Julian was born in AD 332 at Constantinople, the son of Julius Constantius, who was a half-brother of Constantine the Great. His mother was Basilina, the daughter of the governor of Egypt, who died shortly after his birth.
Constantius II placed Julian in the care of the eunuch Mardonius, who educated him in the classical tradition of Rome, thereby instilling in him a great interest for literature, philosophy and the old pagan gods. Following in these classical tracks, Julian studied grammar and rhetoric, until he was moved from Constantinople to Nicomedia by the emperor in AD 342. Constantius II evidently didn't like the idea of a youth of Constantine's blood being too close to the centre of power, even if only as a student. Soon after Julian was moved again, this time to a remote fortress at Macellum in Cappadocia, together with his half-brother Gallus. There Julian was given a Christian education. Yet his interest in the pagan classics continued undiminished.
For six years Julian stayed in this remote exile until he was allowed to return to Constantinople, although only to be moved back out of the city soon after by the emperor and being returned to Nicomedia once more in AD 351.
After the execution of his half-brother Constantius Gallus by Constantius II in AD 354, Julian was ordered to Mediolanum (Milan).
Julian, though completely inexperienced in military matters, successfully recovered Colonia Aggripina by AD 356, and in AD 357 defeated a vastly superior force of Alemanni near Argentorate (Strasbourg).
The troops quickly took to Julian, a leader who like Trajan endured the hardships of military life alongside the soldiers.
Did Julian prove to be a talented leader, then his abilities earned him no sympathies at the court of Constantius II. Whilst the emperor was suffering setbacks at the hands of the Persians these victories by his Caesar were seen only as embarrassments.
But the military predicament of Constantius II with the Persians required urgent attention. And so he demanded Julian to send some of his finest troops as reinforcements in the war against the Persians.
Julian was said to be reluctant to accept the title. Perhaps he wanted to avoid a war with Constantius II, or perhaps it was the reluctance of a man who never sought to rule anyway. In any case, he can't have possessed much loyalty to Constantius II, after execution of his father and half-brother, his exile in Cappadocia and the petty jealousies over his apparent popularity.
At first he sought to negotiate with Constantius II, but in vain. And so in AD 361 Julian set out for the east to meet his foe. Remarkably, he vanished into the German forests with an army of only about 3'000 men, only to reappear again on the lower Danube shortly after. This astounding effort was most likely made in order to reach the key Danubian legions as soon as possible to assure their allegiance in that knowledge that all European units would surely follow their example.
On his way to Constantinople Julian then officially declared himself a follower of the old pagan gods. With Constantine and his heirs having been Christian, and Julian having, while still under Constantius officially still adhered to the Christian faith, this was an unexpected turn of events.
The Christian church was now refused the financial privileges enjoyed under previous regimes, and Christians were excluded from the teaching profession. In an attempt to undermine the Christian position, Julian favoured the Jews, hoping they might rival the Christian faith and deprive it of many of its followers. He even considered the reconstruction of the Great Temple at Jerusalem.
Indeed, the intellectual Julian was a great writer, second only perhaps to the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius, composing essays, satires, speeches, commentaries and letters of great quality.
His appearance only further reinforced the image of a ruler of a bygone age. In a time when Romans were clean shaven, Julian wore an old-fashioned beard reminiscent of Marcus Aurelius. Julian was of athletic, powerful build. Though vain and prone to listen to flattery, he was also wise enough to allow advisors to correct him where he made mistakes.
As head of government he proved an able administrator, seeking to revive the cities of the eastern part of the empire, which had suffered in recent times and had begun to decline.
Like others before him, Julian also cherished the thought of one day defeating the Persians and annexing their territories into the empire.
Though on 26 June AD 363 Julian the Apostate was hit by an arrow in a skirmish with Persian cavalry. Though a rumour claimed he was stabbed by a Christian among his soldiers. Whatever the cause for the injury, the wound did not heal and Julian died.