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Ammianus Marcellinus on the Empress Eusebia: a Split Personality?*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 September 2009

Extract

The Roman empress Eusebia, wife of the Christian emperor Constantius II (A.D. 337–361), owes what fame she enjoys amongst historians to her role in the life of Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor (361–363); in the years 354–355 the empress emerged as the saviour and advocate of her (still in the closet) pagan in-law. However in this article I wish to focus exclusively on the treatment of the empress Eusebia in the history of Ammianus Marcellinus, the great historian of Late Antiquity and himself a devotee of Julian. This treatment merits attention not just for the undoubtedly interesting fact that Eusebia is one of the few female characters to surface in the history, but also because in the history the empress is cast in seemingly different personae. She is the kind and beautiful empress, akin to the image Julian himself created of her in his Speech of Thanks to Eusebia, written in commemoration of his salvation at her hands; but she is also a devious player, as we find too in Zosimus' treatment of the empress, though in Ammianus her deviousness is malevolent. It is this contradictory characterization aspect of the treatment that I wish to explore here. For whilst general attempts have been made to reconcile these images in the context of political history, the repercussions for our understanding of Ammianus have been little explored. How can the historian let these contrasting images co-exist? Has he merely assembled his history clumsily, or is there a more rewarding explanation for the impression of the empress's split personality?

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 2000

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References

1. For Ammianus see Matthews, J., The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London, 1989)Google Scholar, and now Barnes, T. D., Ammianus Marcellinus and the Representation of Historical Reality (Ithaca and London, 1998)Google Scholar.

2. Discussed by Sabbah, G., ‘Présences Féminines dans I'Histoire d'Ammien Marcellin’, Cognitio Gestorum. The Historiography Art of Ammianus Marcellinus., edd. den Boeft, J., den Hengst, D. and Teitler, H. C. (Amsterdam/Oxford/New York/Toronto, 1992), 91105Google Scholar, and Barnes (n. 1), 120–8.

3. For the speech see Tougher, , ‘In Praise of an Empress: Julian's Speech of Thanks to Eusebia’ in The Propaganda of Power. The Role of Panegyric in Late Antiquity, ed. Whitby, Mary (Leiden/Boston/Koln, 1998), 105–23Google Scholar.

4. See below for further details.

5. For Eusebia see Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire I, edd. Jones, A. H. M., Martindale, J. R., and Morris, J. (Cambridge, 1971), 300–1Google Scholar. See also Aujoulat, N., ‘Eusébie, Hélène et Julien. I Le témoignage de Julien’, Byzantion 58 (1983), 78103Google Scholar and Eusébié, Hélène et Julien. II Le témoignage des historiens’, Byzantion 58 (1983), 421–52Google Scholar.

6. On Eunapius see Blockley, R. C., The Fragmentary Classicising Historians of the Later Roman Empire I (Liverpool, 1981), 126Google Scholar; Paschoud, F., ed. tr., Zosime, HistoireNouvelle, II. 1 (Paris, 1979), xiGoogle Scholar.

7. Zosimus 3.1.2–3 and 3.2.3. In the latter Eusebia persuades Constantius to let Julian govern Gaul alone, using the same arguments.

8. For the question of the relationship between the texts of Eunapius and Ammianus see for instance Matthews (n. 1), 164–75.

9. As well as her hope of providing a male heir for her as yet childless husband.

10. Drinkwater, J. F., ‘The Pagan “Underground”, Constantius II's “Secret Service”, and the Survival, and the Usurpation of Julian the Apostate’ in Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History II, ed. Deroux, C. (Brussels, 1983), 348–87 esp. 368Google Scholar.

11. Tougher, , ‘The Advocacy of an Empress: Julian and Eusebia, CQ 48 (1998), 595–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12. For characterization in Ammianus generally see Pauw, D. A., ‘Methods of Character Portrayal in the Res Gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus’, Acta Classica 20 (1977), 181–98Google Scholar. Pauw however does not discuss the characterization of Eusebia.

13. Bidez, Though J., La Vie de L'empereur Julien (Paris, 1930)Google Scholar assumes that Eusebia was behind it.

14. See, for example, Usher, S., The Historians of Greece and Rome (London, 1969), 212–14Google Scholar.

15. Bidez (n. 13).

16. Bowerstock, G. W., Julian the Apostate (London, 1978)Google Scholar.

17. Athanassiadi, P., Julian. An Intellectual Biography (London and New York, 1992)Google Scholar.

18. Aujoulat, , ‘Eusébie, Hélène et Julien. II Le témoignage des historiens’ (n. 5), esp. 434–8Google Scholar.

19. Thompson, E. A., The Historical Work of Ammianus Marcellinus (Cambridge, 1947), 20–1Google Scholar.

20. Blockley, , Ammianus Marcellinus. A Study of his Historiography and Political Thought (Brussels, 1975)Google Scholar.

21. Matthews (n. 1), 86.

22. Sabbah, , La Méthods d'Ammien Marcellin (Paris, 1978), 220 and n. 4Google Scholar. In ‘Présences Féminines dans I'Histoire d'Ammien Marcellin’ (n. 2) he simply refers to Aujoulat.

23. Barnes (n. 1), 121–2.

24. de Jong, P., Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XVI (Groningen, 1972)Google Scholar.

25. Szidat, J., Historischer Kommentar zu Ammianus Marcellinus, Buch XX–XXI, III, Historia Einzelschriften 89 (Stuttgart, 1996), 54–5Google Scholar.

26. den Boeft, J., den Hengst, D., Teitler, H. C., Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus XXI (Groningen, 1991), 81Google Scholar.

27. Rosen, K., Ammianus Marcellinus (Darmstadt, 1982), 114–15Google Scholar.

28. See, for instance, Barnes, , ‘Literary Convention, Nostalgia and Reality in Ammianus Marcellinus’ in Reading the Past in Late Antiquity, ed. Clarke, G. et al. (Rushcutters Bay, 1990), 5992Google Scholar; Ammianus and the Representation of Historical Reality.

29. Hornblower, S., Thucydides (London, 1987), 25Google Scholar.

30. Aujoulat, , ‘Eusébie, Hélène et Julien. II Le témoignage des historiens’ (n. 5), 450Google Scholar remarks that posterity tends to have the (positive) eyes of Julian and Ammianus when it comes to Eusebia.

31. An anonymous referee to a previous article suggested to me that Ammianus is simply presenting a deterioration in Eusebia's character due to the corrupting influence of the court, but this fails to convince for there is not a linear development in his presentation of the empress's character. Ammianus shifts from ambiguity to negativity then to positivity, as I shall stress below.

32. This recalls Julian himself, as noted by Sabbah, , La Méthode d'Ammien Marcellin, 300 n. 21Google Scholar.

33. See also Sabbah (n. 22), 529 and n. 59.

34. See Teitler, , ‘Ammianus and Constantius. Image and Reality’ in Cognito Gestorum (n. 2), 117–22Google Scholar. See also Whitby, Michael and Tougher, in The Late Roman World and its Historian: Interpreting Ammianus Marcellinus, edd. Drijvers, J. W. and Hunt, D. (London and New York, 1999), 6473 and 77–88Google Scholar.

35. 21.16.16.

36. For these figures see Jones, Martindale, and Morris (n. 5), 308–9 and 448–9.

37. Trans. Rolfe, J. C., Ammianus Marcellinus III (London/Cambridge, Mass., 1952), 225Google Scholar.

38. 29.2.4.

39. Realised by Barnes (n. 1), 122.

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