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JULIAN II The Apostate

Caesar, 6 November 355 - February 360 A.D.
Augustus, February 360 - 26 June or July 363 A.D.

by Federico Morando

Paris, Louvre

Flavius Cluadius Iulianus, know as Julian the Apostate, was born in 331 (or maybe 332) A.D. in Constantinople. He ruled as Caesar the Western part of the Empire between 355 and 360; he was hailed Augustus by his legions in Lutetia (Paris) in 360. His death was caused by wounds he suffered during the Persian campaign of 363.

The Youth and the First Exile

Julian was the son of Iulius Contantius, Costantine 's half-brother.  When he was six years old, in the fall of 337, Julian and Constantius Gallus, his older brother, were the only two spared during the massacre of the male heirs of Contantius I Chlorus. (Responsibility for this carnage was attributed to Constantius II, the eastern Augustus at that time, and Julian 's cousin.)  For Julian this was the beginning of a "golden" exile, under the tutelage of the eunuch Mardonius and the philosopher Nicocles – the latter secretly a pagan.

Constantius II, Augustus 22 May 337 - 3 November 361 A.D.

In 312 A.D., Constantine dreamed he saw a Christogram in the sky and heard the words IN HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS, meaning in Latin "In this sign you will be the victor." He ordered the sign of Christ on his legions standards and shields. He won a great victory and later became the first Christian Roman Emperor

Bronze AE3, RIC 286, 4.60g, 17.0mm, 0o, Siscia mint, 350-351 A.D.; obverse CONSTANTIVS P F AVG, pearl diademed, draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse HOC SIGNO VICTOR ERIS, Constantius II standing facing head left, holding labarum (Chi Rho Christogram standard) and spear, Victory right crowning him, A left

In his compulsory residence (in Nicomedia initially and then in the imperial residence of Macellum in Cappadocia) he was prevented from studying in the Neo-Platonist Academies and forced to deepen his knowledge of Christianity, which the Fabian dynasty and especially Constantius was establishing as the official State religion (in the last part of his rule, Constantius – who was a rigid Arian – prohibited any public pagan cult and the practice of any form of magic).  Julian became a sensible and sagacious scholar and also an extraordinary dissimulator to survive in his very unsteady situation.  He admired Julius Caesar as a politician, general and writer.

The Second Exile

Julian 's first exile ended in 351, when his brother Gallus was recalled to Constantinople to rule the East as Caesar during the western campaign of Constantius (against Magnentius and others usurpers). Unfortunately, the rule of Gallus was too harsh and many provinces were on the verge of revolt.  In 354 Gallus was summoned to the imperial court in Milan, stripped of his title and executed.  This was the beginning of a new exile for Julian.  He did not suffer the same fate as his brother because of the intervention of the Empress Eusebia.  She probably also influenced the selection of Athens as the location for Julian 's new compulsory residence.

Constantius Gallus, Caesar 28 September 351 - winter 354 A.D.

Ex Scott Collection.

Bronze AE3, RIC 354, 2.54g, 19.3mm, 180o, Siscia mint, 28 Sep 351 - Winter 354 A.D.; obverse D N CONSTANTIVS IVN NOB C, draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse FEL TEMP REPARATIO, soldier standing left spearing fallen horseman, shield on the ground, horseman wears a pointed cap and falls on the horses neck, BSIS in ex; scarce

The second "exile" of Julian lasted for a single year, but it was sufficient to complete his classic and philosophical background. Julian was able to turn his compulsory residence in Athens (still one of the melting pots of the Greek and Hellenistic culture) into a very profitable period of study. 

Thanks to his studies, he also understood that the Flavian choice of the Christianity as the State religion (a political choice, to prevent divergence, especially in the East, where this religion was conquering the urban masses and a relevant percent of the upper class) wasn 't able to bring stability to the Empire.

Magnentius, Augustus 18 January 350 - 10 August 353 A.D.

This reverse was meant to incite the Orthodox Christians of the west against the Arian Constantius II, who intended to reclaim the western provinces. -- Coinage and History of the Roman Empire by David L. Vagi

Ex Aiello Collection.

Bronze centenionalis, RIC 320, 4.79g, 22.3mm, 180o, Trier mint, 352 A.D.; obverse N MAGNENTIVS P F AVG, bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse SALVS DD NN AVG ET CAES, large Christogram (chi-rho), flanked by alpha and omega, TRP in ex

Christianity as the State Religion

When the Christians were persecuted by the Roman State, the contrasts and different tendencies of the various communities were not manifest. The protection of the State and the rights connected to the status of official religion of the Empire unleashed the contrasts between Orthodoxies, Arians, Donatists, Meletians, and others.  This religious segregation was deeper than any previous military and political division:  it could have undermined the moral unity of the Empire.

The Church (unlike the Roman State) was intolerant – this is a simple historical observation, and the paragon has to be performed with the Roman religious tolerance and syncretism – and started a methodical and rational policy of destruction (or, sometimes, forced assimilation) of any living monument of the ancient and pagan world. The Fourth Century was a period of extraordinary diffusion of Christianity, but also a Century of classical renaissance, or – at least – neoclassicism, in reaction to the illiberal tendencies of the new State religion.  The new interpretations of the classical spirit were imbued of Neo-Platonist and mysteries concepts and contaminated by oriental religions and Christian and Gnostic principals as benevolence, equity, charity…

The appointment as Caesar

It is uncertain how Julian regained the confidence of Constantius:  probably the capability to hide his real thoughts was central in this process.  He appeared remissive and adulatory toward Constantius and extremely diplomatic in general.  He was considered harmless, if not stupid.

In any case, in the fall of 355 Constantius chose Julian as Caesar and heir and sponsored his marriage with Elena (the Emperor 's youngest sister and Fausta and Constantine 's daughter).

It was in this period that Constantius promulgated his laws against paganism, and Julian bore everything in silence.  Probably his blood was boiling, because he associated the pagan religion with the classical spirit of tolerance and freedom of thinking, but his ambition was stronger:  to change something it was necessary to became the new Augustus, and to became Emperor it was necessary to gain the respect of the legions.

Julian II, Caesar 6 November 355 - February 360 A.D.

Ex Aiello Collection.

Bronze half centenionalis, about uncirculated, 1.60g, 17.6mm, 0o, uncertain possibly unofficial mint, 355 - c. 361 A.D.; obverse D N CL IVLIANVS N C, bare-headed cuirassed bust right; reverse FEL TEMP REPARATIO, soldier left spearing fallen horseman, mintmark in ex off flan; peculiar style and epigraphy suggest this coin might be an ancient counterfeit.

Julian was charged with reestablishment of the imperial control in Gaul, after the troubles caused by  Magnentius and Silvanus ' revolts and the Frankish and Alamanni 's alarming invasions caused by the lack of the garrisons on the western front due to the civil wars.
Despite the hostility of his commanders (some of them responsible for the execution of Gallus), Julian repelled the invaders, pursued them into their territories and secured the Rhine frontier (establishing a new and powerful fleet on the waterway).

The military victories of Julian were accompanied by a broad program to improve the quality of life of the population.  In addition to improving security, he also reduced taxes and reformed the corrupted bureaucracy.

Julian become Augustus

After control in the Occident was re-established and Constantius had brought order on the Danubian border, the emperor requested Julian transfer some legions to fight in Orient against Persians.  Julian 's soldiers refused (because this was contrary to their enlistment pacts) and hailed the popular (at least in Occident) Julian as Augustus in his quarters at Lutetia.  He accepted the title.

Julian II, Augustus February 360 - 26 June or July 363 A.D.

Ex Aiello Collection.

Bronze AE3, RIC 329, 3.24g, 20.2mm, 180o, Rome mint, 361-363 A.D.; obverse D N FL CL IVLIANVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, helmeted and cuirassed bust left holding spear in right and shield in left; reverse VOT / X / MV·LT / XX within wreath, VRB·ROM·[ ], in ex.

Constantius recalled Julian to Constantinople but he refused (remembering the fate of his brother Gallus) and moved his troops toward the Balkans.  Constantius did the same, but he fell ill and died enroute to battle near Tarsus.  On his deathbed, he named Julian as his successor and avoided a new civil war. 

Julian entered Constantinople as new dominus at the end of 361 A.D..

The Apostate

Julian was never cristianus, he was simply obliged by his father 's tormentors to become Christian and acted as a Christian to avoid death.  He earned the moniker of "Apostate" as a result of his reforms aimed at reducing the privileges of the Christian religion.  He strongly opposed but did not persecute the church and restored the rights and possessions of the pagan worshipers.  He also wrote a polemic libellus "Against the Galileans" to show his ideas.  His only discriminatory act against Christians was to prohibit them from teaching rhetoric and grammar (this was an illiberal decision, but probably aimed at avoiding the Christianisation of some ancient Greek and Latin authors and the censure of others in the schools…).  All the others measures were aimed at re-establishing a real freedom of religion.  For instance, Julian extended a complete amnesty to the exiled Orthodoxies (that caused new problems between Christian factions, but this was inessential in the liberal view of Julian).

Julian II, Augustus February 360 - 26 June or July 363 A.D.

Research indicates the common belief which identifies the bull as the Apis bull is wrong. An interesting passage from Dio Crhysostom compares a good ruler to a bull. Also, Julian was most likely born in May, in the in the sign of Taurus. The stars above probably represent the two important star clusters in Taurus, Pleiades and Hyades.  Taurus or Apis, this bull is pagan and this coin was the last pagan coin type issued by the Empire.

Bronze AE1, RIC 163, 8.65g, 28.4mm, 180o, Constantinople mint, 361-363 A.D.; obverse D N FL CL IVLIANVS P F AVG, diademed draped and cuirassed bust right; reverse SECVRITAS REIPVB, Apis bull right, two stars above horns, branch CONSPB branch in ex.

In reality, Julian worked to promote culture and philosophy in any manifestation.  He tried to reduce taxes and the public debts of municipalities; he augmented administrative decentralisation; he promoted a campaign of austerity to reduce public expenditure (setting himself as the example).  He reformed the postal service and eliminated the powerful secret police.

Julian II, Augustus February 360 - 26 June or July 363 A.D.


Copper AE3, S 4080, C 53, 1.30g, 16.3mm, 180o, Antioch mint, obverse IOVI CONSERVATORI, Jupiter seated left on throne holding globe in right hand and scepter in left; reverse VICTORIA AVGG, Victory standing left holding wreath and palm, ANT in ex.

A Currency Reform

In the monetary field, Julian made an important step toward the normalization of the market: he adjusted the silver/gold ratio in the coins to a level nearer the ratio of the intrinsic value of two metals.  This reduced private hoarding and generated a revival of the private economy.

The Persian Campaign and the Death

Like many of his predecessors, Julian tried to solve the "Persian problem" with a military expedition; he launched in the Spring of 363 A.D.  His plan was ambitious, because he split his army in a "pincers" to attach the enemy on two fronts.  He remained victorious until June but on 26 June 363 (or July according to some sources) he was injured in a battle along the banks of the Tigris river.  His two forces would never reunite to execute his plan.  He died in his tent from the wounds received in battle, at 31 or 32 years of age. 

Julian II, Augustus February 360 - 26 June or July 363 A.D.


Bronze AE3, RIC 220, 2.69g, 18.6mm, 0o, Antioch mint, 361-363 A.D.; obverse D N FL CL IVLIANVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, helmeted and cuirassed bust left holding spear in right and shield in left; reverse VOT / X / MVLT / XX within wreath, branch SMANTG branch in ex; scarce

Jovian, the Praetorian Prefect of Julian, was proclaimed emperor.  Jovian quickly made peace with the Persians and ended religious freedom for pagans.  It was the end of the projects of "the Apostate", or "the Philosopher" (as some would suggest as a better title) Emperor and the beginning of a new period of instability for the Empire.

The Literary Works of Julian

Julian was a refined scholar and writer.  A significant part of his literary works survived to the Middle Ages.  The polemic Against the Galileans is lost, but we can reconstruct something of it from the Christian replies. Unfortunately we lost everything of the Commentari of the Gaul campaign, which he wrote following the example of Caesar.  If we ignore the encomiastic and adulatory orations (To Constantius and To Eusebia) and the philosophical works (To Eraclios, the Cinic), the style of Julian (in his Letters and in the Misopogon, a book against his detractors) is described as concise, nervous, caustic and brilliant, rich in Classic and Greek reminiscences and quotations.


The following mints were used during Julian 's reign: Lugdunum, Arelate, Aquileia, Rome, Siscia, Sirmium, Thessalonica, Heraclea, Constantinople, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, Antioch, Alexandria.


  • "Grande Dizionario Enciclopedico UTET", IX, p. 186-188,Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1969.

  • "The Handbook of Roman Imperial Coins", p. 289 & 304-305, David Van Meter, Laurion Press, 1991.

  • "New Advent" Internet site, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08558b.htm.

  • "Ancient Coin Collecting III: The Roman World–Politics and Propaganda" Wayne G. Sayles, Krause Publications, 1997.

  • "Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins", Zander H. Klawans , Whitman, 2003.

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