By Alexis Culotta 

Roman Emperor Julian was mortally wounded on 26 June 363 CE following a confrontation of Sassanid troops near the Persian city of Samarra (in modern day Iraq). Born in Constantinople in either 331 or 332 CE, Julian, whose given name was Flavius Claudius Julianus, was the half-brother to Constantine I, or Constantine the Great. 

Growing up in Bithynia and later Cappadocia, Julian studied both classical and Christian writings, even becoming a lector for the Christian church for a brief period. His support of Neoplatonic ideas, though, among them an encouragement of paganism, was construed as anti-Christian and thus earned him the moniker “Julian the Apostate.” 

His cousin, Constantius II, declared Julian the Caesar of the western provinces in 355 CE, however he intended Julian to act more as a figurehead than as a foundational political presence. Julian, however, revealed himself as a pivotal political player, so much so that he was declared Augustus by his troops while in Lutetia (modern day Paris) in 360 CE. This proclamation left Julian and Constantius II at loggerheads, however Constantius’ death in November 361 CE precluded a resolution to the conflict. 

With Constantius II dead, Julian was declared the sole Augustus of the Roman Empire. He set out to reform government practices and do away with what he considered the wasteful policies of his predecessors. He also wished to regain the support of the eastern realms of the empire, whose loyalty had lain with Constantius II. This resulted in his final campaign into Persia to confront the Sassanid forces, a quest which would prove his downfall.

Further reading: 

Adrian Murdoch, The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World (2008). 

Portrait of Julian the Apostate, Son of Constantius. Capitoline Museums, Rome. 

Male Portrait Head, Probably Julian the Apostate, 350-400 CE. Archaeological Museum, Athens. 

Priest of Serapis, Perhaps Julian the Apostate, 2nd-4th century CE. Musée de Cluny, Paris. 

Portrait of Emperor Julian, 4th century CE. Chalcedony. 9.2 cm in height. The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. 

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