THE ADVOCACY OF AN EMPRESS: JULIAN AND EUSEBIA(*).
Regarding the motives of the empress, the picture is less clear. Thanks primarily to Julian himself, Eusebia's role in these affairs could be seen as an expression of her kind nature.(2) This, however, was to deny the contrasting evidence of other sources.(3) The image of the lucky intervention of Eusebia due to her kindness is certainly not the whole story in Ammianus Marcellinus. In addition, Ammianus points to the native intelligence (nativa prudentia) of the empress, which led her to assert that Constantius should have a kinsman as a colleague in power.(4) He also suggests that Eusebia advocated Julian becoming Caesar as she herself did not wish to go to Gaul with Constantius.(5) Further, Ammianus reports that Eusebia was suspected of ensuring that Julian's wife had no children.(6) Zosimos portrays Eusebia as a totally clever, cool-headed customer.(7) She realizes that Julian needs to be sent to Gaul, and to sell the idea to the suspicious Constantius she argues that it would do good either way: Julian may be a success, and thus be of use, or he may fail and die, and thus be rid of. Some scholars were thus led to seek explanations for Eusebia's behaviour beyond the vision of her kind nature. Paschoud, noting Zosimos' image of a Machiavellian Eusebia and Ammianus' information on the empress's attempts to prevent Julian's wife Helena from having a baby, reaches a composite picture of the good and bad Eusebia; he deduces that `l'imperatrice ait ete inspiree par des sentiments contradictoires: un interet sincere pour Julien, la conviction qu'un representant qualife du pouvoir imperial devait en personne redresser la situation sur le limes rhenan, le souci enfin de proteger les droits d'un eventuel descendant quelle esperait donner a son mari'.(8) Drinkwater, in his study focusing on the crucial period of Julian's life from his elevation to the Caesarship to his usurpation, considers the issue of Eusebia's role in the appointment of Julian as Caesar and declares that `Her motives would stand closer examination: did she act simply out of personal feeling for the young prince, as Julian himself believed; or were there deeper, political, machinations, involving say, a desire to counter the eunuchs, or to protect the Flavian line, or even to ensure the survival of her, as yet unconceived son?'(9) Aujoulat examined the image and role of Eusebia at length. Usefully highlighting that the kind Eusebia is largely a product of panegyric,(10) Aujoulat doubts that Eusebia was altruistic, accepts Ammianus' evidence that she prevented Helena from having children, believes that political considerations were uppermost in the empress's mind when she stretched out her protection to Julian, and also raises the possibility that there was a strong intellectual sympathy between the protectress and the protected.(11) This questioning of the actions of Eusebia and her motivations is undoubtedly deserved. However, I wish to suggest that the reason for Eusebia's behaviour is perhaps even simpler than those previously propounded. My starting point will be the central evidence of Julian.
The two works of Julian that deal explicitly with the events of 354-5 are his Speech of Thanks to Eusebia, written not long after his stationing in Gaul as Caesar, and the Letter to the Senate and People of Athens, written in 361 after Eusebia had died and justifying his opposition to the emperor Constantius. The Letter appears to have a very different emphasis on events from that of the Speech. Whilst in the latter Julian recognizes the part Eusebia played in sending him to Greece, in the Letter he says it is Constantius who `bade me retire for a short time to Greece, then summoned me from there to court again'.(12) On his arrival Julian finds Constantius absent, and it is then that Eusebia is in contact with Julian by letter. Only on Constantius' return is Julian given access to court, and his appointment as Caesar follows. In all this no mention is made of Eusebia promoting the cause of Julian. The difference between the two documents may lie in their purpose and date. The Letter was written when Eusebia was no longer an issue, and when Julian wished to blacken Constantius; the Speech was written ostensibly to thank Eusebia for her support, and it is here that we find much more detail on the events of 354-5, especially on the promotion to the position of Caesar. In the Speech it is again Constantius who summons Julian to Milan in 355, and there offers him `the greatness'.(13) Eusebia's role is that of encourager, to urge Julian to accept what her husband offers. Indeed, when Julian is troubled about having accepted the offer, Constantius sends him to have an audience with the empress. The result of this is that Julian is forced to resign himself to the Caesarship.
Thus the image that Julian transmits, apparently in spite of himself, is not that of a woman expressing her kind nature, but of a wife cooperating with the wishes of her husband. Eusebia supports Constantius in his aim to have Julian as Caesar: she keeps him sweet until her husband has time to see him and she acts as a figure of reassurance for Julian to persuade him to accept what her husband desires. Whilst Julian's portrait of these events is undoubtedly a literary creation, and one in which he may have wished deliberately to play up the extent to which the emperor was in control of the situation, it does at least raise the possibility of an alternative explanation for Eusebia's behaviour: when the empress acted as friend and advocate for Julian she was in fact deliberately acting out a role created for her by her husband Constantius, a role designed to appeal to Julian, to gain his trust and cooperation. It is telling that in those instances where Eusebia did help Julian the result was that her own husband's wishes were fulfilled. As Matthews comments on the sending of Julian to Athens, `It seems likely that in choosing this relatively accessible place of seclusion Constantius already anticipated the role that awaited his young nephew'.(14) Constantius knew that Julian might have his uses in future by providing a solution to the pressing problem of being in two places at once, the problem that the appointment of Gallus had been meant to solve. Those who saw in Eusebia's motives something more than kindness were surely right, but I would suggest that they then made the fundamental mistake of assuming that the motive factors were entirely her own.
It might be wondered why Constantius did not appeal to Julian directly, why the emperor felt the need for Eusebia as a front woman. The answer is clear enough: Constantius knew that he was distrusted and disliked by his cousin. Julian's experiences at the hands of Constantius were notoriously bad. The emperor was believed to have been responsible for wiping out most of the male members of Julian's father's side of the imperial family in 337,(15) and he had taken strict control of Julian's life, arranging where he lived and whom he saw. Only recently another relative had fallen victim to Constantius, Julian's half-brother Gallus. As Julian himself makes clear, and as Constantius was undoubtedly aware, they had in fact only met once before 354, when Constantius visited Gallus and Julian at Macellum, the estate where they were confined. This was a dysfunctional relationship, and Constantius knew it. He also knew that he needed Julian on his side, and this is where Eusebia came in. Eusebia was a relative newcomer to court, having become Constantius' second wife after the defeat of the western rebel Magnentius in 353. She had no previous connection with the history of tension between Constantius and Julian. She presented the opportunity of building bridges, extending the hand of friendship to her new relative. Thus she was cast as Julian's advocate. She is seen to help him refute the allegations against him that were current in the aftermath of Gallus's death by securing him an audience with her husband; she achieves his liberty; and she gets him sent to Athens. Then she reassures him that becoming Caesar is a good thing, unites him with a wife, and sends him on his way with a gift of literature designed to please.
This reinterpretation of Eusebia's role in the events of 354-5 has several repercussions. It serves to undermine Ammianus' image of Constantius II as a weak-willed emperor, subject to the influences of wives, courtiers, and eunuchs. To an extent this is hardly a surprise as Ammianus wished to portray Constantius in this way as a foil for the virtuous Julian. The part of Ammianus' history that survives provides no case of wifely influence on Constantius beyond the case of Eusebia anyway, and this was a case of good influence, as far as Julian is concerned.(16) Second, it is still the case, as Drinkwater asserts, that the `topics of Julian's life and reign' need to be more rigorously studied.(17) Certainly Julian's evidence of a good Eusebia could be resorted to despite opposing evidence, but the very evidence of Julian has not been read closely enough, for it provides the key for another reading of Eusebia's behaviour. Finally, and most obviously, Eusebia's actions of 354-5 must not be seen as those of a free agent, but as those of an agent of her husband. This may make her a less romantic figure, but no less interesting.(18)
(*) This paper was first delivered to the Postgraduate Society of the School of Greek, Latin and Ancient History at the University of St Andrews. In the preparation of this article thanks are due to the anonymous referee who responded helpfully to an earlier draft, and especially to Dr Mark Humphries and Prof. Michael Whitby, who provided eyes, ears, and encouragement.
(1) For details on Eusebia and her life see A. H. M. Jones, J. R. Martindale, and J. Morris, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire I, A.D. 260-395 (Cambridge, 1971), pp. 300-1; J. Szidat, Historischer Kommentar zu Ammianus Marcellinus, Buch XX-XXI, III, Historia, Einzelschriften 89 (Stuttgart, 1996), pp. 54-5.
(2) For Julian's evidence see his Letter to the Senate and People of Athens (Ep. ad Ath.) and his Speech of Thanks to the Empress Eusebia (Or. III). The kind-hearted Eusebia appears also in Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, 21.6.4. For modern opinion subscribing to this image see especially R. Browning, The Emperor Julian (London, 1975), pp. 74-5.
(3) Browning, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 84, dismisses the story of the killing of Julian's child at the instigation of Eusebia as `unverifiable' and `symptomatic of the way the man in the street saw the imperial family'; J. Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London, 1989), p. 86, dismisses the story of the empress preventing Helena from having a child as `an unsupported fragment of court gossip'.
(4) Amm. Marc. 15.8.3.
(5) Amm. Marc. 15.8.3.
(6) Amm. Marc. 16.10.18-19. Ammianus's attitude to Eusebia's brothers Eusebius and Hypatius is also striking and I hope to explore it elsewhere.
(7) Zosimos, III.I.2-3, ed. trans. F. Paschoud, Zosime. Histoire Nouvelle II.1 (Paris, 1979), pp. 8-9.
(8) Paschoud, op. cit. (n. 7), p. 62.
(9) J. F. Drinkwater, `The pagan "underground", Constantius II's "secret service", and the survival, and the usurpation of Julian the Apostate', in C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History II, Collection Latomus 180 (Brussels, 1983), pp. 348-87, esp. p. 368.
(10) See also S. Tougher, `In praise of an empress: Julian's Speech of Thanks to Eusebia', in Mary Whitby (ed.), The Propaganda of Power (Leiden, 1998), pp. 105-23.
(11) N. Aujoulat, `Eusebie, Helene et Julien', Byzantion, 58 (1983), I, `Le tomoignage de Julien', pp. 78-103, II, `Le temoignage des historiens', pp. 421-52.
(12) Ep. ad Ath., 273D-274D.
(13) Or. III, 121B-C.
(14) Matthews, op. cit. (n. 3), p. 85.
(15) J. W. Leedom, `Constantius II: three revisions', Byzantion 48 (1978), 132-45, explores the question of Constantius's involvement in the deaths that followed that of Constantine the Great and concludes that the evidence is not good enough to convict Constantius.
(16) See the comments of R. Seager, Ammianus Marcellinus. Seven Studies in his Language and Thought (Columbia, 1986), p. 102.
(17) Drinkwater, op. cit. (n. 9), p. 348.
(18) And perhaps more realistic as a late antique empress: see R. W. Burgess, `The accession of Marcian in the light of Chalcedonian apologetic and monophysite polemic', BZ 86/87 (1993-94), 47-68, esp. 68, who concludes that Pulcheria was in fact manipulated by Aspar and, `far from being a proto-Irene', Pulcheria was `in reality, one of the last of the Roman aristocratic wives and daughters, mere tools in the dynastic plans of the men who married them and gave them away'.
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