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Praising the Emperor and Promoting his Religious Program: The Panegyrics of Claudius Mamertinus, Himerius, and Libanius to Julian, 362–3 CE

Moysés Garcia Marcos

University of California, Riverside

On 1 January 362 CE, Claudius Mamertinus, the Latin rhetorician and consul prior for that year, delivered an imperial “speech of thanks” (Gratiarum Actio) for his consulship to the Roman Emperor Julian in the senate house of Constantinople. This panegyric of Mamertinus’, who was also the emperor’s praetorian prefect of Illyricum, Italy, and Africa, is a vital document for understanding the beginning of Julian’s brief reign from one who served under the emperor in the highest imperial offices. Thus, Mamertinus was well-situated to know Julian’s imperial policy and perhaps even to shape it. But Mamertinus was not alone. Later that same year, probably in early summer 362, the Greek rhetorician Himerius of Prusa also delivered a panegyric in Constantinople on both emperor and city (Or. 41). Subsequently, Libanius of Antioch, another Greek rhetorician, panegyrist, and friend of Julian, delivered an “address” (prosphonetikos logos) before the emperor shortly after the latter’s arrival at Antioch in late July 362 (Or. 13) and a consular oration (hupatikos logos) before him on 1 January 363 (Or. 12), the day on which Julian assumed his fourth consulship with Flavius Sallustius as his colleague. Panegyrics on emperors were often delivered on various occasions and for various purposes and so generally can provide important insights into the dynamic relationships between emperors and their subjects, but the imperial speeches of Mamertinus, Himerius, and Libanius to Julian afford a rather unique window into this emperor’s government since we also know much about the panegyrists themselves, more so than any others from the fourth century with the exception of Themistius, whose Greek panegyric to Julian unfortunately has been lost.

These imperial speeches were delivered at the very outset of Julian’s reign, during the formative period when he was consolidating sole power in the East after civil war. As Braund (1998: 66) has observed regarding Pliny’s Panegyric to Trajan, “Panegyric produced so early in the reign can serve another function besides praise: it can reflect or even prescribe a programme of behaviour to the new emperor.” No doubt Mamertinus had some notions about how Julian should rule and some subtle criticisms are apparent in his panegyric, criticisms which are consistent with what Sabbah (1984: 377–79) has considered the communication ascendante of such imperial speeches of praise. Conversely, an emperor might use panegyric to disseminate his image and ideology in what Sabbah has called communication descendante, as is certainly the case in Mamertinus’ panegyric to Julian, who, I argue, uses his panegyrist as a kind of court spokesman not unlike Claudian, who would produce poetry and propaganda for Honorius and Stilicho. Julian also seems to have employed Himerius and Libanius similarly, and when the imperial speeches of these two orators are assessed closely alongside that of Mamertinus in proper succession it becomes evident that the emperor not only utilized all these panegyrics to disseminate his political program but also that he gradually ‘rolled out’ new religious policy, which consisted of renovating and building temples and supporting blood sacrifice, with an eye to building consensus. Moreover, while scholars such as Bowersock (1978: xi, 80) have argued for a lack of popular support for Julian’s religious program, I demonstrate that the panegyrics to the emperor above reveal both his responsiveness to and support from his subjects for new imperial religious action.

Session/Panel Title:

The Art of Praise: Panegyric and Encomium in Late Antiquity

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