p. 345 Book VI.
Chapter I.—Expedition of Julian into Persia; he was worsted and broke off his Life Miserably. Letter written by Libanius, describing his Death.
I have narrated in the preceding book the occurrences which took place in the Church, during the reign of Julian. 1425 This emperor, having determined to carry on the war with Persia, made a rapid transit across the Euphrates in the beginning of spring, and, passing by Edessa from hatred to the inhabitants, who had long professed Christianity, he went on to Carræ, where there was a temple of Jupiter, in which he offered up sacrifice and prayer. He then selected twenty thousand armed men from among his troops, and sent them towards the Tigris, in order that they might guard those regions, and also be ready to join him, in case he should require their assistance. He then wrote to Arsacius, king of Armenia, one of the Roman allies, to bespeak his aid in the war. In this letter Julian manifested the most unbounded arrogance; he boasted of the high qualities which had, he said, rendered him worthy of the empire, and acceptable to the gods for whom he cared; he reviled Constantius, his predecessor, as an effeminate and impious emperor, and threatened Arsacius in a grossly insulting way; and since he understood that he was a Christian, he intensified his insults, or eagerly and largely uttered unlawful blasphemies against Christ, for he was wont to dare this in every case. He told Arsacius that unless he acted according to his directions, the God in whom he trusted would not be able to defend him from his vengeance. When he considered that all his arrangements had been duly made, he led his army through Assyria.
He took a great many towns and fortresses, either through treachery or by battle, and thoughtlessly proceeded onwards, without reflecting that he would have to return by the same route. He pillaged every place he approached, and pulled down or burnt the granaries and storehouses. As he was journeying up the Euphrates, he arrived at Ctesiphon, a very large city, whither the Persian monarchs have now transferred their residence from Babylon. The Tigris flows near this spot. As he was prevented from reaching the city with his ships, by a part of the land which separated it from the river, he judged that either he must pursue his journey by water, or quit his ships and go to Ctesiphon by land; and he interrogated the prisoners on the subject. Having ascertained from them that there was a canal which had been blocked up in the course of time, he caused it to be cleared out, and, having thus effected a communication between the Euphrates and the Tigris, he proceeded towards the city, his ships floating along by the side of his army. But the Persians appeared on the banks of the Tigris with a formidable display of horse and many armed troops, of elephants, and of horses; and Julian became conscious that his army was besieged between two great rivers, and was in danger of perishing, either by remaining in its present position, or by retreating through the cities and villages which he had so utterly devastated that no provisions were attainable; therefore he summoned the soldiers to see horse-races, and proposed rewards to the fleetest racers. In the meantime he commanded the officers of the ships to throw over the provisions and baggage of the army, so that the soldiers, seeing themselves in danger by the want of necessaries, might turn about boldly and fight their enemies more desperately. After supper he sent for the generals and tribunes and commanded the embarkation of the troops. They sailed along the Tigris during the night and came at once to the opposite banks and disembarked; but their departure was perceived by some of the Persians, who exhorted one another to oppose them, but those still asleep the Romans readily overcame.
At daybreak, the two armies engaged in battle; and after much bloodshed on both sides, the Romans returned by the river, and encamped near Ctesiphon. The emperor, being no longer desirous of proceeding further, burnt his vessels, as he considered that they required too many soldiers to guard them; and he then commenced his retreat along the Tigris, which was to his left. The prisoners, who acted as guides to the Romans, led them to a fertile country where p. 346 they found abundance of provisions. Soon after, an old man who had resolved to die for the liberty of Persia, allowed himself to be taken prisoner, and was brought before the emperor. On being questioned as to the route, and seeming to speak the truth, he persuaded them to follow him as capable of transporting the army very speedily to the Roman frontiers. He observed that for the space of three or four days journey this road would be difficult, and that it would be necessary to carry provisions during that time, as the surrounding country was sterile. The emperor was deceived by the discourse of this wise old man, and approved the march by this route. On advancing further, after the lapse of three days, they were cast upon an uncultivated region. The old prisoner was put to torture. He confessed that he had exposed himself voluntarily to death for the sake of his country, and was therefore prepared to endure any sufferings that could be inflicted on him.
The Roman troops were now worn out by the length of the journey and the scarcity of provisions, and the Persians chose this moment to attack them.
In the heat of the conflict which ensued, a violent wind arose; and the sky and the sun were totally concealed by the clouds, while the air was at the same time mixed with dust. During the darkness which was thus produced, a horseman, riding at full gallop, directed his lance against the emperor, and wounded him mortally. After throwing Julian from his horse, the unknown assailant secretly went away. Some conjectured that he was a Persian; others, that he was a Saracen. There are those who insist that he who struck the blow was a Roman soldier, who was indignant at the imprudence and temerity which the emperor had manifested in exposing his army to such peril. Libanius, 1426 the sophist, a native of Syria, the most intimate friend of Julian, expressed himself in the following terms concerning the person who had committed the deed: “You desire to know by whom the emperor was slain. I know not his name. We have a proof, however, that the murderer was not one of the enemies; for no one came forward to claim the reward, although the king of Persia caused proclamation to be made, by a herald, of the honors to be awarded to him who had performed the deed. We are surely beholden to the enemy for not arrogating to themselves the glory of the action, but for leaving it to us to seek the slayer among ourselves.
“Those who sought his death were those who lived in habitual transgression of the laws, and who had formerly conspired against him, and who therefore perpetrated the deed as soon as they could find an opportunity. They were impelled by the desire of obtaining a greater degree of freedom from all control than they could enjoy under his government; and they were, perhaps, mainly stimulated by their indignation at the attachment of the emperor to the service of the gods, to which they were averse.”
Philost. vii. 15; Eutrop. Brev. hist. rom. x. 16; Eunap. Fr. ii. 15–19; Am. Marcel. xxiii. and xxiv.; Ruf. i. 36; Soc. iii. 21; Greg. Naz. Or. cont. Jul. ii. 8–15; Zos. iii. 12–30; Orosius, vii. 30.346:1426
Libanii Op. vol. ii. p. 614, ed. Reisk. Cf. Soc. iii. 22, 23; a summary and refutation of Libanius.