Inscription celebrating the restoration of temples in Syria-Phoenicia (AE 1969/1970, 631)

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Caesarea Panaeas, Syria-Phoenicia
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Beit Ussishkin, Israel. Museum number unknown
362 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
Half column of local limestone; inscribed on the front, on a surface that was never fully smooth. The top of the half column is damaged, with the line (or lines) now lost (for discussion of the epigraphic field and the surviving lettering see Eck, “Zur Neulesung der Iulian-Inschrift,” p. 857-860).
Local limestone
Width: 50 cm 
Height: 105 cm
Depth: 30 cm

AE 1969/70, 631
AE 2000, 1503

The above inscription was discovered in 1969 in the Panaeas region of the Jordan valley, near the city of Caesarea Philippi in the ancient province of Syria-Phoenicia (Golan Heights, Israel). It was inscribed in uneven letters on the front of a half-column, although the bottom section of the text has now been damaged. It is an important record of the emperor Julian’s plan to rebuild and restore the destroyed or closed temples of the pagan cult, as part of his general plan f restoration of the traditional cults within the whole Roman empire, which also offers context for his proposed rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (see Dedication to Julian celebrating his “restoration” of Roman religion (CIL VIII, 4326)).
The inscription is dedicated to the emperor Julian, whose name is given here with the Greek-influenced spelling Iovlianus; he is described with the traditional imperial titles of the fourth century CE, Dominus noster, or “our Lord” and “perpetual Augustus” (perpetuus Augustus) along with the military acclamations that record his victories against the Alamanni, Sarmatians and Franks (Alamannicus maximus / Francicus maximus / Sarmaticus maximus). It is likely that the honorific epithet “annihilator of barbarians” (bar/barorum extinctor) in lines 5-6 also refers to his campaigns against these groups (for detailed discussion of Julian’s military campaigns, see Hunt, “Julian,” p. 44-56). The final line/s of the inscription have been lost due to damage to the stone, but David Greenwood has reconstructed it with eius votis omnibus (“all their good wishes”) and an anepigraphic but understood “statuam dedit” (“gave the statue”), based on a similar dedication from Clusium (CIL IX, 2115; see Greenwood, “Five Latin inscriptions,” p. 110, n. 67). A parallel text from Berytus (AE 2000, 1500) breaks off at eius vot[---] suggesting that the reconstruction is correct; the survival of a parallel text also suggests, however, that the inscription was one that was commissioned by the provincial council in Syria-Phoenicia, and which was set up in multiple locations. As noted by Greenwood, the site of the present inscription was a sanctuary dedicated to Pan, which had been integrated into the city of Caesarea Philippi by this fourth century CE date, but which was still known as the ‘Panion’ and remained a busy cult site (Greenwood, “Five Latin Inscriptions,” p. 110).
The opening lines of the inscription state the reasons for which the Phoenicians described in the penultimate surviving line of the inscription by the “barbaric form of the rendering of Phoenicia,” or Foenicum – dedicated it (and potentially a statue) to the emperor (Negev, “Inscriptions of Julian,” p. 172). Julian is being honoured as “liberator of the Roman world” (Romani orbis liberator), the “restorer of temples” (templorum / restaurator), and as “the reviver of the curiae (Senate Houses) and the State” (cur/iarum et rei publicae recreator). The first epithet, “liberator of the Roman world,” fits with the rhetoric proposed by Julian and his court that he had liberated Rome from the tyranny of Constantine’s reforms. In other sources, Julian’s “virtues” were presented as being in direct opposition with those of Constantine, who was criticised by the pagan apologists of the age for having allowed the imperial entourage to expand in an unnecessarily extravagant way (Hunt, “Julian,” p. 64). In order to emphasise the contrast between himself and Constantine, Julian rejected the laws passed by his predecessor in favour of a model of empire that was grounded in the Greek eastern Mediterranean, and which prioritised the order, tradition and heritage of cities, with the proper worship of the gods a sign of each place’s success (Athanassiadi, Julian, p. 98-100). This was paralleled in the third epithet, “reviver of the curiae (“municipal councils”) and the State,” which celebrated in a more specific way the renewal of traditional government that Julian sought to restore to Rome. This involved the rebuilding and regulation of the municipal councils, curiae, of the empire, to which he recalled all those who had claimed invalid exemption or had evaded their civic duties (Libanius, Orations, XVIII.147-8; Hunt, “Julian,” p. 65). As part of this vision, Julian sought to restrict the excessive taxation of cities and reduced the number of agents who could use the cursus publicus, or the imperial courier/transportation-service, the maintenance of which fell upon the cities through which it passed (Hunt, “Julian,” p. 65). Public estates were restored to cities as sources of revenue, and the categories of those who were exempt from civic office, such as Christian clergy, were substantially revised and restricted (Codex TheodosianusX.3.1; XII.1.50; Hunt, “Julian,” p. 65). These measures were aimed not at the accumulation of assets from subjects of the empire, but rather an attempt at providing them with as many benefits as possible, as Julian himself stated in response to a petition for tax reductions from the people of Thrace (Julian, Letters, 73.428c). It can be no surprise that they were received positively by the cities and promoted as a “restoration of the State” in the context of traditional civic order and practice, that was at odds with the growing centralisation of imperial government that had begun under Constantine.
The other, equally significant aspect of Julian’s “liberation” of the Roman world was his “restoration of temples,” as noted by the inscription. As emperor, Julian immediately sought to reverse some of the punitive legislation that his predecessors had extended towards pagan religious practice across the empire. He ordered temples to be restored and reopened according to the traditional public rites of the gods, restoring the lost incomes of the temples and reinstating the privileges of the pagan priesthoods (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, XXII.5.2; see Dedication to Julian celebrating his “restoration” of Roman religion (CIL VIII, 4326) for further discussion of this). Libanius confirms that Julian forced those who had plundered and destroyed the pagan shrines to restore them at their own expense, as well as forcing his opponents to pay for the construction of new temples (Libanius, Orations, XVIII.126). The fifth century CE historian, Sozomen, also states that Julian enforced legal action on those who failed to follow his orders, with threats of execution even exacted against Christians in Cappadocian Caesarea (Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, V.4-6; Greenwood, “Five Latin Inscriptions,” p. 111).
This focus on rebuilding temples is interesting in the context of Julian’s promise also to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple, which he proclaimed in 362 CE following a meeting with Jewish leaders in Antioch (on this event see the comment of Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae XXIII.1.1-3. Not only did he intend to rebuild the temple, but he also announced his intention to allow the resumption of traditional sacrifice there and returned Jerusalem back to the Jews (Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History, V.22; Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations V.3). According to Christian writers, this plan found a great deal of support amongst the Jews of the diaspora, who returned to Jerusalem in large number, and John Gager has rightly pointed out that Julian must have been popular with the Jewish community in order to have undertaken the project at all (Gager, “Dialogue of Paganism with Judaism,” p. 98). However, there is no clear evidence in the talmudic sources that refer to their knowledge of the project, indicating perhaps the caution of the rabbis in their interpretation of it. It may be, however, that the project to rebuild did not have time to enter the rabbinic discussions; Ammianus Marcellinus relates that the rebuilding had to be abandoned, due to repeated fires and/or earthquakes at the site, meaning that the Third Temple was never actually constructed (Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae XXIII.1.1-3). It is clear from Julian’s intention, however, that he held the Jewish community of the empire in high regard; in his Against the Galileans, he demonstrated admiration for their sacrificial institutions, as well as for their use of the stars in determining prophecy (Julian, Against the Galileans, 356C). He also approved of the Jews’ devotion to the Jewish god, acknowledging his power (Letter to Theodorus 453D-454A), but he could also be hostile towards certain aspects of Judaism. John Gager has noted the unfavourable comparison drawn between Moses and Plato in Against the Galileans, the purpose of which appears to have been to demonstrate the truth? of the Neoplatonic doctrine of theokrasia, by which the gods of different peoples were first shown to be identical aside from name, and then arranged into a divine hierarchy under the highest god (Gager, “Dialogue of Paganism with Judaism,” p. 99-100).
In spite of these occasionally conflicting views of Jews and Judaism, Julian’s plan to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem should be understood to have been intended with some sincerity, although not perhaps due to the superior esteem in which he held the Jewish faith and community. Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem corresponded neatly with his desire to be seen as the true “restorer” of the empire, in both a civic and religious capacity (Greenwood, “Five Latin Inscriptions,” p. 112). Temple building was a top priority in his short-lived reign, along with the reintroduction of blood-sacrifice to public religious celebrations; reinstating the Jewish right to worship and sacrifice at the location of their historic Temple was another way of demonstrating the all-encompassing nature of Julian’s restoration of the traditional cults, the liberation from Christian tyranny that had been extended towards pagans and Jews alike.    
Bibliographical references: 
Hunt, David, Julian, in Cambridge Ancient History Vol. 13, The late Empire, A.D. 337-425 (ed. A. Cameron, P. Garnsey; Camrbidge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 44-77
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Inscription celebrating the restoration of temples in Syria-Phoenicia (AE 1969/1970, 631)
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Sat, 06/29/2019 - 17:47
Visited: Thu, 02/22/2024 - 05:28

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