In the modern world, we like our elected politicians to be consistent on the major issues, because we want to believe that we can know what to expect from them. The late antique Roman Empire was, obviously, a wholly different world, and nobody expected to predict an emperor’s behavior. Yet, in spite of the complex interplay between older tradition, newer tradition, and experimentation that marks the period, we still find constancy valued and inconstancy criticized. This article focuses on Julian, the last pagan emperor, whose short but eventful rule allows for widely differing interpretations on many counts, one of them the question of his consistency of character. This article concentrates on two key issues, his relationship to Christianity, and his assumption of the throne. While Julian depicts himself as consistent almost to a fault, our pagan and Christian sources emphasize his variability, and see it as a flaw. After examining his “conversion” and “usurpation,” and showing how and why Julian might have preferred to portray himself as inconsistent in these circumstances by preference to other options, I then treat what our Julianic sources have to say about consistency in general, and about Julian’s in particular: surprisingly, they seem unconvinced by his self-portrait.


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pp. 79-111
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2021
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