Ammianus Marcellinus.

The Roman history of Ammianus Marcellinus : during the reigns of the Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens online

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tomed to be disturbed continually, the lands were pro-
tected by frequent barriers, and military stations in the rural
districts, Nohodares, having directed his march to the left,
had occupied the most remote parts of the Osdroene, having
devised a novel plan of operations which had never
hitherto been tried. And if he had succeeded he wuuln
have laid waste the whole country like a thunderbolt.

3. Now the plan which lie hail conceived was of this kind.
There is a town in Anthemusia called Batne, built by the-
ancient Macedonians, a short distance from the river Eu-
phrates, thickly peopled by wealthy merchants. To this
city, about the beginning of the month of September, a
great multitude of all ranks throng to a fair, in order to
buy the wares which the Indians and Chinese send thither,
and many other articles which are usually brought to this
fair by land and sea.

4. The leader before named, preparing to invade this
district on the days set apart for this solemnity, marching
through the deserts and along the grassy banks of the

A.I). 353.] THE SARACENS. 1 1

river Abora, was betrayed by information given by some
of his own men, who being alarmed at the discovery of
certain crimes which they had committed, deserted to the
Koman garrisons, and accordingly he retired again without
having accomplished anything ; and after that remained
quiet without undertaking any further enterprise.


1. AT this time also the Saracens, a race whom it is
never desirable to have either for friends or enemies,
ranging up and down the country, if ever they found any-
thing, plundered it in a moment, like rapacious hawks
who, if from on high they behold any prey, carry it off
with rapid swoop, or, if they fail in their attempt, do not

2. And although, in recounting the career of the Prince
Marcus, and once or twice subsequently, I remember
having discussed the manners of this people, nevertheless
I will now briefly enumerate a few more particulars con-
cerning them.

3. Among these tribes, whose primary origin is derived
from the cataracts of the Nile and the borders of the Blem-
myae, all the men are warriors of equal rank ; half naked,
clad in coloured cloaks down to the waist, overrunning
different countries, with the aid of swift and active horses
and speedy camels, alike in times of peace and war. Nor
does any member of their tribes ever take plough in hand
or cultivate a tree, or seek food by the tillage of the land ;
but they are perpetually wandering over various and
extensive districts, having no home, no fixed abode or
laws ; nor can they endure to remain long in the same
climate, no one district or country pleasing them for a

4. Their life is one continued wandering; their wives
are hired, on special covenant, for a fixed time; and that
there may be some appearance of marriage in the business,
the intended wife, under the name of a dowry, offers a
spear and a tent to her husband, with a right to quit him
after a fixed day, if she shoxild choose to do so. And it is
inconceivable with what eagerness the individuals of both
sexes give themselves up to matrimonial pleasures.


5. But as long as they live they wander about with such
extensive and perpetual migrations, that the woman is
married in one place, brings forth her children in another,
and rears them at a distance from either place, no oppor-
txmity of remaining quiet being ever granted to her.

6. They all live on venison, and are further supported
on a great abundance of milk, and on many kinds of herbs,
and on whatever birds they can catch by fowling. And
we have seen a great many of them wholly ignorant of the
use of either corn or wine.

7. So much for this most mischievous nation. Now let
us return to the subject we originally proposed to our


1. WHILE these events were taking place in the East, Con-
stantius was passing the winter at Aries ; and after an
exhibition of games in the theatre and in the circus, which
were displayed with most sumptuous magnificence, on the
tenth of October, the day which completed the thirtieth
year of his reign, he began to give the reins more freely
to his insolence, believing every information which was
laid before him as proved, however doubtful or false it
might be ; and among other acts of cruelty, he put Geron-
tius, a count of the party of Magnentius, to the torture,
and then condemned him to banishment.

2. And as the body of a sick man is apt to be agitated
by even trifling grievances, so his narrow and sensitive
mind, thinking every sound that stirred something either
done or planned to the injury of his safety, made his
victory ' mournful by the slaughter of innocent men.

3^ For if any one of his military officers, or of 1lio.-e
who had ever received marks of honour, or if any one of
high rank was accused, on the barest rumour, of having
favoured the faction of his enemy, lie was loaded with
chains and dragged about like a beast. And whether any
enemy of the accused man pressed him or not, as if the

1 His victory over Magnentius, whom lie defeated at Mursa, on fie
Doave, in the year 3f>l. Maguentius fled to Aquileia, but was pursued,
and again defeated the next year, at a place called Mons Seleuci, in
the neighbourhood of Gap, and threw himself on hi,-; own sword to
poid fulling into the hands of Conskintius.


mere fact, tliat his name had been mentioned was sufficient,
every one who was informed against or in any way called
iii. question, was condemned either to death, or to confis-
cation of his property, or to confinement in a desert

4. For his ferocity was excited to a still further degree
when any mention was made of treason or sedition ; and
the bloodthirsty insinuations of those around him, ex-
aggerating everything that happened, and pretending
great concern at any danger which inight threaten the life
of the emperor, on whose safety, as on a thread, they
hypocritically exclaimed the whole world depended, added
daily to his suspicions and watchful anger.

5. And therefore it is reported he gave orders that
no one who was at any time sentenced to punishment
for these or similar offences should be readmitted to his
presence for the purpose of offering the usual testimonies
to his character, a thing which the most implacable princes
have been wont to permit. And thus deadly cruelty,
which in all other men at times grows cool, in him only
became more violent as he advanced in years, because the
court of flatterers which attended on him added continual
fuel to his stern obstinacy.

6. Of this court a most conspicuous member was Paulus,
the secretary, a native of Spain, a man keeping his objects
hidden beneath a smooth countenance, and acute bej'ond
all men in smelling out secret ways to bring others into
danger. He, having been sent into Britain to arrest some
military officers who had dared to favour the conspiracy
of Magnentius, as they could not resist, licentiously
exceeded his commands, and like a flood poured with
sudden violence upon the fortunes of a great number
of people, making his path through manifold slaughter
and destruction, loading the bodies of free-born men with
chains, and crushing some with fetters, while patching
up all kinds of accusations far removed from the
truth. And to this man is owing one especial atrocity
which has branded the time of Constantius with indelible

7. Martinus, who at that time governed these provinces
as deputy, being greatly concerned for the sufferings in-
flicted on innocent men, and making frequent entreaties


that those who were free from all guilt might be spared,
when he found that he could not prevail, threatened to
withdraw from the province, in the hope that this male-
volent inquisitor, Paulus, might be afraid of his doing so,
and so give over exposing to open danger men who had
combined only in a wish for tranquillity.

8. Paulus, thinking that this conduct of Martinus was
a hindrance to his own zeal, being, as he was, a formidable
artist in involving matters, from which people gave him
the nickname of " the Chain," attacked the deputy him-
self while still engaged in defending the people whom he
was set to govern, and involved him in the dangers which
surrounded every one else, threatening that he would carry
him, with his tribunes and many other persons, as a pri-
soner to the emperor's court. Martiniis, alarmed at this
threat, and seeing the imminent danger in which his life
was, drew his sword and attacked Paulus. But because
from want of strength in his hand he was unable to give
him a mortal Avound, he then plunged his drawn sword
into his own side. And by this unseemly kind of death
that most just man departed from life, merely for having
dared to interpose some delay to the miserable calamities
of many citizens.

9. And when these wicked deeds had been perpetrated,
Paulus, covered with blood, returned to the emperor's
camp, bringing with him a crowd of prisoners almost
covered with chains, in the lowest condition of squalor
and misery; on whose arrival the racks were prepared,
and the executioner began to prepare his hooks and other
engines of torture. Of these prisoners, many of them had
their property confiscated, others were sentenced to banish-
ment, some were given over to the sword of the exe-
cutioner. Nor is it easy to cite the acquittal of a single
person in the time of Constantius, where the slightest
whisper of accusation had been brought against him.


1. AT this time Orfitus was the governor of the Eternal
City, with the rank of prefect ; and he behaved with a
degree of insolence beyond the proper limits of the dignity
thus conferred upon him. A man of prudence indeed, and


well skilled in all the forensic business of the city, but
less accomplished in general literature and in the fine arts
than was becoming in a nobleman. Under his adminis-
tration some very formidable seditions broke out in con-
sequence of the scarcity of wine, as the people, being
exceedingly eager for an abundant use of that article, were
easily excited to frequent and violent disorders.

2. And since I think it likely that foreigners who may
read this account (if, indeed, any such should meet with
it) are likely to wonder how it is that, when my history
has reached the point of narrating what was done at Rome,
nothing is spoken of but seditions, and shops, and cheap-
ness, and other similarly inconsiderable matters, I will
briefly touch upon the causes of this, never intentionally
departing from the strict truth.

3. At the time when Rome first rose into mundane
brilliancy that Rome which was fated to last as long as
mankind shall endure, and to be increased with a sublime
progress and growth virtue and fortune, though com-
monly at variance, agreed upon a treaty of eternal peace,
as far as she was concerned. For if either of them had
been wanting to her, she would never have reached her
perfect and complete supremacy.

4. Her people, from its very earliest infancy to the latest
moment of its youth, a period which extends over about
three hundred years, carried on a variety of wars with the
natives around its walls. Then, when it arrived at its
full-grown manhood, after man} 7 and various labours in
war, it crossed the Alps and the sea, till, as youth and man,
it had carried the triumphs of victory into every country
in the world.

5. And now that it is declining into old age, and often
owes its victories to its mere name, it has come to a more
tranquil time of life. Therefore the venerable city, after
having bowed down the haughty necks of fierce nations,
and given laws to the world, to be the foundations and
eternal anchors of liberty, like a thrifty parent, prudent
and rich, intrusted to the Caesars, as to its own children,
the right of governing their ancestral inheritance.

6. And although the tribes are indolent, and the
countries peaceful, and although there are no contests for
votes, but the tranquillity of the age of Numa has returned,


nevertheless, in every quarter of the world Home is still
looked up to as the mistress and the queen of the earth,
and the name of the Eoman people is respected and

7. But this magnificent splendour of the assemblies and
councils of the Eoman people is defaced by the inconside-
rate levity of a few, who never recollect where they have
been born, but who fall away into error and licentiousness,
as if a perfect impunity were granted to vice. For as the
lyric poet Simonides teaches us, the man who would live
happily in accordance with perfect reason, ought above all
things to have a glorious country.

8. Of these men, some thinking that they can be handed
down to immortality by means of statues, are eagerly
desirous of them, as if they would obtain a higher reward
from brazen figures unendowed with sense than from a
consciousness of upright and honourable actions ; and they
even are anxious to have them plated over with gold, a
thing which is reported to have been first done in the in-
stance of Acilius Glabrio, who by his wisdom and valour
had subdued King Antiochus. But how really noble a
thing it is to despise all these inconsiderable and trifling
things, and to bend one's attention to the long and toilsome
steps of true glory, as the poet of Ascrea 1 has sung, and Cato
the Censor has shown by his example. For when he was
asked how it was that while many other nobles had statues
he had none, replied : " I had rather that good men should
marvel how it was that 1 did not earn one, than (Avhat
would be a much heavier misfortune) inquire how it was
that I had obtained one."

9. Others place the height ol glory in having a coach
higher than usual, or splendid apparel ; and so toil and
sweat tinder a vast burden of cloaks, which are fastened
to their necks by many clasps, and blow about from the
excessive fineness of the material ; showing a desire, by
the continual wriggling of their bodies, and especially by
the waving of the left hand, to make their long fringes and
tunics, embroidered in multiform figures of animals with
threads of various colours, more conspicuous.

10. Others, with not any one asking them, put on a

1 Hesiod. Ammianus refers to the passage in Hesiod's Op. et Dies,
289, beginning rris 5" dperf/s ISpwTa, Oeol TrpoirdooiOev fBrjffav.


feigned severity of countenance, and extol their patrimonial
estates in a boundless degree, exaggerating the yearly pro-
cFtice of their fruitful fields, which they boast of possessing
in numbers from east to west, being forsooth ignorant that
their ancestors, by whom the greatness of Rome was so
widely extended, were not eminent for riches ; but through
a course of dreadful wars overpowered by their valour all
who were opposed to them, though differing but little from
the common soldiers either in riches, or in their mode of life,
or in the costliness of their garments.

11. This is how it happened that Valerius Publicola was
buried by the contributions of his friends, and that the
destitute wife of Regulus was, with her children, supported
by the aid of the friends of her husband, and that the
daughter of Scipio had a dowry provided for her out of the
public treasury, the other nobles being ashamed to see the
beauty of this full-grown maiden, while her monej'less
father was so long absent on the service of his country.

12. But now if you, as an honourable stranger, should
enter the house of any one well off, and on that account
full of pride, for the purpose of saluting him, at first,
indeed, you will be hospitably received, as though your
presence had been desired ; and after having had many
questions put to you, and having been forced 'to tell a
number of lies, you will wonder, since the man had never
seen you before, that one of high rank should pay such
attention to you who are but an unimportant individual ;
so that by reason of this as a principal sowce of happiness,
you begin to repent of not having come to Kome ten years

13. And when relying on this affability you do the
same thing the next day, you will stand waiting as one
utterly unknown and unexpected, while he who yester-
day encouraged you to repeat your visit, counts upon his
fingers who you can be, marvelling, for a long time,
whence you come, and what you want. But when at
length you are recognized and admitted to his acquaint-
ance, if you should devote yourself to the attention of
saluting him for three years consecutively, and after this
intermit your visits for an equal length of time, then if
you return to repeat a similar course, you will never be
questioned about your absence any more than if you had



been dead, and you will waste your whole life in sub*mit-
ting to court the humours of this blockhead.

14. But when those long and unwholesome banquets,
which are indulged in at certain intervals, begin to be pre-
pared, or the distribution of the usual dole-baskets takes
place, then it is discussed with anxious deliberation whether
when those to whom a return is due are to be entertained,
it is proper to invite also a stranger; and if, after the
matter has been thoroughly sifted, it is determined that it
may be done, that person is preferred who \vaits all night
before the houses of charioteers, or who professes a skill in
dice, or pretends to be acquainted with some peculiar secrets.

15. For such entertainers avoid all learned and sober men
as unprofitable and useless ; with this addition, that the
nomenclators' also, who are accustomed to make a market
of these invitations and of similar favours, selling them for
bribes, do for gain thrust in mean and obscure men at these

10. The whirlpools of banquets, and the various allure-
ments of luxury, I omit, that I may not be too prolix, and
with the object of passing on to this fact, that some people,
hastening on without fear of danger, drive their horses,
as if they were post-horses, with a regular licence, as the
saying is, through the wide streets of the city, over the
roads paved with flint, dragging behind them large bodies of
slaves like bands of robbers ; not leaving at home even
Sannio, 2 as the comic poet says.

17. And many matrons, imitating these men, gallop over
every quarter of the city with their heads covered, and in close
carriages. And as skilful conductors of battles place in the
van their densest and strongest battalions, then their light-
armed troops, behind them the darters, and in the extreme
rear troops of reserve, ready to join in the attack if necessity
should arise ; so, according to the careful arrangements of
the stewards of these city households, who are conspicuous
by wands fastened to their right hands, as if a regular
watchword had been issued from the camp, first of all, near

1 A nomenclator was a slave who attended a great noble in his walk
through the city to remind him of the names of thosa whom he met.
See Cicero pro Murrena, c. 36.

2 The name of a slave in the Eunuch, of Terence, who says, act. iv.
sc. 8 Sanuio alone stays at home.


the front of the carriage march all the slaves concerned in
spinning and working ; next to them come the blackened
.grew employed in the kitchen ; then the whole body of
slaves promiscuously mixed up with a gang of idle plebeians
from the neighbourhood ; last of all) the multitude of
eunuchs, beginning with the old men and ending with the
boys, pale and unsightly from the distorted deformity of
their features ; so that whichever way any one goes, seeing
troops of mutilated men, he will detest the memory of
Semiramis, that ancient queen who was the first person to
castrate male youths of tender age ; doing as it were a
violence to nature, and forcing it back from its appointed
course, which at the very first beginning and birth of the
child, by a kind of secret law revealing the primitive foun-
tains of seed, points out the way of propagating posterity.

18. And as this is the case, those few houses which were
formerly celebrated for the serious cultivation of becoming
studies, are now filled with the ridiculous amusements of
torpid indolence, re-echoing with the sound of vocal music
and the tinkle of flutes and lyres. Lastly, instead of a philo-
sopher, you find a singer ; instead of an orator, some teacher
of ridiculous arts is summoned ; and the libraries closed for
ever, like so many graves ; organs to be played by water-
power are made ; and lyres of so vast a size, that they look
like waggons ; and flutes, and ponderous machines suited
for the exhibitions of actors.

19. Last of all, they have arrived at such a depth of un-
worthiness, that when, no very long time ago, on account
of an apprehended scarcity of food, the foreigners were
driven in haste from the city ; those who practised liberal
accomplishments, the number of whom was exceedingly
small, were expelled without a moment's breathing-time ;
yet the followers of actresses, and all who at that time
pretended to be of such a class, were allowed to remain ; and
three thousand dancing-girls had not even a question put
to them, but stayed unmolested with the members of their
choruses, and a corresponding number of dancing masters.

20. And wherever you turn your eyes, you may .see a
multitude of women with their hair curled, who, as far as
their age goes, might, if they had married, been by this
time the mothers of three children, sweeping the pavements
with their feet till they are weary, whirling round in rapid


gyrations, while representing innumei'able groups and
figures which the theatrical plays contain.

21. It is a truth beyond all question, that, when at one
time Rome was the al-ode of all the virtues, many of the
nobles, like the Lotophagi, celebrated in Homer, who
detained men by the deliciousness of their fruit, allured
foreigners of free birth by manifold attentions of courtesy
and kindness.

22. But now, in their empty arrogance, some persons
look upon everything as worthless which is born outside of
the walls of the city, except only the childless and the un-
married. Nor can it be conceived with what a variety of
obsequious observance men without children are courted
at Rome.

23. And since among them, as is natural in a city so
great as to be the metropolis of the world, diseases attain
to such an insurmountable degree of violence, that all the
skill of the physician is ineffectual even to mitigate them ;
a certain assistance and means of safety has been devised,
in the rule that no one should go to see a friend in such a
condition, and to a few precautionary measures a fuither
remedy of sufficient potency has been added, that men
should not readmit into their houses servants who have
been sent to inquire how a man's friends who may have
been seized with an illness of this kind are, until they have
cleansed and purified their persons in the bath. So that a
taint is feared, even when it has only been seen with the
eyes of another.

24. But nevertheless, when these rules are observed thus
stringently, some persons, if they be invited to a wedding,
though the vigour of their limbs be much diminished, yet,
when gold is offered 1 in the hollow palm of the right hand,
will go actively as far as Spoletum. These are the customs
of the nobles.

25. But of the lower and most indigent class of the popu-
lace some spend the whole night in the wine shops.
Some lie concealed in the shady arcades of the theatres ;
which Catulus was in his axlileship the first person to

1 It was customary on such solemnities, as also on the occasion of
n.snming the toga virilis, or entering on any important magistracy, to
make small presents of money to the guests who were invited to cele-
brate the occasion. Cf. Plin. Epist. x. 117.


raise, in imitation of the lascivious manners of Campania, or
else they play at dice so eagerly as to quarrel over them ;
siruffing up 1heir nostrils and making unseemly noises by
drawing back their breath into their noses ; or (and this is
tKeir favourite pursuit of all others) from sunrise to even-
ing they stay gaping through sunshine or rain, examining
in the most careful manner the most sterling good or
bad qualities of the charioteers and horses.

Online LibraryAmmianus MarcellinusThe Roman history of Ammianus Marcellinus : during the reigns of the Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens → online text (page 3 of 62)