Europe 363: Julian’s Persian Campaign
With Constantius II’s death, Julian became emperor in late 361 and immediately rejected Christianity in favor of Roman paganism. Determined to cement his authority in the East, Julian invaded the Persian Empire with a large army in 363 and advanced as far as the gates of Ctesiphon.
? Nov 361–26 Jun 363 Reign of Julian▲
Learning of Constantius II’s death, the thirty-year-old Julian marched into Constantinople, where he was greeted as emperor upon his arrival in early December 361. Julian immediately began to enact a series of reforms to restore traditional Roman values, most notably in his rejection of Christianity in favor of Paganism—earning him the epithet ‘the Apostate’ by church leaders—and his push for austerity. In June 363, after a reign of just twenty months, he was killed on campaign in Persia, ending any chance his policies might have had.
? Dec 361–26 Jun 363 Apostacy of Julian▲
Almost as soon as he was recognized as emperor in Constantinople in December 363, Julian openly rejected Christianity and set about restoring the traditional Roman religion that he himself had long secretly practiced. His efforts, however, were often undermined by missteps, as well as omens that could be attributed to the seismic activity that had been troubling the Eastern Mediterranean over the past few years: Nicomedia and Nicaea were hit by earthquakes soon after he visited them; his attempt to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem was cancelled when flames erupted from its foundations; and Constantinople was shaken by quakes at the beginning of his Persian campaign. Whatever potential Julian’s religious policies had, they were abandoned when he died in June 363, making him the Roman Empire’s last pagan emperor.
9 Apr 363 Julian’s invasion of Persia▲
In March 363 the Roman emperor Julian left Antioch with his army and, after dispatching 30,000 men under his general Procopius to join with the Armenians near the Tigris, advanced to the Euphrates, where a support fleet of 1,000 transports, fifty warships, and fifty bridge-building boats had been assembled. Reinforced by some Saracens—he would be opposed by others—Julian crossed into Persian territory in early April with a huge army, about 65,000-strong and proceeded to march downriver, capturing the important settlements of Anatha (Anah) and Pirisabora (Anbar).
May 363 Siege of Maogamalcha▲
Passing through country that the Persians had deliberately flooded, Julian reached the great fortified city of Maogamalcha on the Euphrates in May 363 and attacked it on all sides, using different siege techniques simultaneously. After a few days, a Roman battering ram felled one section of the wall, while, at the same time, miners dug beneath the wall into the city on the other side. Storming in from both positions, the Romans massacred the populace and left Maogamalcha in ruins.
29 May 363 Battle of Ctesiphon▲
In late May 363, making use of a canal that they had cleared after Persian efforts to block it, the Roman emperor Julian and his army sailed from the Euphrates to the Tigris, landing opposite Ctesiphon. Early the next morning the Romans crossed the Tigris in the face of Persian fire and met the Persian army—cataphracts, infantry, and elephants—in battle. After some hours of hand-to-hand fighting, the Persians broke and fled behind the walls of Ctesiphon, allegedly losing almost 2,500 dead for just seventy fallen Romans.