Meantime Sapor, king of Persia, was attacking Nisibis, the most Eastern city of the Roman empire, where a brave Catholic named James was Bishop, and encouraged the people to a most brave resistance, so that they held out for four months; and Sapor, thinking the city was under some divine protection, and finding that his army sickened in the hot marshes around it, gave up the siege at last.
Constantius was a little, mean-looking man, but he dressed himself up to do his part as Emperor. He had swarms of attendants like any Eastern prince, most of them slaves, who waited on him as if he was perfectly helpless. He had his face painted, and was covered with gold embroidery and jewels on all state occasions, and he used to stand like a statue to be looked at, never winking an eyelid, nor moving his hand, nor doing anything to remind people that he was a man like themselves. He was timid and jealous, and above all others, he dreaded his young cousin Julian, the only relation he had. Julian had studied at Athens, and what he there heard and fancied of the old Greek philosophy seemed to him far grander than the Christianity that showed itself in the lives of Constantius and his courtiers. He was full of spirit and ability, and Constantius thought it best to keep him at a distance by sending him to fight the Germans on the borders of Gaul. There he was so successful, and was such a favorite with the soldiers, that Constantius sent to recall him. This only made the army proclaim him Emperor, and he set out with them across the Danubian country towards Constantinople, but on the way met the tidings that Constantius was dead.
This was in 361, and without going to Rome Julian hastened on to Constantinople, where he was received as Emperor. He no longer pretended to be a Christian, but had all the old heathen temples opened again, and the sacrifices performed as in old times, though it was not easy to find any one who recollected how they were carried on. He said that all forms of religion should be free to every one, but he himself tried to live like an ancient philosopher, getting rid of all the pomp of jewels, robes, courtiers, and slaves who had attended Constantius, wearing simply the old purple garb of a Roman general, sleeping on a lion’s skin, and living on the plainest food. Meantime, he tried to put down the Christian faith by laughing at it, and trying to get people to despise it as something low and mean. When this did not succeed, he forbade Christians to be schoolmasters or teachers; and as they declared that the ruin of the Temple of Jerusalem proved our Lord to have been a true Prophet, he commanded that it should be rebuilt. As soon as the foundations were dug, there was an outburst of fiery smoke and balls of flame which forced the workmen to leave off. Such things sometimes happen when long-buried ruins are opened, from the gases that have formed there; but it was no doubt the work of God’s providence, and the Christians held it as a miracle.