Letters of Julian/Letter 48
48. To the Alexandrians
[Early 363, from Antioch]
I am informed that there is in your neighbourhood a granite obelisk which, when it stood erect, reached a considerable height, but has been thrown down and lies on the beach as though it were something entirely worthless. For this obelisk Constantius of blessed memory had a freight-boat built, because he intended to convey it to my native place, Constantinople. But since by the will of heaven he has departed from this life to the next on that journey to which we are fated, the city claims the monument from me because it is the place of my birth and more closely connected with me than with the late Emperor. For though he loved the place as a sister I love it as my mother. And I was in fact born there and brought up in the place, and I cannot ignore its claims. Well then, since I love you also, no less than my native city, I grant to you also permission to set up the bronze statue in your city. A statue has lately been made of colossal size. If you set this up you will have, instead of a stone monument, a bronze statue of a man whom you say you love and long for, and a human shape instead of a quadrangular block of granite with Egyptian characters on it. Moreover the news has reached me that there are certain persons who worship there and sleep at its very apex, and that convinces me beyond doubt that on account of these superstitious practices I ought to take it away. For men who see those persons sleeping there and so much filthy rubbish and careless and licentious behaviour in that place, not only do not believe that it is sacred, but by the influence of the superstition of those who dwell there come to have less faith in the gods. Therefore, for this very reason it is the more proper for you to assist in this business and to send it to my native city, which always receives you hospitably when you sail into the Pontus, and to contribute to its external adornment, even as you contribute to its sustenance. It cannot fail to give you pleasure to have something that has belonged to you standing in their city, and as you sail towards that city you will delight in gazing at it.
- This granite monolith, which stands in the At Méidan (the hippodrome) in Constantinople, was originally erected by Thothmes III. (about 1515 B.C.), probably at Heliopolis. The Alexandrians obeyed Julian's orders, but the boat containing the obelisk was driven by a storm to Athens, where it remained till the Emperor Theodosius (379-395 A.D.) conveyed it to Constantinople. There, as an inscription on its base records, it took 32 days to erect; see Palatine Anthology 9. 682.
- Plato, Phaedo, 117c.
- Of himself (?) or of Constantius. The Emperor's permission was necessary for the erection of a statue by a city.
- Possibly there was a martyr's grave near, at which the Christians worshipped; more probably, Christian or Jewish ascetics who flourished at Alexandria and were called "therapeuts," "worshippers," had settled near the obelisk. Sozomen 6. 29 says that about 2000 ascetic monks lived in the neighbourhood of Alexandria. See also Sozomen 1. 12.
- i.e. the obelisk, which was originally dedicated to the Sun.