Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. London: Bohn (1862) Book 24. pp. 346-372.
[Translated by C.D.YONGE]
§ 1. After having ascertained the alacrity of his army, which with ardour and unanimity declared with their customary shout that their fortunate emperor was invincible, Julian thinking it well to put an early end to his enterprise, after a quiet night ordered the trumpets to sound a march; and everything being prepared which the arduous difficulties of the war required, he at daybreak entered the Assyrian territory in high spirits, riding in front of his ranks, and exciting all to discharge the duties of brave men in emulation of his own courage.
2. And as a leader of experience and skill, fearing lest his ignorance of the country might lead to his being surprised by secret ambuscades, he began his march in line of battle. He ordered fifteen hundred skirmishers to precede him a short distance, who were to march slowly looking out on each side and also in front, to prevent any sudden attack. The infantry in the centre were under his own command, they being the flower and chief strength |347 of the whole army, while on the right were some legions under Nevitta, who was ordered to march along the hanks of the Euphrates. The left wing with the cavalry he gave to Arinthaeus and Hormisdas, with orders to lead them in close order through the level and easy country of the plain. The rear was brought up by Dagalaiphus and Victor, and the last of all was Secundinus, Duke of Osdruena.
3. Then in order to alarm the enemy by the idea of his superior numbers, should they attack him anywhere, or perceive him from a distance, he opened his ranks so as to spread both horses and men over a larger space, in such a way that the rear was distant from the van nearly ten miles; a manoeuvre of great skill which Pyrrhus of Epirus is said to have often put in practice, extending his camp, or his lines, and sometimes on the other hand compressing them all, so as to present an appearance of greater or lesser numbers than the reality, according to the circumstances of the moment.
4. The baggage, the sutlers, all the camp-followers, and every kind of equipment, he placed between the two flanks of troops as they marched, so as not to leave them unprotected and liable to be carried off by any sudden attack, as has often happened. The fleet, although the river was exceedingly winding, was not allowed either to fall behind or to advance before the army.
5. After two days' march we came near a deserted town called Dura, on the bank of the river, where many herds of deer were found, some of which were slain by arrows, and others knocked down with the heavy oars, so that soldiers and sailors all had plenty of food; though the greater part of the animals, being used to swimming, plunged into the rapid stream and could not be stopped till they had reached their well known haunts.
6. Then after an easy march of four days, as evening came on, he embarked a thousand light-armed troops on board his boats, and sent, the Count Lucillianus to storm the fortress of Anatha, which, like many other forts in that country, is surrounded by the waters of the Euphrates; Lucillianus having, as he was ordered, placed his ships in suitable places, besieged the island, a cloudy night favouring a secret assault. |348
7. But as soon as it became light, one of the garrison going out to get water, saw the enemy, and immediately raised an outcry, which roused the awakened garrison to arm in their defence. And presently, from a high watch-tower, the emperor examined the situation of the fort, and came up with all speed escorted by two vessels, and followed by a considerable squadron laden with engines for the siege.
8. And as he approached the walls, and considered that the contest could not be carried on without great risk, he tried both by conciliatory and threatening language to induce the garrison to surrender; and they, having invited Hormisdas to a conference, were won over by his promises and oaths to rely on the mercy of the Romans.
9. At last, driving before them a crowned ox, which among them is a sign of peace, they descended from the fort as suppliants; the fort was burnt, and Pusaeus, its commander, who was afterwards Duke of Egypt, was appointed to the rank of tribune. The rest of the garrison with their families and property were conducted with all kindness to the Syrian city of Chalcis.
10. Among them was found a certain soldier, who formerly, when Maximian invaded Persia, had been left in this district as an invalid, though a very young man, but who was now bent with age, and according to his own account had several wives, as is the custom of that country, and a numerous offspring. He now full of joy, professing to have been a principal cause of the surrender, was led to our camp, calling many of his comrades to witness that he had long foreseen and often foretold that, though nearly a hundred years' old, he should be buried in Roman ground. After this event, the Saracens brought in some skirmishers of the enemy whom they had taken; these were received with joy by the emperor, the Saracens rewarded, and sent back to achieve similar exploits.
11. The next day another disaster took place; a whirlwind arose, and made havoc in many places, throwing down many buildings, tearing in pieces the tents, and throwing the soldiers on their backs or on their faces, the violence of the wind overpowering their steadiness of foot. And the same day another equally perilous occurrence took place. For the river suddenly overflowed its banks, and some of the ships |349 laden with provisions were wrecked, the piers and dams which had been constructed of stone to check and repress the waters being swept away; and whether that was done by treachery or through the weight of the waters could not be known.
12. After having stormed and burnt the chief city, and sent away the prisoners, the army with increased confidence raised triumphant shouts in honour of the emperor, thinking that the gods were evidently making him the object of their peculiar care.
13. And because in these unknown districts they were forced to be on unusual guard against hidden dangers, the troops especially feared the craft and exceeding deceitfulness of the enemy; and therefore the emperor was everywhere, sometimes in front, sometimes with his light-armed battalions protecting the rear, in order to see that no concealed danger threatened it, reconnoitring the dense jungles and valleys, and restraining the distant sallies of his soldiers, sometimes with his natural gentleness, and sometimes with threats.
14. But he allowed the fields of the enemy which were loaded with every kind of produce to be burnt with their crops and cottages, after his men had collected all that they could themselves make use of. And in this way the enemy were terribly injured before they were aware of it; for the soldiers freely used what they had acquired with their own hands, thinking that they had found a fresh field for their valour; and joyful at the abundance of their supplies, they saved what they had in their own boats.
15. But one rash soldier, being intoxicated, and having crossed over to the opposite bank of the river, was taken prisoner before our eyes by the enemy, and was put to death.
§ 1. After this we arrived at a fort called Thilutha, situated in the middle of the river on a very high piece of ground, and fortified by nature as if by the art of man. The inhabitants were invited gently, as was best, to surrender, since the height of their fort made it impregnable; but they refused all terms as yet, though they answered that when the Romans had advanced further so as to occupy the |350 interior of the country, they also as an appendage would come over to the conqueror.
2. Having made this reply they quietly looked down upon our boats as they passed under the very walls without attempting to molest them. When that fort was passed we came to another called Achaiacala, also defended by the river flowing round it, and difficult to scale, where we received a similar answer, and so passed on. The next day we came to another fort which had been deserted because its walls were weak; and we burnt it and proceeded.
3. In the two next days we marched two hundred furlongs, and arrived at a place called Paraxmalcha. We then crossed the river, and seven miles further on we entered the city of Diacira, which we found empty of inhabitants but full of corn and excellent salt, and here we saw a temple placed on the summit of a lofty height. We burnt the city and put a few women to death whom we found there, and having passed a bituminous spring, we entered the town of Ozogardana, which its inhabitants had deserted for fear of our approaching army; in that town is shown a tribunal of the emperor Trajan.
4. This town also we burnt after we had rested there two days to refresh our bodies. On the second day just at nightfall, the Surena (who is the officer next in rank to the king among the Persians), and a man named Malechus Podosaces, the chief of the Assanite Saracens, who had long ravaged our frontiers with great ferocity, laid a snare for Hormisdas, whom by some means or other they had learnt was about to go forth on a reconnoitring expedition, and only failed because the river being very narrow at that point, was so deep as to be unfordable.
5. And so at daybreak, when the enemy were now in sight, the moment that they were discovered by their glittering helmets and bristling armour, our men sprang up vigorously to the conflict, and dashed at them with great courage; and although the enemy wielded their huge bows with great strength, and the glistening of their weapons increased the alarm of our soldiers, yet their rage, and the compactness of their ranks, kept alive and added fuel to their courage.
6. Animated by their first success, our army advanced |351 to the village of Macepracta, where were seen vestiges of walls half destroyed, which had once been of great extent, and had served to protect Assyria from foreign invasion.
7. At this point a portion of the river is drawn off in large canals which convey it to the interior districts of Babylonia, for the service of the surrounding country and cities. Another branch of the river known as the Nahamalca, which means "the river of kings," passes by Ctesiphon: at the beginning of this stream there is a lofty tower like a lighthouse, by which our infantry passed on a carefully constructed bridge.
8. The cavalry and cattle then took the stream where it was less violent, and swam across obliquely; another body was suddenly attacked by the enemy with a storm of arrows and javelins, but our light-armed auxiliaries as soon as they reached the other side, supported them, and put the enemy to flight, cutting them to pieces as they fled.
9. After having successfully accomplished this exploit, we arrived at the city of Pirisabora, of great size and populousness, and also surrounded with water. But the emperor having ridden all round the walls and reconnoitred its position, began to lay siege to it with great caution, as if he would make the townsmen abandon its defence from mere terror. But after several negotiations and conferences with them, as they would yield neither to promises nor to threats, he set about the siege in earnest, and surrounded the walls with three lines of soldiers. The whole of the iirst day the combat was carried on with missiles till nightfall.
10. But, the garrison, full of courage and vigour, spreading cloths loose everywhere over the battlements to weaken the attacks of our weapons, and protected by shields strongly woven of osier, made a brave resistance, looking like figures of iron, since they had plates of iron closely fitting over every limb, which covered their whole person with a safe defence.
11. Sometimes also they earnestly invited Hormisdas as a countryman and a prince of royal blood to a conference; but when he came they reviled him with abuse and reproaches as a traitor and deserter; and after a great part of the day had been consumed in this slow disputing, at the |352 beginning of night many kinds of engines were brought against the walls, and we began to fill up the ditches.
12. But before it was quite dawn, the garrison perceived what was being done, with the addition that a violent stroke of a battering-ram had broken down a tower at one corner; so they abandoned the double city wall, and occupied a citadel close to the wall, erected on the level summit of a ragged hill, of which the centre, rising up to a great height in its round circle, resembled an Argive shield, except that in the north it was not quite round, but at that point it was protected by a precipice which ran sheer down into the Euphrates; the walls were built of baked bricks and bitumen, a combination which is well known to be the strongest of all materials.
13. And now the savage soldiery, having traversed the city, which they found empty, were fighting fiercely with the defenders who poured all kinds of missiles on them from the citadel. Being hard pressed by the catapults and balistae of our men, they also raised on the height huge bows of great power, the extremities of which, rising high on each side, could only be bent slowly; but the string, when loosed by violent exertion of the fingers, sent forth iron-tipped arrows with such force as to inflict fatal wounds on any one whom they struck.
14. Nevertheless, the fight was maintained on both sides with showers of stones thrown by the hand, and as neither gained any ground a fierce contest was protracted from daybreak to nightfall with great obstinacy; and at last they parted without any advantage to either side. The next day the light was renewed with great violence, and numbers were slain on each side, and still the result was even; when the emperor, being eager amid this reciprocal slaughter to try every chance, being guarded by a solid column, and defended from the arrows of the enemy by their closely packed shields, rushed forward with a rapid charge up to the enemy's gates, which were faced with stout iron.
15. And although he was still in some danger, being hard pressed with stones and bullets and other weapons, still he cheered on his men with frequent war-cries while they were preparing to force in the gates in order to effect an entrance, and did not retreat till he found himself on |353 the point of being entirely overwhelmed by the mass of missiles which were poured down on him.
16. However, he came off safe with only a few of his men slightly wounded; not without feeling some modest shame at being repulsed. For he had read that Scipio Aemilianus, with the historian Polybius, a citizen of Megalopolis in Arcadia, and thirty thousand soldiers, had, by a similar attack, forced the gate of Carthage.
17. But the account given by the old writers may serve to defend this modern attempt; for Aemilianus approached a gate protected by a stone-covered testudo, under which he safely forced his way into the city while the garrison was occupied in demolishing this stone roof. But Julian attacked a place completely exposed, while the whole face of heaven was darkened by the fragments of rock and weapons which were showered upon him, and was even then with great difficulty repulsed and forced to retire.
18. After this hasty and tumultuous assault, as the vast preparations of sheds and mounds which were carried on were attended with much difficulty, through the hindrances offered by the garrison, Julian ordered an engine called helepolis to be constructed with all speed; which, as we have already mentioned, King Demetrius used, and earned the title of Poliorcetes by the number of cities which he took.
19. The garrison, anxiously viewing this engine, which was to exceed the height of their lofty towers, and considering at the same time the determination of the besiegers, suddenly betook themselves to supplications, and spreading over the towers and walls, imploring the pardon and protection of the Romans with outstretched hands.
20. And when they saw that the works of the Romans were suspended, and that those who were constructing them were doing nothing, which seemed a sure token of peace, they requested an opportunity of conferring with Hormisdas.
21. And when this was granted, Mamersides, the commander of the garrison, was let down by a rope, and conducted to the emperor as he desired; and having received a promise of his own life, and of impunity to all his comrades, he was allowed to return to the city. And when he related what had been done, the citizens unanimously agreed to follow his advice and accept the terms; and |354 peace was solemnly made with all the sanctions of religion, the gates were thrown open, and the whole population went forth proclaiming that a protecting genius had shone upon them in the person of the great and merciful Caesar.
22. The number of those who surrendered was two thousand five hundred, for the rest of the citizens, expecting the siege beforehand, had crossed the river in small boats and abandoned the city. In the citadel a great store of arms and provisions was found; and after they had taken what they required, the conquerors burnt the rest as well as the place itself.
§ 1. The day after these transactions, serious news reached the emperor as he was quietly taking his dinner, that the Surena, the Persian general, had surprised three squadrons of our advanced guard, and slain a few, among whom was one tribune; and had also taken a standard.
2. Immediately Julian became violently exasperated, and flew to the spot with an armed band, placing much hope of success in the rapidity of his movements: he routed the assailants disgracefully, cashiered the other two tribunes as blunderers and cowards, and in imitation of the ancient laws of Rome disbanded ten of the soldiers who had fled, and then condemned them to death.
3. Then, having burnt the city as I have already mentioned, he mounted a tribunal which he had caused to be erected, and having convoked his army, he thanked them, and counted upon their achieving other similar exploits. He also promised them each a hundred pieces of silver; but seeing that they were inclined to murmur, as being disappointed at the smallness of the sum, he became most indignant and said:—
4. "Behold the Persians who abound in wealth of every kind; their riches may enrich you if we only behave gallantly with one unanimous spirit of resolution. But after having been very rich, I assure you that the republic is at this moment in great want, through the conduct of those men who, to increase their own wealth, taught former emperors to return home after buying peace of the barbarians with gold.
5. "The treasury is empty, the cities are exhausted, |355 the finances are stripped bare. I myself have neither treasures, nor, noble as I am by birth, do I inherit anything from my family but a heart free from all fear. Nor shall I be ashamed to place all my happiness in the cultivation of my mind, while preferring an honourable poverty. For the Fabricii also conducted great wars while poor in estate and rich only in glory.
6. "Of all these things you may have plenty, if, discarding all fear, you act with moderation, obeying the cautious guidance of God and myself, as far as human reason can lead you safely; but if you disobey, and choose to return to your former shameful mutinies, proceed.
7. As an emperor should do, I by myself, having performed the important duties which belong to me, will die standing, despising a life which any fever may take from me: or else I will abdicate my power, for I have not lived so as to be unable to descend to a private station. I rejoice in, and feel proud of the fact that there are with me many leaders of proved skill and courage, perfect in every kind of military knowledge."
8. By this modest speech of their emperor, thus unmoved alike by prosperity and adversity, the soldiers were for a time appeased, regaining confidence with an expectation of better success; and unanimously promised to be docile and obedient, at the same time extolling Julian's authority and magnanimity to the skies; and, as is their wont when their feelings are genuine and cordial, they showed them by a gentle rattling of their arms.
9. Then they returned to their tents, and refreshed themselves with food, for which they had abundant means, and with sleep during the night. But Julian encouraged his army not by the idea of their families, but by the thoughts of the greatness of the enterprises in which they were embarked: continually making vows— "So might he be able to make the Persians pass under the yoke." "So might he restore the Roman power which had been shaken in those regions,"—in imitation of Trajan, who was accustomed frequently to confirm anything he had said by the imprecations—"So may I see Dacia reduced to the condition of a province; so may I bridge over the Danube and Euphrates,"—using many similar forms of attestation. |356
10. Then after proceeding fourteen miles further we came to a certain spot where the soil is fertilized by the abundance of water. But as the Persians had learnt that we should advance by this road, they removed the dams, and allowed the waters to flood the country.
11. The ground being thereby, for a great distance, reduced to the state of a marsh, the emperor gave the soldiers the next day for rest, and advancing in front himself, constructed a number of little bridges of bladders, and coracles made of skins, and rafts of palm-tree timber, and thus led his army across, though not without difficulty.
12. In this region many of the fields are planted with vineyards and various kinds of fruit trees; and palm-trees grow there over a great extent of country, reaching as far as Mesene and the ocean, forming great groves. And wherever any one goes he sees continual stocks and suckers of palms, from the fruit of which abundance of honey and wine is made, and the palms themselves are said to be divided into male and female, and it is added that the two sexes can be easily distinguished.
13. They say further that the female trees produce fruit when impregnated by the seeds of the male trees, and even that they feel delight in their mutual love: and that this is clearly shown by the fact that they lean towards one another, and cannot be bent back even by strong winds—and if by any unusual accident a female tree is not impregnated by the male seed, it produces nothing but imperfect fruit, and if they cannot find out with what male tree any female tree is in love, they smear the trunk of some tree with the oil which proceeds from her, and then some other tree naturally conceives a fondness for the odour; and these proofs create some belief in the story of their copulation.
1.4. The army then, having sated itself with these fruits, passed by several islands, and instead of the scarcity which they apprehended, the fear arose that they would become too fat. At last, after having been attacked by an ambuscade of the enemy's archers, but having avenged themselves well, they came to a spot where the larger portion of the Euphrates is divided into a number of small streams. |357
§ 1. In this district a city, which on account of the lowness of its walls, had been deserted by its Jewish inhabitants, was burnt by our angry soldiers. And afterwards the emperor proceeded further on, being elated at the manifest protection, as he deemed it, of the Deity.
2. And when he had reached Maogamalcha, a city of great size and surrounded with strong walls, he pitched his tent, and took anxious care that his camp should not be surprised by any sudden attack of the Persian cavalry; whose courage in the open plains is marvellously dreaded by the surrounding nations.
3. And when he had made his arrangements, he himself, with an escort of a few light troops, went forth on foot to reconnoitre the position of a city by a close personal examination; but he fell into a dangerous snare from which he with difficulty escaped with his life.
4. For ten armed Persians stole out by a gate of the town of which he was not aware, and crawled on their hands and knees along the bottom of the hill, till they got within reach so as to fall silently upon our men, and two of them distinguishing the emperor by his superior appearance, made at him with drawn swords; but he encountered them with his shield raised, and protecting himself with that, and fighting with great and noble courage, he ran one of them through the body, while his guards killed the other with repeated blows. The rest, of whom some were wounded, were put to flight, and the two who were slain were stripped of their arms, and the emperor led back his comrades in safety, laden with their spoils, into the camp, where he was received with universal joy.
5. Torquatus took a golden necklace from one of the enemy whom he had slain. Valerius by the aid of a crow defeated a haughty Gaul and earned the surname of Corvinus, and by this glory these heroes were recommended to posterity. We do not envy them, but let this gallant exploit be added to those ancient memorials.
6. The next day a bridge was laid across the river, and the army passed over it, and pitched their camp in a fresh and more healthy place, fortifying it with a double |358 rampart, since, as we have said, the open plains were regarded with apprehension. And then he undertook the siege of the town, thinking it too dangerous to march forward while leaving formidable enemies in his rear.
7. While he was making great exertions to complete his preparations, the Surena, the enemy's general, fell upon the cattle which were feeding in the palm groves, but was repulsed by those of our squadrons who were appointed to that service, and, having lost a few men, he retired.
8. And the inhabitants of two cities which are made islands by the rivers which surround them, fearing to trust in their means of defence, fled for refuge to Ctesiphon, some fleeing through the thick woods, others crossing the neighbouring marshes on canoes formed out of hollowed trees, and thus made a long journey to the principal or indeed the only shelter which existed for them, intending to proceed to still more distant regions.
9. Some of them were overtaken, and on their resistance were put to death by our soldiers, who, traversing various districts in barks and small boats, brought in from time to time many prisoners. For it had been cleverly arranged that, while the infantry was besieging the town, the squadrons of cavalry should scour the country in small bands in order to bring in booty. And by this system, without doing any injury to the inhabitants of the provinces, the soldiers fed on the bowels of the enemy.
10. And by this time the emperor was besieging with all his might and with a triple line of heavily armed soldiers this town which was fortified with a double wall; and he had great hope of succeeding in his enterprise. But if the attempt was indispensable, the execution was very difficult. For the approach to the town lay everywhere over rocks of great height and abruptness; across which there was no straight road; and dangers of two kinds seemed to render the place inaccessible. In the first place there were towers formidable both for their height and for the number of their garrison; equalling in height the natural mountain on which the citadel was built; and secondly, a sloping plain reached down to the river, which again was protected by stout ramparts.
11. There was a third difficulty not less formidable that |359 the numerous garrison of picked men which defended the place could not be won over by any caresses to surrender, but resisted the enemy as if resolved either to conquer or to perish amid the ashes of their country. The soldiers, who desired to attack at once, and also insisted upon a pitched battle in a fair field, could hardly be restrained, and when the retreat was sounded they burnt with indignation, being eager to make courageous onsets on the enemy.
12. But the wisdom of our leaders overcame the eagerness of mere courage; and the work being distributed, every one set about his allotted task with great alacrity. For on one side high mounds were raised; on another other parties were raising the deep ditches to the level of the ground; in other quarters hollow pitfalls were covered over with long planks; artisans also were placing mural engines soon intended to burst forth with fatal roars.
13. Nevitta and Dagalaiphus superintended the miners and the erection of the vineae, or penthouses; but the beginning of the actual conflict, and the defence of the machines from fire or from sallies of the garrison, the emperor took to himself. And when all the preparations for taking the city had been completed by this variety of labour, and the soldiers demanded to be led to the assault, a captain named Victor returned, who had explored all the roads as far as Ctesiphon, and now brought word that he had met with no obstacles.
14. At this news all the soldiers became wild with joy, and being more elated and eager for the contest than ever, they waited under arms for the signal.
15. And now on both sides the trumpets sounded with martial clang, and the Roman vanguard, with incessant attacks and threatening cries, assailed the enemy, who were covered from head to foot with thin plates of iron like the feathers of a bird, and who had full confidence that any weapons that fell on this hard iron would recoil; while our close-packed shields with which our men covered themselves as with a testudo, opened loosely so as to adapt themselves to their continual motion. On the other hand the Persians, obstinately clinging to their walls, laboured with all their might to avoid and frustrate our deadly attacks. |360
16. But when the assailants, pushing the osier fences before them, passed up to the walls, the archers, slingers and others, rolling down huge stones, with firebrands and fire-pots, repelled them to a distance. Then the balistae, armed with wooden arrows, were bent and loosened with a horrid creak, and poured forth incessant storms of darts. And the scorpions hurled forth round stones under the guidance of the skilful hands of their workers.
17. The combat was repeated and redoubled in violence, till the heat increasing up to midday, and the sun burning up everything with its evaporation, recalled from the battle the combatants on both sides, equally intent as they were on the works and on the fray, but thoroughly exhausted by fatigue and dripping with sweat.
18. The same plan was followed the next day, the two parties contending resolutely in various modes of fighting, and again they parted with equal valour, and equal fortune. But in every danger the emperor was foremost among the armed combatants, urging on the destruction of the city lest, by being detained too long before its walls, he should be forced to abandon other objects which he had at heart.
19. But in times of emergency nothing is so unimportant as not occasionally to influence great affairs, even contrary to all expectation. For when, as had often happened, the two sides were fighting slackly, and on the point of giving over, a battering-ram which had just been brought up, being pushed forward awkwardly, struck down a tower which was higher than any of the others, and was very strongly built of baked brick, and its fall brought down all the adjacent portion of the wall with a mighty crash.
20. Then in the variety of incidents which arose, the exertions of the besiegers and the gallantry of the besieged wore equally conspicuous with noble exploits. For to our soldiers, inflamed with anger and indignation, nothing appeared difficult. To the garrison, fighting for their safety, nothing seemed dangerous or formidable. At last, when the fierce contest had raged a long time and was still undecided, great slaughter having been made on both sides, the close of day broke it off, and both armies yielded to fatigue. |361
21. While these matters were thus going on in broad daylight, news was brought to the emperor, who was full of watchful care, that the legionary soldiers to whom the digging of the mines had been intrusted, having hollowed out their subterranean paths and supported them with stout stakes, had now reached the bottom of the foundations of the walls, and were ready to issue forth if he thought fit.
22. When therefore a great part of the night was passed, the brazen trumpets sounded the signal for advancing to battle, and the troops ran to arms; and as had been planned, the wall was attacked on both its faces, in order that while the garrison were running to and fro to repel the danger, and while the noise of the iron tools of the miners digging at the foundations was overpowered by the din of battle, the miners should come forth on a sudden without any one being at the mouth of the mine to resist them.
23. When these plans had all been arranged, and the garrison was fully occupied, the mine was opened, and Exsuperius, a soldier of the Victorian legion, sprung out, followed by a tribune named Magnus, and Jovianus, a secretary, and an intrepid body of common soldiers, who, after slaughtering all the men found in the temple into which the mine opened, went cautiously forward and slew the sentinels, who were occupying themselves after the fashion of their country in singing the praises, the justice, and good fortune of their king.
24. It was believed that Mars himself (if indeed the gods are permitted to mingle with men) aided Luscinus when he forced the camp of the Lucanians. And it was the more believed because in the height of the conflict there was seen an armed figure of enormous size carrying ladders, who the next day, when the roll was called over, though sought for very carefully, could not be found anywhere; when if he had really been a soldier he would have come forward, of his own accord from a consciousness of his gallant action. But though on that occasion it was never known who performed that splendid achievement, yet those who now behaved bravely were not unknown, but received obsidional crowns, and were publicly praised according to the ancient fashion. |362
25. At last the fated city, its numerous entrances being laid open, was entered by the Romans, and the furious troops destroyed all whom they found, without regard to age or sex. Some of the citizens, from dread of impending destruction, threatened on one side with fire, on the other with the sword, weeping threw themselves headlong over the walls, and being crippled in all their limbs, led for a few hours or days a life more miserable than any death, till they were finally killed.
26. But Nabdates, the captain of the garrison, was taken alive with eighty of his guards; and when he was brought before the emperor, that magnanimous and merciful prince ordered him to be kept in safety. The booty was divided according to a fair estimate of the merits and labours of the troops. The emperor, who was contented with very little, took for his own share of the victory he had thus gained three pieces of gold and a dumb child who was brought to him, and who by elegant signs and gesticulations explained all he knew, and considered that an acceptable and sufficient prize.
27. But of the virgins who were taken prisoners, and who, as was likely in Persia, where female beauty is remarkable, were exceedingly beautiful, he would neither touch nor even see one; imitating Alexander and Scipio, who refused similar opportunities, in order, after having proved themselves unconquered by toil, not to show themselves the victims of desire.
28. While the battle was going on, an engineer on our side, whose name I do not know, who happened to be standing just behind a scorpion, was knocked, down and killed by the recoil of a stone, which the worker of the engine had fitted to the sling carelessly, his whole body being so dislocated and battered that he could not even be recognized.
29. After the town was taken intelligence was brought to the emperor that a troop was lying in ambuscade in some concealed pits around the walls of the town just taken (of which pits there are many in those districts), with the intention of surprising the rear of our army by a sudden attack.
30. A body of picked infantry of tried courage was therefore sent to take the troop prisoners. But as they could |363 neither force their way into the pits, nor induce those concealed in them to come forth to fight, they collected some straw and faggots, and piled them up before the mouths of the caves, and then set them on fire, from which the smoke penetrated into the caverns through the narrow crevice, being the more dense because of the small space through which it was forced, and so suffocated some of them; others the fire compelled to come forth to instant destruction; and in this manner they wore destroyed by sword or by fire, and our men returned with speed to their camp. Thus was this large and populous city, with its powerful garrison, stormed by the Romans, and the city itself reduced to ruins.
31. After this glorious exploit the bridges which led over several rivers were crossed in succession, and we reached two forts, constructed with great strength and skill, where the son of the king endeavoured to prevent Count Victor, who was marching in the van of the army, from crossing the river, having advanced for that purpose from Ctesiphon with a large body of nobles and a considerable armed force; but when he saw the numbers which were following Victor, he retreated.
§ 1. So we advanced and came to some groves, and also to some fields fertile with a great variety of crops, where we found a palace built in the Roman fashion, which, so pleased were we with the circumstance, we left unhurt.
2. There was also in this same place a large round space, enclosed, containing wild beasts, intended for the king's amusement; lions with shaggy manes, tusked boars, and bears of amazing ferocity (as the Persian bears are), and other chosen beasts of vast size. Our cavalry, however, forced the gates of this enclosure, and killed all the beasts with hunting-spears and clouds of arrows.
3. This district is rich and well cultivated: not far oft is Coche, which is also called Seleucia; where we fortified a camp with great celerity, and rested there two days to refresh the army with timely supplies of water and provisions. The emperor himself in the meanwhile proceeded with his advanced guard and reconnoitred a deserted city which had been formerly destroyed by the Emperor Verus, |364 where an everlasting spring forms a large tube which communicates with the Tigris. Here we saw, hanging on gallows, many bodies of the relations of the man whom we have spoken of above as having betrayed Pirisabora.
4. Here also Nabdates was burnt alive, he whom I have mentioned above as having been taken with eighty of his garrison while hiding among the ruins of the city which we had taken; because at the beginning of the siege he had secretly promised to betray it, but afterwards had resisted us vigorously, and after having been unexpectedly pardoned had risen to such a pitch of violence as to launch all kinds of abuse against Hormisdas.
5. Then after advancing some distance we heard of a sad disaster: for while three cohorts of the advanced guard, who were in light marching order, were fighting with a Persian division which had made a sally out of the city gates, another body of the enemy cut off and slew our cattle, which were following us on the other side of the river, with a few of our foragers who were straggling about in no great order.
6. The emperor was enraged and indignant at this; he was now near the district of Ctesiphon, and had just reached a lofty and well-fortified castle. He went himself to reconnoitre it, being, as he fancied, concealed, as he rode with a small escort close to the walls; but as from too much eagerness he got within bowshot, he was soon noticed, and was immediately assailed by every kind of missile, and would have been killed by an arrow shot from an engine on the walls, if it had not struck his armour-bearer, who kept close by his side, and he himself, being protected by the closely-packed shields of his guards, fell back, after having been exposed to great danger.
7. At this he was greatly enraged, and determined to lay siege to the fort; but the garrison was very resolute to defend it, believing the place to be nearly inaccessible, and that the king, who was advancing with great speed at the head of a large army, would soon arrive to their assistance.
8. And now, the vineae and everything else required for the siege being prepared, at the second watch, when the night, which happened to be one of very bright moonlight, made everything visible to the defenders on the battlements, suddenly the whole multitude of the |365 garrison formed into one body, threw open the gates and sallied out, and attacking a division of our men who were not expecting them, slew numbers, among whom one tribune was killed as he was endeavouring to repel the attack.
9. And while this was going on, the Persians, having attacked a portion of our men in the same manner as before from the opposite side of the river, slew some and took others prisoners. And our men, in alarm, and because they believed the enemy had come into the field in very superior numbers, behaved at first with but little spirit; but presently, when they recovered their courage, they flew again to arms, and being roused by the sound of the trumpets, they hastened to the charge with threatening cries, upon which the Persians retired to the garrison without further contest.
10. And the emperor, being terribly angry, reduced those of the cavalry who had shown a want of courage when attacked to serve in the infantry, which is a severer service and one of less honour.
11. Then, being very eager to take a castle where he had incurred so much danger, he devoted all his own labour and care to that end, never himself retiring from the front ranks of his men, in order that by fighting in the van he might be an example of gallantry to his soldiers, and might be also sure to see, and therefore able to reward, every gallant action. And when he had exposed himself a long time to imminent danger, the castle, having been assailed by every kind of manoeuvre, weapon, and engine, and by great valour on the part of the besiegers, was at length taken and burnt.
12. After this, in consideration of the great labour of the exploits which they had performed, and which were before them, he granted rest to his army, exhausted with its excessive toil, and distributed among them provisions in abundance. Then a rampart was raised round the camp, with dense rows of palisades, and a deep fosse, as sudden sallies and various formidable manoeuvres were dreaded, since they were very near Ctesiphon. |366
§ 1. From this place they advanced to a canal known as Naharmalcha, a name which means " The River of Kings." It was then dry. Long ago Trajan, and after him Severus, had caused the soil to be dug out, and had given great attention to constructing this as a canal of great size, so that, being filled with water from the Euphrates, it might enable vessels to pass into the Tigris.
2. And for every object in view it appeared best that this should now be cleaned out, as the Persians, fearing such an operation, had blocked it up with a mass of stones. After it had been cleared and the dams removed, a large body of water was let in, so that our fleet, after a safe voyage of thirty furlongs, passed into the Tigris. There the army at once threw bridges across the river, and passing over to the other side, marched upon Coche.
3. And that after our fatigue we might enjoy seasonable rest, we encamped in an open plain, rich with trees, vines, and cypresses, in the middle of which was a shady and delicious pavilion, having all over it, according to the fashion of the country, pictures of the king slaying wild beasts in the chase; for they never paint or in any way represent anything except different kinds of slaughter and war.
4. Having now finished everything according to his wish, the emperor, rising higher in spirit as his difficulties increased, and building such hopes on Fortune, which had not yet proved unfavourable to him, that he often pushed his boldness to the verge of temerity, unloaded some of the strongest of the vessels which were carrying provisions and warlike engines, and put on board of them eight hundred armed men; and keeping the main part of the fleet with him, which he divided into three squadrons, he settled that one under the command of Count Victor should start at nightfall, in order to cross the river with speed, and so seize on the bank in possession of the enemy.
5. The generals were greatly alarmed at this plan, and unanimously entreated him to forego it; but as they could not prevail, the signal for sailing was raised, as he commanded, and at once five ships hastened onwards out of sight; and when they drew near to the bank they were |367 attacked with an incessant storm of fire-pots and every kind of contrivance to handle flames, and they would have been burnt soldiers and all if the emperor, being roused, had not with great energy hastened to the spot, shouting out that our men, as they were ordered, had made him a signal that they were now masters of the bank of the river, and ordering the whole fleet to hasten forward with all speed.
6. In consequence of which vigour the ships were saved, and the soldiers, though harassed by the enemy from their commanding ground with stones and every kind of missile, nevertheless after a fierce conflict made good their footing on the high bank of the river, and established themselves immovably.
7. History marvels that Sertorius swam across the Rhone with his arms and his breastplate; but on this occasion, some soldiers, though disordered, fearing to remain behind after the signal for battle was raised, clinging firmly to their shields, which are broad and concave, and guiding them, though without much skill, kept pace with the speed of the vessels through a river full of currents.
8. The Persians resisted this attack with squadrons of cuirassier cavalry in such close order that their bodies dazzled the eye, fitting together, as it seemed, with their brilliant armour; while their horses were all protected with a covering of stout leather. As a reserve to support them several maniples of infantry were stationed, protected by crooked, oblong shields, made of wicker-work and raw hides, behind which they moved in compact order. Behind them were elephants, like so many walking hills, which by every motion of their huge bodies threatened destruction to all who came near them, and our men had been taught to fear them by past experience.
9. On this the emperor, according to the arrangement of the Greek army as mentioned by Homer, allotted the |368 centre space between his two lines to his weakest infantry, lest if they were placed in the front rank, and should then misbehave, they should disorder the whole of his line; or lest, on the other hand, if posted in the rear, behind all the other centuries, they should flee without shame, since there would be no one to check them: he with his light-armed auxiliaries moving as might be required between the lines.
10. Therefore when the two armies beheld each other, the Romans glittering with their crested helmets, and brandishing their shields, proceeded slowly, their bands playing an anapaestic measure; and after a preliminary skirmish, carried on by the missiles of the front rank, they rushed to battle with such vehemence that the earth trembled beneath them.
11. The battle-shout was raised on all sides, as was usual, the braying trumpets encouraged the eagerness of the men: all fought in close combat with spears and drawn swords, so that the soldiers were free from all danger of arrows the more rapidly they pressed onwards. Meanwhile, Julian, like a gallant comrade, at the same time that he was a skilful general, hasten to support his hardly-pressed battalions with reserves, and to cheer on the laggards.
12. So the front line of the Persians wavered, having been never very fierce; and at last, no longer able to support the heat of their armour, they retreated in haste to their city, which was near: they were pursued by our soldiers, weary as they were with having fought in those torrid plains from daybreak to sunset; and we, pressing close on their heels, drove them, with their choicest generals, Tigranes, the Surena, and Narses, right up to the walls of Ctesiphon, inflicting many wounds on their legs and backs.
13. And we should have forced our entrance into the city, if a general named Victor had not, by lifting up his hands and his voice, checked us, being himself pierced through the shoulder with an arrow, and fearing lest if the soldiers allowed themselves to be hurried within the walls without any order, and could then find no means of returning, they might be overwhelmed by the mass of their enemies.
14. Let the poets celebrate the ancient battles of Hector, |369 or extol the valour of the Thessalian Achilles; let past ages tell the praises of Sophanes, and Aminias, and Callimachus, and Cynasgirus, those thunderbolts of war in the struggles of the Greeks against Persia; but it is evident by the confession of all men that the gallantry displayed by some of our troops on that day was equal to any of their exploits.
15. After having laid aside their fears, and trampled on the carcases of their enemies, the soldiers, still stained with the blood so justly shed, collected round the tent of the emperor, loading him with praises and thanks, because, while behaving with such bravery that it was hard to say whether he had been more a general or a soldier, he had conducted the affair with such success that not above seventy of our men had fallen, while nearly two thousand five hundred of the Persians had been slain. And he in his turn addressed by name most of those whose steady courage and gallant actions he had witnessed, presenting them with naval, civic, and military crowns.
16. Thinking that this achievement would surely be followed by other similar successes, he prepared a large sacrifice to Mars the Avenger. Ten most beautiful bulls were brought for the purpose, nine of which, even before they reached the altars, lay down of their own accord with mournful countenances, but the tenth broke his bonds and escaped, and was with difficulty brought back at all; and when sacrificed displayed very unfavourable omens: but when he saw this, Julian became very indignant, and exclaimed, calling Jupiter to witness, that henceforth he would offer no sacrifices to Mars. Nor did he recall his vow, being cut off by a speedy death.
§ 1. Julian, having discussed with his chief officers the plan for the siege of Ctesiphon, it appeared to some of them that it would be an act of unseasonable temerity to attack that city, both because its situation made it almost impregnable, and also because King Sapor was believed to be hastening to its protection with a formidable army.
2. The better opinion prevailed; and the sagacious emperor being convinced of its wisdom, sent Arinthaeus with |370 a division of light infantry, to lay waste the surrounding districts, which were rich both in herds and in crops, with orders also to pursue the enemy with equal energy, for many of them were wandering about, concealed amid overgrown by-ways, and lurking-places known only to themselves. The booty was abundant.
3. But Julian himself, being always eager to extend his conquests, disregarded the advice of those who remonstrated against his advance; and reproaching his chiefs, as men who out of mere laziness and a love of ease advised him to let go the kingdom of Persia when he had almost made himself master of it, left the river on his left hand, and led by unlucky guides, determined to proceed towards the inland parts of the country by forced marches.
4. And he ordered all his ships to be burnt, as if with the fatal torch of Bellona herself, except twelve of the smaller vessels, which he arranged should be carried on waggons, as likely to be of use for building bridges. And he thought this a most excellently conceived plan, to prevent his fleet if left behind from being of any use to the enemy, or on the other hand to prevent what happened at the outset of the expedition, nearly twenty thousand men being occupied in moving and managing the vessels.
5. Then, as the men began in their alarm to grumble to themselves (as indeed manifest truth pointed out), that the soldiers if hindered from advancing by the height of the mountains or the dryness of the country, would have no means of returning to get water, and when the deserters, on being put to the torture openly confessed that they had made a false report, he ordered all hands to labour to extinguish the flames. But the fire, having got to a great head, had consumed most of them, so that only the twelve could be preserved unhurt, which were set apart to be taken care of.
6. In this way the fleet being unseasonably destroyed, Julian, relying on his army which was now all united, having none of its divisions diverted to other occupations, and so being strong in numbers, advanced inland, the rich district through which he marched supplying him with an abundance of provisions.
7. When this was known, the enemy, with a view to distressing us by want of supplies, burnt up all the grass |371 and the nearly ripe crops; and we, being unable to advance by reason of the conflagration, remained stationary in our camp till the fire was exhausted. And the Persians, insulting us from a distance, sometimes spread themselves widely on purpose, sometimes offered us resistance in a compact body; so that to us who beheld them from a distance it might seem that the reinforcements of the king had come up, and we might imagine that it was on that account that they had ventured on their audacious sallies and unwonted enterprises.
8. Both the emperor and the troops were greatly vexed at this, because they had no means of constructing a bridge, since the ships had been inconsiderately destroyed, nor could any check be offered to the movements of the strange enemy, whom the glistening brilliancy of their arms showed to be close at hand; this armour of theirs being singularly adapted to all the inflections of their body. There was another evil of no small weight, that the reinforcements which we were expecting to arrive under the command of Arsaces and some of our own generals, did not make their appearance, being detained by the causes already mentioned.
§ 1. The emperor, to comfort his soldiers who were made anxious by these events, ordered the prisoners who were of slender make, as the Persians usually are, and who were now more than usually emaciated, to be brought before the army; and looking at our men he said, "Behold what those warlike spirits consider men, little ugly dirty goats; and creatures who, as many events have shown, throw away their arms and take to flight before they can come to blows."
2. And when he had said this, and had ordered the prisoners to be removed, he held a consultation on what was to be done; and after many opinions of different kinds had been delivered, the common soldiers inconsiderately crying out that it was best to return by the same way they had advanced, the emperor steadily opposed this idea, and was joined by several officers who contended that this could not be done, since all the forage and crops had been destroyed throughout the plain, and the remains of the |372 villages which had been burnt were all in complete destitution, and could afford no supplies; because also the whole soil was soaked everywhere from the snows of winter, and the rivers had overflowed their banks and were now formidable torrents.
3. There was this further difficulty, that in those districts where the heat and evaporation are great, every place is infested with swarms of flies and gnats, and in such numbers that the light of the sun and of the stars is completely hidden by them.
4. And as human sagacity was of no avail in such a state of affairs, we were long in doubt and perplexity; and raising altars and sacrificing victims we consulted the will of the gods; inquiring whether it was their will that we should return through Assyria, or advancing slowly along the foot of the mountain chain, should surprise and plunder Chiliocomum near Corduena; but neither of these plans was conformable to the omens presented by an inspection of the sacrifices.
5. However it was decided, that since there was no better prospect before us, to seize on Corduena; and on the 16th June we struck our camp, and at daybreak the emperor set forth, when suddenly was seen either smoke or a great cloud of dust; so that many thought it was caused by herds of wild asses, of which there are countless numbers in those regions, and who were now moving in a troop, in order by their compactness to ward off the ferocious attacks of lions.
6. Some, however, fancied that it was caused by the approach of the Saracen chieftains, our allies, who had heard that the emperor was besieging Ctesiphon in great force: some again affirmed that the Persians were lying in wait for us on our march.
7. Therefore amid all these doubtful opinions, the trumpets sounded a halt, in order to guard against any reverse, and we halted in a grassy valley near a stream, where, packing our shields in close order and in a circular figure, we pitched our camp and rested in safety. Nor, so dark did it continue till evening, could we distinguish what it was that had so long obscured the view.
This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2007. Corrected from print-out. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.
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