Julian the Apostate survives

Oct 2015
1,171
California
#1
In 363, Julian the Apostate, relatively new emperor, with military successes behind him in the West, undertook to invade the Sassinid Empire (Persia). He made good progress bringing him near the gates of Ctesiphon, burning his boats behind him. Lacking the capability and logistics for a siege and faced with harrying by the main Persian army, he ended up retreating by land back towards the Eastern Roman border, In the harrying that followed, he was wounded twice and died en-route.

What if he had not burned his ships and retreated to them, embarking on a circuitous route back to the empire via the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, and Red Sea. Quite a haul, there but perhaps not too much longer that the Persian Army would take by land.

The first thing, of course is viability of the ships he had at his disposal. Roman frontier fleets used a smaller class of ships than those used in the larger bodies of water, principally the Liburna, which was essentially a bireme with two rows of oars, possibly similar to the old Greek pentekontor.

So, sea worthy enough vessels and only at risk in the ocean from modern Oman to Aden. Certainly the Persians had nothing to harry them with. There might, however, have been some transports that would slow them down a bit. Still, a large number could be sailed faster if the faster ships mostly took the lead with only a rear guard for the transports. Once in Egypt things get a lot easier, and there is even better transport for the rest of the journey.

So, assume that Julian and a sufficient army makes it back to Anatolia in adequate time. Politically, he faces the problem of failure in his campaign, magnified even further by the fact that the Persians looked to avoid the war through negotiation before it began. But he has the support of the army and the pagans, and with the promise of a rebuilt temple, likely the Jews.

So, what is next for the Roman Empire? A return to paganism? More of a semi-mystical Neoplatanism? At the very least a Christianity divided into multiple sects? For that matter, could the Sassanids shelter Christians of that age, just as they shelter Nestorians and Manicheans later on?
 
#2
So, what is next for the Roman Empire? A return to paganism? More of a semi-mystical Neoplatanism? At the very least a Christianity divided into multiple sects? For that matter, could the Sassanids shelter Christians of that age, just as they shelter Nestorians and Manicheans later on?
Should the Zoroastrian priests have agreed to it the Persians definitely could have provided refuge to Christians. What was the reaction of the priests to providing refuge to the Nestorians and Manicheans? I don't know anything about that. In any case, part of Armenia was under the control of the Persians, and this had a large Christian population. The pro-Roman part of Armenia could have also provided refuge, as it seems unlikely that Julian would have sought to mess with an ally on the eastern frontier for the sake of rounding up Christians (and Julian was in any case not a persecutor). Indeed, tradition has it that Rome's ally Trdat III of Armenia converted to Christianity while Diocletian, a persecutor, was still emperor.

As for different sects, it's worth noting that this was already the case. The Donatist and Arian controversies were raging and would continue to rage into fifth century and beyond, with the Arian controversy re-invigorated by the influx of Arian barbarians and their kings. In the fifth century Christians would also find new things to argue about, such as Monophysitism and, as you note, Nestorianism, and as time progressed further, See hierarchy would become a matter of serious contention.

As for a return to paganism, I am sceptical. From the calamitous third century onwards, Christianity was becoming popular through a broad cultural turn towards inward-looking religions/personal salvation, and monotheism and henotheism. These trends are evidenced in inscriptions, artwork and religious buildings. Admittedly, Neo-Platonism, Mithraism, the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus and other aspects of pagan religion also appealed to his cultural development, but Christianity had also received an amount of support that would have perhaps been difficult to reverse by the time of Julian. Through the measures of Constantine and his sons, a powerful network of bishops now existed, and they were only getting more powerful. Constantius II had serious trouble dealing with disobedient bishops like Athanasius of Alexandria (whom he had great trouble, over several years, forcing into exile), and Valens would have even more trouble (e.g. failing to exile Athanasius altogether, and suffering the disobedience of Basil of Caesarea).

This was a privileged class. Noel Lenski (2008: Constantine, in Barrett (ed.), Lives of the Caesars, Malden MA, Oxford & Carlton, Victoria, 255-279) 274: ‘…Constantine began privileging the Christian church within months of defeating Maxentius by granting exemptions from mandatory service to clergy, by calling two councils to examine the Donatist dispute, and by pushing for freedom of worship and the restitution of properties confiscated during the Great Persecution. His grant of revenues from imperial domains to Roman and African churches in the months after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge was eventually extended across the empire. This amounted to imperial financing for Christianity, making it into something of an official religion. Constantine took further steps down this road, beginning in the mid-310s, when he granted authority to bishops formally to manumit slaves and to adjudicate civil suits. The combination of these powers and privileges turned bishops into an elite, which, by the end of the fourth century, had come to dominate local government and even to play a significant role in politics at the imperial level.’ With such measures, Constantine had made being a bishop appealing to the aristocratic elite. Within a few decades these elite dominated the clergy.
 
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Oct 2015
1,171
California
#3
This was a privileged class. Noel Lenski (2008: Constantine, in Barrett (ed.), Lives of the Caesars, Malden MA, Oxford & Carlton, Victoria, 255-279) 274: ‘…Constantine began privileging the Christian church within months of defeating Maxentius by granting exemptions from mandatory service to clergy, by calling two councils to examine the Donatist dispute, and by pushing for freedom of worship and the restitution of properties confiscated during the Great Persecution. His grant of revenues from imperial domains to Roman and African churches in the months after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge was eventually extended across the empire. This amounted to imperial financing for Christianity, making it into something of an official religion. Constantine took further steps down this road, beginning in the mid-310s, when he granted authority to bishops formally to manumit slaves and to adjudicate civil suits. The combination of these powers and privileges turned bishops into an elite, which, by the end of the fourth century, had come to dominate local government and even to play a significant role in politics at the imperial level.’ With such measures, Constantine had made being a bishop appealing to the aristocratic elite. Within a few decades these elite dominated the clergy.

One thing the Roman Catholic Church has largely swept under the rug is the role that wealthy Roman women played in the early Christian Church.

There are a few brief mentions in a few of Paul's letters of the support they gave him, but by and large the Roman Catholic Church has placed more emphasis on the idea that Christianity became what it became because it was the religion of the slaves and the poor and down trodden.
 
#4
Oh definitely. Jerome for instance was sustained by a major following of aristocratic women, and such women often bequeathed their property to the church. The first woman to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land was Constantine's mother Helena, and his mother-in-law Eutropia soon followed. Noel Lenski has argued that empresses found a kind of freedom through pilgrimage and other Christian activities, since they did not usually enjoy freedom of movement without incurring suspicion of adultery and similar activities (2004: Empresses in the Holy Land: The Creation of a Christian Utopia in Late Antique Palestine, in L. Ellis & F. L. Kidner (eds.), Travel, Communication and Geography in Late Antiquity: Sacred and Profane, Aldershot & Burlington, 113-124). There was naturally much anxiety surrounding adultery and empresses, since a lover or illegitimate son could challenge the emperor's leadership.
 

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