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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 September 2009
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?
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), 91–105Google 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), 78–103Google Scholar and ‘Eusébié, Hélène et Julien. II Le témoignage des historiens’, Byzantion 58 (1983), 421–52Google 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.
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.
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15. Bidez (n. 13).
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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.
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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), 59–92Google Scholar; Ammianus and the Representation of Historical Reality.
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), 64–73 and 77–88Google Scholar.
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.
39. Realised by Barnes (n. 1), 122.
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