BMCR 2021.02.31

A companion to Julian the Apostate

, , A companion to Julian the Apostate. Brill's companions to the Byzantine world, volume 5. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2020. Pp. vi, 481. ISBN 9789004414563 €188,00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

“The available evidence is extensive but also ambiguous”, writes a contributor to Brill’s recent Companion to Julian the Apostate, the fifth installment in its Companions to the Byzantine World series. The claim—about Julian’s educational policy, in this instance (p. 172)—also explains more broadly the popular and scholarly interest perennially prompted by the last pagan emperor of Rome. An aspiring philosopher-emperor, Julian was articulately prolific for an emperor, though less so for a philosopher. Records of his legislative rule, his military campaigns, and his own writings are more extensive than for any other ruler from the antique and late antique world. His historical traces provide enough information to frame a host of questions, but to answer many fewer conclusively.

Brill’s new Companion offers thirteen studies summarizing, synthesizing, or offering new arguments about Julian’s life and the voluminous scholarship devoted to him. Sidestepping one genre of Julian studies—discerning his “personality” and psychological profile—the chapters amount to “a historians’ guide to Julian” (p. 29), and they cover an impressive range of the diverse questions routinely posed about him. The introduction will be useful to newcomers to Julian and veterans alike, with its history of modern scholarship on Julian and its mapping of the diverging disciplinary interests. The following chapters will be of mixed interest, depending on readers’ prior familiarity with Julian and their specific questions.

Some chapters are general surveys, while others delve into narrower topics. For example, two chapters focus on Julian’s rise from Constantius’s toothless, subordinate Caesar to sole Augustus. Bruno Bleckmann (Ch. 4) surveys and provides historical context for the entire series of events stretching from Julian’s elevation to Caesar in 355 to his eventual acclamation and near face-off with Constantius, whose death in 361 averted civil war. Peter Heather (Ch. 3) focuses narrowly on Julian’s Gallic military campaigns as Caesar, arguing that the military threat on the western front from the Alamanni was genuine and not inflated for imperial politics (meaning that Julian’s victories really did begin garnering political autonomy from Constantius). Both authors consider one of the most persistent questions about Julian, whether his acclamation as (co-)Augustus in 360 resulted from the army’s spontaneity or Julian’s own orchestration. Bleckmann cursorily weighs all the prominent evidence and Heather contributes a new line of argument. Bleckmann’s chapter thus will be of greater use to some, Heather’s to others. Similarly, Heinz-Günther Nesselrath’s “Julian’s Philosophical Writings” (Ch. 2) provides introductions and summaries of Julian’s primarily philosophical texts, which will be useful for those who don’t need or don’t have time to read the texts themselves. In contrast to these brief summaries, Christoph Riedweg’s contribution on Julian’s Against the Galilean (Ch. 8) focuses more narrowly on the theological and philosophical traditions undergirding Julian’s criticisms of Christianity in this single, fragmentary text.

Such unevenness is to be expected and, in some ways, is useful for a companion collection. The book’s price means that it will be available almost exclusively on library shelves, where students and seasoned scholars alike will find useful material. The Companion to Julian the Apostate is to be commended for its range of coverage, which mirrors the diverse disciplinary interests in Julian. Readers will find chapters on the innovation and conventionality of Julian’s legislative legacy (Ch. 5), his infamous education policy (Ch. 6), several aspects of his religious writings and policies (Chs. 7–9), his fateful Persian campaign (Ch. 10), and the responses he provoked, stretching from his contemporaries through to the modern period (Chs. 11–13). (A complete list of authors and titles are given at the end of the review.)

The Companion thus fills a gap. To my knowledge there is no other single resource on Julian that can serve as a gateway into the many sub-specialties that examine his life, writings, and legacy. The bibliography alone (with extensive representation of English, German, French, and Italian scholarship) makes the Companion a useful tool. With that said, several editorial decisions about the bibliography merit comment. The reader will not find the literature cited throughout the chapters collected in any single place and sorted by author. Rather, each chapter has its own bibliography of works cited therein but not included in the Companion’s “General Bibliography”. This General Bibliography, then, is organized thematically, with four sections—Julian’s “Life” (i) and “Writings” (ii), “Julian in Literary Sources” (iii), and “Non-Literary Sources” (iv)—each of which has between three and twenty-one subsections. This arrangement is clearly meant to help researchers, who can, for example, turn to subsection i.10 and find three pages of references on the topic of “Pagans and Christians” as it relates to Julian, or to subsection iii.5 for several pages of references to studies on Libanius, which is further subdivided into references to editions of Libanius’s texts and studies on him.

This organization gives structure to the fifty pages of references and will clearly be useful for literature reviews or orienting oneself to a new sub-field. But it does have drawbacks. The task of following references from within the chapters to their full citations in the General Bibliography is a bit of chore. Author and title are given within the chapters’ footnotes along with the entry’s subsection in the General Bibliography, e.g., “Fatti, Giuliano a Cesarea (→ i.10).” Footnotes do not provide the date of publication, however, even though the full entries in the General Bibliography’s subsections are sorted by publication date, not author’s last name (which method of sorting is nowhere explained.) The result is not unmanageable, but it does require getting used to. It also requires care. Those wanting to get up-to-speed on one of Julian’s texts might decipher the general organization of the General Bibliography and end up, for example, at ii.9.a: the “Editions, Translations, Commentaries” of Against the Galilaeans. They would find no English translation listed, though, and might overlook Wilmur Cave Wright’s translation for the Loeb Classical Library, unless they were to notice the Bibliography’s section ii.2, “Opera Omnia and Selective Editions,” where vol. 3 of Wright’s trilogy is noted, with reference to ‘Contra Galilaeos,’ the Latin name of Julian’s anti-Christian polemical text. Again, the General Bibliography’s organization will be useful for quick orientation to a specific area of study about Julian, but one should take note that the research-friendly organization incidentally conceals useful nuggets while collecting others.

I noticed only a handful of minor editing issues, which don’t warrant comment. Several of the articles were translated into English for publication, and though traces of the translation process are evident, the prose is entirely legible. Scholars of Julian will find contestable claims, but the rich evidence about Julian makes this inevitable. The Companion to Julian the Apostate will be a useful tool for anyone wishing to survey any number of topics about Julian or to join the interpretive fray themselves.

Chapter Titles and Authors

1. “Introduction: Approaching Julian” (Stefan Rebenich and Hans-Ulrich Wiemer)
2. “Julian’s Philosophical Writings” (Heinz-Günther Nesselrath)
3. “The Gallic Wars of Julian Caesar” (Peter J. Heather)
4. “From Caesar to Augustus: Julian against Constantius” (Bruno Bleckmann)
5. “Reform, Routine, and Propaganda: Julian the Lawgiver” (Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner)
6. “The Value of a Good Education: The School Law in Context” (Konrad Vössing)
7. “Revival and Reform: The Religious Policy of Julian” (Hans-Ulrich Wiemer)
8. “Anti-Christian Polemics and Pagan Onto-Theology: Julian’s Against the Galilaeans” (Christoph Riedweg)
9. “Julian and the Jews” (Scott Bradbury)
10. “The Persian Expedition” (Neil McLynn)
11. “Pagan Reactions to Julian” (Arnaldo Marcone)
12. “The Christian Reception of Julian” (Peter van Nuffelen)
13. “Julian’s Afterlife. The Reception of a Roman Emperor” (Stefan Rebenich)