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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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.

II.

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 inha-
bitants 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 AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS. [B K . XXIV. CH. n.

interior of the country, they also as an appendage would
conie 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
caine 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 pro-
ceeded.

3. In the two next days we marched two hundred fur-
longs, and arrived at a place called Paraxmalcha. \Ye
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, ^"e
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




A.D.363.] CROSSES THE RIVER. 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
citiefe. Another branch of the river known as the Isaha-
uaalca, which means "the river of kings," passes by Ctesi-
phon : 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 recon-
noitred its position, began to lay siege to it with great
caution, as if he would make the townsmen abandpn 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 first day the combat was carried on with
missiles till nightfall.

10. But the garrison, full of courage and vigour, spread-
ing 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 AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS. [BK. XXIV. CH. H.

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 T and occu-
pied 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 1he 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 fight 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



A.D. 363.] HIS EMULATION OF SCiPIO. 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
./Emilianus, with the historian Polybius, a citizen of Mega-
lopolis 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 ^Emilianus 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 consi-
dering 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 pro-
tection of the Eomans with outstretched hands.

20. And when they saw that the works of the Eomans
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 com-
mander of the garrison, was let down by a rope, and con-
ducted to the emperor as he desired ; and having received
a promise of his own life, and of impunity to all his com-
rades, 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

2 A



354 AMMIAXU3 MARCEIJ.IXUS. [BK. XXIV. CH. in.

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, expect-
ing 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.

III.

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 ex-
ploits. 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.

o. " The treasury is empty, the cities are exhausted,



A.D. 363.] HIS SPEECH TO HIS SOLDIERS. 355

the finances are stripped bare. I myself have neither
treasures, nor, noble as I am by birth, do I inherit any-
thing from my family but a heart free from all fear. Nor
shall I be ashamed to place all my happiness in the cul-
tivation 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, dis-
carding 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 per-
formed 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 un-
moved 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. Exit 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 Eoman 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 re-
duced to the condition of a province ; so may I bridge over
the Danube and Euphrates," using many similar f ims
of attestation.



356 AMMIAXU3 MARCKLLINUS. [Bs. XXIV. CH. m.

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, re-
duced to the state of a marsh, the emperor gave the soldiers
the next day for rest, and advancing in front himself, con-
structed a number of little bridges of bladders, and
coracles 1 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.

14. 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 am-
buscade of the enemy's archers, but having avenged them-
selves well, they came to a spot where the larger portion
of the Euphrates is divided into a number of small streams.

1 Small boats made of wickor and covered with hide ; still used in
Wales, where they are also called thorricle, truckle, or cobble.



i.D. 363.] HIS DANGER.



IV.

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.
~*&. 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 appear-
ance, made at him with drawn swords; but he encountered
them with his shield raised, and protecting himself with
that, and fighting w r ith 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 stirname of Cor-
vinus, 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 AMMIANUS MARCELLIXUS. [BK. XXIV. CH. iv.

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. AYhile he was making great exertions to complete
his preparations, the Surena, the enemy's genei-al, fell
upon the cattle which were feeding in the palm groves, but
was repulsed by those of our squadrons who were ap-
pointed 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 resist-
ance 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 pro-
vinces, 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 every-
where 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. Thei e was a third difficulty not less formidable that



A.D. 363.] GALLANTRY OF THE ASSAILANTS. 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 indig-
"nation, being eager to make courageous onsets on the
enemy.

12. But the wisdom of our leaders overcame the eager-
ness 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 vinese, or penthouses ; but the begin-
ning 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 A:.IMIANUS MARCELLIXUS. [BK. xxiv. CH. nr

16. But when the assailants, pushing the osier fences
before them, passed up to the walls, the archers, slingera
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 ex-
hausted by fatigue and dripping with sweat.

18. The same plan was followed the next day, the two
parties contending resolutely in various modes of fight-
ing, 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



Online LibraryAmmianus MarcellinusThe Roman history of Ammianus Marcellinus : during the reigns of the Emperors Constantius, Julian, Jovianus, Valentinian, and Valens → online text (page 34 of 62)