Letters of Julian/Letter 8

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

8. To Maximus, the philosopher[1][edit]

[361, November, from Naissa (Nish)]

Everything crowds into my mind at once and chokes my utterance, as one thought refuses to let another precede it, whether you please to class such symptoms among psychic troubles, or to give them some other name. But let me arrange what I have to tell in chronological order, though not till I have first offered thanks to the all-merciful gods, who at this present have permitted me to write, and will also perhaps permit us to see one another. Directly after I had been made Emperor — against my will, as the gods know; and this I made evident then and there in every way possible, — I led the army against the barbarians.[2] That expedition lasted for three months, and when I returned to the shores of Gaul, I was ever on the watch and kept enquiring from all who came from that quarter whether any philosopher or any scholar wearing a philosopher's cloak or a soldier's tunic had arrived there. Then I approached Besontio.[3] It is a little town that has lately been restored, but in ancient times it was a large city adorned with costly temples, and was fortified by a strong wall and further by the nature of the place; for it is encircled by the river Doubis.[4] It rises up like a rocky cliff in the sea, inaccessible, I might almost say, to the very birds, except in those places where the river as it flows round it throws out what one may call beaches, that lie in front of it. Near this city there came to meet me a certain man who looked like a Cynic with his long cloak and staff. When I first caught sight of him in the distance, I imagined that he was none other than yourself. And when I came nearer to him I thought that he had surely come from you. The man was in fact a friend of mine though he fell short of what I hoped and expected. This then was one vain dream I had! And afterwards I thought that, because you were busied with my affairs, I should certainly find you nowhere outside of Greece. Zeus be my witness and great Helios, mighty Athene and all the gods and goddesses, how on my way down to Illyricum from Gaul[5] I trembled for your safety! Also I kept enquiring of the gods — not that I ventured to do this myself, for I could not endure to see or hear anything so terrible as one might have supposed would be happening to you at that time, but I entrusted the task to others; and the gods did indeed show clearly that certain troubles would befall you, nothing terrible however, nor to indicate that impious counsels would be carried out.[6]

But you see that I have passed over many important events. Above all, it is right that you should learn how I became all at once conscious of the very presence of the gods, and in what manner I escaped the multitude of those who plotted against me, though I put no man to death, deprived no man of his property, and only imprisoned those whom I caught red-handed. All this, however, I ought perhaps to tell you rather than write it, but I think you will be very glad to be informed of it. I worship the gods openly, and the whole mass of the troops who are returning with me worship the gods.[7] I sacrifice oxen in public. I have offered to the gods many hecatombs as thank-offerings. The gods command me to restore their worship in its utmost purity, and I obey them, yes, and with a good will. For they promise me great rewards for my labours, if only I am not remiss. Evagrius[8] has joined me. . . . of the god whom we honour. . . .

Many things occur to my mind, besides what I have written, but I must store up certain matters to tell you when you are with me. Come here, then, in the name of the gods, as quickly as you can, and use two or more public carriages. Moreover, I have sent two of my most trusted servants, one of whom will escort you as far as my headquarters; the other will inform me that you have set out and will forthwith arrive. Do you yourself tell the youths which of them you wish to undertake which of these tasks.[9]


  1. Maximus, the theurgist. His life was written by Eunapius, Lives of the Sophists and Philosophers. Maximus was at Ephesus; Julian's headquarters were at Naissa, where he had received news of the death of Constantius, November 3rd, 361. Schwarz dates this letter October or November.
  2. i.e. when he recrossed the Rhine in 360. For this campaign, see Ammianus 20, 10.
  3. Cf. Ammianus 20. 10, per Besontionem Viennam hiematurus abscessit. Besontio or Vesontio (Besancon), the capital of the Sequani, is described in much the same language by Caesar, Gallic War I. 38.
  4. Doubs.
  5. Ammianus 21. 7, Zosimus 3. 10 describe this march.
  6. Julian's friends in the East were in danger after his quarrel with Constantius.
  7. Cf. Libanius, Oration 18. 114,
  8. Cf. Letter 25, To Evagrius.
  9. Maximus did not join Julian at Naissa, but, as Eunapius relates in his Life of Chrysanthius, p. 55i (Wright), he lingered at Ephesus in the vain attempt to secure favourable omens for the journey, and finally joined Julian at Constantinople early in 362; cf. Eunapius, Life of Aedesius, pp. 440 foll.