Edward Gibbon.

History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 online

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and military powers were vested in the most deserving hands, and
the discretion of the patriarch and senate was authorized to save or
surrender the city, if they should be oppressed in his absence by the
superior forces of the enemy.

The neighboring heights of Chalcedon were covered with tents and arms:
but if the new levies of Heraclius had been rashly led to the attack,
the victory of the Persians in the sight of Constantinople might have
been the last day of the Roman empire. As imprudent would it have been
to advance into the provinces of Asia, leaving their innumerable cavalry
to intercept his convoys, and continually to hang on the lassitude and
disorder of his rear. But the Greeks were still masters of the sea;
a fleet of galleys, transports, and store-ships, was assembled in the
harbor; the Barbarians consented to embark; a steady wind carried them
through the Hellespont the western and southern coast of Asia Minor lay
on their left hand; the spirit of their chief was first displayed in a
storm, and even the eunuchs of his train were excited to suffer and
to work by the example of their master. He landed his troops on the
confines of Syria and Cilicia, in the Gulf of Scanderoon, where the
coast suddenly turns to the south; and his discernment was expressed
in the choice of this important post. From all sides, the scattered
garrisons of the maritime cities and the mountains might repair with
speed and safety to his Imperial standard. The natural fortifications of
Cilicia protected, and even concealed, the camp of Heraclius, which was
pitched near Issus, on the same ground where Alexander had vanquished
the host of Darius. The angle which the emperor occupied was deeply
indented into a vast semicircle of the Asiatic, Armenian, and Syrian
provinces; and to whatsoever point of the circumference he should direct
his attack, it was easy for him to dissemble his own motions, and to
prevent those of the enemy. In the camp of Issus, the Roman general
reformed the sloth and disorder of the veterans, and educated the new
recruits in the knowledge and practice of military virtue. Unfolding the
miraculous image of Christ, he urged them to _revenge_ the holy altars
which had been profaned by the worshippers of fire; addressing them by
the endearing appellations of sons and brethren, he deplored the public
and private wrongs of the republic. The subjects of a monarch were
persuaded that they fought in the cause of freedom; and a similar
enthusiasm was communicated to the foreign mercenaries, who must have
viewed with equal indifference the interest of Rome and of Persia.
Heraclius himself, with the skill and patience of a centurion,
inculcated the lessons of the school of tactics, and the soldiers were
assiduously trained in the use of their weapons, and the exercises and
evolutions of the field. The cavalry and infantry in light or heavy
armor were divided into two parties; the trumpets were fixed in the
centre, and their signals directed the march, the charge, the retreat or
pursuit; the direct or oblique order, the deep or extended phalanx; to
represent in fictitious combat the operations of genuine war. Whatever
hardships the emperor imposed on the troops, he inflicted with equal
severity on himself; their labor, their diet, their sleep, were measured
by the inflexible rules of discipline; and, without despising the enemy,
they were taught to repose an implicit confidence in their own valor
and the wisdom of their leader. Cilicia was soon encompassed with the
Persian arms; but their cavalry hesitated to enter the defiles of Mount
Taurus, till they were circumvented by the evolutions of Heraclius, who
insensibly gained their rear, whilst he appeared to present his front in
order of battle. By a false motion, which seemed to threaten Armenia, he
drew them, against their wishes, to a general action. They were tempted
by the artful disorder of his camp; but when they advanced to
combat, the ground, the sun, and the expectation of both armies, were
unpropitious to the Barbarians; the Romans successfully repeated their
tactics in a field of battle, and the event of the day declared to
the world, that the Persians were not invincible, and that a hero was
invested with the purple. Strong in victory and fame, Heraclius boldly
ascended the heights of Mount Taurus, directed his march through the
plains of Cappadocia, and established his troops, for the winter season,
in safe and plentiful quarters on the banks of the River Halys. His
soul was superior to the vanity of entertaining Constantinople with an
imperfect triumph; but the presence of the emperor was indispensably
required to soothe the restless and rapacious spirit of the Avars.

Since the days of Scipio and Hannibal, no bolder enterprise has been
attempted than that which Heraclius achieved for the deliverance of the
empire He permitted the Persians to oppress for a while the provinces,
and to insult with impunity the capital of the East; while the Roman
emperor explored his perilous way through the Black Sea, and the
mountains of Armenia, penetrated into the heart of Persia, and recalled
the armies of the great king to the defence of their bleeding country.
With a select band of five thousand soldiers, Heraclius sailed from
Constantinople to Trebizond; assembled his forces which had wintered
in the Pontic regions; and, from the mouth of the Phasis to the Caspian
Sea, encouraged his subjects and allies to march with the successor of
Constantine under the faithful and victorious banner of the cross. When
the legions of Lucullus and Pompey first passed the Euphrates, they
blushed at their easy victory over the natives of Armenia. But the long
experience of war had hardened the minds and bodies of that effeminate
people; their zeal and bravery were approved in the service of a
declining empire; they abhorred and feared the usurpation of the house
of Sassan, and the memory of persecution envenomed their pious hatred
of the enemies of Christ. The limits of Armenia, as it had been ceded to
the emperor Maurice, extended as far as the Araxes: the river submitted
to the indignity of a bridge, and Heraclius, in the footsteps of Mark
Antony, advanced towards the city of Tauris or Gandzaca, the ancient and
modern capital of one of the provinces of Media. At the head of forty
thousand men, Chosroes himself had returned from some distant expedition
to oppose the progress of the Roman arms; but he retreated on the
approach of Heraclius, declining the generous alternative of peace or
of battle. Instead of half a million of inhabitants, which have been
ascribed to Tauris under the reign of the Sophys, the city contained no
more than three thousand houses; but the value of the royal treasures
was enhanced by a tradition, that they were the spoils of Crsus, which
had been transported by Cyrus from the citadel of Sardes. The rapid
conquests of Heraclius were suspended only by the winter season; a
motive of prudence, or superstition, determined his retreat into the
province of Albania, along the shores of the Caspian; and his tents were
most probably pitched in the plains of Mogan, the favorite encampment of
Oriental princes. In the course of this successful inroad, he signalized
the zeal and revenge of a Christian emperor: at his command, the
soldiers extinguished the fire, and destroyed the temples, of the Magi;
the statues of Chosroes, who aspired to divine honors, were abandoned to
the flames; and the ruins of Thebarma or Ormia, which had given birth
to Zoroaster himself, made some atonement for the injuries of the
holy sepulchre. A purer spirit of religion was shown in the relief and
deliverance of fifty thousand captives. Heraclius was rewarded by their
tears and grateful acclamations; but this wise measure, which spread the
fame of his benevolence, diffused the murmurs of the Persians against
the pride and obstinacy of their own sovereign.

Chapter XLVI: Troubles In Persia. - Part IV.

Amidst the glories of the succeeding campaign, Heraclius is almost lost
to our eyes, and to those of the Byzantine historians. From the spacious
and fruitful plains of Albania, the emperor appears to follow the chain
of Hyrcanian Mountains, to descend into the province of Media or Irak,
and to carry his victorious arms as far as the royal cities of Casbin
and Ispahan, which had never been approached by a Roman conqueror.
Alarmed by the danger of his kingdom, the powers of Chosroes were
already recalled from the Nile and the Bosphorus, and three formidable
armies surrounded, in a distant and hostile land, the camp of the
emperor. The Colchian allies prepared to desert his standard; and the
fears of the bravest veterans were expressed, rather than concealed,
by their desponding silence. "Be not terrified," said the intrepid
Heraclius, "by the multitude of your foes. With the aid of Heaven, one
Roman may triumph over a thousand Barbarians. But if we devote our
lives for the salvation of our brethren, we shall obtain the crown of
martyrdom, and our immortal reward will be liberally paid by God and
posterity." These magnanimous sentiments were supported by the vigor of
his actions. He repelled the threefold attack of the Persians, improved
the divisions of their chiefs, and, by a well-concerted train of
marches, retreats, and successful actions, finally chased them from the
field into the fortified cities of Media and Assyria. In the severity
of the winter season, Sarbaraza deemed himself secure in the walls of
Salban: he was surprised by the activity of Heraclius, who divided his
troops, and performed a laborious march in the silence of the night. The
flat roofs of the houses were defended with useless valor against the
darts and torches of the Romans: the satraps and nobles of Persia, with
their wives and children, and the flower of their martial youth, were
either slain or made prisoners. The general escaped by a precipitate
flight, but his golden armor was the prize of the conqueror; and the
soldiers of Heraclius enjoyed the wealth and repose which they had so
nobly deserved. On the return of spring, the emperor traversed in seven
days the mountains of Curdistan, and passed without resistance the
rapid stream of the Tigris. Oppressed by the weight of their spoils and
captives, the Roman army halted under the walls of Amida; and Heraclius
informed the senate of Constantinople of his safety and success, which
they had already felt by the retreat of the besiegers. The bridges of
the Euphrates were destroyed by the Persians; but as soon as the emperor
had discovered a ford, they hastily retired to defend the banks of the
Sarus, in Cilicia. That river, an impetuous torrent, was about three
hundred feet broad; the bridge was fortified with strong turrets; and
the banks were lined with Barbarian archers. After a bloody conflict,
which continued till the evening, the Romans prevailed in the assault;
and a Persian of gigantic size was slain and thrown into the Sarus
by the hand of the emperor himself. The enemies were dispersed and
dismayed; Heraclius pursued his march to Sebaste in Cappadocia; and at
the expiration of three years, the same coast of the Euxine applauded
his return from a long and victorious expedition.

Instead of skirmishing on the frontier, the two monarchs who disputed
the empire of the East aimed their desperate strokes at the heart of
their rival. The military force of Persia was wasted by the marches and
combats of twenty years, and many of the veterans, who had survived
the perils of the sword and the climate, were still detained in the
fortresses of Egypt and Syria. But the revenge and ambition of Chosroes
exhausted his kingdom; and the new levies of subjects, strangers, and
slaves, were divided into three formidable bodies. The first army of
fifty thousand men, illustrious by the ornament and title of the
_golden spears_, was destined to march against Heraclius; the second
was stationed to prevent his junction with the troops of his brother
Theodore's; and the third was commanded to besiege Constantinople, and
to second the operations of the chagan, with whom the Persian king had
ratified a treaty of alliance and partition. Sarbar, the general of the
third army, penetrated through the provinces of Asia to the well-known
camp of Chalcedon, and amused himself with the destruction of the sacred
and profane buildings of the Asiatic suburbs, while he impatiently
waited the arrival of his Scythian friends on the opposite side of the
Bosphorus. On the twenty-ninth of June, thirty thousand Barbarians, the
vanguard of the Avars, forced the long wall, and drove into the capital
a promiscuous crowd of peasants, citizens, and soldiers. Fourscore
thousand of his native subjects, and of the vassal tribes of Gepidæ,
Russians, Bulgarians, and Sclavonians, advanced under the standard of
the chagan; a month was spent in marches and negotiations, but the whole
city was invested on the thirty-first of July, from the suburbs of
Pera and Galata to the Blachernæ and seven towers; and the inhabitants
descried with terror the flaming signals of the European and Asiatic
shores. In the mean while, the magistrates of Constantinople repeatedly
strove to purchase the retreat of the chagan; but their deputies were
rejected and insulted; and he suffered the patricians to stand before
his throne, while the Persian envoys, in silk robes, were seated by his
side. "You see," said the haughty Barbarian, "the proofs of my perfect
union with the great king; and his lieutenant is ready to send into
my camp a select band of three thousand warriors. Presume no longer to
tempt your master with a partial and inadequate ransom your wealth and
your city are the only presents worthy of my acceptance. For yourselves,
I shall permit you to depart, each with an under-garment and a shirt;
and, at my entreaty, my friend Sarbar will not refuse a passage through
his lines. Your absent prince, even now a captive or a fugitive, has
left Constantinople to its fate; nor can you escape the arms of the
Avars and Persians, unless you could soar into the air like birds,
unless like fishes you could dive into the waves." During ten successive
days, the capital was assaulted by the Avars, who had made some progress
in the science of attack; they advanced to sap or batter the wall,
under the cover of the impenetrable tortoise; their engines discharged
a perpetual volley of stones and darts; and twelve lofty towers of wood
exalted the combatants to the height of the neighboring ramparts. But
the senate and people were animated by the spirit of Heraclius, who
had detached to their relief a body of twelve thousand cuirassiers; the
powers of fire and mechanics were used with superior art and success in
the defence of Constantinople; and the galleys, with two and three ranks
of oars, commanded the Bosphorus, and rendered the Persians the idle
spectators of the defeat of their allies. The Avars were repulsed; a
fleet of Sclavonian canoes was destroyed in the harbor; the vassals
of the chagan threatened to desert, his provisions were exhausted, and
after burning his engines, he gave the signal of a slow and formidable
retreat. The devotion of the Romans ascribed this signal deliverance to
the Virgin Mary; but the mother of Christ would surely have condemned
their inhuman murder of the Persian envoys, who were entitled to the
rights of humanity, if they were not protected by the laws of nations.

After the division of his army, Heraclius prudently retired to the banks
of the Phasis, from whence he maintained a defensive war against the
fifty thousand gold spears of Persia. His anxiety was relieved by the
deliverance of Constantinople; his hopes were confirmed by a victory of
his brother Theodorus; and to the hostile league of Chosroes with the
Avars, the Roman emperor opposed the useful and honorable alliance of
the Turks. At his liberal invitation, the horde of Chozars transported
their tents from the plains of the Volga to the mountains of Georgia;
Heraclius received them in the neighborhood of Teflis, and the khan with
his nobles dismounted from their horses, if we may credit the Greeks,
and fell prostrate on the ground, to adore the purple of the Cæsars.
Such voluntary homage and important aid were entitled to the warmest
acknowledgments; and the emperor, taking off his own diadem, placed it
on the head of the Turkish prince, whom he saluted with a tender embrace
and the appellation of son. After a sumptuous banquet, he presented
Ziebel with the plate and ornaments, the gold, the gems, and the silk,
which had been used at the Imperial table, and, with his own hand,
distributed rich jewels and ear-rings to his new allies. In a
secret interview, he produced the portrait of his daughter Eudocia,
condescended to flatter the Barbarian with the promise of a fair and
august bride; obtained an immediate succor of forty thousand horse, and
negotiated a strong diversion of the Turkish arms on the side of the
Oxus. The Persians, in their turn, retreated with precipitation; in the
camp of Edessa, Heraclius reviewed an army of seventy thousand Romans
and strangers; and some months were successfully employed in the
recovery of the cities of Syria, Mesopotamia and Armenia, whose
fortifications had been imperfectly restored. Sarbar still maintained
the important station of Chalcedon; but the jealousy of Chosroes, or the
artifice of Heraclius, soon alienated the mind of that powerful satrap
from the service of his king and country. A messenger was intercepted
with a real or fictitious mandate to the cadarigan, or second in
command, directing him to send, without delay, to the throne, the head
of a guilty or unfortunate general. The despatches were transmitted to
Sarbar himself; and as soon as he read the sentence of his own death,
he dexterously inserted the names of four hundred officers, assembled a
military council, and asked the _cadarigan_ whether he was prepared to
execute the commands of their tyrant. The Persians unanimously declared,
that Chosroes had forfeited the sceptre; a separate treaty was concluded
with the government of Constantinople; and if some considerations
of honor or policy restrained Sarbar from joining the standard of
Heraclius, the emperor was assured that he might prosecute, without
interruption, his designs of victory and peace.

Deprived of his firmest support, and doubtful of the fidelity of his
subjects, the greatness of Chosroes was still conspicuous in its ruins.
The number of five hundred thousand may be interpreted as an Oriental
metaphor, to describe the men and arms, the horses and elephants, that
covered Media and Assyria against the invasion of Heraclius. Yet the
Romans boldly advanced from the Araxes to the Tigris, and the timid
prudence of Rhazates was content to follow them by forced marches
through a desolate country, till he received a peremptory mandate to
risk the fate of Persia in a decisive battle. Eastward of the Tigris,
at the end of the bridge of Mosul, the great Nineveh had formerly
been erected: the city, and even the ruins of the city, had long
since disappeared; the vacant space afforded a spacious field for the
operations of the two armies. But these operations are neglected by the
Byzantine historians, and, like the authors of epic poetry and romance,
they ascribe the victory, not to the military conduct, but to the
personal valor, of their favorite hero. On this memorable day,
Heraclius, on his horse Phallas, surpassed the bravest of his warriors:
his lip was pierced with a spear; the steed was wounded in the thigh;
but he carried his master safe and victorious through the triple phalanx
of the Barbarians. In the heat of the action, three valiant chiefs were
successively slain by the sword and lance of the emperor: among these
was Rhazates himself; he fell like a soldier, but the sight of his head
scattered grief and despair through the fainting ranks of the Persians.
His armor of pure and massy gold, the shield of one hundred and twenty
plates, the sword and belt, the saddle and cuirass, adorned the triumph
of Heraclius; and if he had not been faithful to Christ and his mother,
the champion of Rome might have offered the fourth _opime_ spoils to
the Jupiter of the Capitol. In the battle of Nineveh, which was fiercely
fought from daybreak to the eleventh hour, twenty-eight standards,
besides those which might be broken or torn, were taken from the
Persians; the greatest part of their army was cut in pieces, and the
victors, concealing their own loss, passed the night on the field. They
acknowledged, that on this occasion it was less difficult to kill
than to discomfit the soldiers of Chosroes; amidst the bodies of their
friends, no more than two bow-shot from the enemy the remnant of the
Persian cavalry stood firm till the seventh hour of the night; about
the eighth hour they retired to their unrifled camp, collected their
baggage, and dispersed on all sides, from the want of orders rather than
of resolution. The diligence of Heraclius was not less admirable in
the use of victory; by a march of forty-eight miles in four-and-twenty
hours, his vanguard occupied the bridges of the great and the lesser
Zab; and the cities and palaces of Assyria were open for the first
time to the Romans. By a just gradation of magnificent scenes, they
penetrated to the royal seat of Dastagerd, and, though much of the
treasure had been removed, and much had been expended, the remaining
wealth appears to have exceeded their hopes, and even to have satiated
their avarice. Whatever could not be easily transported, they consumed
with fire, that Chosroes might feel the anguish of those wounds which he
had so often inflicted on the provinces of the empire: and justice might
allow the excuse, if the desolation had been confined to the works of
regal luxury, if national hatred, military license, and religious zeal,
had not wasted with equal rage the habitations and the temples of the
guiltless subject. The recovery of three hundred Roman standards, and
the deliverance of the numerous captives of Edessa and Alexandria,
reflect a purer glory on the arms of Heraclius. From the palace
of Dastagerd, he pursued his march within a few miles of Modain or
Ctesiphon, till he was stopped, on the banks of the Arba, by the
difficulty of the passage, the rigor of the season, and perhaps the fame
of an impregnable capital. The return of the emperor is marked by the
modern name of the city of Sherhzour: he fortunately passed Mount
Zara, before the snow, which fell incessantly thirty-four days; and the
citizens of Gandzca, or Tauris, were compelled to entertain the soldiers
and their horses with a hospitable reception.

When the ambition of Chosroes was reduced to the defence of his
hereditary kingdom, the love of glory, or even the sense of shame,
should have urged him to meet his rival in the field. In the battle of
Nineveh, his courage might have taught the Persians to vanquish, or
he might have fallen with honor by the lance of a Roman emperor. The
successor of Cyrus chose rather, at a secure distance, to expect the
event, to assemble the relics of the defeat, and to retire, by measured
steps, before the march of Heraclius, till he beheld with a sigh the
once loved mansions of Dastagerd. Both his friends and enemies were
persuaded, that it was the intention of Chosroes to bury himself under
the ruins of the city and palace: and as both might have been equally
adverse to his flight, the monarch of Asia, with Sira, and three
concubines, escaped through a hole in the wall nine days before the
arrival of the Romans. The slow and stately procession in which he
showed himself to the prostrate crowd, was changed to a rapid and secret
journey; and the first evening he lodged in the cottage of a peasant,
whose humble door would scarcely give admittance to the great king. His
superstition was subdued by fear: on the third day, he entered with joy
the fortifications of Ctesiphon; yet he still doubted of his safety
till he had opposed the River Tigris to the pursuit of the Romans. The
discovery of his flight agitated with terror and tumult the palace, the
city, and the camp of Dastagerd: the satraps hesitated whether they had
most to fear from their sovereign or the enemy; and the females of the
harem were astonished and pleased by the sight of mankind, till the
jealous husband of three thousand wives again confined them to a more
distant castle. At his command, the army of Dastagerd retreated to a
new camp: the front was covered by the Arba, and a line of two hundred
elephants; the troops of the more distant provinces successively

Online LibraryEdward GibbonHistory of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — Volume 4 → online text (page 35 of 49)