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The Persian campaign of Julian the Apostate, Stages 2, 3 & 4

Stage II (from the battle of Ctesiphon before the start of the retreat)

Here – under the walls of Ctesiphon – at the end of May 363, the first major field battle between the Roman and Persian armies took place during the Persian campaign of Julian the Apostate. This is one of the few cases in which Ammianus names the names of the commanders of the Persian army – in this case they were “the chief leaders of Suren, Pigran and Narsay”. The Romans under cover of darkness on several ships crossed the Tigris and with a battle seized part of the coast, where the rest of the army landed. The Persians did not render serious resistance to the Roman army and, after a short battle, disappeared behind the walls of Ctesiphon, literally followed closely by the Romans. The losses of the Persians, according to Ammianus, amounted to about 2500 people, the Romans – only 70. Almost the same figures are given by Zosim, with the only difference that the loss of the Romans, according to his data, was not 70, but 75 people. Thus, under Ctesiphon the Romans won a significant victory, which, however, as subsequent events showed, proved fruitless.

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After the battle of Ctesiphon, a military council was convened, at which the question of further actions was decided: to besiege the capital of Persia, or to limit itself to the destruction of areas adjacent to the city and the destruction of scattered groups of Persians. In view of the inaccessibility of the fortress and intelligence reports on the approach of the main Persian forces, the second option was adopted. In the area of ​​Ctesiphon, the Roman army spent several days recuperating and replenishing food supplies by plunder.

However, soon Julian single-handedly changed this decision and gave the order to move further, deep into Persia, leaving Ctesiphon in the rear. To increase the mobility of the Roman army, the emperor also ordered the destruction of the fleet, so as not to distract 20,000 soldiers to his guard and not to be associated with the need to keep the shores of the Tiger. As a result, the fleet that accompanied the army was almost completely burned; only 12 ships survived, which were loaded onto carts and were in a wagon train for pontoon crossings, if necessary.

However, the Persians did everything possible not to allow the Romans to penetrate into the interior of the state, and therefore they set fire to the steppe, grain crops and villages in those areas along which the Roman troops were to pass; this was complemented by the constant attacks of the Persian cavalry. As a result, the Romans were left without food and fodder in the middle of a scorched country. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the Roman-Armenian army concentrated on the banks of the Tigris (see above) did not come to the aid of the army of Julian.

Stage III (from the beginning of the retreat to the death of Julian)

Under pressure of circumstances, a regular military council was convened on June 16, at which a new decision was made: to turn north and move towards the Roman province of Corduena, towards the army under the unified command of the Armenian king Arshak II, Procopius and Sebastian. After that, the Persians, realizing that the Romans had abandoned their original plans and a change occurred in the war, increased their military activity, and the losses of the Romans increased.

A significant Persian detachment met the Romans in an area called Marang. There was another major battle between the Romans and the Persian army led by Meren, whom Ammianus Marcellinus calls the “commander of the cavalry”, and the two sons of the king.

The battle of Maranga ended, probably without any definite result, although, according to Ammianus, the losses of the Persians were more significant. After a three-day truce, the Roman troops continued to move in the direction of the Corduena, and the Persians, faithful to their tactics, continuously disturbed them with sudden attacks and ambushes. During one of these attacks, which occurred on June 26, the unexpected happened: Julian, hurrying to help his soldiers, did not consider it necessary (or did not have time) to put on his armor, and in a brief skirmish one of the cavalry darts struck him in the right side till so far historians cannot precisely answer the question of whose side that fatal dart was launched from. There are two main versions of what happened, appearing in the sources literally immediately after the death of Julian. According to the first of these, the traditional, the emperor died at the hands of the Persian warrior (for example, Sextus Aurelius Victor, a contemporary of Julian and one of his confidants, expressed this view). The version of betrayal is not so popular among historians, but it also has its own rationale. It was first heard by Ammianus Marcellinus, and then by Libanius, Socrates Scholastic, and some other late Antique and Early Medieval authors. According to this hypothesis, Julian was the victim of a Christian warrior who was in the Roman army and used the opportunity to eliminate the hated pagan emperor. The main argument of the supporters of this version is that after the death of Julian, none of the Persians were rewarded and generally marked in any way; therefore, the killing of the emperor was the work of some Roman, not Persian warrior. The message of the most informative source – the writings of Ammianus – can be understood in different ways. He writes that when the Persians had already fled, Julian, who was in the midst of the crowd, “ didn’t know where, suddenly struck… a cavalry spear, cut through the skin on his arm, punched his ribs and got stuck in the lower part of the liver.” In this connection, the Persian side’s point of view on the death of Emperor Julian is interesting: Muhammad Al-Tabari writes that Julian was killed in his tent with an arrow shot with an “invisible hand” and caught in the emperor’s heart. Thus, there is no reason to give priority to that other point of view. The wound of Julian was inflicted during the rapid skirmish, and in the confusion of the battle no one, most likely, did not even have time to notice who caused the mortal wound to the emperor. Therefore, it is simply impossible to give an exact answer to the question of whose hands Julian the Apostate perished. As it turned out a little later, the wound was fatal; a few hours later Julian died in his tent.

Stage IV (from the proclamation of the emperor Jovian to the conclusion of a peace treaty)

The next day (June 27), a new emperor was elected, which was the former commander of the protector corps, Jovian. The Romans were in a critical situation: they were surrounded by the Persian army, unable to replenish food supplies, demoralized by the death of Julian. Therefore, the only way out and hope for salvation was a further retreat in the direction of Corduena. The army of Jovian, having passed through the areas of Sumera and Kharkha, reached the city of Dura on July 1, located on the banks of the Tigris, but could not move further, being surrounded by the Persian army led by Shapur II himself. Unable to either move further north or cross to the right bank of the Tigris, nor replenish food supplies, the Romans were in a critical situation.


Knowing the situation in which Jovian and his army found themselves, Shapur II sent ambassadors to the emperor with a proposal for negotiations. As a result, the Persians were able to impose on Jovian a peace treaty that was extremely unprofitable for the Romans, having two main conditions: 1) transferring Persia to five Roman regions in Upper Mesopotamia ( Arzanena, Moksoeny, Zabditseny, Regimena, Corduena) with fortresses located there, as well as cities Nisibis, Sinhary and the Moors Camp, and 2) Rome’s refusal to support Armenia. The treaty was signed for 30 years and supported by notable hostages on both sides. After this, the retreat of the starving, exhausted by the continuous clashes with the enemy, but still preserved (although at a very high price), the Roman army turned into a stampede.

Consequences of the campaign

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As a result, the extremely unsuccessfully ended campaign of 363, the empire not only ceded to Persia a number of its territories, which had great strategic importance, but, in fact, betrayed its most loyal Eastern ally – Armenia.

In fulfillment of the terms of the treaty, the Roman state was forced to cede Persia to one of the key (both militarily and economically) points of Northern Mesopotamia — Nisibis. Residents of Nisibis, on pain of death, were ordered to leave the city within three days, after which, despite the protests of the townspeople, he was occupied by the Persians. According to al-Tabari, 12,000 people were resettled from Istahra, Isfahan, and other regions of the Persian empire by order of Shapur to Nisibis.

Thus, none of the goals pursued by Julian during the preparation for the Persian campaign was fully achieved. Positions of Sassanian Iran in Asia Minor dramatically increased. Nevertheless, the positive result of the campaign of 363 for Rome was the signing of another peace treaty with Persia, which ensured a quiet life for the eastern provinces of the empire for a long period. In the coming decades, the territory of Armenia became the scene of struggle between Rome and Iran for dominance in Western Asia.

Ammianus Marcellinus Roman history. M., 2005.
Dexipp . History // Byzantine historians Deksipp
Gregory the Theologian . Collection of Creations
Eutropius . Brief history from the founding of the City
Theophanes Byzantium . Chronicle of the Byzantine Theophanes from Diocletian to the kings Michael and his son Theophylact
Theodoret Cyrus Church history. SPb

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