Graduate Papers

Julian, Imperial Legacy, and the Sasanian Campaign

Translated by:
Matthew Ferguson

The guiding motive and expected outcome of Julian’s fatal campaign against the Sasanian Empire have long been difficult issues for studies in the emperor’s reign. Head (1976: 158-159) questions, “Did he imagine that he might in fact conquer Persia? Or did he anticipate that the campaign would be similar to raids across the Rhine, designed to strike terror in the hearts of the enemy but not to result in permanent occupation of territory?” Head favors the latter explanation, noting that the avid historian emperor was too familiar with the centuries of war between the Roman and Persian empires and knew of the many Roman defeats that had been suffered as the result of overly ambitious campaigns. On the other hand, for an emperor renowned for his appreciation of earlier Pagan antiquity, the desire to emulate or at least follow in the tradition of previous emperors and generals that had fought successfully in the East could not have been far from his mind. As Gardner (1978: 315) points out, “The thought of Alexander was ever with him, and many ages seemed to witness his deeds … At the same time, he did not neglect the less encouraging memories – those of Caesar, the younger Gordian, and Valerian.”

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