Letters of Julian/Letter 41

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Letters by Julian, translated by Emily Wilmer Cave Wright
41. To the citizens of Bostra

From The Works of the Emperor Julian, volume III (1913) Loeb Classical Library.

41. To the citizens of Bostra[1][edit]

[362, August 1st, Antioch]

I thought that the leaders of the Galilaeans would be more grateful to me than to my predecessor in the administration of the Empire. For in his reign it happened to the majority of them to be sent into exile, prosecuted, and cast into prison, and moreover, many whole communities of those who are called "heretics"[2] were actually butchered, as at Samosata and Cyzicus, in Paphlagonia, Bithynia, and Galatia, and among many other tribes also villages were sacked and completely devastated; whereas, during my reign, the contrary has happened. For those who had been exiled have had their exile remitted, and those whose property was confiscated have, by a law of mine received permission to recover all their possessions.[3] Yet they have reached such a pitch of raving madness and folly that they are exasperated because they are not allowed to behave like tyrants or to persist in the conduct in which they at one time indulged against one another, and afterwards carried on towards us who revered the gods. They therefore leave no stone unturned, and have the audacity to incite the populace to disorder and revolt, whereby they both act with impiety towards the gods and disobey my edicts, humane though these are. At least I do not allow a single one of them to be dragged against his will to worship at the altars; nay, I proclaim in so many words that, if any man of his own free will choose to take part in our lustral rites and libations, he ought first of all to offer sacrifices of purification and supplicate the gods that avert evil. So far am I from ever having wished or intended that anyone of those sacrilegious men should partake in the sacrifices that we most revere, until he has purified his soul by supplications to the gods, and his body by the purifications that are customary.

It is, at any rate, evident that the populace who have been led into error by those who are called "clerics," are in revolt because this license has been taken from them. For those who have till now behaved like tyrants are not content that they are not punished for their former crimes, but, longing for the power they had before, because they are no longer allowed to sit as judges and draw up wills[4] and appropriate the inheritances of other men and assign everything to themselves, they pull every string[5] of disorder, and, as the proverb says, lead fire through a pipe to fire,[6] and dare to add even greater crimes to their former wickedness by leading on the populace to disunion. Therefore I have decided to proclaim to all communities of citizens, by means of this edict, and to make known to all, that they must not join in the feuds of the clerics or be induced by them to take stones in their hands or disobey those in authority; but they may hold meetings for as long as they please and may offer on their own behalf the prayers to which they are accustomed; that, on the other hand, if the clerics try to induce them to take sides on their behalf in quarrels, they must no longer consent to do so, if they would escape punishment.[7]

I have been led to make this proclamation to the city of Bostra in particular, because their bishop Titus and the clerics, in the reports that they have issued, have made accusations against their own adherents, giving the impression that, when the populace were on the point of breaking the peace, they themselves admonished them not to cause sedition. Indeed, I have subjoined to this my decree the very words which he dared to write in his report: "Although the Christians are a match for the Hellenes in numbers, they are restrained by our admonition that no one disturb the peace in any place." For these are the very words of the bishop about you. You see how he says that your good behaviour was not of your own choice, since, as he at any rate alleged, you were restrained against your will by his admonitions! Therefore, of your own free will, seize your accuser and expel him from the city,[8] but do you, the populace, live in agreement with one another, and let no man be quarrelsome or act unjustly. Neither let those of you who have strayed from the truth outrage those who worship the gods duly and justly, according to the beliefs that have been handed down to us from time immemorial; nor let those of you who worship the gods outrage or plunder the houses of those who have strayed rather from ignorance than of set purpose. It is by reason that we ought to persuade and instruct men, not by blows, or insults, or bodily violence. Wherefore, again and often I admonish those who are zealous for the true religion not to injure the communities of the Galilaeans or attack or insult them.[9] Nay, we ought to pity rather than hate men who in matters of the greatest importance are in such evil case. (For in very truth the greatest of all blessings is reverence for the gods, as, on the other hand, irreverence is the greatest of all evils, It follows that those who have turned aside from the gods to corpses[10] and relics pay this as their penalty.)[11] Since we suffer in sympathy with those who are afflicted by disease,[12] but rejoice with those who are being released and set free by the aid of the gods. Given at Antioch on the First of August.


  1. This edict is cited by Sozomen 5. 15. Bostra, or Bosra. was one of the largest fortified cities in Arabia and is described by Ammianus 14. 8. 13 as murorum firmitate cautissima.
  2. Constantius persecuted Christians who did not belong to the Arian sect.
  3. For this see Sozomen 5. 5.
  4. i.e. for others. Julian no longer allowed legacies to be left to churches; cf. Codex Theodos. 3. 1. 3. The clergy and especially the bishops had exercised certain civil functions of which Julian deprived them, and they lost the immunity from taxation that had been granted by Christian emperors. For this cf. Sozomen 5. 5.
  5. Literally "cable," a proverb.
  6. Cf. "add fuel to fire."
  7. So far the edict has a general character and may have been sent out broadcast. The last paragraph is apparently added as a special instruction to the citizens of Bostra, and especially to the Christians, whom he incites against their bishop.
  8. Julian's advice was not followed, since Socrates, History of the Church 3. 25, mentions Titus as bishop of Bostra under the Emperor Jovian in 363.
  9. Sozomen 5. 5 and 15 seems to be an echo of Julian.
  10. So Julian styles Christ and the martyrs; cf. Against the Galilaeans 335b; Vol. 2, Misopogon 361b.
  11. i.e. that they are in evil case.
  12. For Christianity a disease cf. Vol. 2, 229d, and Letter 58.