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This Week In History

Jovian Dies – February 17, 364 AD

The Roman Emperor, Julian II, died in June of 363, from wounds received in battle against King Shapur II and the Sassanians. After his death, the soldiers offered to elevate the praetorian prefect, Saturninus Secundus Salutius to the throne, but he declined based on his advanced age. The next was Flavius Jovianus, son of general Varronianus. This choice was based on politics and culture, since the armies of the east and west had many disagreements and was finding it difficult to find a candidate that would be suitable to both sides. Deep into enemy territory, and among a Roman army who was beginning to starve, Jovian accepted the position, and signed a very unfavorable peace agreement with Shapur. This agreement cost the empire all territory east of the Tigris, parts of Armenia, and the cities of Nisibis and Singara. All lands conquered by Galerius in 298/9.

Roman-Persian map in 363 after the surrender by Jovian to Shapur II

Jovian set off with the armies, bound for Antioch. One of the first things he did was issue a decree of tolerance so everyone could worship as they saw fit, with the exclusion of magical rites. Those were punishable. Julian II is also known as “the Apostate”, so named by the church because of his attempt to return the empire back to its ancient values and beliefs, at the cost of Christianity. With Jovian’s reversal of Julian II’s paganism, the banner of Constantine the Great was restored to the standard of the army. He had a great respect for Athanasius, whom he restored to the position of archbishop of Alexandria. In September, he had a change of heart about his religious tolerance and ordered the Library of Antioch to be burned, along with instituting the death penalty to anyone worshipping the ancient gods. While still in Antioch, on October 22, 363, he restored the anti-pagan laws Julian II had abolished.

After a short stay in Antioch, Jovian left for Illyria. On the way, he stopped in Tarsus to pay his respects at the temporary tomb of Julian II, who would eventually, ironically, end up in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, with the rest of Constantine’s family, until the Ottoman Turks destroyed the church in 1453. After visiting the tomb, Jovian continued on to Phrygia-Ancyra. On December 23, 363, Jovian declared the death penalty for participating in any pagan ceremonies – even those in private.

Jovian, and his son Varronianus (named after his grandfather), both assumed the consulate on January 1, 364 while in Ancyra. Ancient sources say Varronianus cried loudly when placed on the curule chair – a bad omen. Soon the pair were on the road again, heading toward Constantinople to secure his reign. A little over a month into the journey, the camp stopped at Dadastana, on the border of Galatia and Bithynia. During the night, on February 17, Jovian died in his sleep in his tent. The ancient source, Ammianus, attributes the death as an accident, listing three possible causes: asphyxiation from brazier fumes in his tent; noxious fumes from fresh plaster; or indigestion from mushrooms.

The death of Jovian caused a rift in the armies and the empire would henceforth be split east and west. Jovian would also end up buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. Nothing else is officially recorded of the son, Varronianus, but it is possible he was still alive in 380, and was referenced in two of the letters and homilies of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.

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