Julian's Death

The mystery of Julian's death is one that has plagued historians for 1500 years. This death marked the end of the pagan state religion and all the great traditions it stood for, and in turn the victory of Christianity. In addition to Julian's own officer, Ammianus' account (given out in class), here are the four other most reliable accounts, never translated before into English.

Eutropius X 14-16
(late 4th cent., wrote a very brief history of the Roman Empire in Latin)

Then Constantius sent Julian, his nephew and the brother of Gallus, to Gaul, and married Julian to his sister. At this time the barbarians had looted many towns there, and were besieging others; everywhere there was bitter destruction, and the whole empire was teetering on the brink of utter collapse. Julian, with a few troops mustered in the Gallic town of Argentoratus, crushed the powerful army of the Allamanni, captured their proud king, and refurbished the province. Afterwards Julian won many great victories against the barbarians. He pushed the Germans to the other side of the Rhine, and restored the empire's ancient boundaries.

Not much later, after the army of Germanicianus had been detached from the protection of Gaul, Julian was hailed Augustus by the whole of his army. After a year passed, he set out to take over Illyricum, since Constantius was busy with his Persian campaign. Once Constantius was made aware of Julian's move, he turned back west, but died en route between Cilicia and Cappadocia in the 38th year of his reign and 55th of his life, winning the honor of membership in the gods...

From this point on Julian was in charge of the empire and prepared to wage war with the Persians -- a campaign in which I took part. Several Persian towns and castles were betrayed to him or were stormed by force, and once Assyria was taken he made camp near Ctesiphon for some time. After he had conquered, on his way home, while he was inadvisedly participating in a skirmish, he was killed by an enemy spear on the 25th of June, in the seventh year of his reign. He was 31 years old and was entered into the roll of the gods...

Anonymous Lives of the Caesars found in the Mss. of Sextus Aurelius Victor
(late 4th cent. brief biographies of the emperors in Latin)

[Once Constantius was dead] Julian was left in sole power of the Roman empire. Due to his overweening lust for glory, he set out for Persia. There he was led into treachery by a certain double agent. Since the Parthians were harrassing Julian as he marched, he ordered that a camp be set up. Once this was done, he ran forth from the camp with only a shield, and while imprudently struggling to call his battle ranks to order, he was pierced by a pike, and enemy pike -- clearly that thrown by a soldier in flight. He was carried back to his tent, returned to exhort the troops, and as he was gradually losing blood, he died around mid-night....
Libanius Orationes 18.274
: Funeral Oration for Julian (L. was perhaps the most famous pagan literary figure of late 4th century/ wrote in Greek)

Who was the killer? Who has heard of him? I for one don't know his name, but it is clear that no enemy soldier killed Julian, since none of the enemy were honored for striking the fatal blow. Indeed the Persians sent out heralds to lead Julian's slayer to his merited prize and to offer him great rewards. But nevertheless no one, not even out of lust for the reward, made the pretense.

Zosimus 3.28-29
(5th century "Byzantine" historian--wrote in Greek with an open anti-Christian bias)

On the next day(1) the Persians fell upon the inexperienced rearguard of the Romans. These were quite disordered at the time, but nevertheless, stirred up by the attack, they mustered courage to counterattack. Julian, as was his custom, circulated among the ranks encouraging their fighting spirit. When the men broke into hand to hand combat, Julian, himself attacking the offfcers of the enemy, was drawn into the midst of the fray, and there was struck by a sword at the climax of the battle. He was laid out on a shield and carried back to his tent, where during the night he died, providing no advice as to his succession.

1. That is, after the taking of Ctesiphon, on the march back to Roman territory.