Posted by: ken98 | February 4, 2010

Conspiracy Theories, Death in Samara, and Christian Gloating

Day 146 – Ken here (Th)(2-4-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.23, pp.940-950)

When last we met, Julian was being harassed by the Persian army, deep in the center of the Persian kingdom, and his supplies had been disrupted to the point of being forced to retreat 200 miles north to friendly Roman territory. So far he has been almost completely victorious, and the campaign a success.

Frustrated (well, with an army of 60,000 barbarians and Romans, he isn’t exactly totally frustrated) by the ever-growing Persian forces gathering about him, Julian attempts to move upcountry, in a drive towards Kurdistan a hundred or so miles to the north. It is a tactical retreat to re-supply his legions in Roman territory.

But Julian will not live to see Roman territory again.

 
The Story
 
Julian’s Retreat

  • Julian is pursued by the Persian Royal Princes and the Persian general Maranes along the Tigris
  • At the battle of Maronga – Romans victorious – actually, except for Roman de-moralization, and the increasing lack of supplies, the Romans win all engagements and successfully put off and slaughter the armies sent against them by Sapor – Sapor is actually losing the will to keep on attacking
  • The climate (hot and dry – an Assyrian summer) is not the best for the Germans (used to the cold and wet of the forests of Germany)
  •  
    Julian’s Death

  • In a massive attack, the Persians hit the retreating Roman army again. Julian (as was his custom) was in the front of the action, and ends up (Theory 1 – Gibbon’s theory) being hit a javelin which pierces his liver. He is carried off. The Romans hear of it and far from despairing, end up winning the battle – taking the 2 generals Meranes and Nahordates and 50 satraps (nobles) captive (Theory 2 – Christian Theory) – Julian is wounded by a Christian soldier or a barbarian, not by a Persian.
  • Julian revives at camp, asks to be taken back to the battle, but all see he is to die in a matter of hours
  • Julian accepts death gladly as a philosopher, sees friends off, gives an eloquent speech (which Gibbon suspects he wrote out and memorized beforehand – Julian was after all an accomplished orator, and it WAS HIS deathbed), then debates with his friends on the immortality of the soul and dies around midnight in mid-argument. His mythical last words “You have conquered me Galilean” are never spoken except in a vicious Bishop’s fevered imagination a century later – Gibbon does not even dignify the story with a mention – even in a footnote (6-26-363)
  • Julian expressly names no successor, and leaves the choice to the Army to decide
  • Julian dies at 32 years of age, having reigned as Augustus 1 year and 8 months. He casts a long shadow for such a short life, and short reign
  •  
    Election of new emperor Jovian

  • This is the first time since Diocletian’s accession in 285 (80 years previous) that the Roman Empire has not had a smooth accession – all worry that civil war is a real possibility – but luckily the army is buried deep in enemy territory and the decision has to be made swiftly
  • The next morning, various groups jockey for position among the top officers – Sallust is everyone’s choice, but he refuses – no one seems to have a clear majority
  • The decision is made to get out of Persia and settle matters back in the Empire when (by chance) the first of the Personal Guards of Julian, Jovian, is hailed by a group of legionnaires as Caesar and Augustus, the rest take up the chant, and by accident and chance Jovian is made Augustus to his great surprise – although he comes from a noble family and his father Count Varrones is well-respected in the Empire
  •  
    Continued Retreat and The Shameful Peace Treaty of Dura

  • Jovian continues to retreat – 1st night – Samara, then Carche, then the infamous Dura
  • The army begs him to let them cross the correct side of the Tigris (ie they will have to cross anyways at some point – why not now?). Jovian (and senior officers) point out that the enemy is thick all over the far bank and it really doesnt help them much – but they are desperate – they waste 4 days building a bridge
  • Sapor continues to harass them (but to no avail) – eventually Sapor sends his highest official to negotiate a peace, the soldiers fall all over it like drowning men clutching a plank and Jovian is forced to talk with the ambassadors
  • The ambassadors waste 4 more days in negotiations (this makes 8 days the army effectively stopped). Sapor does this knowingly, seeing that their supplies are gone. With no food now, Jovian is forced to accept any terms
  • The Treaty of Dura – Rome loses the 5 provinces beyond the Tigris, loses the unconquered fortress of Nisibis, also Singara, and gives the Kingdom of Armenia over to Persia forever and concludes a 30 years cease-fire (July 363)
  • Ammianus Marcellinus, friend and historian of Julian and his times thinks if Jovian had only kept on moving, the entire army could have been safely back in Roman territory with no Treaty of Dura – in fact, the whole Roman World denigrates Jovian for giving up the 5 provinces – not a providential way to start a reign
  • Photo of a severe Somerset Maugham (1934) - the writer of dozens of very good novels and the re-teller (and man-responsible-for-making-famous) of the fable of death and the appointment at Samara.  Like Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, the story of the inevitability of one's fate is a recurrent theme in our World Literature.  Julian (strangely) met death near Samara July 363

    Photo of a severe Somerset Maugham (1934) - the writer of dozens of very good novels and the re-teller (and man-responsible-for-making-famous) of the fable of death and the appointment at Samara. Like Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, the story of the inevitability of one's fate is a recurrent theme in our World Literature. Julian (strangely) met death near Samara July 363

     
    Julian’s Appointment at Samara
    No one knows where Julian’s last battle was exactly, but it most probably would’ve been a few miles south of the town of Samara – an obscure village north of Ctesiphon (which is north of Baghdad, a city which would not be founded for another 300 years (762 CE)). There is an old story, apparently first recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (compiled during the Jewish Babylonian Captivity of the 500’s, 400’s BCE). It is also a fable in Old Arabic, except the city of Baghdad is most probably Susa (the ancient Persian capital near the estuaries of the Tigris and the Euphrates on the Persian gulf – maybe a hundred miles south of Samara, which makes the night ride more surprising). It concernsa a man trying to escape his own death, and how useless it is to try and avoid one’s fate.

    The story about the inevitability of fate and death is weirdly coincidental considering Julian barely escaped death numerous times in his life (assassination, execution, etc) and travelled half-way across the world to meet death in a small village in the midst of the largest army of its time, at the height of his powers/popularity, at a young (32 years old) age. The place is ironic at best, the more so because Julian was very superstitious, constantly consulting oracles, believing in fate, and trusting in divine plans. Julian, however, was NOT AFRAID of death, but embraced it like a philosopher at the end.

    Here is Somerset Maugham’s translation/version of the story

    There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

    The story as told in the Talmud (from here, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, a portion of a paper which appeared in Thalia: Studies in Literary Humor, Vol. 18, March 1999, 31-41)

    The following story, which we may call “Appointment in Luz,” demonstrates that an individual cannot escape his or her destiny and must inevitably die. The Angel of Death is depicted as simply performing a necessary task, and doing it any way he can.

    (the next 2 paragraphs are from the Babylonian Talmud)

    There were two Cushites that attended on King Solomon, Elichoreph and Achiyah, sons of Shisha, who were scribes of Solomon.

    One day, Solomon noticed that the Angel of Death looked sad. Solomon asked him: Why are you sad? He replied: Because they have demanded from me the two Cushites that dwell here. Solomon had demons take them to the city of Luz [a legendary city where no one dies]. However, as soon as they reached the gates of Luz, they died. The next day, Solomon noticed that the Angel of Death was happy. He asked him: Why are you so happy? He replied: Because you sent them to the very place where they were supposed to die (Sukkah 53a).

    Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (according to I Kings 3:12), discovered himself outsmarted by Satan. There are obvious
    similarities here to the well known “Appointment in Samarra” story, a retelling of which was made famous by W. Somerset Maugham in his play Sheppey. Some scholars believe that the origin of the Maugham tale is “When Death Came to Baghdad,” a ninth century Arabian Sufi story in Fudail ibn Ayad’s Hikayat-I-Naqshia. This similar story in the Talmud is several hundred years older.

    Maugham’s version can be found online (here); a far older version is recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 53a – this from footnotes in Wiki (here) for the article on John O’Hara’s 1933 novel Appointment in Samara

    Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.  There are a number of parallels between Julian and JFK (although JFK was a Catholic and probably would not have appreciated Julian's Hellenistic religious beliefs) - both were considered long-shots when going for office, both were (for parts of the population) the youthful embodiment of hope and change and a new era, both died young, and both were killed under mysterious circumstances

    Photograph of John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States. There are a number of parallels between Julian and JFK (although JFK was a Catholic and probably would not have appreciated Julian's Hellenistic religious beliefs) - both were considered long-shots when going for office, both were (for parts of the population) the youthful embodiment of hope and change and a new era, both died young, and both were killed under mysterious circumstances

     
    Julian’s Death – As Mysterious as John F. Kennedy’s – Conspiracy Theories and an Occasion for Christian Gloating
    There are many conflicting accounts of how Julian died – Gibbon chooses Ammianus Marcellinus’ version (who was there), Libanius (his rich, suave, philosopher friend from Antioch) gives another account. Gregory of Cappadocia, a contemporary of Julian and a neighbor/jailor during his captivity in his youth in Cappadocia (the future St. George of England) gives another account, the Christian version, which actually mixes up the death of Alexander Severus (a century earlier) with Julian’s death. Libanius is the first to accuse a fellow-Roman soldier of regicide, George gives a ridiculous story of Julian despising his own men and being killed for it (or, being killed by a barbarian jester – but that’s a story from a century earlier – from the Augustan Histories – the same Mad Magazine Comedy History that gives so many unreliable and contradictory stories of the troubles years of the 200’s).
     
     
    A Summary of the different version is given here (University of Pennsylvania Course Page – How Did Julian Die?).
     
     
    Gregory’s Version (from the above)
     

    Others, however, tell some such story as this respecting his end: that he had gone up upon a lofty hill to take a view of his army and ascertain how much was left him for carrying on the war; and that when he saw the number considerable and superior to his expectation, he exclaimed, “What a dreadful thing if we shall bring back all these fellows to the land of the Romans!” as though he begrudged them a safe return. Whereupon one of his officers, being indignant and not able to repress his rage, ran him through the bowels, without caring for his own life.

    Others tell that the deed was done by a barbarian jester, such as follow the camp, “for the purpose of driving away ill humour and for amusing the men when they are drinking.”

    (This tale about the jester is borrowed from Lampridius, who gives it as one of the many current respecting the death of Alexander Severus. The “Historia Augusta,” a recent compilation, was then in everybody’s hands)

     
     
    Libanius’ Version (from the above)
     

    Who was the one that killed him, does anyone desire to hear? His name I know not, but that he who killed him was not an enemy there is a clear proof, namely, that none of the opposite side received rewards for the fatal blow, although the Persian king summoned by public proclamation the slayer to come forward and receive reward, and it was in his power if he did come forward to gain great things. And yet no one from desire of the rewards boasted of the deed; and, truly, we ought to be very thankful to the enemy that they did not arrogate to themselves the glory of things they had not done, but gave it to us to look for the murderer amongst ourselves. For those persons to whom his being in life was no advantage (these were they who lived not according to the laws) had previously plotted against him, and then, profiting by the occasion, effected their purpose; their natural wickedness compelling them to it, which had no liberty to exert itself under his government; and, above all, the fact that the gods were receiving due honour, the very opposite thing to what they strove for. And what Thucydides remarks concerning Pericles, that he showed, by his death, how important a man he was to the state; the same thing, one may say, with respect to this emperor; for though all other things remained the same as they had been before—-the men, the arms, the officers, the legions, the captives, the pay, the rations—-yet in a single change, that regarding the sovereign, everything was shipwrecked. …
    …for what a darkness has returned through the murder of our emperor!

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