Julian Romance

The so-called Julian Romance is a Syriac polemical work against the Roman emperor Julian. The principal witness to this text is ms. London, Brit. Libr. Add. 14,641, which can be dated paleographically to the 6th cent. (with the exception of 23 folios that are from the 10th–12th  cent.). Approximately twelve folios are missing from the beginning of this ms. The initial section of the narrative is, however, partially preserved as the lower writing in the palimpsest ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat. Syr. 378. An abridged Arabic translation is also found in ms. Arabic 516 at the Monastery of St. Catherine with two additional leaves in the Mingana collection. In 1880, Hoffmann published the Syriac text of the Julian Romance according to the British Library ms. Excerpts were also published by Bedjan (independent of Hoffmann) and Gottheil (dependent on Hoffmann). The only complete translation of the text is the rather infelicitous one by Gollancz into English, of which an abridgment into French was made by Richer.

The Julian Romance consists of three parts. The first, which is incomplete, recounts Julian’s accession to the throne after Constantine and the resulting persecution of the Christians. The second is a narrative about Eusebius, the bp. of Rome, who facing persecution opposed Julian. The third and longest section is framed as a letter by Aploris to Abdil that describes the reign of Jovian (Syriac ywbnynws ‘Jovinian’). In 1874, Nöldeke argued that all three parts of the Julian Romance were composed by the same unknown author. He also contended that the Romance was an original Syriac composition written in Edessa between 502 and 532. Nöldeke’s position was adopted in the standard handbooks, such as Baumstark’s Geschichte der syrischen Literatur and Ortiz de Urbina’s Patrologia Syriaca, and continues to be favored by some scholars today, such as Papoutsakis. There are, however, several other views. Van Esbroeck proposed that the Romance was originally written in Greek sometime after 363 and was then translated into Syriac at the beginning of the 6th cent. H. J. W. Drijvers, on the other hand, argued that the Romance is a propaganda tract originally written in Syriac in Edessa shortly after 379. Finally, both Brock and Contini have more recently suggested that the Romance was written in Edessa, but in the 5th cent., not the 6th.

The Julian Romance draws significantly on the ideas and phraseology of Ephrem and also shares stylistic similarities with the writings of Yaʿqub of Serugh. Despite the fact that it is primarily known from a single Syriac ms., it has influenced a number of later writings. In the Syriac tradition, for instance, the Romance was a source for apocalyptic literature, such as the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. Furthermore, the Julian Romance in its Arabic manifestation informed accounts of Julian by Arabic historians, such as al-Ṭabarī. It also exerted some influence on both Greek and Georgian literature.

Finally, mention should be made of a ‘second’ Julian Romance that is preserved in ms. London, Brit. Libr. Rich. Add. 7192, which can be dated paleographically to the 7th or 8th cent. This text was also published by Hoffmann (1880, 242–50) and was translated into German by Nöldeke (1874, 660–74) and into English by Gollancz (1928, 256–64), the latter of which was abridged by Richer (1978, 263–8). This ‘second’ Julian Romance, which is much shorter than the ‘first’, describes the apostasy of Julian and his magic practices. Based on stylistic differences with the ‘first’ Julian Romance, Nöldeke argued that the ‘second’ Julian Romance was most likely written by a different author later in the 6th cent. More recently, Muraviev has argued that it is actually part of the original Julian Romance belonging to the missing initial section.

    Primary Sources

    • P. Bedjan, Acta Martyrum et Sanctorum (1890–97), vol. 6, 218–297. (Syr.)
    • S. P. Brock and A. Muraviev, ‘The fragments of the Syriac Julian Romance from the manuscript Paris Syr 378’, Khristianskij Vostok 2 (2001), 14–34. (Syr. with ET)
    • H.  Gollancz, Julian the Apostate. Now translated for the first time from the Syriac original (1928). (ET)
    • R. J. H. Gottheil, A Selection from the Syriac Julian Romance (1906). (Syr.)
    • J. G. E.  Hoffmann, Iulianos der Abtruennige. Syrische Erzaehlungen (1880). (Syr.)
    • Th. Nöldeke, ‘Ein zweiter syrischer Julianusroman’, ZDMG 28 (1874), 660–74. (incl. GT)
    • J. Richer, ‘Les romans syriaques des sixième et septième siècles’, in L’Empereur Julien. De l’histoire à la légende (331–1715), ed. R. Braun and J. Richer (1978), 233–68. (FT)

    Secondary Sources

    • U.  Ben-Horin, ‘An Unknown Old Arabic Translation of the Syriac Romance of Julian the Apostate’, Studia Hierosolymitana 9 (1961), 1–10.
    • R. Contini, ‘Giuliano Imperatore nella tradizione siriaca’, in Da Constantino a Teodosio il Grande. Cultura, società, diritto, ed. U. Criscuolo (2003), 119–45, esp. 131–39.
    • H. J. W. Drijvers, ‘The Syriac Romance of Julian: Its function, place of origin and original language’, in SymSyr VI, 201–14.
    • J. W.  Drijvers, ‘The Syriac Julian Romance. Aspects of the Jewish-Christian Controversy in Late Antiquity’, in All those Nations … Cultural Encounters within and with the Near East, ed. H. L. J. Vanstiphout (1999), 31–42.
    • J. W.  Drijvers, ‘Julian the Apostate and the City of Rome: Pagan-Christian Polemics in the Syriac Julian Romance’, in Syriac Polemics. Studies in honour of G. J. Reinink, ed. W. J. van Bekkum et al. (OLA 170; 2007), 1–20.
    • A.  Muraviev, ‘The Syriac Julian Romance and its place in literary history’, Khristianskij Vostok 1 (1999), 194–206.
    • A.  Muraviev, ‘Les noms propres dans les résumés arabes du « Roman » syriaque sur Julien l’Apostat’, ParOr 24 (1999), 359–65.
    • A.  Muraviev, ‘The Syriac Julian Romance as a source of the Life of St. Basil the Great’, in StPatr , vol. 37, ed. M. F. Wiles and E. J. Yarnold (2001), 240–49.
    • Th. Nöldeke, ‘Ueber den syrischen Roman von Kaiser Julian’, ZDMG 28 (1874), 263–92.
    • M. Papoutsakis, ‘The Making of a Syriac Fable: From Ephrem to Romanos’, LM 120 (2007), 29–75.
    • G. J.  Reinink, ‘The Romance of Julian the Apostate as a source for seventh century Syriac Apocalypses’, in La Syrie de Byzance à l’Islam, ed. P.  Canivet and J.-P.  Rey-Coquais (1992), 75–86. (repr. in G. J.  Reinink, Syriac Christianity under Late Sasanian and Early Islamic Rule [2005], no. XI)
    • M. van Esbroeck, ‘Le soi-disant roman de Julien l’Apostat’, in SymSyr IV, 191–202.


How to Cite This Entry

Aaron M. Butts, “Julian Romance,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay, https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Julian-Romance.

Footnote Style Citation with Date:

Aaron M. Butts, “Julian Romance,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Julian-Romance.

Bibliography Entry Citation:

Butts, Aaron M. “Julian Romance.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Julian-Romance.

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