Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. London: Bohn (1862) Book 18. pp. 159-184


[Translated by C.D.YONGE]

A.D. 359.

§ 1. These events took place in the different parts of the world in one and the same year. But while the affairs in Gaul were in a better state; and while titles of consul |160 were ennobling the brothers Eusebius and Hypatius, Julian, illustrious for his uninterrupted successes, now in his winter quarters, being relieved for a while from his warlike anxieties, was devoting equal care to many points connected with the welfare of the provinces. Taking anxious care that no one should be oppressed by the burden of taxation; that the power of the officers should not be stretched into extortion; that those who increase their property by the public distresses, should have no sanction, and that no judge should violate justice with impunity.

2.   And he found it easy to correct what was wrong on this head, because he himself decided all causes in which the persons concerned were of any great importance; and showed himself a most impartial discerner of right and wrong.

3.  And although there are many acts of his in deciding, these disputes worthy of praise; it will be sufficient to mention one, on the model of which all his other words and actions were framed.

4.  Numerius, a native of Narbonne, had a little time before been accused before the governor as a thief, and Julian, by an unusual exercise of the censor's power, heard his cause in public; admitting into the court all who sought entrance. And when Numerius denied all that was charged against him, and could not be convicted on any point, Delphidius the orator, who was assailing him with great bitterness, being enraged at the failure of his charges, exclaimed, "But, great Caesar, will any one ever be found guilty if it be enough to deny the charge?" To whom Julian, with seasonable wisdom, replied, "Can any one be judged innocent if it be enough to make a charge?" And he did many similar actions in his civil capacity.


§ 1. But when he was about to set out on an important expedition against some tribes of the Allemanni whom he considered hostile, and likely to proceed to acts of atrocious daring if they were not defeated in a way to be an example to the rest, he hesitated in great anxiety, since a report of his intentions had gone before him, what force he could |161 employ, and how he could be quick enough to take them by surprise the first moment that circumstances should afford him an opportunity.

2.  But after he had meditated on many different plans, he decided on trying one, which the result proved to be good, without any one being aware of it. He had sent Hariobaudes, a tribune who at that time had no particular command, a man of honour, loyalty, and courage, under pretext of an embassy, to Hortarius the king who was now in a state of friendship with us; in order that from his court Hariobaudes might easily proceed to the frontiers of the enemy whom he was proposing to attack; and so ascertain what they were about, being thoroughly skilled in the language of the barbarians.

3.  And when he had gone boldly on this commission, Julian himself, as it was now a favourable time of the year, assembled his soldiers from all quarters for the expedition, and set out; thinking it above all things desirable, before the war had got warm, to effect his entrance into the cities which had been destroyed some time before, and having recovered them to put them in a state of defence; and also to establish granaries in the place of those which had been burnt, in which to store the corn usually imported from Britain.

4.  Both these objects were accomplished, and that more speedily than could have been looked for. For the storehouses wore rapidly built, and abundance of provisions laid up in them; and seven cities were occupied. The camp of Hercules, Quadriburgium, Kellen, Nuys, Bonn, Andernach, and Bingen. At which last city, by exceedingly good fortune, Florentius the prefect also arrived unexpectedly, bringing with him a division of soldiers, and a supply of provisions sufficient to last a long time.

5.  After this, the next measure of urgent necessity was to repair the walls of the recovered cities, while as yet no one raised any hindrance; and it is abundantly plain that at that time the barbarians did out of fear what was commanded them for the public interests, while the Romans did it for love of their ruler.

6.  According to the treaty made in the preceding year, |162 the kings sent their own waggons with many articles useful for building. And the auxiliary soldiers who always hold themselves above employments of this kind, being won over by Julian's caresses to diligent obedience, now carried beams fifty feet long and more on their shoulders, and gave the greatest aid to the labours of the architect.

7.  And while all this was being done with diligence and speed, Hariobaudes, having learnt all he wanted, returned and related what he had ascertained. And after his arrival the army marched with all speed, and soon reached Mayence, where, though Florentius and Lupicinus, who succeeded Severus, insisted vehemently that they might cross by the bridge laid down at that town, the Caesar strenuously objected, maintaining that it was not well to trample on the lands of those who were brought into a state of tranquillity and friendship; lest the treaty made with them should be brought to an abrupt end, as had often happened through the discourtesy of the soldiers ravaging everything that came in their way.

8.   But all the Allemanni who were the objects of our attack, seeing the danger now on their borders, with many threats urged Surmarius their king, who by a previous treaty was on friendly terms with us, to prevent the Romans from crossing the river. For their villages were on the eastern bank of the Rhine. But when Surmarius affirmed that he by himself was unable to offer effectual resistance, the barbarian host assembled in a body, and came up to Mayence, intending by main force to prevent our army from crossing the river.

9.  So that Caesar's advice now seemed best in two points, both not to ravage the lands of our friends; and also, not in the teeth of the opposition, of a most warlike people, to risk the loss of many lives in order to make a bridge, even in a spot the most favourable for such a work.

10.  And the enemy, watching his movements with great skill, marched slowly along the opposite bank, and when they saw our men pitching their tents at a distance, they still watched all night, exerting the most sleepless vigilance to prevent the passage of the river from being attempted.

11.  But when our men reached the spot intended, they |163 surrounded their camp with a rampart and ditch, and took their rest; and the Caesar, having taken counsel with Lupicinus, ordered some of the tribunes to get ready three hundred light-armed soldiers with stakes, without letting them know what was to he done, or whither they were going.

12.  They being collected, when the night was well advanced, and being all embarked on board of forty light hoats, which were all that were at hand, were ordered to go down the stream so silently as not to use even their oars, lest the noise should rouse the barbarians, and then using all activity both of mind and body, to force a landing on the opposite bank, within the frontier of the enemy, while they were still watching the camp-fires of our men.

13.   While these orders were being performed with great promptness, King Hortarius, who had been previously bound to us by treaties, and was without any intention of revolting, kept on friendly terms with the bordering tribes, having invited all their kings, princes, and chieftains to a banquet, detained them to the third watch, the banquet being prolonged so late according to the custom of his nation. And as they were departing, our men chanced to come upon them suddenly, but could neither stay nor capture any of them owing to the darkness of the night and the fleetness of their horses, on which they fled at random in all directions. A number of sutlers and slaves, however, who were following them on foot, our men slew; the few who escaped being likewise protected by the darkness of the hour.

14.   When it became known that the Romans had crossed the river (and they then as well as in all former expeditions accounted it a great relief to their labours when they could find the enemy), the kings and their people, who were watching zealously to prevent the bridge from being made, were alarmed, and being panic-stricken fled in all directions, and their violent fury being thus cooled, they hastened to remove their relations and their treasures to a distance. And as all difficulties were now surmounted, the bridge was at once made, and before the barbarians could expect it, the Roman army appeared in their territories, and passed through the dominions of Hortarius without doing any injury. |164 

15.  But when they reached the lands of those kings who were still hostile, they went on invincibly through the midst of their rebellious country, laying waste with fire and sword, and plundering everything. And after their frail houses were destroyed by fire, and a vast number of men had been slain, and the army, having nothing to face but corpses and suppliants, had arrived in the region called Capellatum, or Palas, where there are boundary stones marking the frontiers of the Allemanni and the Burgundians; the army pitched its camp, in order that Macrianus and Hariobaudus, brothers, and both kings, might be received by us, and delivered from their fears. Since they, thinking their destruction imminent, were coming with great anxiety to sue for peace.

16.  And immediately after them King Vadomarius also came, whose abode was opposite Augst: and having produced some letters of the Emperor Constantius, in which he was strictly recommended to the protection of the Romans, he was courteously received, as became one who had been admitted by the emperor as a client of the Roman empire.

17.  And Macrianus and his brother, being admitted among our eagles and standards, marvelled at the imposing appearance of our arms, and various resources which they had never seen before. And they offered up petitions on behalf of their people. But Vadomarius, who had met us before, since he was close to our frontier, admired indeed the appointments of our daring expedition, but remembered that he had often seen such before, ever since his childhood.

18.  At last, after long deliberation, with the unanimous consent of all, peace was granted to Macrianus and Hariobaudus; but an answer could not be given to Vadomarius, who had come to secure his own safety, and also as an ambassador to intercede for the kings Urius, Ursicinus, and Vestralpus, imploring peace for them also; lest, as the barbarians are men of wavering faith, they might recover their spirits when our army was withdrawn, and refuse adherence to conditions procured by the agency of others.

19.  But when they also, after their crops and houses had been burnt, and many of their soldiers had been slain |165 or taken prisoners, sent ambassadors of their own, and sued for mercy as if they had been guilty of similar violence to our subjects, they obtained peace on similar terms; of which that most rigorously insisted on was that they should restore all the prisoners which they had taken in their frequent incursions.


§ 1. While the god-like wisdom of the Caesar was thus successful in Gaul, great disturbances arose in the court of the emperor, which from slight beginnings increased to grief and lamentations. Some bees swarmed on the house of Barbatio, at that time the commander of the infantry. And when he consulted the interpreters of prodigies on this event, he received for an answer, that it was an omen of great danger; the answer being founded on the idea that these animals, after they have fixed their abode, and laid up their stores, are usually expelled by smoke and the noisy din of cymbals.

2.   Barbatio's wife was a woman called Assyria, neither silent nor prudent. And when he had gone on an expedition which caused her much alarm, she, because of the predictions which she recollected to have been given her, and being full of female vanity, having summoned a handmaid who was skilful in writing, and of whom she had become possessed by inheritance from her father Silvanus, sent an unseasonable letter to her husband, full of lamentations, and of entreaties that after the approaching death of Constantius, if he himself, as she hoped, was admitted to a share in the empire, he would not despise her, and prefer to marry Eusebia, who was Constantius's empress, and who was of a beauty equalled by few women.

3.   She sent this letter as secretly as she could; but the maid, when the troops had returned from their expedition at the beginning of the night, took a copy of the letter which she had written at the dictation of her mistress, to Arbetio, and being eagerly admitted by him, she gave him the paper.

4.  He, relying on this evidence, being at all times a man eager to bring forward accusations, conveyed it to the |166 emperor. As was usual, no delay was allowed, and Barbatio, who confessed that he had received the letter, and his wife, who was distinctly proved to have written it, were both beheaded.

5.   After this execution, investigations were carried further, and many persons, innocent as well as guilty, were brought into question. Among whom was Valentinus, who having lately been an officer of the protectores, had been promoted to be a tribune; and he with many others was put to the torture as having been privy to the affair, though he was wholly ignorant of it. But he survived his sufferings; and as some compensation for the injury done to him, and for his danger, he received the rank of duke of Illyricum.

6.  This same Barbatio was a man of rude and arrogant manners, and very unpopular, because while captain of the protectores of the household, in the time of Gallus Caesar, he was a false and treacherous man; and after he had attained the higher rank he became so elated that he invented calumnies against the Caesar Julian, and, though all good men hated him, whispered many wicked lies into the ever-ready ears of the emperor.

7.  Being forsooth ignorant of the wise old saying of Aristotle, who when he sent Callisthenes, his pupil and relation, to the king Alexander, warned him to say as little as he could, and that only of a pleasant kind, before a man who carried the power of life and death on the tip of his tongue.

8.   We should not wonder that mankind, whose minds we look upon as akin to those of the gods, can sometimes discern what is likely to be beneficial or hurtful to them, when even animals devoid of reason sometimes secure their own safety by profound silence, of which the following is a notorious instance:—

9.  When the wild geese leave the East because of the heat, and seek a western climate, as soon as they reach Mount Taurus, which is full of eagles, fearing those warlike birds, they stop up their own beaks with stones, that not even the hardest necessity may draw a cry from them; they fly more rapidly than usual across that range, and when they have passed it they throw away the stones, and then proceed more securely. |167 


§ 1. While these investigations were being carried on with great diligence at Sirmium, the fortune of the East sounded the terrible trumpet of danger. For the king of Persia, being strengthened by the aid of the fierce nations whom he had lately subdued, and being above all men ambitious of extending his territories, began to prepare men and arms and supplies, mingling hellish wisdom with his human counsels, and consulting all kinds of soothsayers about futurity. And when he had collected everything, he proposed to invade our territories at the first opening of the spring.

2.  And when the emperor learnt this, at first by report, but subsequently by certain intelligence, and while all were in suspense from dread of the impending danger, the dependents of the court, hammering on the same anvil day and night (as the saying is), at the prompting of the eunuchs, held up Ursicinus as a Gorgon's head before the suspicious and timid emperor, continually repeating that, because on the death of Silvanus, in a dearth of better men, he had been sent to defend the eastern districts, he had become ambitions of still greater power.

3.  And by this base compliance many tried to purchase the favour of Eusebius, at that time the principal chamberlain, with whom (if we are to say the real truth) Constantius had great influence, and who was now a bitter enemy of the safety of the master of the horse, Ursicinus, on two accounts; first, because he was the only person who did not need his assistance, as others did; and secondly, because he would not give up his house at Antioch, which Eusebius greatly coveted.

4.   So this latter, like a snake abounding in poison, and exciting its offspring as soon as they can crawl to do mischief, stirred up the other chamberlains, that they, while performing their more private duties about the prince's person, with their thin and boyish voices, might damage the reputation of a brave man by pouring into the too open ears of the emperor accusations of great odium. And they soon did what they were commanded.

5.  Disgust at this and similar events leads one to praise |168 Domitian, who although, by the unalterable detestation he incurred, has ever stained the memory of his father and his brother, still deserved credit for a most excellent law, by which he forbade with severe threats any one to castrate any boy within the limits of the Roman jurisdiction. For if there were no such edict, who could endure the swarms of such creatures as would exist, when it is so difficult to bear even a few of them?

6.    However, they proceeded with caution, lest, as Eusebius suggested, if Ursicinus were again sent for, he should take alarm and throw everything into confusion; but it was proposed that on the first casual opportunity he should be put to death.

7.   While they were waiting for this chance, and full of doubt and anxiety; and while we were tarrying a short time at Samosata, the greatest city of what had formerly been the kingdom of Commagene, we suddenly received frequent and consistent reports of some new commotions, which I will now proceed to relate.


§ 1. A certain man named Antoninus, who from having been a wealthy merchant had become superintendent of the accounts of the duke of Mesopotamia, and after that entered the corps of the protectores, a man of experience and wisdom, and very well known in all that country. Being through the avarice of certain persons involved in heavy losses, and perceiving that while defending actions against men of influence he was being sunk lower and lower through injustice, since the judges who had to decide on his affairs sought, to gratify people in power, he, not wishing to kick against the pricks, bent himself to obsequious caresses; and confessing that he owed what was claimed of him, the claim, by collusion, was transferred to the treasury. He now, having resolved on a flagitious plan, began secretly to look into the secrets of the whole republic; and being acquainted with both languages, he devoted his attention to the accounts; |169 remarking the amount, quality, and situation of the different divisions of the army, and the employment of them on any expeditions; inquiring also with unwearied diligence into the extent of the supplies of arms and provisions, and other things likely to be needful in war.

2. And when he had made himself acquainted with all the internal circumstances of the East, and had learnt that a great portion of the troops and of the money for their pay was distributed in Illyricum, where the emperor himself was detained by serious business; as the day was now approaching which had been fixed for the payment of the money for which he had been constrained by fear to give an acknowledgment of his bond; and as he saw that he must be overwhelmed by disasters on all sides, since the chief treasurer was devoted to the interests of his adversary; he conceived the audacious design of crossing over to the Persians with his wife and children, and his whole numerous family of relations.

3. And to elude the observation of the soldiers at their different stations, he bought for a small price a farm in Hiaspis, a district on the banks of the Tigris. And, relying on this pretext, since no one would venture to ask why a landed proprietor should go to the extreme frontier of the Roman territory, as many others did the same, by the agency of some trusty friends who were skilful swimmers, he carried on frequent secret negotiations with Tamsapor, who was at that time governing the country on the other side of the river with the rank of duke, and with whom he was already acquainted. And at last, having received from the Persian camp an escort of well-mounted men, he embarked in some boats, and crossed over at night with all his family, in the same manner as Zopyrus, the betrayer of Babylon, had formerly done, only with an opposite object.

4. While affairs in Mesopotamia were in this state, the hangers-on of the palace, always singing the same song for our destruction, at last found a handle to injure the gallant Ursicinus; the gang of eunuchs being still the contrivers and promoters of the plot; since they are always sour tempered and savage, and having no relations, cling to riches as their dearest kindred.

5. The design now adopted was to send Sabinianus, a withered old man of great wealth, but infirm and timid |170 and from the lowness of his birth far removed from any office of command, to govern the districts of the East; while Ursicinus should be recalled to court, to command the infantry, as successor to Barbatio. And then he, this greedy promoter of revolution, as they called him, being within their reach, could easily be attacked by his bitter and formidable enemies.

6.   While these things were going on in the camp of Constantius, as at a festival or a theatre, and while the dispensers of rank which was bought and sold were distributing the price agreed upon among the influential houses, Antoninus, having reached Sapor's winter quarters, was received with gladness; and being ennobled by the grant of a turban, an honour which gives admission to the royal table, and also that of assisting at and delivering one's opinion in the councils of the Persians, went onwards, not with a punt pole or a tar rope, as the proverb is (that is to say, not by any tedious or circuitous path), but with flowing sails into the conduct of state affairs, and stirring up Sapor, as formerly Maharbal roused the sluggish Hannibal, was always telling him that he knew how to conquer, but not how to use a victory.

7.  For having been bred up in active life, and being a thorough man of business, he got possession of the feelings of his hearers, who like what tickles their ears, and who do not utter their praises aloud, but, like the Phaeacians in Homer, admire in silence, while he recounted the events of the last forty years; urging that, after all these continual wars, and especially the battles of Hileia and Singara, where that fierce combat by night took place, in which we lost a vast number of our men, as if some fecial had interposed to stop them, the Persians, though victorious, had never advanced as far as Edessa or the bridges over the Euphrates. Though with their warlike power |171 and splendid success, they might have pushed their advantages, especially at that moment, when in consequence of the protracted troubles of their civil wars the blood of the Romans was being poured out on all sides.

8. By these and similar speeches the deserter, preserving his sobriety at the banquets, where, after the fashion of the ancient Greeks, the Persians deliberate on war and other important affairs, stimulated the fiery monarch, and persuaded him to rely upon the greatness of his fortune, and to take up arms the moment that the winter was over, and he himself boldly promised his assistance in many important matters.


§ 1. About this time Sabinianus, being elated at the power which he had suddenly acquired, and having arrived in Cilicia, gave his predecessor letters from the emperor, desiring him to hasten to court to be invested with higher dignities. In fact the affairs of Asia were in such a state that, even if Ursicinus had been at Ultima Thule their urgency would have required him to be summoned thence to set them right, since he was a man of the ancient discipline, and from long experience especially skilful in the Persian manner of conducting war.

2.  But when the report of this reached the provinces, all ranks of the citizens and agricultural population, by formal edicts and by unanimous outcries, endeavoured to detain him, almost forcibly, as the public defender of their country, remembering that though for ten years he had been left to his own resources with a scanty and unwarlike force, he had yet incurred no loss; and fearing for their safety if at so critical a time he should be removed and a man of utter inactivity assume the rule in his stead.

3.  We believe, and indeed there is no doubt of it, that fame flies on wings through the paths of the air; and she it was who now gave information of these events to the Persians while deliberating on the entire aspect of affairs. At last, after marry arguments pro and con, they determined, on the advice of Antoninus, that as Ursicinus was removed, and as the new governor was contemptible, they might |172 venture to neglect laying siege to cities, an operation which would cause a mischievous loss of time, and at once cross the Euphrates, and advance further, in order, outstripping all rumour of their march, to occupy those provinces which, throughout all our wars, had always been safe (except in the time of Gallienus), and which, from their long enjoyment of peace, were very wealthy. And in this enterprise, with the favour of God, Antoninus offered himself as a most desirable guide.

4.  His advice, therefore, being unanimously praised and adopted, and the attention of the whole nation being directed to the speedy collection of those things which were required, supplies, soldiers, arms, and equipments, the preparation of everything for the coming campaign was continued the whole winter.

5.  In the mean time, we, hastening at the emperor's command towards Italy, after having been detained a short time on the western side of Mount Taurus, reached the river Hebrus, which descends from the mountains of the Odrysae, and there we received letters from the emperor, ordering us, without the least delay, to return to Mesopotamia, without any officers, and having, indeed, no important duty to discharge, since all the power had been transferred to another.

6. And this had been arranged by those mischievous meddlers in the government, in order that if the Persians failed and returned to their own country, our success might be attributed to the valour of the new governor; while, if our affairs turned out ill, Ursicinus might be impeached as a traitor to the republic.

7.  Accordingly we, being tossed about without any reason, after much time had been lost, returned, and found Sabinianus, a man full of pride, of small stature, and of a petty and narrow mind, scarcely able without fear to encounter the slight noise of a beast, much less to face the crash of battle.

8.  Nevertheless, since our spies brought positive and consistent intelligence that all kind of preparations were going on among the enemy, and since their report was confirmed by that of the deserters, while this manikin was in a state of perplexity, we hastened to Nisibis to |173 make such preparation as seemed requisite, lest the Persians, while concealing their intention to besiege it, should come upon it by surprise.

9.  And while all things necessary were being pressed forward within the walls, continued fires and columns of smoke being seen on the other side of the Tigris, near the town called the Camp of the Moors, and Sisara, and the other districts on the Persian frontier, and spreading up to the city itself, showed that the predatory bands of the enemy had crossed the river, and entered our territories.

10.  And therefore we hastened forwards with a forced march, to prevent the roads from being occupied; and when we had advanced two miles, we saw a fine boy of about eight years old, as we guessed, wearing a necklace, of noble appearance, standing on the top of a small hillock, and crying out, stating himself to be the son of a man of noble birth, whom his mother, while fleeing in her alarm at the approach of the enemy, had left in her panic in order to be less encumbered. We pitied him, and at the command of our general, I put him on my horse, in front of me, and took him back to the city, while the predatory bands of the enemy, having blockaded the city, were ravaging all around.

11.   And because I was alarmed at the difficulties in which we should be placed by a blockade, I put the child in at a half open postern gate, and hastened back with all speed to my troop. And I was very nearly taken prisoner; for a tribune named Ahdigidus, accompanied by a groom, was fleeing, pursued by a squadron of cavalry, and though the master escaped the servant was taken. And as I was passing by rapidly, they, examining the servant, inquired of him who was the chief who had advanced against them; and when they heard that Ursicinus had a little while before entered the city, and was on his way to Mount Izala, they put their informant to death, and then, forming into one body, pursued us with ceaseless speed.

12.   But I outstripped them by the speed of my horse, and finding my comrades reposing securely under the walls of a slight fort, called Amudis, with their horses dispersed over the grass, I waved my hand, and raising the hem of my cloak: by this usual signal I gave notice that the |174 enemy was at hand, and then joining them we retreated together, though my horse was greatly fatigued.

13.  Our alarm was increased by the brightness of the night, as the moon was full, and by the even level of the plain, which, if our danger should become worse, afforded no possible hiding-place, as having neither trees, nor bushes, nor anything hut low herbage.

14.  According we adopted the following plan: we lit a lamp and fastened it tightly on a horse, which we turned loose without a rider, and let go where it pleased to our left, while we marched towards the high ground on our right, in order that the Persians might fancy the light a torch held before the general as he proceeded slowly forwards, and so keep on in that direction. And unless we had adopted this precaution we should have been circumvented, and have fallen as prisoners into the power of the enemy.

15.  Being delivered from this danger, when we had come to a woody spot, full of vines and fruit-bearing trees, called Meiacarire, a name derived from the cool springs found there, we found that the inhabitants had all fled, and there was only a single soldier remaining behind, concealed in a remote corner. And when he was brought, before our general, and through fear told all kinds of different stories, and so became an object of suspicion; at last, under the compulsion of our threats, he told the real truth, that he was a native of Gaul, and had been bom among the Parisii, that he had served in our cavalry, but that fearing punishment for some offence he had deserted to the Persians; that he had since married a wife of excellent character, and had a family, and that having been frequently sent as a spy to our camp, he had always brought the Persians true intelligence. And now he said he had been sent by the nobles Tamsapor and Nohodares, who were in command of the predatory bands, to bring them such intelligence as he could collect. After telling us this, and also that he know of the operations of the enemy, he was put to death.

16.   Afterwards, as our anxiety increased, we proceeded from thence with as much speed as we could make to Amida, a city celebrated at a later period for the disaster which befel it. And when our scouts had rejoined us there |175 we found in one of their scabbards a scrap of parchment written in cipher, which they had been ordered to convey to us by Procopius, whom I have already spoken of as ambassador to the Persians with the Count Lucillianus; its terms were purposely obscure, lest if the bearers should be taken prisoners, and the sense of the writing understood, materials should be found for fatal mischief.

17.  The purport was, "The ambassadors of the Greeks, having been rejected, and being perhaps to be put to death, the aged king, not contented with the Hellespont, will throw bridges over the Granicus and the Rhyndacus, and invade Asia Minor with a numerous host, being by his own natural disposition irritable and fierce; and being now prompted and inflamed by him who was formerly the successor of the Roman emperor Hadrian, it is all over with the Greeks if they do not take care."

18.  The meaning of this was that the Persian king, having crossed the rivers Anzaba and Tigris, at the prompting of Antoninus was aiming at the sovereignty of the entire East. When it had been interpreted with difficulty, from its great obscurity, a wise plan was decided on.

19.   The satrap of Corduena, a province under the authority of the Persians, was a man named Jovinianus, who had grown up to manhood in the Roman territories, and was secretly friendly to us, because he had been detained as a hostage in Syria, and being now allured by the love of liberal studies, he was exceedingly desirous to return among us.

20.  To this man I, being sent with a faithful centurion, for the purpose of learning with greater certainty what was being done, reached him by travelling over pathless mountains, and dangerous defiles. And when he saw and recognized me, he received me courteously, and I avowed to him alone the reason of my coming; and having received from him a silent guide, well acquainted with the country, I was sent to some lofty rocks at a distance, from which, if one's eyes did not fail, one could see even the most minute object fifty miles off.

21.   There we remained two whole days; and on the morning of the third day we saw all the circuit of the |176 earth, which we call the horizon, filled with countless hosts of men, and the king marching before them glittering with the brilliancy of his robes. And next to him on his left hand marched Grumbates, king of the Chionitae, a man of middle age, and wrinkled limbs, but of a grand spirit, and already distinguished for many victories. On his right hand was the king of the Albani, of equal rank and spendour. After them came various generals, renowned for their rank and power, who were followed by a multitude of all classes, picked from the flower of the neighbouring nations, and trained by long hardship to endure any toil or danger.

22. How long, O mendacious Greece, wilt thou tell us of Doriscus, the Thracian town, and of the army counted there in battalions in a fenced space, when we careful, or to speak more truly, cautious historians, exaggerate nothing, and merely record what is established by evidence neither doubtful nor uncertain!


§ 1. After the kings had passed by Nineveh, an important city of the province of Adiabena, they offered a sacrifice in the middle of the bridge over the Anzaba, and as the omens were favourable, they advanced with great joy; while we, calculating that the rest of their host could hardly pass over in three days, returned with speed to the satrap, and rested, refreshing ourselves by his hospitable kindness.

2.  And returning from thence through a deserted and solitary country, under the pressure of great necessity, and reaching our army more rapidly than could have been expected, we brought to those who were hesitating the certain intelligence that the kings had crossed over the river by a bridge of boats, and were marching straight towards us.

3.   Without delay, therefore, horsemen with horses of picked speed were sent to Cassianus, duke of Mesopotamia, and to Euphronius, at that time the governor of the province, to compel the residents in the country to retire |177 with their families and all their flocks to a safer place; and to quit at once the town of Carrae, which was defended by very slight walls; and further, to burn all the standing crops, that the enemy might get no supplies from the land.

4.  And when these orders had been executed, as they were without delay, and when the fire was kindled, the violence of the raging element so completely destroyed all the corn, which was just beginning to swell and turn yellow, and all the young herbage, that from the Euphrates to the Tigris nothing green was to be seen. And many wild beasts were burnt, and especially lions, who infest these districts terribly, but who are often destroyed or blinded in this manner.

5.   They wander in countless droves among the beds of rushes on the banks of the rivers of Mesopotamia, and in the jungles; and lie quiet all the winter, which is very mild in that country. But when the warm weather returns, as these regions are exposed to great heat, they are forced out by the vapours, and by the size of the gnats, with swarms of which every part of that country is filled. And these winged insects attack the eyes, as being both moist and sparkling, sitting on and biting the eyelids; the lions, unable to bear the torture, are either drowned in the rivers, to which they flee for refuge, or else by frequent scratchings tear their eyes out themselves with their claws, and then become mad. And if this did |178 not happen the whole of the East would he overrun with beasts of this kind.

6.   While the plains were thus being laid waste by fire, as I have described, the tribunes, who were sent with a body of protectores, fortified all the western bank of the Euphrates with castles and sharp palisades and every kind of defence, fixing also large engines for hurling missiles on those spots where the more tranquil condition of the river made it likely that the enemy might attempt to cross.

7.  While these things were being expeditiously done, Sabinianus, chosen in the hurried moment of general danger as the fittest conductor of an internecine war, was living luxuriously, according to his custom, at the tombs of Edessa, as if he had established peace with the dead, and had nothing to fear: and he took especial pleasure in breaking the silence of the place with the sounding measures of the martial pyathicari, instead of the usual theatrical exhibitions; a fancy, considering the place, pregnant with omens. Since these and similar gloomy scenes foreshow future commotions, as we learn in the progress of time, all good men ought to avoid them.

8.  In the mean time, passing by Nisibis as of no importance, while the conflagration increased through the dryness of the crops, the kings, dreading a scarcity of food, marched through the grassy valleys at the foot of the mountains.

9.   When they had arrived at a small place called Bebase (from which place to the town of Constantina, which is one hundred miles distant, the whole country is an arid desert, except where a little water is found in some wells), they hesitated for some time, doubting what to do; and at last resolving to proceed in reliance on the endurance of their men, they learnt from a trusty spy that the Euphrates was swollen by the melting of the snow, and was now extensively inundating the adjacent lands, and so could not possibly be forded.

10.  Therefore they turned to see what opportunities chance might afford them, being now cut off unexpectedly from the hope which they had conceived. And in the |179 present emergency a council was held, at which Antoninus was requested to give his advice: and he counselled them to direct their march to the right, so that by a longer circuit they might reach the two strong forts of Barzala and Laudias, to which he could guide them through a region fertile in everything, and still undestroyed, since the march of the army was expected to be made in a straight line. And the only river on their road was one small and narrow, to be passed near its source, before it was increased by any other streams, and easily fordable.

11. When they had heard this, they praised their adviser, and bidding him lead the way, the whole army turned from its previously appointed line, and followed his guidance.


§ 1. When our generals received intelligence of this from their spies, we settled to march in haste to Samosata, in order to cross the river at that point, and destroying the bridges at Zeugma and Capersana, to check the invasion of the enemy if we could find a favourable chance for attacking them.

2.  But we met with a sad disaster, worthy to be buried in profound silence. For two squadrons of cavalry, of about seven hundred men, who had just been sent from Illyricum to Mesopotamia as a reinforcement, and who were guarding the passes, becoming enervated and timid, and fearing a surprise by night, withdrew from the public causeways in the evening, a time above all others when they most required watching.

3.   And when it was remarked that they were all sunk in wine and sleep, about twenty thousand Persians, under the command of Tamsapor and Nohodares, passed without any one perceiving them, and fully armed as they were, concealed themselves behind the high ground in the neighbourhood of Amida.

4.   Presently, when (as has been said) we started before daybreak on our march to Samosata, our advanced guard, on reaching a high spot which commanded a more distant view, was suddenly alarmed by the glitter of shining arms; and cried out in a hurried manner that the enemy |180 were at hand. Upon this the signal for battle was given, and we halted in a solid column, never thinking of fleeing, since, indeed, those who would have pursued us were in sight; nor to engage in battle with an enemy superior to us in numbers, and especially in cavalry; but seeing the necessity for caution in the danger of certain death which lay before us.

5.  At last, when it seemed clear that a battle could not be avoided, and while we were still hesitating what to do, some of our men rashly advanced as skirmishers, and were slain. And then, as each side pressed onwards, Antoninus, ambitiously marching in front of the enemy, was recognized by Ursicinus, and addressed by him in a tone of reproach, and called a traitor and a scoundrel; till at last, taking off the tiara which he wore on his head as a badge of honour, he dismounted from his horse, and bending down till his face nearly touched the ground, he saluted the Roman general, calling him patron and master; and holding his hands behind his back, which among the Assyrians is a gesture of supplication, he said, "Pardon me, most noble count, who have been driven to this guilt by necessity, not by my own will. My creditors, as you know, drove me headlong into it: men whose avarice even your high authority, which tried to support me in my distress, could not overcome." Having said this, he withdrew without turning his back upon him, but retiring backwards in a respectful manner, with his face towards him.

6.  And while this was taking place, which did not occupy above half an hour, our second rank, which occupied the higher ground, cried out that another body of cuirassiers appeared behind, and was coming on with great speed.

7.  And then, as is often the case at critical moments, doubting which enemy we ought, or even could resist, and being pressed on all sides by an overwhelming mass, we dispersed in every direction, each fleeing where he could. And while every one was trying to extricate himself from the danger, we were brought, without any order, face to face with the enemy.

8.   And so struggling vigorously while giving up all desire of saving our lives, we were driven back to the high banks of the Tigris. Some of our men, driven into |181 the water where it was shallow, locked their arms, and so made a stand; others were carried off by the current and drowned; some, still fighting with the enemy, met with various fortune, or, panic-stricken at the numbers of the barbarians, sought the nearest defiles of Mount Taurus. Among these was the general himself, who was recognized and surrounded by a vast body of the enemy; but he escaped with the tribune Aiadalthes and one groom, being saved by the swiftness of his horse.

9.    I myself was separated from my comrades, and while looking round to see what to do, I met with one of the protectores named Verennianus, whose thigh was pierced through by an arrow, and while at his entreaty I was trying to pull it out, I found myself surrounded on all sides by Persians, some of whom had passed beyond me. I therefore hastened back with all speed towards the city, which, being placed on high ground, is only accessible by one very narrow path on the side on which we were attacked; and that path is made narrower still by escarpments of the rocks, and barriers built on purpose to make the approach more difficult.

10.  Here we became mingled with the Persians, who were hastening with a run, racing with us, to make themselves masters of the higher ground: and till the dawn of the next day we stood without moving, so closely packed, that the bodies of those who were slain were so propped up by the mass that they could not find room to fall to the ground; and a soldier in front of me, whose head was cloven asunder into equal portions by a mighty sword-blow, still stood upright like a log, being pressed upon all sides.

11.   And although javelins were incessantly hurled from the battlements by every kind of engine, yet we were protected from that danger by the proximity of the walls. And at last I got in at the postern gate, which I found thronged by a multitude of both sexes flocking in from the neighbouring districts. For it happened by chance on these very days that it was the time of a great animal fair which was held in the suburbs, and which was visited by multitudes of the country people.

12.   In the mean time all was in disorder with every kind of noise; some bewailing those whom they had lost; |182 others being mortally wounded; and many calling on their different relations whom the crowd prevented them from discovering.


§ 1. This city had formerly been a very small one, till Constantius while Caesar, at the same time that he built another town called Antinopolis, surrounded Amida also with strong towers and stout walls, that the people in the neighbourhood might have a safe place of refuge. And he placed there a store of mural engines, making it formidable to the enemy, as he wished it to be called by his own name.

2.  On the southern side it is watered by the Tigris, which passes close to it, making a kind of elbow: on the east it looks towards the plains of Mesopotamia, on the north it is close to the river Nymphaeus, and is overshadowed by the chain of Mount Taurus, which separates the nations on the other side of the Tigris from Armenia. On the west it borders on the province of Gumathena, a fertile and well cultivated district, in which is a village known as Abarne, celebrated for the healing properties of its hot springs. But in the very centre of Amida, under the citadel, there rises a rich spring of water, drinkable indeed, but often tainted with hot vapours.

3.   In the garrison of this town, the fifth or Parthian legion was always located with a considerable squadron of native cavalry. But at that time six legions, by forced marches, had outstripped the Persian host in its advance, and greatly strengthened the garrison: they were the Magnentian and Decentian legions whom, after the end of the civil war, the emperor had sent as mutinous and discontented to the East, since there the only danger was from foreign wars: the tenth, and the thirteenth legion called the Fretensian: and two legions of light infantry called praeventores and superventores, with Aelian, who was now a count. Of these latter, when only new recruits, |183 we have already spoken, as sallying out from Singara at the instigation of this same Aelian, then only one of the guard, and slaying a great number of Persians whom they had surprised in their sleep.

4. There was also the greater part of the force called companion archers, being squadrons of cavalry so named, in which all the freeborn barbarians serve, and who are conspicuous among all others for the splendour of their arms and for their prowess.


§ 1. While the first onset of the Persians was by its unexpected vehemence throwing these troops into disorder, the king, with his native and foreign troops, having after leaving Bebase turned his march to the right, according to the advice of Antoninus, passed by Horre and Meiacarire and Charcha, as if he meant also to pass by Amida. And when he had come near the Roman forts, one of which is called Reman, and the other Busan, he learnt from some deserters that many persons had removed their treasures there for protection, trusting to their lofty and strong walls; and it was also added that there was there, with a great many valuables, a woman of exquisite beauty, the wife of a citizen of Nisibis named Craugasius, of great consideration by birth, character, and influence; with her little daughter.

2.  Sapor, eager to seize what belonged to another, hastened on, and attacked the castle with force; and the garrison, being seized with a sudden panic at the variety of arms of the assailants, surrendered themselves, and all who had fled to them for protection; and at the first summons gave up the keys of the gates. Possession being taken, all that was stored there was ransacked; women bewildered with fear were dragged forth; and children clinging to their mothers were taught bitter suffering at the very beginning of their infancy.

3.  And when Sapor, by asking each whose wife she was, had found that of Craugasius trembling with fear of violence, he allowed her to come in safety to him, and when he saw her, veiled as she was with a black veil to her lips, he kindly encouraged her with a promise that |184 she should recover her husband, and that her honour should be preserved inviolate. For hearing that her husband was exceedingly devoted to her, he thought that by this bribe he might win him over to betray Nisibis.

4. And he also extended his protection to other virgins who, according to Christian rites, had been formally consecrated to the service of God, ordering that they should be kept uninjured, and be allowed to perform the offices of religion as they had been accustomed. Affecting clemency for a time, in order that those who were alarmed at his former ferocity and cruelty might now discard their fears, and come to him of their own accord, learning from these recent examples that he tempered the greatness of his success with humanity and courtesy.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2007. Corrected from print-out. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts