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Julian the Apostate Paperback – April 24, 1997

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Julian the Apostate + Paganism in the Roman Empire + Christianizing the Roman Empire: A.D. 100-400
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 152 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (April 24, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674488822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674488823
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,525,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Bowersock has written the best narrative history of Julian's career...His success is due not only to the vivid style but to the command of the very wide variety of sources that enables him to derive new insights from unexpected facts. (W. H. C. Frend New York Review of Books)

The most reliable and lucid account available of Julian's haunting obsession...An extraordinarily good book about an extraordinary man. (George Steiner London Times)

Packed with skillfully deployed information and remarkable insights...The picture is drawn with an incisive vigor which is completely convincing, and with unusual elegance of style. (J. N. D. Kelly The Observer)

About the Author

G. W. Bowersock is Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton.

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Customer Reviews

Certainly he doesn't have the evidence to prove that.
Arch Stanton
G.W. Bowersock believes that Julian the Apostate ultimately made himself impossible among both Christians and pagans.
Ashtar Command
It is filled with insight and is very even-handed in presentation.
David A. Wend

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Stefan Cover on November 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
There are certain historical figures that are nearly impossible to get to know in anything approaching an objective sense. Something about them compels us to a judgement. Julian the Apostate is one of those rare figures who forces us to react emotionally - no matter how objective we think we are. And our reaction often says more about who WE are, than about the object of our judgement.

Flavius Julianus was the last pagan Emperor of Rome. He briefly attempted to reverse the ongoing Christianization of the Roman Empire begun by his detested uncle, the Emperor Constantine. He failed miserably and died young, but his attempt to reverse the cultural tides of his day will always fascinate any who encounter Julian and his century.

Glen Bowersock's book is a classic example of 20th Century historical revisionism. The historical consensus concerning Julian since the time of Gibbon and Voltaire has been cautiously admiring on the whole. Bowersock seeks to reverse that consensus by reinterpeting the abundant historical evidence. In doing so his dislike of Julian is displayed on nearly every page. I can't go into detail here, but there are numerous instances in which the author achieves a "new" interpretation by placing the very worst construction on the evidence. In nearly every case he favors whatever presents Julian in the least favorable light. Nowhere is this more evident than in Bowersock's account of Julian's "usurpation" of the title of Augustus in 361. He strains every nerve to prove the mutiny of the soldiers was engineered by Julian and his friends and that they lied about it later, all against formidable evidence to the contrary.

That being said, this is an interesting book.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Arch Stanton on September 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book. I really did. I'm not a massive fan of Julian like some of the other reviewers here are. I appreciate the man for what he was but I never idolized him as some sort of pagan crusader. Reading some of these reviews before I started the book I wasn't worried since so many of them seem to be slightly batty. Unfortunately, they're also right. I had to write an essay on Julian so I read a lot on him. There are several other biographies out there (The Last Pagan and The Emperor Julian are quite good) and they capture the man's essence better than Bowersock. Many of the books that I had to read, scholarly works included, insult this book pretty blatantly. Rowland Smith in his book 'Julian's Gods' spends several pages rebuking Bowersock's vision of Julian as a "pathological figure." He is polite enough not to mention him obviously by name, but a quick glance at the footnotes reveals that every time he criticizes this interpretation he is referencing Bowersock. The way in which Bowersock managed to compact all of Julian's life into 119 pages is by dismissing all of Julian's religious views as unimportant (You learn nothing except that he was pagan and fancied himself a philosopher), and skimming over anything that seems to his credit. Julian was, for example, unquestionably the most approachable emperor of the Fourth Century, largely because he based his style of rule on Rome's previous philosopher-king Marcus Aurelius. All that Bowersock says about this is something snide about how he seemed to see himself in everyone he admired, no matter how dissimilar.Read more ›
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 30, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found the book thoroughgoing in biographic details on Julian's life. But particularly disappointing is the author's neglect of Julian's anti-Christian arguments, which make fascinating reading. Oddly, Bowersock ignores, in his Bibliography, the 3-volume set of Julian's writings published some years ago by Loeb Classics. This omission is especially galling since B. maintains many of J.'s writings are unavailable, but some he so characterizes ARE available in the Loeb volumes! Of particular interest was J.'s diatribe against the "Galilean," Jesus--which is found in Loeb, but all but ignored in Bowersock's book. This is perplexing to say the least.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ashtar Command on April 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
Julian was Roman emperor from 361 to 363. He was the last pagan ruler of the Roman Empire. Since he had began life as a Christian, later Christian writers refer to him as Julian the Apostate. Julian's predecessors Constantine the Great and Constantius had made Christianity the state religion of the empire. Julian attempted to undo this situation, consciously striving for a pagan revival. Naturally, this has endeared him to people critical of Christianity ever since, while Christians have seen him as a villain.

G.W. Bowersock's biography of Julian is highly critical of the pagan emperor, depicting him as a religious fanatic and ascetic revolutionary, comparing Julian to Lenin and Mao Zedong. Julian wasn't simply a Neo-Platonist philosopher, but also believed in the more murky parts of paganism: the efficacy of animal sacrifice, magic and oracles. The future emperor even had weird religious visions, and his entourage consisted of both educated pagan sophists and notorious theurgists. (It should be noted that Neo-Platonism at this point in time combined philosophy with theurgy, the latter being no better than magic in the author's opinion.) Julian quite consciously modelled himself on Socrates, and attempted to create a centralized pagan organization, in effect a kind of pagan church, with himself as high priest. The pagan church was to mimic the Christians in charity to the poor and the stranger, something Julian believed was the main reason for the success of Christianity.

Bowersock believes that the religious tolerance proclaimed by Julian at the beginning of his reign was a ruse, and that his real policy was to persecute the Christians. When a pagan mob at Alexandria killed the Arian bishop of the city, Julian criticized their actions but without interfering.
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