The Roman History, Book XIX (359AD)

By Ammianus Marcellinus

I. Sapor, while exhorting the citizens of Amida to surrender, is assailed with arrows and javelins by the garrison—And when king Grumbates makes a similar attempt, his son is slain.

The king, rejoicing at this our disaster and captivity, and expecting other successes, advanced from this castle, and marching slowly, on the third day came to Amida.

And at daybreak, everything, as far as we could see, glittered with shining arms; and an iron cavalry filled the plains and the hills.

And he himself, mounted on his charger, and being taller than the rest, led his whole army, wearing instead of a crown a golden figure of a ram’s head inlaid with jewels; being also splendid from the retinue of men of high rank and of different nations which followed him. And it was evident that his purpose was merely to try the garrison of the walls with a parley, as, in following out the counsel of Antoninus, he was hastening to another quarter.

But the deity of heaven, mercifully limiting the disasters of the empire within the compass of one region, led on this king to such an extravagant degree of elation, that he seemed to believe that the moment he made his appearance the besieged would be suddenly panic-stricken, and have recourse to supplication and entreaty.

He rode up to the gates, escorted by the cohort of his royal guard; and while pushing on more boldly, so that his very features might be plainly recognized, his ornaments made him such a mark for arrows and other missiles, that he would have been slain, if the dust had not hindered the sight of those who were shooting at him; so that after a part of his robe had been cut off by a blow of a javelin, he escaped to cause vast slaughter at a future time.

After this, raging as if against sacrilegious men who had violated a temple, he cried out that the lord of so many monarchs and nations had been insulted, and resolved to use all his efforts to destroy the city. But at the entreaty of his choicest generals not to break the example of mercy which he had so gloriously set, by indulging in anger, he was pacified, and the next day ordered the garrison to be summoned to surrender.

Therefore, at daybreak, Grumbates, king of the Chionitæ, went boldly up to the walls to effect that object, with a brave body of guards; and when a skilful reconnoitrer had noticed him coming within shot, he let fly his balista, and struck down his son in the flower of his youth, who was at his father’s side, piercing through his breastplate, breast and all; and he was a prince who in stature and beauty was superior to all his comrades.

At his death all his countrymen took to flight, but presently returning in order to prevent his body from being carried off, and having roused with their dissonant clamours various tribes to their aid, a stern conflict arose, the arrows flying on both sides like hail.

The deadly struggle having been continued till the close of day, it was nightfall before the corpse of the young prince, which had been so stubbornly defended, was extricated from the heap of dead and streams of blood, amid the thick darkness; as formerly at Troy, the armies fought in furious combat for the comrade of the Thessalian chieftain.

At his death the count was sad, and all the nobles as well as his father were distressed at his sudden loss; and a cessation of arms having been ordered, the youth, so noble and beloved, was mourned after the fashion of his nation. He was carried out in the arms he was wont to wear, and placed on a spacious and lofty pile; around him ten couches were dressed, bearing effigies of dead men, so carefully laid out, that they resembled corpses already buried; and for seven days all the men in the companies and battalions celebrated a funeral feast, dancing, and singing melancholy kinds of dirges in lamentation for the royal youth.

And the women, with pitiable wailing, deplored with their customary weepings the hope of their nation thus cut off in the early bloom of youth; as the worshippers of Venus are often seen to do in the solemn festival of Adonis, which the mystical doctrines of religion show to be some sort of image of the ripened fruits of the earth.

II. Amida is blockaded, and within two days is twice assaulted by the Persians.

When the body was burnt and the bones collected in a silver urn, which his father had ordered to be carried back to his native land, to be there buried beneath the earth, Sapor, after taking counsel, determined to propitiate the shade of the deceased prince by making the destroyed city of Amida his monument. Nor indeed was Grumbates willing to move onward while the shade of his only son remained unavenged.

And having given two days to rest, and sent out large bodies of troops to ravage the fertile and well-cultivated fields which were as heavy with crops as in the time of peace, the enemy surrounded the city with a line of heavy-armed soldiers five deep; and at the beginning of the third day the brilliant squadrons filled every spot as far as the eye could see in every direction, and the ranks marching slowly, took up the positions appointed to each by lot.

All the Persians were employed in surrounding the walls; that part which looked eastward, where that youth so fatal to us was slain, fell to the Chionitæ. The Vertæ were appointed to the south; the Albani watched the north; while opposite to the western gate were posted the Segestani, the fiercest warriors of all, with whom were trains of tall elephants, horrid with their wrinkled skins, which marched on slowly, loaded with armed men, terrible beyond the savageness of any other frightful sight, as we have often said.

When we saw these countless hosts thus deliberately collected for the conflagration of the Roman world, and directed to our own immediate destruction, we despaired of safety, and sought only how to end our lives gloriously, as we all desired.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, the enemy’s lines stood immovable, as if rooted to the ground, without changing a step or uttering a sound; nor was even the neigh of a horse heard; and the men having withdrawn in the same order as they had advanced, after refreshing themselves with food and sleep, even before the dawn, returned, led by the clang of brazen trumpets, to surround the city, as if fated to fall with their terrible ring.

And scarcely had Grumbates, like a Roman fecial, hurled at us a spear stained with blood, according to his native fashion, than the whole army, rattling their arms, mounted up to the walls, and instantly the tumult of war grew fierce, while all the squadrons hastened with speed and alacrity to the attack, and our men on their side opposed them with equal fierceness and resolution.

Soon many of the enemy fell with their heads crushed by vast stones hurled from scorpions, some were pierced with arrows, others were transfixed with javelins, and strewed the ground with their bodies; others, wounded, fled back in haste to their comrades.

Nor was there less grief or less slaughter in the city, where the cloud of arrows obscured the air, and the vast engines, of which the Persians had got possession when they took Singara, scattered wounds everywhere.

For the garrison, collecting all their forces, returning in constant reliefs to the combat, in their eagerness to defend the city, fell wounded, to the hindrance of their comrades, or, being sadly torn as they fell, threw down those who stood near them, or if still alive, sought the aid of those skilful in extracting darts which had become fixed in their bodies.

So slaughter was met by slaughter, and lasted till the close of day, being scarcely stopped by the darkness of evening, so great was the obstinacy with which both sides fought.

And the watches of the night were passed under arms, and the hills resounded with the shouts raised on both sides, while our men extolled the valour of Constantius Cæsar as lord of the empire and of the world, and the Persians styled Sapor Saansas and Pyroses, which appellations mean king of kings, and conqueror in wars.

The next morning, before daybreak, the trumpet gave the signal, and countless numbers from all sides flocked like birds to a contest of similar violence; and in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, nothing could be seen in the plains and valleys but the glittering arms of these savage nations.

And presently a shout was raised, and as the enemy rushed forward all at once, they were met by a dense shower of missiles from the walls; and as may be conjectured, none were hurled in vain, falling as they did among so dense a crowd. For while so many evils surrounded us, we fought as I have said before, with the hope, not of procuring safety, but of dying bravely; and from dawn to eventide the battle was evenly balanced, both fighting with more ferocity than method, and there arose the shouts of men striking and falling, so that from the eagerness of both parties there was scarcely any one who did not give or receive wounds.

At last, night put an end to the slaughter, and the losses on both sides caused a longer truce. For when the time intended for rest was allowed to us, continual sleepless toil still exhausted our little remaining strength, in spite of the dread caused by the bloodshed and the pallid faces of the dying, whom the scantiness of our room did not permit us even the last solace of burying; since within the circuit of a moderate city there were seven legions, and a vast promiscuous multitude of citizens and strangers of both sexes, and other soldiers, so that at least twenty thousand men were shut up within the walls.

So each attended to his own wounds as well as he could, availing himself of whatever assistance or remedies came in his way. While some, being severely wounded, died of loss of blood; and some, pierced through by swords, lay on the ground, and breathed their last in the open air; others who were pierced through and through the skilful refused to touch, in order not to pain them further by inflicting useless sufferings; some, seeking the doubtful remedy of extracting the arrows, only incurred agonies worse than death.

III. Ursicinus makes a vain proposal to sally out by night, and surprise the besiegers, being resisted by Sabinianus, the commander of the forces.

While the war was going on in this manner around Amida, Ursicinus, vexed at being dependent on the will of another, gave continual warning to Sabinianus, who had superior authority over the soldiers, and who still remained in the quarter of the tombs, to collect all his light-armed troops, and hasten by secret paths along the foot of the mountain chain, with the idea that by the aid of this light force, if chance should aid them, they might surprise some of the enemy’s outposts, and attack with success the night watches of the army, which, with its vast circuit, was surrounding the walls, or else by incessant attacks might harass those who clung resolutely to the blockade.

But Sabinianus rejected this proposal as mischievous, and produced some letters from the emperor, expressly enjoining that all that could be done was to be done without exposing the troops to any danger; but his own secret motive he kept in his own bosom, namely, that he had been constantly recommended while at court to refuse his predecessor, who was very eager for glory, every opportunity of acquiring renown, however much it might be for the interest of the republic.

Extreme pains were taken, even to the ruin of the provinces, to prevent the gallant Ursicinus from being spoken of as the author of or partner in any memorable exploit. Therefore, bewildered with these misfortunes, Ursicinus, seeing that, though constantly sending spies to us (although from the strict watch that was set it was not easy for any one to enter the city), and proposing many advantageous plans, he did no good, seemed like a lion, terrible for his size and fierceness, but with his claws cut and his teeth drawn, so that he could not dare to save from danger his cubs entangled in the nets of the hunters.

IV. A pestilence, which breaks out in Amida, is checked within ten days by a little rain—A discussion of the causes, and different kinds of pestilences.

But in the city, where the number of the corpses which lay scattered over the streets was too great for any one to perform the funeral rites over them, a pestilence was soon added to the other calamities of the citizens; the carcases becoming full of worms and corruption, from the evaporation caused by the heat, and the various diseases of the people; and here I will briefly explain whence diseases of this kind arise.

Both philosophers and skilful physicians agree that excess of cold, or of heat, or of moisture, or of drought, all cause pestilences; on which account those who dwell in marshy or wet districts are subject to coughs and complaints in the eyes, and other similar maladies: on the other hand, those who dwell in hot climates are liable to fevers and inflammations. But since fire is the most powerful of all elements, so drought is the quickest at killing.

On this account it is that when the Greeks were toiling at the ten years’ war, to prevent a foreigner from profiting by his violation of a royal marriage, a pestilence broke out among them, and numbers died by the darts of Apollo, who is the same as the Sun.

Again, as Thucydides relates, that pestilence which at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war harassed the Athenians with a most cruel kind of sickness, came by slow steps from the burning plains of Ethiopia to Attica.

Others maintain that the air and the water, becoming tainted by the smell of corpses, and similar things, takes away the healthiness of a place, or at all events that the sudden change of temperature brings forth slighter sicknesses.

Some again affirm that the air becomes heavier by emanations from the earth, and kills some individuals by checking the perspiration of the body, for which reason we learn from Homer, that, besides men, the other living creatures also died; and we know by many instances, that in such plagues this does occur.

Now the first species of pestilence is called pandemic; this causes those who live in dry places to be attacked by frequent heats. The second is called epidemic, which gets gradually more violent, dims the sight of the eyes, and awakens dangerous humours. The third is called lœmodes, which is also temporary, but still often kills with great rapidity.

We were attacked by this deadly pestilence from the excessive heat, which our numbers aggravated, though but few died: and at last, on the night after the tenth day from the first attack, the heavy and dense air was softened by a little rain, and the health of the garrison was restored and preserved.

V. Amida, betrayed by a deserter, is assailed both by assaults on the walls and by underground mines.

In the mean time the restless Persians were surrounding the city with a fence of wicker-work, and mounds were commenced; lofty towers also were constructed with iron fronts, in the top of each of which a balista was placed, in order to drive down the garrison from the battlements; but during the whole time the shower of missiles from the archers and slingers never ceased for a moment.

We had with us two of the legions which had served under Magnentius, and which, as we have said, had lately been brought from Gaul, composed of brave and active men well adapted for conflicts in the plain; but not only useless for such a kind of war as that by which we were now pressed, but actually in the way. For as they had no skill either in working the engines, or in constructing works, but were continually making foolish sallies, and fighting bravely, they always returned with diminished numbers; doing just as much good, as the saying is, as a bucket of water brought by a single hand to a general conflagration.

At last, when the gates were completely blocked, and they were utterly unable to get out, in spite of the entreaties of their tribunes, they became furious as wild beasts. But on subsequent occasions their services became conspicuous, as we shall show.

In a remote part of the walls on the southern side, which looks down on the Tigris, there was a high tower, below which yawned an abrupt precipice, which it was impossible to look over without giddiness. From this by a hollow subterranean passage along the foot of the mountain some steps were cut with great skill, which led up to the level of the city, by which water was secretly obtained from the river, as we have seen to be the case in all the fortresses in that district which are situated on any river.

This passage was dark, and because of the precipitous character of the rock was neglected by the besiegers, till, under the guidance of a deserter who went over to them, seventy Persian archers of the royal battalion, men of eminent skill and courage, being protected by the remoteness of the spot which prevented their being heard, climbed up by the steps one by one at midnight, and reached the third story of the tower. There they concealed themselves till daybreak, when they held out a scarlet cloak as a signal for commencing an assault, when they saw that the city was entirely surrounded by the multitude of their comrades; and then they emptied their quivers and threw them down at their feet, and with loud cries shot their arrows among the citizens with prodigious skill.

And presently the whole of the mighty host of the enemy assaulted the city with more ferocity than ever. And while we stood hesitating and perplexed to know which danger to oppose first, whether to make head against the foe above us, or against the multitude who were scaling the battlements with ladders, our force was divided; and five of the lighter balistæ were brought round and placed so as to attack our tower. They shot out heavy wooden javelins with great rapidity, sometimes transfixing two of our men at one blow, so that many of them fell to the ground severely wounded, and some jumped down in haste from fear of the creaking engines, and being terribly lacerated by the fall, died.

But by measures promptly taken, the walls were again secured on that side, and the engines replaced in their former situation.

And since the crime of desertion had increased the labours of our soldiers, they, full of indignation, moved along the battlements as if on level ground, hurling missiles of all kinds, and exerting themselves so strenuously that the Virtæ, who were attacking on the south side, were repulsed covered by wounds, and retired in consternation to their tents, having to lament the fall of many of their number.

VI. A sally of the Gallic legions does great harm to the Persians.

Thus fortune showed us a ray of safety, granting us one day in which we suffered but little, while the enemy sustained a heavy loss; the remainder of the day was given to rest in order to recruit our strength; and at the dawn of the next morning we saw from the citadel an innumerable multitude, which, after the capture of the fort called Ziata, was being led to the enemy’s camp. For a promiscuous multitude had taken refuge in Ziata on account of its size and strength; it being a place ten furlongs in circumference.

In those days many other fortresses also were stormed and burnt, and many thousands of men and women carried off from them into slavery; among whom were many men and women, enfeebled by age, who, fainting from different causes, broke down under the length of the journey, gave up all desire of life, and were hamstrung and left behind.

The Gallic soldiers beholding these wretched crowds, demanded by a natural but unseasonable impulse to be led against the forces of the enemy, threatening their tribunes and principal centurions with death if they refused them leave.

And as wild beasts kept in cages, being rendered more savage by the smell of blood, dash themselves against their movable bars in the hope of escaping, so these men smote the gates, which we have already spoken of as being blockaded, with their swords; being very anxious not to be involved in the destruction of the city till they had done some gallant exploit; or, if they ultimately escaped from their dangers, not to be spoken of as having done nothing worth speaking of, or worthy of their Gallic courage. Although when they had sallied out before, as they had often done, and had inflicted some loss on the raisers of the mounds, they had always experienced equal loss themselves.

We, at a loss what to do, and not knowing what resistance to oppose to these furious men, at length, having with some difficulty won their consent thereto, decided, since the evil could be endured no longer, to allow them to attack the Persian advanced guard, which was not much beyond bowshot; and then, if they could force their line, they might push their advance further. For it was plain that if they succeeded in this, they would cause a great slaughter of the enemy.

And while the preparations for this sally were being made, the walls were still gallantly defended with unmitigated labour and watching, and planting engines for shooting stones and darts in every direction. But two high mounds had been raised by the Persian infantry, and the blockade of the city was still pressed forward by gradual operations; against which our men, exerting themselves still more vigorously, raised also immense structures, topping the highest works of the enemy; and sufficiently strong to support the immense weight of their defenders.

In the mean time the Gallic troops, impatient of delay, armed with their axes and swords, went forth from the open postern gate, taking advantage of a dark and moonless night. And imploring the Deity to be propitious, and repressing even their breath when they got near the enemy, they advanced with quick step and in close order, slew some of the watch at the outposts, and the outer sentinels of the camp (who were asleep, fearing no such event), and entertained secret hopes of penetrating even to the king’s tent if fortune assisted them.

But some noise, though slight, was made by them in their march, and the groans of the slain aroused many from sleep; and while each separately raised the cry “to arms,” our soldiers halted and stood firm, not venturing to move any further forward. For it would not have been prudent, now that those whom they sought to surprise were awakened, to hasten into open danger, while the bands of Persians were now heard to be flocking to battle from all quarters.

Nevertheless the Gallic troops, with undiminished strength and boldness, continued to hew down their foes with their swords, though some of their own men were also slain, pierced by the arrows which were flying from all quarters; and they still stood firm, when they saw the whole danger collected into one point, and the bands of the enemy coming on with speed; yet no one turned his back: and they withdrew, retiring slowly as if in time to music, and gradually fell behind the pales of the camp, being unable to sustain the weight of the battalions pressing close upon them, and being deafened by the clang of the Persian trumpets.

And while many trumpets in turn poured out their clang from the city, the gates were opened to receive our men, if they should be able to reach them: and the engines for missiles creaked, though no javelins were shot from them, in order that the captains of the advanced guard of the Persians, ignorant of the slaughter of their comrades, might be terrified by the noise into falling back, and so allowing our gallant troops to be admitted in safety.

And owing to this manœuvre, the Gauls about daybreak entered the gate although with diminished numbers, many of them severely and others slightly wounded. They lost four hundred men this night, when if they had not been hindered by more formidable obstacles, they would have slain in his very tent not Rhesus nor Thracians sleeping before the walls of Troy, but the king of Persia, surrounded by one hundred thousand armed men.

To their leaders, as champions of valiant actions, the emperor, after the fall of the city, ordered statues in armour to be erected at Edessa in a frequented spot. And those statues are preserved up to the present time unhurt.

When the next day showed the slaughter which had been made, nobles and satraps were found lying amongst the corpses, and all kinds of dissonant cries and tears indicated the changed posture of the Persian host: everywhere was heard wailing; and great indignation was expressed by the princes, who thought that the Romans had forced their way through the sentries in front of the walls. A truce was made for three days by the common consent of both armies, and we gladly accepted a little respite in which to take breath.

VII. Towers and other engines are brought close to the walls of the city, but they are burnt by the Romans.

Now the nations of the barbarians, being amazed at the novelty of this attempt, and rendered by it more savage than ever, discarding all delay, determined to proceed with their works, since open assaults availed them but little. And with extreme warlike eagerness they all now hastened to die gloriously, or else to propitiate the souls of the dead by the ruin of the city.

And now, the necessary preparations having been completed by the universal alacrity, at the rising of the day-star all kinds of structures and iron towers were brought up to the walls; on the lofty summits of which balistæ were fitted, which beat down the garrison who were placed on lower ground.

And when day broke the iron coverings of the bodies of the foe darkened the whole heaven, and the dense lines advanced without any skirmishers in front, and not in an irregular manner as before, but to the regular and soft music of trumpets; protected by the roofs of the engines, and holding before them wicker shields.

And when they came within reach of our missiles, the Persian infantry, holding their shields in front of them, and even then having difficulty in avoiding the arrows which were shot from the engines on the walls, for scarcely any kind of weapon found an empty space, they broke their line a little; and even the cuirassiers were checked and began to retreat, which raised the spirits of our men.

Still the balistæ of the enemy, placed on their iron towers, and pouring down missiles with great power from their high ground on those in a lower position, spread a great deal of slaughter in our ranks. At last, when evening came on, both sides retired to rest, and the greater part of the night was spent by us in considering what device could be adopted to resist the formidable engines of the enemy.

At length, after we had considered many plans, we determined on one which the rapidity with which it could be executed made the safest—to oppose four scorpions to the four balistæ; which were carefully moved (a very difficult operation) from the place in which they were; but before this work was finished, day arrived, bringing us a mournful sight, inasmuch as it showed us the formidable battalions of the Persians, with their trains of elephants, the noise and size of which animals are such that nothing more terrible can be presented to the mind of man.

And while we were pressed on all sides with the vast masses of arms, and works, and beasts, still our scorpions were kept at work with their iron slings, hurling huge round stones from the battlements, by which the towers of the enemy were crushed and the balistæ and those who worked them were dashed to the ground, so that many were desperately injured, and many crushed by the weight of the falling structures. And the elephants were driven back with violence, and surrounded by the flames which we poured forth against them, the moment that they were wounded retired, and could not be restrained by their riders. The works were all burnt, but still there was no cessation from the conflict.

For the king of the Persians himself, who is never expected to mingle in the fight, being indignant at these disasters, adopting a new and unprecedented mode of action, sprang forth like a common soldier among his own dense columns; and as the very number of his guards made him the more conspicuous to us who looked from afar on the scene, he was assailed by numerous missiles, and was forced to retire after he had lost many of his escort, while his troops fell back by echellons; and at the end of the day, though frightened neither by the sad sight of the slaughter nor of the wounds, he at length allowed a short period to be given to rest.

VIII. Attempts are made to raise lofty mounds close to the walls of Amida, and by these means it is entered—After the fall of the city, Marcellinus escapes by night, and flees to Antioch.

Night had put an end to the combat; and when a slight rest had been procured from sleep, the moment that the dawn, looked for as the harbinger of better fortune, appeared, Sapor, full of rage and indignation, and perfectly reckless, called forth his people to attack us. And as his works were all burnt, as we have related, and the attack had to be conducted by means of their lofty mounds raised close to our walls, we also from mounds within the walls, as fast as we could raise them, struggled in spite of all our difficulties, with all our might, and with equal courage, against our assailants.

And long did the bloody conflict last, nor was any one of the garrison driven by fear of death from his resolution to defend the city. The conflict was prolonged, till at last, while the fortune of the two sides was still undecided, the structure raised by our men, having been long assailed and shaken, at last fell, as if by an earthquake.

And the whole space which was between the wall and the external mound being made level as if by a causeway or a bridge, opened a passage to the enemy, which was no longer embarrassed by any obstacles; and numbers of our men, being crushed or enfeebled by their wounds, gave up the struggle. Still men flocked from all quarters to repel so imminent a danger, but from their eager haste they got in one another’s way, while the boldness of the enemy increased with their success.

By the command of the king all his troops now hastened into action, and a hand-to-hand engagement ensued. Blood ran down from the vast slaughter on both sides: the ditches were filled with corpses, and thus a wider path was opened for the besiegers. And the city, being now filled with the eager crowd which forced its way in, all hope of defence or of escape was cut off, and armed and unarmed without any distinction of age or sex were slaughtered like sheep.

It was full evening, when, though fortune had proved adverse, the bulk of our troops was still fighting in good order; and I, having concealed myself with two companions in an obscure corner of the city, now under cover of darkness, made my escape by a postern gate where there was no guard; and aided by my own knowledge of the country and by the speed of my companions, I at last reached the tenth milestone from the city.

Here, having lightly refreshed ourselves, I tried to proceed, but found myself, as a noble unaccustomed to such toil, overcome by fatigue of the march. I happened to fall in, however, with what, though a most unsightly object, was to me, completely tired out, a most seasonable relief.

A groom riding a runaway horse, barebacked and without a bridle, in order to prevent his falling had knotted the halter by which he was guiding him tightly to his left hand, and presently, being thrown, and unable to break the knot, he was torn to pieces as he was dragged over the rough ground and through the bushes, till at last the weight of his dead body stopped the tired beast; I caught him, and mounting him, availed myself of his services at a most seasonable moment, and after much suffering arrived with my companions at some sulphurous springs of naturally hot water.

On account of the heat we had suffered greatly from thirst, and had been crawling about for some time in search of water; and now when we came to this well it was so deep that we could not descend into it, nor had we any ropes; but, taught by extreme necessity, we tore up the linen clothes which we wore into long rags, which we made into one great rope, and fastened to the end of it a cap which one of us wore beneath his helmet; and letting that down by the rope, and drawing up water in it like a sponge, we easily quenched our thirst.

From hence we proceeded rapidly to the Euphrates, intending to cross to the other side in the boat which long custom had stationed in that quarter, to convey men and cattle across.

When lo! we see at a distance a Roman force with cavalry standards, scattered and pursued by a division of Persians, though we did not know from what quarter it had come so suddenly on them in their march.

This example showed us that what men call indigenous people are not sprung from the bowels of the earth, but merely appear unexpectedly by reason of the speed of their movements: and because they were seen unexpectedly in various places, they got the name of Sparti, and were believed to have sprung from the ground, antiquity exaggerating their renown in a fabulous manner, as it does that of other things.

Roused by this sight, since our only hope of safety lay in our speed, we drew off through the thickets and woods to the high mountains; and from thence we went to Melitina, a town of the Lesser Armenia, where we found our chief just on the point of setting off, in whose company we went on to Antioch.

IX. Of the Roman generals at Amida, some are put to death, and others are kept as prisoners—Craugasius of Nisibis deserts to the Persians from love of his wife, who is their prisoner.

In the mean time Sapor and the Persians began to think of returning home, because they feared to penetrate more inland with their prisoners and booty, now that the autumn was nearly over, and the unhealthy star of the Kids had arisen.

But amid the massacres and plunder of the destroyed city, Ælian the count, and the tribunes by whose vigour the walls of Amida had been defended, and the losses of the Persians multiplied, were wickedly crucified; and Jacobus and Cæsias, the treasurers of the commander of the cavalry, and others of the band of protectores, were led as prisoners, with their hands bound behind their backs; and the people of the district beyond the Tigris, who were diligently sought for, were all slain without distinction of rank or dignity.

But the wife of Craugasius, who, preserving her chastity inviolate, was treated with the respect due to a high-born matron, was mourning as if she were to be carried to another world without her husband, although she had indications afforded her that she might hope for a higher future.

Therefore, thinking of her own interests, and having a wise forecast of the future, she was torn with a twofold anxiety, loathing both widowhood and the marriage she saw before her. Accordingly, she secretly sent off a friend of sure fidelity, and well acquainted with Mesopotamia, to pass by Mount Izala, between the two forts called Maride and Lorne, and so to effect his entrance into Nisibis, calling upon her husband, with urgent entreaties and the revelation of many secrets of her own private condition, after hearing what the messenger could tell him, to come to Persia and live happily with her there.

The messenger, travelling with great speed through jungle roads and thickets, reached Nisibis, pretending that he had never seen his mistress, and that, as in all likelihood she was slain, he had availed himself of an accidental opportunity to make his escape from the enemy’s camp. And so, being neglected as one of no importance, he got access to Craugasius, and told him what had happened. And having received from him an assurance that, as soon as he could do so with safety, he would gladly rejoin his wife, he departed, bearing the wished-for intelligence to the lady. She, when she received it, addressed herself, through the medium of Tamsapor, to the king, entreating him that, if the opportunity offered before he quitted the Roman territories, he would order her husband to be restored to her.

But the fact of this stranger having departed thus unexpectedly, without any one suspecting it, after his secret return, raised suspicions in the mind of Duke Cassianus and the other nobles who had authority in the city, who addressed severe menaces to Craugasius, insisting that the man could neither have come nor have gone without his privity.

And he, fearing the charge of treason, and being very anxious lest the flight of the deserter should cause a suspicion that his wife was still alive and was well treated by the enemy, feigned to court a marriage with another virgin of high rank. And having gone out to a villa which he had eight miles from the city, as if with the object of making the necessary preparations for the wedding feast, he mounted a horse, and fled at full speed to a predatory troop of Persians which he had learnt was in the neighbourhood, and being cordially received, when it was seen from what he said who he was, he was delivered over to Tamsapor on the fifth day, and by him he was introduced to the king, and recovered not only his wife, but his family and all his treasures, though he lost his wife only a few months afterwards. And he was esteemed only second to Antoninus, though as a great poet has said,

“Longo proximus intervallo.”

For Antoninus was eminent both for genius and experience in affairs, and had useful counsels for every enterprise that could be proposed, while Craugasius was of a less subtle nature, though also very celebrated. And all these events took place within a short time after the fall of Amida.

But the king, though showing no marks of anxiety on his countenance, and though he appeared full of exultation at the fall of the city, still in the depths of his heart was greatly perplexed, recollecting that in the siege he had frequently sustained severe losses, and that he had lost more men, and those too of more importance than any prisoners whom he had taken from us, or than we had lost in all the battles that had taken place; as indeed had also been the case at Singara, and at Nisibis. In the seventy-three days during which he had been blockading Amida, he had lost thirty thousand soldiers, as was reckoned a few days later by Discenes, a tribune and secretary; the calculation being the more easily made because the corpses of our men very soon shrink and lose their colour, so that their faces can never be recognized after four days; but the bodies of the Persians dry up like the trunks of trees, so that nothing exudes from them, nor do they suffer from any suffusion of blood, which is caused by their more sparing diet, and by the dryness and heat of their native land.

X. The people of Rome, fearing a scarcity, become seditious.

While these events and troubles were proceeding rapidly in the remote districts of the East, the Eternal City was fearing distress from an impending scarcity of corn; and the violence of the common people, infuriated by the expectation of that worst of all evils, was vented upon Tertullus, who at that time was prefect of the city. This was unreasonable, since it did not depend upon him that the provisions were embarked in a stormy season in ships which, through the unusually tempestuous state of the sea, and the violence of contrary winds, were driven into any ports they could make, and were unable to reach the port of Augustus, from the greatness of the dangers which threatened them.

Nevertheless, Tertullus was continually troubled by the seditious movements of the people, who worked themselves up to great rage, being excited by the imminent danger of a famine; till, having no hope of preserving his own safety, he wisely brought his little boys out to the people, who, though in a state of tumultuous disorder, were often influenced by sudden accidents, and with tears addressed them thus:—

“Behold your fellow-citizens, who (may the gods avert the omen), unless fortune should take a more favourable turn, will be exposed to the same sufferings as yourselves. If then you think that by destroying them you will be saved from all suffering, they are in your power.” The people, of their own nature inclined to mercy, were propitiated by this sad address, and made no answer, but awaited their impending fate with resignation.

And soon, by the favour of the deity who has watched over the growth of Rome from its first origin, and who promised that it should last for ever, while Tertullus was at Ostia, sacrificing in the temple of Castor and Pollux, the sea became calm, the wind changed to a gentle south-east breeze, and the ships in full sail entered the port, laden with corn to fill the granaries.

XI. The Limigantes of Sarmatia, under pretence of suing for peace, attack Constantius, who is deceived by their trick; but are driven back with heavy loss.

While these perplexing transactions were taking place, intelligence full of importance and danger reached Constantius who was reposing in winter quarters at Sirmium, informing him (as he had already greatly feared) that the Sarmatian Limigantes, who, as we have before related, had expelled their masters from their hereditary homes, had learnt to despise the lands which had been generously allotted to them in the preceding year, in order to prevent so fickle a class from undertaking any mischievous enterprise, and had seized on the districts over the border; that they were straggling, according to their national custom, with great licence over the whole country, and would throw everything into disorder if they were not put down.

The emperor, judging that any delay would increase their insolence, collected from all quarters a strong force of veteran soldiers, and before the spring was much advanced, set forth on an expedition against them, being urged to greater activity by two considerations; first, because the army, having acquired great booty during the last summer, was likely to be encouraged to successful exertion in the hope of similar reward; and secondly, because, as Anatolius was at that time prefect of Illyricum, everything necessary for such an expedition could be readily provided without recourse to any stringent measures.

For under no other prefect’s government (as is agreed by all), up to the present time, had the northern provinces ever been so flourishing in every point of view; all abuses being corrected with a kind and prudent hand, while the people were relieved from the burden of transporting the public stores (which often caused such losses as to ruin many families), and also from the heavy income tax. So that the natives of those districts would have been free from all damage and cause of complaint, if at a later period some detestable collectors had not come among them, extorting money, and exaggerating accusations, in order to build up wealth and influence for themselves, and to procure their own safety and prosperity by draining the natives; carrying their severities to the proscription and even execution of many of them.

To apply a remedy to this insurrection, the emperor set out, as I have said, with a splendid staff, and reached Valeria, which was formerly a part of Pannonia, but which had been established as a separate province, and received its new name in honour of Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian. And having encamped his army on the banks of the Danube, he watched the movements of the barbarians, who, before his arrival, had been proposing, under friendly pretences, to enter Pannonia, meaning to lay it waste during the severity of the winter season, before the snow had been melted by the warmth of spring and the river had become passable, and while our people were unable from the cold to bear bivouacking in the open air.

He at once therefore sent two tribunes, each accompanied by an interpreter, to the Limigantes, to inquire mildly why they had quitted the homes which at their own request had been assigned to them after the conclusion of the treaty of peace, and why they were now straggling in various directions, and passing their boundaries in contempt of his prohibitions.

They made vain and frivolous excuses, fear compelling them to have recourse to lies, and implored the emperor’s pardon, beseeching him to discard his displeasure, and to allow them to cross the river and come to him to explain the hardships under which they were labouring; alleging their willingness, if required, to retire to remoter lands, only within the Roman frontier, where, enjoying lasting peace and worshipping tranquillity as their tutelary deity, they would submit to the name and discharge the duties of tributary subjects.

When the tribunes returned and related this, the emperor, exulting that an affair which appeared full of inextricable difficulties was likely to be brought to a conclusion without any trouble, and being eager to add to his acquisitions, admitted them all to his presence. His eagerness for acquiring territory was fanned by a swarm of flatterers, who were incessantly saying that when all distant districts were at peace, and when tranquillity was established everywhere, he would gain many subjects, and would be able to enlist powerful bodies of recruits, thereby relieving the provinces, which would often rather give money than personal service (though this expectation has more than once proved very mischievous to the state).

Presently he pitched his camp near Acimincum, where a lofty mound was raised to serve for a tribune; and some boats, loaded with soldiers of the legions, without their baggage, under command of Innocentius, an engineer who had suggested the measure, were sent to watch the channel of the river, keeping close under the bank; so that, if they perceived the barbarians in disorder, they might come upon them and surprise their rear, while their attention was directed elsewhere.

The Limigantes became aware of the measures thus promptly taken, but still employed no other means of defence than humility and entreaty; though secretly they cherished designs very different from those indicated by their words and gestures.

But when they saw the emperor on his high mound preparing a mild harangue, and about to address them as men who would prove obedient in future, one of them, seized with a sudden fury, hurled his shoe at the tribune, and cried out, “Marha, Marha!” which in their language is a signal of war; and a disorderly mob following him, suddenly raised their barbaric standard, and with fierce howls rushed upon the emperor himself.

And when he, looking down from his high position, saw the whole place filled with thousands of men running to and fro, and their drawn swords and rapiers threatening him with immediate destruction, he descended, and mingling both with the barbarians and his own men, without any one perceiving him or knowing whether he was an officer or a common soldier; and since there was no time for delay or inaction, he mounted a speedy horse, and galloped away, and so escaped.

But his few guards, while endeavouring to keep back the mutineers, who rushed on with the fierceness of fire, were all killed, either by wounds, or by being crushed beneath the weight of others who fell upon them; and the royal throne, with its golden cushion, was torn to pieces without any one making an effort to save it.

But presently, when it became known that the emperor, after having been in the most imminent danger of his life, was still in peril, the army, feeling it to be the most important of all objects to assist him, for they did not yet think him safe, and confiding in their prowess, though from the suddenness of the attack they were only half formed, threw themselves, with loud and warlike cries upon the bands of the barbarians, fearlessly braving death.

And because in their fiery valour our men were resolved to wipe out disgrace by glory, and were full of anger at the treachery of the foe, they slew every one whom they met without mercy, trampling all under foot, living, wounded, and dead alike; so that heaps of dead were piled up before their hands were weary of the slaughter. For the rebels were completely overwhelmed, some being slain, and others fleeing in fear, many of whom implored their lives with various entreaties, but were slaughtered with repeated wounds. And when, after they were all destroyed, the trumpets sounded a retreat, it was found that only a very few of our men were killed, and these had either been trampled down at first, or had perished from the insufficiency of their armour to resist the violence of the enemy.

But the most glorious death was that of Cella, the tribune of the Scutarii, who at the beginning of the uproar set the example of plunging first into the middle of the Sarmatian host.

After these blood-stained transactions, Constantius took what precautions prudence suggested for the security of his frontiers, and then returned to Sirmium, having avenged himself on the perfidity of his enemies. And having there settled everything which the occasion required, he quitted Sirmium and went to Constantinople, that by being nearer to the East, he might remedy the disasters which had been sustained at Amida, and having reinforced his army with new levies, he might check the attempts of the king of Persia with equal vigour; as it was clear that Sapor, if Providence and some more pressing occupation did not prevent him, would leave Mesopotamia and bring the war over the plains on this side of that country.

XII. Many are prosecuted for treason, and condemned

But amid these causes of anxiety, as if in accordance with old-established custom, instead of the signal for civil war, the trumpet sounded groundless charges of treason, and a secretary, whom we shall often have to speak of, named Paulus, was sent to inquire into these charges. He was a man skilful in all the contrivances of cruelty, making gain and profit of tortures and executions, as a master of gladiators does of his fatal games.

For as he was firm and resolute in his purpose of injuring people, he did not abstain even from theft, and invented all kinds of causes for the destruction of innocent men, while engaged in this miserable campaign.

A slight and trivial circumstance afforded infinite material for extending his investigations. There is a town called Abydum in the most remote corner of the Egyptian Thebais, where an oracle of the god, known in that region by the name of Besa, had formerly enjoyed some celebrity for its prophecies, and had sacred rites performed at it with all the ceremonies anciently in use in the neighbouring districts.

Some used to go themselves to consult this oracle, some to send by others documents containing their wishes, and with prayers couched in explicit language inquired the will of the deities; and the paper or parchment on which their wants were written, after the answer had been given, was sometimes left in the temple.

Some of these were spitefully sent to the emperor, and he, narrow minded as he was, though often deaf to other matters of serious consequence, had, as the proverb says, a soft place in his ear for this kind of information; and being of a suspicious and petty temper, became full of gall and fury; and immediately ordered Paulus to repair with all speed to the East, giving him authority, as to a chief of great eminence and experience, to try all the causes as he pleased.

And Modestus also, at that time count of the East, a man well suited for such a business, was joined with him in this commission. For Hermogenes of Pontus, at that time prefect of the prætorium, was passed over as of too gentle a disposition.

Paulus proceeded, as he was ordered, full of deadly eagerness and rage; inviting all kinds of calumnies, so that numbers from every part of the empire were brought before him, noble and low born alike; some of whom were condemned to imprisonment, others to instant death.

The city which was chosen to witness these fatal scenes was Scythopolis in Palestine, which for two reasons seemed the most suitable of all places; first, because it was little frequented and secondly, because it was half-way between Antioch and Alexandria, from which city many of those brought before this tribunal came.

One of the first persons accused was Simplicius, the son of Philip; a man who, after having been prefect and consul, was now impeached on the ground that he was said to have consulted the oracle how to obtain the empire. He was sentenced to the torture by the express command of the emperor, who in these cases never erred on the side of mercy; but by some special fate he was saved from it, and with uninjured body was condemned to distant banishment.

The next victim was Parnasius, who had been prefect of Egypt, a man of simple manners, but now in danger of being condemned to death, and glad to escape with exile; because long ago he had been heard to say that when he left Patræ in Achaia, the place of his birth, with the view of procuring some high office, he had in a dream seen himself conducted on his road by several figures in tragic robes.

The next was Andronicus, subsequently celebrated for his liberal accomplishments and his poetry; he was brought before the court without having given any real ground for suspicion of any kind, and defended himself so vigorously that he was acquitted.

There was also Demetrius, surnamed Chytras, a philosopher, of great age, but still firm in mind and body; he, when charged with having frequently offered sacrifices in the temple of his oracle, could not deny it; but affirmed that, for the sake of propitiating the deity, he had constantly done so from his early youth, and not with any idea of aiming at any higher fortune by his questions; nor had he known any one who had aimed at such. And though he was long on the rack he supported it with great constancy, never varying in his statement, till at length he was acquitted and allowed to retire to Alexandria, where he was born.

These and a few others, justice, coming to the aid of truth, delivered from their imminent dangers. But as accusations extended more widely, involving numbers without end in their snares, many perished; some with their bodies mangled on the rack; others were condemned to death and confiscation of their goods; while Paulus kept on inventing groundless accusations, as if he had a store of lies on which to draw, and suggesting various pretences for injuring people, so that on his nod, it may be said, the safety of every one in the place depended.

For if any one wore on his neck a charm against the quartan ague or any other disease, or if by any information laid by his ill-wishers he was accused of having passed by a sepulchre at nightfall, and therefore of being a sorcerer, and one who dealt in the horrors of tombs and the vain mockeries of the shades which haunt them, he was found guilty and condemned to death.

And the affairs went on as if people had been consulting Claros, or the oaks at Dodona, or the Delphic oracles of old fame, with a view to the destruction of the emperor.

Meantime, the crowd of courtiers, inventing every kind of deceitful flattery, affirmed that he would be free from all common misfortunes, asserting that his fate had always shone forth with vigour and power in destroying all who attempted anything injurious to him.

That indeed strict investigation should be made into such matters, no one in his senses will deny; nor do we question that the safety of our lawful prince, the champion and defender of the good, and on whom the safety of all other people depends, ought to be watched over by the combined zeal of all men; and for the sake of insuring this more completely, when any treasonable enterprise is discovered, the Cornelian laws have provided that no rank shall be exempted even from torture if necessary for the investigation.

But it is not decent to exult unrestrainedly in melancholy events, lest the subjects should seem to be governed by tyranny, not by authority. It is better to imitate Cicero, who, when he had it in his power either to spare or to strike, preferred, as he tells us himself, to seek occasions for pardoning rather than for punishing, which is characteristic of a prudent and wise judge.

At that time a monster, horrible both to see and to describe, was produced at Daphne, a beautiful and celebrated suburb of Antioch; namely, an infant with two mouths, two sets of teeth, two heads, four eyes, and only two very short ears. And such a mis-shapen offspring was an omen that the republic would become deformed.

Prodigies of this kind are often produced, presaging events of various kinds; but as they are not now publicly expiated, as they were among the ancients, they are unheard of and unknown to people in general.

XIII. Lauricius, of the Isaurians checks the hordes of banditti.

During this period the Isaurians, who had been tranquil for some time after the transactions already mentioned, and the attempt to take the city of Seleucia, gradually reviving, as serpents come out of their holes in the warmth of spring, descended from their rocky and pathless jungles, and forming into large troops, harassed their neighbours with predatory incursions; escaping, from their activity as mountaineers, all attempts of the soldiers to take them, and from long use moving easily over rocks and through thickets.

So Lauricius was sent among them as governor, with the additional title of count, to reduce them to order by fair means or foul. He was a man of sound civil wisdom, correcting things in general by threats rather than by severity, so that while he governed the province, which he did for some time, nothing happened deserving of particular notice.