I meant to post this last week. The California Literary Review ran a longish excerpt of The Last Pagan at the end of June:
At around midnight a man died in a tent roughly fifty-three miles north of the capital of what is now Iraq. It was the end of June, AD 363, and with him paganism died.
A month after his thirty-first birthday, Flavius Claudius Julianus, better known as Julian the Apostate, had been ruler of the Roman Empire for less than two years. He was dark haired, of average height for the era—around 5 foot 4 inches—and with a trim build. Underneath his hair, which he tended to wear combed down onto his forehead like all the members of his family, he had penetrating eyes, heavy eyebrows, a straight nose, and a rather large mouth with a pendulous lower lip that was hidden behind the bristly beard he wore trimmed to a point, like those you can see of the ancient Greek philosophers in the Louvre or the British Museum. It was a deliberate affectation, a sign of his deep love of Hellenic culture and passionate hatred of the Galileans, as he dubbed Christians. Many mocked him and called him a goat behind his back.
He had been wounded in battle, three months into a campaign in the East against the Persian Empire and its king, Shapur II. Although the Roman army had been advancing slowly in readiness for battle, Julian, who had gone on ahead to reconnoiter, had received word that the rearguard had been ambushed from behind. As he rode back to lend moral support to those in the rear, he was summoned by the news that the van, which he had just left, had been similarly attacked. Before he could restore the position, a troop of Parthian cuirassiers attacked the center and breached its left wing. The soldiers broke ranks in confusion—just as Alexander the Great’s had in India six centuries previously—at the sight, smell, and noise of elephants.