nd in Austria, Louis the 7th in France all believed in the rationalism and enlightenment today’s western civilizations are established upon, and imposed this to their people. That the two distant words of enlightenment and despotism come together throughout the history is one paradox of humanity. That unfortunately seems to mean that progress cannot be realized without despotism.
His graveyard found in the garden of Istanbul Archeology Museum
When Christian Jovian came to the throne after him, his first act was to regain the church’s privileged position and consequently Roman Empire became Christian irrevocably. It is claimed that his last words before he died were “You won Galilean (Christ)”. Ancient time pagans called the first Christians as Galileans. Galilean Judas and his friends were Judas rebels who rejected giving tax to the Romans, who ended up with death. One cannot help but think what would happen if this ancient Don Quixote who was an intellectual and a good (and a little despot) statesman was able to become successful in converting Roman Empire into paganism. Would the humanity not ever experience the middle ages?

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