Letters of Julian/Letter 21

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

21. The Emperor Julian Caesar, most Mighty Augustus, to the People of Alexandria[1][edit]

[362, Jan. Constantinople]

If you do not revere the memory of Alexander, your founder, and yet more than him the great god, the most holy Serapis, how is it that you took no thought at least for the welfare of your community, for humanity, for decency? Furthermore, I will add that you took no thought for me either, though all the gods, and, above all, the great Serapis, judged it right that I should rule over the world. The proper course was for you to reserve for me the decision concerning the offenders. But perhaps your anger and rage led you astray, since it often "turns reason out of doors and then does terrible things";[2] for after you had restrained your original impulse, you later introduced lawlessness to mar the wise resolutions which you had at the first adopted, and were not ashamed, as a community, to commit the same rash acts as those for which you rightly detested your adversaries. For tell me, in the name of Serapis, what were the crimes for which you were incensed against George? You will doubtless answer: He exasperated against you Constantius of blessed memory; then he brought an army into the holy city, and the general[3] in command of Egypt seized the most sacred shrine of the god and stripped it of its statues and offerings and of all the ornaments in the temples. And when you were justly provoked and tried to succour the god, or rather the treasures of the god,[4] Artemius dared to send his soldiers against you, unjustly, illegally and impiously, perhaps because he was more afraid of George than of Constantius; for the former was keeping a close watch on him to prevent his behaving to you too moderately and constitutionally, but not to prevent his acting far more like a tyrant. Accordingly you will say it was because you were angered for these reasons against George, the enemy of the gods, that you once more[5] desecrated the holy city, when you might have subjected him to the votes of the judges. For in that case the affair would not have resulted in murder[6] and lawlessness but in a lawsuit in due form, which would have kept you wholly free from guilt, while it would have punished that impious man for his inexpiable crimes, and would have checked all others who neglect the gods, and who moreover lightly esteem cities like yours and flourishing communities, since they think that cruel behaviour towards these is a perquisite of their own power.

Now compare this letter of mine with the one[7] that I wrote to you a short time ago, and mark the difference well. What words of praise for you did I write then! But now, by the gods, though I wish to praise you, I cannot, because you have broken the law. Your citizens dare to tear a human being in pieces as dogs tear a wolf, and then are not ashamed to lift to the gods those hands still dripping with blood! But, you will say, George deserved to be treated in this fashion. Granted, and I might even admit that he deserved even worse and more cruel treatment. Yes, you will say, and on your account. To this I too agree; but if you say by your hands, I no longer agree. For you have laws which ought by all means to be honoured and cherished by you all, individually. Sometimes, no doubt, it happens that certain persons break one or other of these laws; but nevertheless the state as a whole ought to be well governed and you ought to obey the laws and not transgress those that from the beginning were wisely established.

It is a fortunate thing for you, men of Alexandria, that this transgression of yours occurred in my reign, since by reason of my reverence for the god and out of regard for my uncle[8] and namesake, who governed the whole of Egypt and your city also, I preserve for you the affection of a brother. For power that would be respected and a really strict and unswerving government would never overlook an outrageous action of a people, but would rather purge it away by bitter medicine, like a serious disease. But, for the reasons I have just mentioned, I administer to you the very mildest remedy, namely admonition and arguments, by which I am very sure that you will be the more convinced if you really are, as I am told, originally Greeks, and even to this day there remains in your dispositions and habits a notable and honourable impress of that illustrious descent.

Let this be publicly proclaimed to my citizens of Alexandria.


  1. Quoted entire by Socrates, History of the Church 3. 3; cited by Sozomen, 5. 7. 9; for the murder of Bishop George to which it refers, see Introduction, under Athanasius.
  2. Plutarch, On the Restraint of Anger 453; quoted from Melanthius the tragic poet; frag. 1, Nauck. This is the only extant fragment of Melanthius and is often quoted.
  3. Artemius, military prefect of Egypt; he was executed by Julian at the request of the Alexandrians, in the summer of 362; Ammianus 22. 11.
  4. Serapis; the Serapeum according to Ammianus 22. 16, was, next to the Capitol at Rome, the most splendid temple in the world. For this incident see Sozomen 4. 30. 2.
  5. On the turbulence of the Alexandrians cf. Ammianus 22. 11. 4.
  6. Ammianus 22. 11. 8 describes the murder by the mob of Bishop George and two officials of the Emperor Constantius on December 24th, 361.
  7. This letter is not extant.
  8. Julian, Count of the East; cf. Misopogon 365c; he had held some high office in Egypt, under Constantius.