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July 10, 2011


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I think the comparison to Marcus Aurelius was apt. Julian sounds like an interesting character.

Is anyone else really feeling like the Roman Empire, once it became Christian, wasn't really the Roman Empire they knew and loved anymore? Like something had been lost along with the pagan religion?


a bit yes. Yet it start to look more and more like the Byzantine empire I love. So for me, it's a welcome transition, if only sadden by the ever approaching finale to this incredible Podcast. We are only a hundred years from then. Which could mean something in the order of 30 to 50 golden podcast more.


I have a question concerning this episode, what would "pagans" like Julian have referred to themselves as ?

I thought "pagan" was a somewhat derogatory term used by Christians, and would not have been used by the "pagans" themselves. Is this true? If so what Latin (or Greek as I believe that was the more common everyday language of the Empire at this point) would they have used to describe their religious beliefs ?


There generally was no word, just as there was no word for the religions of India and Japan before Westerners came there to puzzle over them.


But seeing as Christianity and paganism existed side-by-side for centuries surely pagans would have had to have someway of describing their religion.

Particularly in Julian's day when it had very much become a matter of Christians versus "Everyone else".


Thats because there wasnt just 1 pagan religion.


Post Constantine the Great it was getting a little boring, but I enjoyed this episode. Julian seems to have overcome many problems, older generals and the paranoia of Constantius II.


Armchair psychologists love Julian because there is so much to work with: father, uncles and brother murdered by paranoid second cousin; childhood and youth spent in house arrest; domineering religious tutors (Christian and then polytheistic); reactionary religious and political influences under polytheistic tutors; constant threat of sudden violent and unexpected death; sudden rise in status, power and vulnerability; and forced into a job that killed predecessors. Note that he ascribes to Roman polytheism, which is the most incoherent, internally contradictory and superstitious of all existing belief systems, rather than stoicism, which was arguably more closely associated with Rome's greatness (ie. Cincinnatus, M. Aurelius) and more congruent with pre-Christian Roman ideals. There is more than a hint of passive rebelliousness - polytheism was more abhorrent to the Christian hierarchy than stoicism, which was seen as an enlightened philosophy. The comparison between Julian and M. Aurelius is weak. Nothing Julian wrote is comparable to the Meditations. Julian shows none of the insight, subtlety of thought or rhetorical skill that he should have acquired from his years at the feet of the masters of late antiquity. Compared with Caesar, Augustus, Marcus and Constantine, Julian's writings are embarrassingly adolescent and self-indulgent.


Sorry for the derail but I guess this is the best spot to call attention to it...
It's impossible to listen or download episode 45 "The End of the War" located at http://blip.tv/file/get/MikeDuncan-45TheEndOfTheWar420.mp3

Always get a "forbiden access" or some such. :(

Christopher Culpepper

Miguel, you can still listen and download the episode using the RSS feed or in the iTunes store in the podcast section.


At the expense of looking like a fool but... how can I do either? :P


Found it, thanks! :)


@ les. What is remarkable about Julian is that he did not turn into the monster he should have been. His brother Gallus had an identical family situation, while Commodus, Nero, Caligula and Caracalla had fewer obstacles and many more advantages and turned out far worse. While he may not have been an effective, high IQ emperor, like Augustus, Diocletian or Constantine, he came close to being a reasonably good one. He starts to unravel only when he begins evangelising for poltytheism and believing he is the reincarnation of Alexander. Enlightenment thinkers love Julian because he rejects Christianity. They tend to gloss over his fanatical polytheism.


Mike: best episode so far. Funny, insightful, and brilliant war analyses


Mike: best episode so far. Funny, insightful, and brilliant war analyses


@Ies: "Julian shows none of the insight, subtlety of thought or rhetorical skill that he should have acquired from his years at the feet of the masters of late antiquity. Compared with Caesar, Augustus, Marcus and Constantine, Julian's writings are embarrassingly adolescent and self-indulgent."

Rather than just take your word on that, do you have any sites where his surviving works are translated? I'd be very interested in taking a look into them myself. :) Although I despise rhetoric, if considered an intellectual discipline, to my core as it is empty showmanship that disregards facts and merely try to trick others into agreeing with you, so him not applying that is a point in his favour, IMO. All of these "armchair" interpretations I've heard of him by Christians sound terribly defensive since, even if he personally wasn't good at expressing the ideas (which you'll hopefully give me the opportunity to see for myself), the points were still valid.

The contradictions are there, the incompatibilities with reality are there and the intolerance inherent in Monotheism had been on full display when they seized control. You're also exaggerating Roman Polytheism's relative amount of contradictions, since it's impossible for a religion that makes fewer paradoxical claims to be less believable (not to mention that people always have a blind-spot for their own religion. Thus why a Christian doesn't become a Muslim and vice-versa as a muslim/christian will know plenty of things wrong with the other's beliefs, but fail to see those same errors with his own faith).

Brad Penney

Julian is interesting because of the absolute hopelessness of his quest to stamp out Christianity when it had already been established as a state religion. Its like a modern-day ruler attempting to stamp out using the Internet or demanding that cars be banned in order to bring obesity levels back under control.

Like Julian, however, there is always an undercurrent in society that remembers the good ol' days (through rose coloured glasses of course). Ever heard grandpa say "In my day things were different..." I wonder just how many of the citizens of Julian's empire secretly shared his intoxication with paganism? I wonder how many of his soldiers secretly sacrificed to the Roman pantheon or dreamed of the Fields of Elysium once they'd suffered a fatal injury in battle?

I guess we'll never know, but it sure would be interesting to know how the average solider or citizen felt about the imposition of Christianity upon his/her life before it became a cultural norm...

Carpe Diem!


I think Brad is right. Julian is more like the 'whip-smart' conservative kid of hippy parents than the hippy kid of conservative parents. With respect to the gods, Romans had always been good at hedging their bets and even Christians, or 'Gallileans' as Julian calls them, would probably have retained some pagan, or in Julian's words 'Greek', practices. Roman Catholics today still have saints which fulfil the role of some pagan deities and South American Christianity incorporates some preChristian beliefs.


@ Mainframe
In his Letter to Arsacius, Julian as Pontifex Maximus (ironically the precursor to the Pope)bemoans the fact that pagan priests do not engage in more charity and sobriety (ie. do not behave more like their Christian counterparts). The style tries to emulate that of some of the Pauline Epistles but does not quite make it. He gives the religion he abhors the best advertisement.

Here he flaunts his skill as an orator. Perhaps he learnt his rhetoric too well? He certainly likes to show it off.

Julian tries his hand at Greek satire and complains that the people of Antioch do not like him.

He was certainly not an ignoramus or an idiot. I tend to forget he was only in his mid 20s at the time. To be fair, Ammianus can be just as ponderous; so it may have been considered fashionable at the time. Also, Julian preferred to write in Greek while Marcus Aurelius and Caesar chose Latin, a language better suited for brevity and directness. Finally, Julian writes for a very specific and narrow audience - the highly erudite pagan - while Caesar wrote for anyone who could read.

I suppose another reason why we all find him fascinating is that he actually tells us what he thinks. In that way he is like Marcus Aurelius.


Thanks, Ies!


Sorry, Marcus wrote his Meditations in Greek.


Long time listener, first time poster...I would really like a stop in the narrative to reflect on the changes on the ground again soon. Technology, language, culture, etc. I get the impression that life in the empire for 95% of the people hasnt really changed since Augustus or before. I am guessing this is largely true - there have been hints but I am really interested in how we are going to fade into the "Dark Ages".


Well, I am now up to date and will have to wait for a new episode like millions of others. :(

And what a journey it has been!

I always wanted to read a complete history of Rome especially after watching BBC's I, Claudius and HBO's Rome, but I wanted to start chronologically and all the way back from Remus and Romulus. Mike Duncan began his series even earlier than that ("beginning with Aeneas's arrival in Italy") and that meant I had give this podcast at least a chance. The rest is history.

The only other talking book that I'd listened to prior to THOR was "Band of Brothers", which chronicled the feats of a company of airborne soldiers in WW2. I'd already had a dim view of podcasts and talking books in general, and the enjoyment I had with the Band of Brothers greatly diminished each time the narrator said the wounded were 'evacuated'. (According to a journo in HBO's The Wire: "You can't evacuate people. A building can be evacuated. To evacuate a person is to give that person an enema.")

So I was acutely sensitive to a possible 'evacuation of Romans', which, in my view, would be the only blemish on this truly historic podcast. Much to his credit, Mike did not use that word once and he'll be remembered for a thousand years for it.

Roo Malax

This is a great podcast, Im not up to this episode yet because I recently did a rewind, back to the beginning, The age of kings and "Youthful Indiscretions." I never paid any attention whatspever to early Rome until this podcast, but Duncan made it fascinating. Im probably not alone in knowing most of the story but listening to Duncan's storytelling anyway.
I love how when I subscribed, it was still before the consulship of Julius and Caesar back when Mike Duncan didnt know how long hed be doing this. Im glad Audible stepped in to make the Podcast profitable, so now its gauranteed to end in 476AD. Although, if its making a couple grand a month Duncan will go all Edward Gibbon on us and take it to 1453.

Ryan Reyes

Roo Malax, you say that almost as if it is a bad thing. :)
Rome doesn't feel very Roman anymore. When was the last time an Emperor ruled from Rome? To me the Roman empire is already fallen and the Byzantine has risen.


for god's sake mike!!!! ITS CANNAAYYYY not CANI


@gareth: "pagan" was a word used in Constantinople to denote farmers or country bumpkins as Christianity took hold in the cities while what we now call "paganism" held on in rural areas.

Michael C

@ Gareth - follow Mainframe's third link; it's fascinating. Julian calls his beliefs "the religion of the Greeks."

Our "favorite apostate" comes a bit like a nagging Puritan. His advice to the priests:

- No priest is anywhere to attend shameful theatrical shows or to have one performed at his own house;
- We must get rid of all offensive jokes and licentious associations;
- No priest is to read Archilochus or Hipponax or anyone else who writes poetry as they do;
- They should stay away from the same kind of stuff in Old Comedy;
- Exhort the priests neither to approach a theater nor to drink in a tavern.

Meanwhile, the "Galileans" have hostels for all travelers, care for the poor regardless of religion, practice kindness towards strangers, and care for their dead. He notes that "there are no Jewish beggars" and that they are caring for the Roman poor as well.

I'm an atheist myself, but I think in the context of the era, Christianity sounds far better than paganism!

Luise (Tasmania,Australia)

I'm really enjoying the discussion on this episode. Very intelligent offerings, spurring me on to read more. Thanks for the links.
I am also listening to a podcast from iTunes called "Europe From It's Origins" covering the time from AD312 - AD1095. There are 10 episodes. They were released in 2009. Joe Hogarty covers some of the same events but is not as fluent and easy listening as Mike. Some of the music and incidental sounds are a bit disturbing. There's more about the Christian/political machinations of the bishops etc. but still worth a listen as it can help tie the story threads together. Keep Listening!

Steve Martin

Fantastic series which I have really enjoyed and continue to enjoy. im really looking forward to hearing about how the empire finally collapses, though i will miss the podcast when it goes (Any one fancy continuing with a Byzantine history).
If anyone is in England right now and fancies seeing some Roman archaeology then there is a fantastic excavation going on at Silchester near Reading http://www.silchester.rdg.ac.uk/field_school_index its a great place to see some cool archaeology and a real life excavation. Also i have an audible recommendation Emperor: the gates of Rome by Conn Igguldon. A fictional account of the life of Ceaser. a really enjoyable book that has a great take on Ceasers life. remember its only fiction so im sure there are lots of inaccuracies



Actually in Latin it would be pronounced CAHN-EYE.

יין ישראלי

It should stay away from the same sort of thing in the old comedy and encourage your priests to stay away from a theater or drink in a pub.

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Thanks, I'm going to have nightmares tonight.

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Don't know what is wrong what is rite but i know that every one has there own point of view and same goes to this one

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Was he successful clearing Gaul?


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