Observation of portraits of Julian the Apostate

Main Article Content

Kitsirin Kitisakon


This research paper discussed some of the portraits of the last pagan Roman emperor, Julian, who reigned from A.D. 361 to 363. While proposing new comparisons and observations, the author analyzed images representing Julian in three different statuses: Caesar, Augustus, and the vanquished emperor. This paper describes his portraits in four aspects. Firstly, with his typical and documented long beard, his portrait now in Athens showed how his image as Augustus followed the portraits of bearded emperors of the second century A.D., commencing with Hadrian, and how his pagan beliefs were revealed in this sculpture by a specific crown. Secondly, as Caesar between A.D. 355–360, Julian borrowed the beardless iconography of the Constantinian Dynasty for his portraits, similar to representations of Emperor Constantius II and Gallus, Julian’s older half-brother, who was Caesar before him. Thirdly, acclaimed as Augustus by his soldiers in A.D. 360 while in Gaul, he still presented himself on some coins to be beardless using a heavenward gaze. However, the beard was finally displayed in sculptures in Paris as a pagan priest, Thasos, and at the Hermitage Museum. Fourthly, after Julian died in A.D. 363 in the battle against the Sasanian kings, his slain corpse was carved at Taq-e Bostan I in Iran with a striking spiritual gesture that can be noticed in the sculptures in Paris and at the Hermitage Museum.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

Research Articles


Aǧtürk, T. S. (2014). Headdress fashions and their social significance in ancient Anatolia: The seventh through fourth centuries BCE. Anadolu/Anatolia 40: 45–85.

Athanassiadi, P. (2014). Julian: An Intellectual Biography. London: Routledge.

Baratte, F. (2011). Histoire de l’art Antique: L’art Romain. Paris: RMN.

Bažant, J. (1995). Roman Portraiture: A History of Its History. Praha: Koniasch Latin Press.

Blockley, R. (1972). Constantius Gallus and Julian as Caesars of Constantius II. Latomus 31(2): 433–468.

Bowersock, G. W. (2008). Julien l'Apostat. Paris: Armand Colin.

Chavin, P. (2006a). Taq-e Bostan - fallen Roman [Photograph]. Wikimedia Commons. [Online URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taq-e_Bostan_-_fallen_Roman.jpg] accessed on July 17, 2021.

Chavin, P. (2006b). Taq-e Bostan - High-relief of Ardeshir II Investiture [Photograph]. Wikimedia Commons. [Online URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taq-e_Bostan_-_High-relief_of_Ardeshir_II_investiture.jpg] accessed on July 17, 2021.

Dall’Orto, G. (2009). Busto di Ignoto Diademato, un Sacerdote Pagano o Forse Giuliano l'apostata [Photograph]. Wikimedia Commons. [Online URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1901_-_Archaeological_Museum,_Athens_-_4th_century_bust_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_Nov._11_2009.jpg] accessed on July 20, 2021.

de Kersauson, K. (1996). Catalogue des Portraits Romains. Tome 2. Paris: RMN.

Elm, S. (2012). Sons of Hellenism, Fathers of the Church: Emperor Julian, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Vision of Rome. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press.

Fejfer, J. (2008). Roman Portraits in Context. Berlin, NY: De Gruyter.

García Ruiz, M.P. (2018). Julian's Self-Representation in Coins and Texts. In D. W. P. Burgersdijk and A. J. Ross (Eds.), Imagining Emperors in the Later Roman Empire, pp. 204–233. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Greatrex, G., Elton, H. and McMahon, L. (2015). Shifting Genres in Late Antiquity. Surrey: Ashgate.

Guidetti, F. (2015). I ritratti dell'imperatore Giuliano. In A. Marcone (Ed.), L'Imperatore Giuliano. Realtà Storica e Rappresentazione, pp. 12–49. Firenze: Casa Editrice Felice Le Monnier.

Haas, N., Toppe, F. and Henz, B. M. (2005). Hairstyles in the Arts of Greek and Roman antiquity. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings 10(3): 298–300.

Hilkens, A. (2014). The Anonymous Syriac Chronicle up to the Year 1234 and Its Sources. Doctoral dissertation. Ghent University, Belgium.

Hollard, D. (2010). Julien et Mithrā sur le relief de Tāq-e-Bostān. In R. Gyselen (Ed.), Sources for the History of Sasanian and Post-Sasanian Iran (Res Orientalis XIX), pp. 147–163. Leuven: Peeters Press.

J. Paul Getty Museum. (n.d.). Statue of a Seated Cybele with the Portrait Head of her Priestess [Photograph]. [Online URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/6511/unknown-maker-statue-of-a-seated-cybele-with-the-portrait-head-of-her-priestess-roman-about-ad-50/] accessed on July 22, 2021.

Julian. (1913). The Works of the Emperor Julian Volume II. (W. C. F. Wright, Trans). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Legge, F. (1917). The most ancient goddess cybele. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (October): 695–714.

Lévêque, P. (1960). Observations sur l'iconographie de Julien dit l'Apostat, d'après une tête inédite de Thasos. Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot 51: 105–128.

Lévêque, P. (1963). De nouveaux portraits de l'empereur Julien. Latomus 22(1): 74–84.

Marcellinus, A. (1940). History, Volume II: Books 20–26 (J. C. Rolfe, Trans). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Musée de Cluny. (n.d.). Prêtre de Sérapis, dit Julien l'Apostat [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.musee-moyenage.fr/collection/oeuvre/julien-apostat.html] accessed on July 10, 2021.

Musei Capitolin. (n.d.). Colossal head of Constantius II or Constans [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.museicapitolini.org/en/percorsi/percorsi_per_sale/museo_del_palazzo_dei_conservatori/cortile/testa_colossale_di_costanzo_ii_o_costante] accessed on July 21, 2021.

Overlaet, B. (2012). Ahura Mazda and Shapur II? A note on Taq-i Bustan I, the Investiture of Ardashir II (379–383). Iranica Antiqua 47: 133–151.

Overlaet, B. (2013). And man created God? Kings, priests and gods on Sasanian investiture reliefs. Iranica Antiqua 48: 313–354.

Querrec, T. (n.d.). Statue d'un prêtre de Sérapis (ancienne identification : statue en pied de Julien l'Apostat) [Photograph]. Images d’art. [Online URL: https://art.rmngp.fr/fr/library/artworks/statue-d-un-pretre-de-serapis-ancienne-identification-statue-en-pied-de-julien-l-apostat_sculpture-technique_marbre] accessed on July 10, 2021.

Saint-Pol, B. (2007). Kopf des Trajan [Photograph]. Wikimedia Commons. [Online URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Traianus_Glyptothek_Munich_336.jpg] accessed on July 10, 2021.

Saradi, H. G. (2011). Late paganism and christianisation in Greece. Late Antique Archaeology 7(1): 261–309.

Scaife, A. (2017). Julian the Apostle: The emperor who “brought piety as it were back from exile”. Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research 8: 103–127.

Schmandt-Besserat, D. (2005). Visiting archaeological sites in Iran. Near Eastern Archaeology 68(3): 139–144.

Schnapp, A. (2011). Préhistoire et Antiquité: Des origines de l'humanité au monde classique. Paris: Flammarion.

Sellheim, R. (1994). Ṭāq-i Bustān und Kaiser Julian (361–363). Oriens 34: 354–366.

Somville, P. (2003). Portrait physique de l'empereur Julien. L'antiquité Classique 72: 161–166.

Tanabe, K. (1985). Date and significance of the so-called investiture of Ardashir II and the images of Shapur II and III at Taq-i Bustan. Orient 21: 102–121.

The British Museum. (n.d.a). Museum Number 1936, 0601.4 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1315760001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.b). Museum Number 1950, 1006.1490 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1204428001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.c). Museum Number 1971, 0610.46 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/894188001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.d). Museum Number 1981, 0907.1 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1313223001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.e). Museum Number 1981, 0910.38 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1313263001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.f). Museum Number 1982, 1034.171 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1204471001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.g). Museum Number B.3800 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1204381001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.h). Museum Number B.5280 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/367460001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The British Museum. (n.d.i). Museum Number B.6022 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/1316094001] accessed on July 19, 2021.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (n.d.a). Marble Portrait Head of Emperor Constantine I ca. A.D. 325–370 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/252884] accessed on July 21, 2021.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (n.d.b) Marble Portrait of Emperor Augustus ca. A.D. 14–37 [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/247993] accessed on July 22, 2021.

The State Hermitage Museum. (n.d.). Portrait of Emperor Julian [Photograph]. [Online URL: https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/08.+Applied+Arts/226799/?lng=en] accessed on July 11, 2021.

Thompson, N. L. (2007). Roman Art: A Resource for Educators. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tranquillus, S. (1909). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars (A. Thomson, Trans). London: George Bell and Sons.

Uhlenbrock, J. P. (2016). Research perspectives in Greek coroplastic studies: The demeter paradigm and the goddess bias. Les Carnets de l’ACoSt 14. [Online URL: http://journals.openedition.org/acost/866] accessed on July 13, 2021.