Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Jovianus Flavius, Christian emperor
Jovianus (1), Flavius, Christian emperor from June 27, 363, to Feb. 16, 364. The authorities for the Life of Jovian are generally the same as those for that of Julian. The fifth oration of Themistius, and certain tracts printed among the works of St. Athanasius, are important for the special points of his edict of toleration and dealings with the Arians. There is a useful Life of Jovian by the Abbé J. P. R. de la Bléterie (Paris, 1748, 2 vols., and 1776, 1 vol.), containing also a translation of some of Julian's works.
Life.—Jovian was born c. A.D. 331. His father, the count Varronianus, was an inhabitant of the territory of Singidunum (Belgrade) in Moesia, the country which gave birth to so many emperors (Victor, Epit. 68). At the time of his unexpected elevation he was the first of the imperial bodyguard, a position of no very great distinction (Amm. xxv. 5, 4).
Julian died of a wound at midnight, between June 26 and 27, 363, in the midst of his retreat from Persia, leaving his army surrounded by active enemies. Early in the morning the generals and chief officers met to choose an emperor. Saturninus Secundus Sallustius, the prefect of the East, a moderate heathen, who was respected also by Christians, was elected; but he refused
the dangerous honour, and Jovian was chosen.
The new emperor was a Christian and a firm adherent of the Nicene faith. He had, indeed, some claim to the honours of a confessor under his predecessor, but Julian, it is said, did not wish to part with so good an officer (Socr. iii. 22). He was in other respects a man of no very marked ability (Amm. xxv. 5, 4; Eutropius, x. 17). He was a generous, bluff, and hearty soldier, popular with his companions, fond of jest and merriment, and addicted to the pleasures common in the camp (Vict. Epit. 6; Amm. xxv. 10, 15). He had a bright and open face, always cheerful, and lighted with a pair of clear grey eyes. His figure was extremely tall and his gait rather heavy, and it was long before an imperial wreath could be found to fit him. He was only a moderate scholar, and in this and many other points was a strong contrast to Julian (Amm. l.c.).
Though he was a sincere believer, we cannot credit the statement of Rufinus that he would not accept the empire till he had obliged all his soldiers to become Christians (H. E. ii. 1). But the greater part of the army did, no doubt, return without difficulty to the profession of faith to which they had been accustomed under Constantius. The labarum again became their standard; and Jovian's coins present, besides the <img style="border:0in" src="/ccel/wace/biodict/files/574xi.gif" alt="" id="j-p159.1"/>, the new and striking type (now so familiar) of the ball surmounted by the cross, the symbol of the church dominating the world (see Eckhel, Num. Vet. viii. p. 147). Ammianus notes that sacrifices were offered, and entrails of victims inspected on the morning of Jovian's inauguration to decide on the movements of the army (xxv. 6, 1). But directly the reins of power were in his hands such things apparently ceased at once.
We need not describe at length the perplexities of the Roman generals in their endeavours to escape from Persia, and the protracted negotiations with Sapor, to whose terms Jovian felt it imperative to submit (Eutrop. Brev. x. 17; Amm. xxv. 7, 8). The terms were ignoble and humiliating: the cession of the five Mesopotamian provinces which Galerius had added to the Roman dominions, and of the fortresses of Nisibis and Singara, the former of which had been the bulwark of the empire since the reign of Mithridates. No less disgraceful was the sacrifice of Arsaces, king of Armenia, the firm ally of the Romans and a Christian prince, allied to the house of Constantine by his marriage with Olympias (Amm. ib. 9–12; cf. Greg. Naz. Or. v. 15). But probably no better terms could have been obtained without the loss of nearly all the army.
After crossing the Tigris with difficulty, the Roman forces marched for six days through very desert country to the fortress of Ur, where they were met by a convoy of provisions (Amm. xxv. 8, 16). The scenes at Nisibis were heartrending when the inhabitants were bidden leave their homes. Jovian, however, was firm (xxv. 9, 2). The Persian standard was hoisted on the citadel, in token of the change of ownership and the weeping and broken-hearted people were settled in the suburb of Amida. The emperor proceeded to Antioch. The remains of Julian were sent to be buried at Tarsus, where he had intended to reside on his return from the Persian war.
The consternation of the pagans at the news of the death of Julian and the accession of Jovian was as sudden and as marvellous as the triumph of the Christians. All Antioch made holiday, churches, chapels, and even theatres being filled with cries of joy, and taunts at the discomfiture of the heathen party. "Where are the prophecies and foolish Maximus? God has conquered and His Christ" (Theod. iii. 28). St. Gregory was writing his bitter and brilliant invectives at Nazianzus, where but a few months before the Christian population had trembled at the approach of Julian (Orat. iv. and v., the στηλιτευτικοί; they were probably not delivered from the pulpit; see p. 75 of the Benedictine ed. Paris, 1778). Some acts of violence were committed, especially in the destruction of temples and altars, and more were apprehended. At Constantinople a prefect of Julian's appointment was in danger of his life (Sievers, Libanius, p. 128; cf. Lib. Epp. 1179, 1186, 1489). Heathen priests, philosophers, rhetoricians, and magicians hid themselves in fear, or were maltreated by the populace. Libanius himself was in peril at Babylon, and was accused before Jovian of never ceasing his ill-omened lamentations for his dead friend, instead of wishing good fortune to the new reign (Liban. de Vitâ suâ, vol. i. pp. 93, 94, ed. Reiske; cf. Sievers, Libanius, pp. 128 ff.; Chastel, Destruction du Paganisme, pp. 154, 155, who, however, is not accurate in all details). Libanius was saved by the intervention of a Cappadocian friend, who told the emperor that he would gain nothing by putting him to death, as his orations would survive him and become current. This looks as if his Monody was already written and known at least by report, though probably only delivered to a select circle of friends. The Epitaphius was probably not completed and published till five or six years later (Sievers, p. 132).
To appease this disturbed state of feeling Jovian issued an edict that all his subjects should enjoy full liberty of conscience, though he forbade the practice of magic (Themistis Oratio, v. pp. 68–70; cf. Chastel, p. 156). This was probably one of the earliest of his laws. It is impossible to reconcile the positive statements of Themistius with that of Sozomen, that Jovian ordered that Christianity should be the only religion of his subjects (Soz. vi. 3); and Socrates, who quotes the oration of Themistius, says that all the temples were shut, and that the blood of sacrifices ceased to flow (iii. 24). Jovian may very probably have strongly recommended the Christian faith in his edicts without pretending to enforce it, and the cessation of sacrifice seems to have been a popular rather than a directly imperial movement (the passage in Libanius's Monodia, vol. i. p. 509, appears to refer to Constantius rather than Jovian; and that in the Epitaphius, pp. 619, 620, was probably written later). Jovian allowed the philosophers Maximus and Prisan, the intimate friends of Julian, to enjoy the honours they
had received during Julian's reign (Eus. Vita Maximi, p. 58, ed. Boissonade, 1822).
The reaction under Jovian, so far as it was directed by his orders, consisted rather in favours granted to Christians than in acts of oppression towards paganism. The edict of toleration was perhaps issued at Antioch, which he reached some time in Oct., having been at Edessa on Sept. 27 (Cod. Theod. vii. 4, 9 = Cod. Just. xii. 37, 2; it is omitted by accident in Hänel's Series Chronologia, p. 1654, but is given by Godefroy and Kruger). He restored the immunities of the clergy, and the stipends paid to the virgins and widows of the church, and such part of the allowance of corn which Julian had withdrawn as the state of public finances allowed (Soz. vi. 3; Theod. i. 11, iv. 4). A count named Magnus, who had burned the church of Berytus in the late reign, was ordered to rebuild it, and nearly lost his head (Theod. iv. 22, p. 180 B). At the same time probably Jovian issued a law condemning to death those who solicited or forced into marriage the virgins of the church (Cod. Theod. ix. 25, 2, this law is addressed to Secundus, prefect of the East, and is dated at Antioch, Feb. 19, a day or two after Jovian's death according to most accounts. Either we must read Ancyrae or suppose the month wrongly given, see the commentators ad loc.).
Jovian is remembered in church history on account of his connexion with St. Athanasius more than any other of his actions. The death of Julian was, it is said, revealed to his companion Theodore of Tabenne, and the bishop took courage to return to Alexandria. Here he received a letter from the new emperor praising him for his constancy under all persecutions, reinstating him in his functions, and desiring his prayers (Athan. Op. i. 622 = vol. ii. col. 812, ed. Migne). Jovian in another letter (no longer extant) desired him to draw up a statement of the Catholic faith. He accordingly summoned a council, and wrote a synodal letter, stating and confirming the Nicene Creed (l.c. and Theod. iv. 3). Armed with this, he set sail for Antioch (Sept. 5, 363), where he met with a most gracious reception. The leaders of other ecclesiastical parties had been able to gain little beyond expressions of the emperor's desire for unity and toleration. The Arians, and especially bp. Lucius, who had been set up as a rival of Athanasius, followed Jovian about in his daily rides in hopes of prejudicing him against the champion of Catholicity (l.c. pp. 624, 625 = vol. ii. col. 819 ff.). The bluff emperor reining up his steed to receive their petitions, and his rough and sensible answers mixed with Latin words to their old and worn-out charges and irrelevant pleas, stand out with singular vividness. We can almost hear him saying, "Feri, feri," to his guard, in order to be rid of his troublesome suitors.
Little seems to have been effected by Athanasius with the Arians at Antioch, and Jovian was disappointed in his endeavour to terminate the schism between the Catholic bps. Meletius and Paulinus (Basil, Ep. 89, vol. iii. p. 258, ed. Gaume). A coldness ensued between Meletius and Athanasius, and the latter was led to recognize the bishop of the Eustathians as the true head of the Antiochene church on his making a declaration of orthodoxy. Soon after this he returned in triumph to Alexandria.
Jovian quitted Antioch in Dec., and came by forced marches to Tarsus, where he adorned the tomb of Julian. At Tyana, in Cappadocia, he received the news that Malarich had declined the charge of Gaul, and that Jovinus still continued in his own position, but faithful to the new regime. Jovian also learned that his father-in-law Lucillianus had been murdered at Rheims in an accidental mutiny of the Batavian cohorts (Amm. xxv. 10; Zos. iii. 35). The deputies of the Western armies saluted their new sovereign as he descended from Mount Taurus. With them was Valentinian, so soon to be his successor, whom he appointed captain of the second division of scutarii (Amin. xxv. 10, 9).
Another and a heavier blow followed—the news of the loss of his father Varronianus, whom he had for some time hoped to associate with himself in the consulship of the ensuing year. The loss was softened by the arrival of his wife Charito and infant son Varronianus, who, it was determined, should fill the place destined for his grandfather. The inauguration of the new consuls took place on Jan. 1 at Ancyra (Amm. xxv. 10, 11; cf. Themist. Or. v. p. 71). Zonaras (Annal. xiii. 14) says that Charito never saw her husband after his elevation, but this seems a mistake (see De Broglie, iv. p. 485 n.). The oration of Themistius was, it seems, delivered at this time.
Jovian still pushed on, notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, and arrived at an obscure place called Dadastané, about halfway between Ancyra and Nicaea. About Feb. 16, after a heavy supper, he went to bed in an apartment recently built. The plaster being still damp, a brazier of charcoal was brought in to warm the air, and in the morning he was found dead in his bed, after a short reign of only 8 months. (Amm. xxv. 10, 12, 13, describes his death; the date is variously given as Mar. 16, 17, and 18; see Clinton.) He was buried at Constantinople, and after 10 days' interval Valentinian succeeded.
Owing to the shortness of Jovian's reign, inscriptions relating to him (other than those on milestones) are very rare, but there is one over the portal of the church of Panaghia at Palaeopolis in Corfu. It may be found in the Corpus Inscr. Graec. vol. iv. 8608, from various authorities, and was also copied on the spot by bp. Wordsworth of Lincoln in 1832, who alone gives the first line: "αὔτη πύλη τοῦ κυρίου δίκεοι εἰσελεύσοντε [i.e. δίκαιοι εἰσελεύσονται] ἐν αὐτῇ.