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The ‘Pagan Churches’ of Maximinus Daia and Julian the Apostate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 February 2009


The Emperor Julian the Apostate (361–3) tried to reverse the policy of his kinsman Constantine the Great by restoring the pagan cults which he had subverted. One of his measures was to appoint chief priests for each province. Towards the end of his brief reign Julian wrote to Arsacius, the high priest of the province of Galatia. The emperor said he was pleased to see the worship of the gods so magnificently revived, but yet more could be done. Arsacius was invited to consider and attempt to imitate the practices which had made Christianity so successful, in particular Christian hospitality towards strangers, reverence for the dead and the pretended piety of Christian lives. Pagans too should practise works of charity. Provision should be made for the poor and hostels furnished in every city, so as to form a chain of confessional caravanserais.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1994

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An earlier version of this paper was given at the annual meeting of the American Philological Association in San Francisco at Christmas 1990. The author is grateful to the audience for their observations.

1 The most exhaustive study remains the four-part article by Koch, W., ‘Comment l'empéreur Julien tacha de fonder une église païenne’, Revue beige de philologie et d'histoire 6 (1927), 123–46; vii (1928), 49–82, 511–50, 1363–85.Google Scholar This was drawn on by Bidez, J., La vie de l'empéreur Julien, Paris 1930, 266–71.Google Scholar More recent accounts include Athanassiadi-Fowden, P., Julian and hellenism, Oxford 1981, 185–9,Google ScholarBowder, D., The age of Constantine and Julian, London 1978, 99102,Google ScholarBrowning, R., The Emperor Julian, London 1981, 177–80Google Scholar and Bowersock, G., Julian, Cambridge, Mass. 1978, 87–8.Google Scholar

2 Julian, , letter 84 = 429C–432A, preserved in Sozomen, Church History v.16. The numbering of Julian's letters will be that of the Budé edition by Bidez, J. and Cumont, F.. Julian had recently passed through Galatia and had gone out of his way to visit Pessinus and its shrine to the Mother of the Gods (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae xxii. 9. 58,Google Scholar cf. letter 81 = 388C–389A). He was willing to aid the city (letter 84 = 431D); his patronage contrasts with that of Constantine for nearby Orcistus (Monumenta Asiae Minoris antiqua, ed. Calder, W. M., 8 vols, Manchester 19281962, vii. 305). A Christian youth smashed the altar of the goddess just the same (Gregory Nazianzus, Oration V against Julian ii. 40 = PG xxxv. 716–17).Google Scholar

3 Koch, , ‘Comment l'empereur’, 50, 1363, puts the letters into their context: the counsel adumbrated in letters 84 (to Arsacius of Galatia), 89a (to Theodore, high priest of Asia = 452A–454B), and the fragment numbered 89b (288B–305D) was given fuller elaboration in an imperial encyclical, which was known to Sozomen and to Gregory of Nazianzus. This had not appeared by 10/11 March 363 (p. 1363, on the basis of letter 98).Google Scholar

4 Gregory, Nazianzus, Oration IV against Julian i. 112 = PG 35. 649.Google Scholar

5 Bowder, , Constantine and Julian, 19.Google Scholar

6 The evidence is conveniently collected by Jones, A. H. M., The later Roman Empire, Oxford 1964, 764–5.Google Scholar See further on Africa Clover, F. M., ‘Emperor worship in Vandal Africa’, in G. Wirth and others (eds), Romanitas–Christianitas, Berlin 1982, 661–74,Google Scholar and on assemblies Roueche, C., Aphrodisias in late Antiquity, London 1989, 33–4.Google ScholarKoch, saw the connection between Julian and the provincial high priests: ‘Comment l'empéreur’, 56–9.Google Scholar

7 Athanassiadi-Fowden, , Julian andhellenism, 185–6,Google Scholar catalogues the known priests ‘most of whom, if not all, were Neoplatonists of the Iamblichean type’. Koch, , ‘Comment l'empéreur’, 6673, points to Julian's Iamblichean ideals.Google Scholar

8 Letter 89b = 305AB; Koch, , ‘Comment l'empéreur’, 5960.Google Scholar

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10 Letter 89b = 303B–304A.

11 Letter 89b = 304BD;Koch, , ‘Comment l'empereur’, 54–5.Google Scholar

12 Letter 89a = 289A, cf. 84 = 43 iC. Letter 88 punishes a (pagan) governor of Caria who had had a priest beaten, by excluding him from worship for three months. Julian tells him (450 BC) that a governor should rise from his seat in the presence of a priest.

13 Letter 84 = 431C. The presence of a city's priests was a routine part of an adventus celebration. Priests greeted Theodosius 1 at Rome in 389 (Pacatus, Latin panegyric ii (xii). 37. 3), and sacrifices welcomed Maximian into Italy in 291 (Mamertinus, Latin panegyric xi (iii). 10. 5; see further MacCormack, S. G., Art and ceremony in late Antiquity, Berkeley, Ca. 1981, 20–2).Google Scholar

14 Letter 84 = 431 CD; 89b = 303AE.

15 Letter 84 = 43iC. The ambiguity of‘within’ is presumably deliberate.

16 Whatever Lactantius physical whereabouts during the reign of Maximinus and whilst he was writing On the deaths of the persecutors (on which see Barnes, T. D., Constantine and Eusebius, Cambridge, Mass. 1981, 13, 2912Google Scholar and Heck, E., MH HEOMAXEIN oder die Bestrafung des Gottesverächters, Frankfurt 1987, 207, 21215)Google Scholar, he had a Bithynian informant in Donatus, the dedicatee of Deaths (1. 1; 16. 3–11; 35. 2; 52. 5), and access to Nicomedian dates and documents (ibid. 35. 1, 4; 48. 1).

17 For Epitychanos see Grégoire, H., ‘Notes épigraphiques’, Byzantion 8 (1933), 4956;Google Scholar for Stratonicaea see Sylloge inscriplionum graecarum (hereinafter cited as SIG3), inscr. 900 = Şahin, M.Ç., Die Inschriften von Stralonikeia, 1: Panamara, Bonn 1981, inscr. 310, pp. 170–1.Google ScholarRoueché, C., Aphrodisias in late Antiquity, 29,Google Scholar suggests that Flavius Zeno, described as high priest and comes in her inscriptions 11, 12, may have been an appointee of Maximinus. I cannot with confidence distentangle the fact from the Life ofS. Theodotus of Ancyra, whose authenticity is defended by Mitchell, S.: ‘The Life of Saint Theodotus of Ancyra’, Anatolian Studies 32 (1982), 93113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Baynes, N. H., ‘The Great persection’, in Cook, S. A. and others (eds), Cambridge Ancient History, 12, Cambridge 1939, 687;Google Scholar cf. Castritius, H., Studien zu Maximinus Daia, Frankfurt 1969, 43: ‘die Organisation einer heidnischen Kirche und Priesterschaft analog der christlichen’.Google Scholar

19 Grant, R. M., ‘The religion of Maximin Daia’, in J. Neusner (ed.), Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman cults, Leiden 1975, 4. 143.Google Scholar

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23 Lawlor, H. J. and Oulton, J. E. L., Eusebius, Church History, London 19271928, 2. 291–2.Google ScholarBarnes, , Constantine and Eusebius, 159, notes that Maximinus built a pagan ecclesiastical hierarchy using the high priests of the provincial councils. Koch, ‘Comment l'empereur’, 59, contrasts the reforms of Julian and Maximinus: ‘ ici tout respire encore le vieux temps; chez Julien c'est tout autre chose’.Google Scholar

24 Lactantius, , Deaths 36. 4. Bidez, , Vie de l'empéreur, 267, spotted the contrast.Google Scholar

25 SIG3, inscr. 900 = Inschriften von Stratonikeia i, inscr. 310, pp. 170–1. Mitchell, S., ‘Maximinus and the Christians in A.D. 312: a new Latin inscription’, Journal of Roman Studies 78 (1988), 118–19,CrossRefGoogle Scholar fits Panamara into Maximinus' itinerary for 312. Lane Fox, R., Pagans and Christians, London 1986, 584, says of the Auruncii that ‘these children of a greatly priestly family showed no disillusionment’.Google Scholar

26 Numenius, , frag. 9 (des Places), speaking of the devotional virtuosity of Moses, .Google Scholar

27 SIG3, inscr. 900 = Inschriften von Stratonikeia, inscr. 310, lines 49–54. Theotecnus, the curator of Antioch, who set up the oracular statue of Zeus, Philios which advised Maximinus was presumably another such expert: Eusebius, , Church history 9. 2. 29. 4. 1.Google Scholar

28 Grégoire, , ‘Notes épigraphiques’, 4956; further references in Mitchell, S., ‘Life’, 10n. 93.Google Scholar

29 Lactantius, , Deaths 36. 4.Google Scholar

30 On the usual rhythm of observance, see Lane, Fox, Pagans and Christians, 6672.Google ScholarNilsson, M., ‘Pagan divine service in late antiquity’, Harvard Theological Review 38 (1945), 64–5,CrossRefGoogle Scholar discusses daily worship. For Olympia see Pausanias, , Descriptio Graecae 5. 13.Google Scholar 10. The people of Aigion in Achaea are said to have commuted the daily sacrifice required of them on account of the expense: ibid. vii. 23. 11.

31 Ammianus Marcellinus, Res gestae xxii. 12. 3–7, notes the expense involved and indicates his understanding of the dynamics of sacrifice: such over-zealous cultivation of divine favour will encourage a lush but perishable growth of fortune. Cf. ibid. xxv. 4. 17 and generally on Ammianus' religion, Rike, R. L., Apex omnium: religion in the res gestae of Ammianus Marcellinus, Berkeley, Ca. 1987.Google Scholar

32 Behr, C. A., Aelius Aristides and the sacred tales, Amsterdam 1968, 32. On lamps, Nilsson, ‘Pagan divine service’, 65.Google Scholar

33 Arnobius, , Against the pagans vii. 32, mocks the excitationes and dormitiones of pagan cult.Google Scholar

34 Ibid. vii. 26. For Julian's friend Sallustius ‘prayers without sacrifices are only words, but prayers with sacrifices are inspired words’: On the gods and the world, 16.

35 ‘est… sacrificiumque victima et quaecumque in ara cremantur’: Lactantius, Divine institutes vi. 25. 6.

36 Idem, Deaths 36. 4; see above n. 14.

37 Lactantius, , Deaths 36. 5. The suggested association with the Egyptian clergy, accepted by Grant, ‘The religion of Maximin Daia’Google Scholar, 59, and rejected by Lane, Fox, Pagans and Christians, 773Google Scholar, seems to have originated with the idiosyncratic portrayal of Tetrarchic paganism as fundamentally pharaonic by Maurice, J., ‘Les pharaons romains’, Byiantion xii (1937), 71103Google Scholar, and was firmly adopted by Grégoire, H., ‘L'enigme de Tahta’, Chronique d'Egypte xxix (1940), 122 (‘il n'y a pas de doute’).Google Scholar

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39 Daremberg, C. V. and Saglio, E., Dictionnaire des antiquite's grecques et romaines, Paris 18731919, ii, col. 1115Google Scholar; Pauly-Wissowa, , Real-Encyclopddie iii (1899) col. 2342–6.Google Scholar

40 For example, Robert, Browning, Justinian and Theodora, London 1971, 206–7.Google Scholar

41 Inan, J. and Alföldi-Rosenbaum, E.Roman and early Byzantine portrait sculpture in Asia Minor, London 1966, nos 107, 242, 243.Google Scholar

42 Parasteis Syntomoi Chronikai 5 (ed. Cameron, A. and Herrin, J., Leiden 1984, 60, 172–4); Chronicon Paschale ad ann. 300 AD = p. 530 Bonn Corpus edition.Google Scholar

43 Lauffer, S., Diokletians Preisedikt, Berlin 1971, 162–3, ch.xxii, I, I aGoogle Scholar; Roueché, , Aphrodisias in late Antiquity, 285–6, inscr. 231, ch. xxii, I, I a, indicate a payment of 50 denarii to t he fuller for bleaching for each ‘chlamyde indicationali rudi’. Military cloaks were usually red: Martial xiv. 129; Tertullian, On the soldier's crown 1: ‘rufatus sanguinis sui spe… donativum Christi in carcere exspectat’. Diocletian priced the best military chlamys at 4,000 denarii (ch. xix, line I a).Google Scholar

44 Inan, J. and Alföldi-Rosenbaum, E., Römische und frühbyzanlinische Porlrätplaslik aus der Türkei: neue Funde, Mainz 1979, 3847. For the fathers of the Council of Elvira it was the crown that was the distinctive dress of priests (canon 55).Google Scholar

45 Dio Chrysostom, xxxv. 12.

46 Inan, and Alföldi-Rosenbaum, , Römische und frühbyzantinische Porträtplastik, no. 186Google Scholar; idem, Portrait sculpture, nos 239, 282.

47 Lactantius, , Deaths 36. 4–Google Scholar;5. Valesius, writing before the discovery of the sole MS of Deaths in the seventeenth century, already considered Maximinus's priests novel in their method of appointment (note in his edition to Eusebius, Church History ix. 4). Price, S.R.F., Rituals and power: the Roman imperial cult in Asia Minor, Cambridge 1984, 63, says earlier priests owed their office to both heredity and elections; he points to the increasing influence of the central power over the local in such matters during the third century AD: pp. 174–6.Google Scholar

48 Lactantius, , Deaths 7. ‘The caricature is savage, but not altogether misleading’Google Scholar: Barnes, T. D.The new empire of Diocletian and Constantine, Cambridge, Mass. 1982, 209.Google Scholar

49 J., Gascou, ‘Le rescrit d' Hispellum’, Mélanges d'archéologie de d'histoire de l'Écolefrançaise de Rome 79 (1967), 600–59Google Scholar. Roueché, , Aphrodisias in late Antiquity, points out that Lycia and Pamphylia, which had long had separate assemblies, addressed Maximinus jointly in the inscription from Arycanda (Tit. As. Min. ii. 785 = Corp. Inscr. Lat. iii. 12132 = Inscr. Lat. Christ. Vet. 1).Google Scholar

50 Nixon, C. E. V., ‘The panegyric of 307 and Maximian's visits to Rome’, Phoenix 35 (1981), 70–6 considers the oath reportedly exchanged in the temple of Capitoline Jupiter between Diocletian and Maximian (Latin panegyric vi (vii). 15. 6). For Constantine's vision of Apollo see Latin panegyric vi (vii). 21.4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Maximinus' oracle-statue is in Eusebius, , Church history ix. 3 (cf. Preparation for the gospel iv. 2Google Scholar and Lactantius, , Divine institutes vii. 17. 5).Google Scholar

51 Eusebius, , Church history ix. 4. 2.Google Scholar

52 Stephen, Mitchell, ‘Maximinus and the Christians in AD 312’, Journal of Roman Studies 78 (1988), 118.Google Scholar

53 The important new inscription from Kolbasa in Pisidia published by S. Mitchell ibid. 108, lines 6–8.

54 Letter 89b = 302C-304A; Koch, , ‘Comment l'empéreur’, 531–7.Google Scholar

55 Philanthropy: letter 84 = 43IBC; 89b = 289A–292D: such activities were not a usual part of the public cult, but the system of patronage had furnished a mechanism by which the less fortunate could be provided for. Vestments: letter 89b = 304A. The chlamyses of Maximinus' priests were not merely albis but candidis (Lactantius, , Deaths 36. 5)Google Scholar; for the distinction see Servius, , Commentary on Georgics iii. 82.Google Scholar

56 Peter, Brown, ‘The last pagan emperor: Robert Browning's The Emperor Julian’, in his Society and the holy in late Antiquity, Berkeley, Ca. 1982, 100.Google Scholar

57 Price, , Rituals and power, 60, cf. n. 6 above.Google Scholar