J. B. (John Bagnell) Bury.

A history of the later Roman empire, from Arcadius to Irene (395 A. D. to 800 A. D.); online

. (page 45 of 49)
Online LibraryJ. B. (John Bagnell) BuryA history of the later Roman empire, from Arcadius to Irene (395 A. D. to 800 A. D.); → online text (page 45 of 49)
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This retreat of Chosroes, according to Procopius, procured for
Belisarius greater glory than he had won by his victories in
Africa and Italy.

But the account of Procopius, which coming from a less
illustrious historian would be rejected on account of internal
improbability, cannot be accepted with confidence. It displays
such a marked tendency to glorify his favourite and friend
Belisarius, that it can hardly be received as a candid unvarnished
account of the actual transactions. Besides, there is a certain
inconsistency. If Chosroes retired for fear of Belisarius, as
Procopius would have us believe, why was it he who received
the hostage, and how did he venture to take Callinicum ? It
might be said that these were devices, connived at by Belisarius,
to keep up the dignity of a king ; but as there actually existed
a potent cause, unconnected with the Eomans, to induce his
return to Persia, namely the outbreak of the plague, we can
hardly hesitate to assume that this was its true motive. 1

IV, The Roman Invasion of Persarmenia, 543 A.D.

In spite of the plague Chosroes set forth in the following
spring to invade Boman Armenia. He advanced into the dis-
trict of Azerbiyan (Atropatene), and halted at the great shrine
of Persian fire-worship, where the magi kept alive an eternal

1 So Rawlinson (op. ciL p. 401), who than he deserves. The plague broke
perhaps is more generous to Procopius out in Persia in the summer of 542.

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flame, which Procopius wishes to identify with the fire of
Roman Vesta. Here the Persian monarch waited for some
time, having received a message that two ambassadors 1 were
on their way to him, with instructions from " the Caesar."
But the ambassadors did not arrive, because one of them fell
ill by the road; and Chosroes did not pursue his north-
Ward journey, because a plague broke out in his army. The
Persian general Nabedes sent a christian bishop named Eu-
dubius to Valerian, the Roman general in Armenia, with com-
plaints that the expected embassy had not appeared. Eudubius
was accompanied by his brother, who secretly communicated
to Valerian the valuable information that Chosroes was just
then encompassed by perplexities, the spread of the plague,
and the revolt of one of his sons. It was a favourable oppor-
tunity for the Romans, and Justinian gave command that all
the generals stationed in the East should combine to invade

Martin was the master of soldiers in the East; he does
not appear, however, to have possessed much actual authority
over the other commanders. They at first encamped in the same
district, but did not unite their forces, which in all amounted to
about thirty thousand men. Martin himself, with Ildiger and
Theoctistus, encamped at Kitharizon, about four days' march
from Theodosiopolis ; the troops of Peter and Adolios took up
their quarters in the vicinity ; while Valerian, the general of
Armenia, stationed himself close to Theodosiopolis and was
joined there by Narses and a regiment of Heruls and Armenians.
The Emperor's nephew Justus and some other commanders
remained during the campaign far to the south in the neigh-
bourhood of Martyropolis, where they made incursions of no
great importance.

At first the various generals made separate inroads, but
they ultimately united their regiments in the spacious plain of
Dubis, eight days from Theodosiopolis. This plain, well suited
for equestrian exercise, and richly populated, was a famous
rendezvous for traders of all nations, Indian, Iberian, Persian,
and Roman. 2 About fifteen miles from Dubis there was a

1 Constantianus, an IUvrian, and subject to the spiritual government of

Sergius of Edessa, both rhetors and a bishop called the Catholicus, a term

men of intellect. which has survived to the present

9 The Christians of these parts were day.

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steep mountain, on whose side was perched a village called
Anglon, protected by a strong fortress. Here the Persian
general Nabedes, with four thousand soldiers, had taken up an
almost impregnable position, blocking the precipitous streets of
the village with stones and waggons. The ranks of the Roman
army, as it marched to Anglon, fell into disorder ; the want of
union among the generals, who acknowledged no supreme
leader, led to confusion in the line of march ; mixed bodies of
soldiers and sutlers turned aside to plunder ; and the security
which they displayed might have warranted a spectator in pro-
phesying a speedy reverse. As they drew near to the fortress, an
attempt was made to marshal the somewhat demoralised- troops
in the form of two wings and a centre. The centre was com-
manded by the Master of Soldiers, the right wing by Peter, the
left by Valerian ; and all advanced in irregular and wavering
line, on account of the roughness of the ground. 1 The best
course for the Persians was obviously to act on the defensive.
Narses and his Heruls, who were probably on the left wing
with Valerian, were the first to attack the foes and to press them
back into the fort. Drawn on by the retreating enemy through
the narrow village streets, they were suddenly attacked on the
flank and in the rear by an ambush of Persians who had con-
cealed themselves in the houses. The valiant Narses was
wounded in the temple; his brother succeeded in carrying
him from the fray, but the wound proved mortal. This repulse
of the foremost spread the alarm to the regiments that were
coming up behind ; Nabedes comprehended that the moment
had arrived to take the offensive and let loose his soldiers on
the panic-stricken ranks of the assailants ; and all the Heruls,
who fought according to their wont without helmets or breast-
plates, 2 fell before the charge of the Persians. The Romans
did not tarry ; they cast their arms away and fled in wild con-
fusion, and the mounted soldiers galloped so fast that few
horses survived the flight ; but the Persians, apprehensive of
an ambush, did not pursue.

Never, says Procopius, did the Romans experience such a
great disaster. This exaggeration makes us seriously inclined

1 Procopius assigns as an additional cause the want of discipline or previous
marshalling of the troops ; but I feel some suspicions of the whole account of
this campaign.

3 The Henri's only armour was a shield and a cloak of thick stuff.

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chap, vin SECOND PERSIAN WAR 437

to suspect the accuracy of Procopius* account of this campaign.
We can K hardly avoid detecting in his narrative a desire to
place the generals in as bad a light as possible, just as in his
description of the hostilities of the preceding year he mani-
fested a marked tendency to place the behaviour of his hero
Belisarius in as fair a light as possible. In fact he seems to
wish to draw a strong and striking contrast between a
brilliant campaign in 542 and a miserable failure in 543. We
have seen reason to doubt the exceptional brilliancy of Beli-
sarius' achievement ; and we may be disposed to question the
statement that the defeat at Anglon was overwhelming, and
the insinuation that the generals were incompetent

V. Chosroes 9 Invasion of Mesopotamia ; Siege of Edessa —

544 a.d.

His failure at Edessa in 540 rankled in the mind of the
Sassanid monarch ; he determined to retrieve it in 544. The
siege of this important fortress, the key to Eoman Mesopo-
tamia, is one of the most interesting in the siege warfare of
the sixth century. The place was so strong that Chosroes
would have been glad to avoid the risk of a second failure, and
he proposed to the inhabitants that they should pay him an
immense sum or allow him to take all the riches in the city.
His proposal was refused, though if he had made a reasonable
demand it would have been agreed to ; and the Persian army
encamped at somewhat less than a mile from the walls. Three
experienced generals, Peter, Martin, and Peranius, were
stationed in Edessa at this time.

On the eighth day from the beginning of the siege,
Chosroes caused a large number of hewn trees to be strewn on
the ground in the shape of an immense square, at about a
stone's throw from the city ; earth was heaped over the trees,
so as to form a flat mound, and stones, not cut smooth and
regular as for building, but rough hewn, were piled on the top,
additional strength being secured by a layer of wooden beams
placed between the stones and the earth. It required many
days to raise this mound to a height sufficient to overtop the
walls. At first the workmen were harassed by a sally of Huns,
one of whom, named Argek, slew twenty-seven with his own

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hand. This could not be repeated, as henceforward a guard of
Persians stood by to protect the builders. As the work went
on, the mound seems to have been extended in breadth as well
as in height, and to have approached closer to the walls, so that
the workmen came within range of the archers who manned
the battlements, but they protected themselves by thick and
long strips of canvas, woven of goat hair, which were hung on
poles, and proved an adequate shield. Foiled in their attempts
to obstruct the progress of the threatening pile, which they saw
rising daily higher and higher, the besieged sent an embassy
to Chosroes. The spokesman of the ambassadors was the
physician Stephen, a native of Edessa, who had enjoyed the
friendship and favour of Kobad, whom he had healed of a
disease, and had superintended the education of Chosroes him-
self. But even he, influential though he was, could not obtain
more than the choice of three alternatives — the surrender of
Peter and Peranius, who, originally Persian subjects, had
presumed to make war against their master's son ; the payment
of 50,000 lbs. of gold (two million and a quarter pounds
sterling); or the reception of Persian deputies, who should
ransack the city for treasures and bring all to the Persian
camp. All these proposals were too extravagant to be
entertained for an instant ; the ambassadors returned in dejec-
tion, and the erection of the mound advanced. A new
embassy was sent, but was not even admitted to an audience ;
and when the plan of raising the city wall was tried, the
besiegers found no difficulty in elevating their construction

At length the Eomans resorted to the plan of undermining
the mound, but when their excavation had reached the middle
of the pile the noise of the subterranean digging was heard
by the Persian builders, who immediately dug or hewed a
hole in their- own structure in order to discover the miners.
These, knowing that they were detected, filled up the
remotest part of the excavated passage and adopted a new
device. Beneath the end of the mound nearest to the city they
formed a small subterranean chamber with stones, boards, and
earth. Into this room they threw piles of wood of the most
inflammable kind, which had been smeared over with sulphur,
bitumen, and oil of cedar. As soon as the- mound was corn-

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chap, vin SECOND PERSIAN WAR 439

pleted, they kindled the logs, and kept the fire replenished with
fresh fuel A considerable time was required for the fire to
penetrate the entire extent of the mound, and smoke began to
issue prematurely from that part where the foundations were
first inflamed. The besieged adopted a cunning device to
mislead the besiegers. They cast burning arrows and
hurled vessels filled with burning embers on various parts of
the mound ; the Persian soldiers ran to and fro to extinguish
them, believing that the smoke, which really came from
beneath, was caused by the flaming missiles ; and some thus
-employed were pierced by arrows from the walls. Next
morning Chosroes himself visited the mound and was the first
to discover the true cause of the smoke, which now issued in
denser volume. The whole army was summoned to the scene
amid the jeers of the Eomans, who surveyed from the walls the
consternation of their foa The torrents of water with which
the stones were flooded increased the vapour instead of quench-
ing it and caused the sulphurous flames to operate more
violently. In the evening the volume of smoke was so
immense that it could be seen as far away to the south as at
the city of Carrhae 1 ; and the fire, which had been gradually
working upwards as well as spreading beneath, at length gained
the air and overtopped the surface. Then the Persians desisted
from their futile endeavours.

Six days later an attack was made on the walls at early
dawn, and but for a farmer who chanced to be awake and gave
the alarm, the garrison might have been surprised. The
assailants were repulsed ; and another assault on the great gate
at mid-day was likewise unsuccessful. One final effort was
made by the baffled beleaguerers. The ruins of the half-
demolished mound were covered with a floor of bricks, and from
this elevation a grand attack was made. At first the Persians
seemed to be superior, but the enthusiasm which prevailed in
the city was ultimately crowned with victory. The peasants,
even the women and the children, ascended the walls and took
a part in the combat ; cauldrons of oil were kept continually
boiling, that the burning liquid might be poured on the heads
of the assailants ; and the Persians, unable to endure the fury
of their enemies, fell back and confessed to Chosroes that they

1 The distance of Carrhae from Edessa was about thirty miles.

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were vanquished. The enraged despot drove them back to the
encounter ; they made yet one supreme effort, and were yet
once more discomfited. Edessa was saved, and the siege un-
willingly abandoned by the disappointed king, who, however,
had the satisfaction of receiving 5000 lbs. of gold from the
weary though victorious Edessenes.

In the following year, 545 A.D., a peace or truce 1 was con-
cluded for five years, Justinian consenting to pay 2000 lbs. of
gold and to permit a certain Greek physician, named Tribunus,
to remain at the Persian court for a year. Tribunus of Pales-
tine, the best medical doctor of the age, was, we are told, a
man of distinguished virtue and piety, and highly valued by
Chosroes, whose constitution was delicate and constantly
required the services of a physician. At the end of the year
the king permitted him to ask a boon, and instead of proposing
remuneration for himself he begged for the freedom of some
Roman prisoners. Chosroes not only liberated those whom he
named, but others also to the number of three thousand, and
Tribunus won the blessings of those whom his word had
ransomed and great glory among men.

1 No distinct mention of this truce is made by Gibbon, who passes over
these campaigns with a vague sentence.

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THE LAZIC WAR (549-556 A.D.)

The Lazi soon found that the despotism of the Persian fire-
worshipper was less tolerable than the oppression of the
christian monopolists, and repented that they had taught
the armies of the great king to penetrate the defiles of
Colchis. It was not long before the magi attempted to con-
vert the new province to a faith which was odious to the chris-
tianised natives, and it became known that Chosroes enter-
tained the intention of removing the inhabitants and colonising
the land with Persians. Gobazes, who learned that Chosroes
was plotting against his life, hastened to ask for the pardon
and seek for the protection of Justinian, whose name seemed
appropriate to his character when compared with a tyrant
whose title, " the Just " (like that of Haroun Al Baschid),
seemed the expression of a prudent irony. In 549 A.D.
7000 Romans were sent to Lazica, under the command of
Dagisthaeus, to recover the fortress of Petra, which was the
most important position in that country. Their forces were
strengthened by the addition of a thousand Tzanic auxiliaries.
Procopius has warned us against identifying the Tzani with
the Colchians, apparently a common mistake in his time. The
Tzani were an inland people living on the borders of Pontus
and Armenia, and separated from the sea by precipitous
mountains and vast solitudes, impassable torrent -beds and
yawning chasms. 1

1 Proc B. O. iv. 1. At the begin- did not disdain to boast in one of his
ning of 558 A.D. we find the Tzani Novels (Agathias, v. 2). A good map

Slandering Armenia and Pontns. Theo- of Colchis is much wanted. I have not
orus subdued and rendered them tri- found that in Spruner's Historischer
butary — a success of which Justinian Atlas satisfactory.

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The acquisition of Colchis pleased Chosroes so highly, and
the province appeared to him of such eminent importance, that
he took every precaution to secure its retention. 1 A highway
was constructed from the Iberian confines through the country's
hilly and woody passes, so that not only cavalry but elephants
could traverse it. The fortress of Petra was supplied with
sufficient stores of provisions, consisting of salted meat and
corn, to last for five years; no wine was provided, but
vinegar and a sort of grain from which a spirituous liquor
could be distilled. The armour and weapons which were
stored in the magazines would, as was afterwards found, have
accoutred five times the number of the besiegers ; and a
cunning device was adopted to supply the city with water,
while the enemy should delude themselves with the idea that
they had cut off the supply. 2

When Dagisthaeus laid siege to the town the garrison con-
sisted of 1500 Persians. The besieging party numbered
7000 Eoman soldiers and 1000 Tzani, who were assisted by
the Colchians under Gobazes. Dagisthaeus committed the
mistake of not occupying the clisurae or passes from Iberia
into Colchis, and thereby preventing the arrival of Persian
reinforcements. The siege was protracted for a long time, and
the small garrison was ultimately reduced to 150 men capable
of fighting and 350 wounded or disabled. The Romans had
dug a mine under the wall and loosened the foundations ; a
part of the wall actually collapsed, and John the Armenian
with fifty men rushed through the breach, but when their leader
received a wound they retired. It appears that nothing would
have been easier than to enter the city and overpower the
miserably small number of defenders, but Dagisthaeus pur-
posely delayed, waiting for letters from Justinian. The
commander of the garrison protracted the delay by promising
to surrender in a few days, for he knew that Mermeroes
was approaching to relieve him. Mermeroes, allowed to
enter Colchis unopposed with large forces of cavalry and
infantry, soon arrived at the pass which commands the plain
of Petra. Here his progress was withstood by a hundred

1 He tried to build a fleet in the 3 The way in which this was effected
Euxine, but the material was destroyed will be described below, p. 449.
by lightning.

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chap, ix THE LAZIC WAR 443

Komans, but after a long and bloody battle the weary guards
gave way, and the Persians reached the summit When
Dagisthaeus learned this he raised the siege, and marched
northwards to the Phasis.

Mermeroes left 3000 men in Petra and provisioned it for
a short time. Directing the garrison to repair the walls, he
departed himself with the rest of the army on a plundering
expedition in order to obtain more supplies. He finally left
5000 men under Phabrigus in Colchis, instructing them to keep
Petra supplied with food, and withdrew to Persarmenia. Dis-
aster soon befell these 5000 ; they were surprised in their
camp by Dagisthaeus and Gobazes in the early morning, and
but few escaped. All the provisions brought from Iberia for
the use of Petra were destroyed, and the passes which admitted
the stranger to Colchis were garrisoned. 1

In the spring of 550 Chorianes entered Colchis with a
Persian army, and encamped by the river Hippis, where a
battle was fought in which the Komans, under Dagisthaeus,
were triumphantly victorious, and Chorianes lost his life. The
engagement was notable for the curious behaviour of the Lazi
and the bravery of a Persarmenian who fought under the
Eoman standard. The Lazi protested against associating them-
selves with their allies in the battle, and insisted on facing the
foe foremost and alone, on the ground that they had a greater
stake in the event than their protectors, and perhaps thinking
that the stress of a graver danger would increase their defective
courage. They were allowed to have their way in so far that
the Lazic cavalry led the van, but at the very sight of the
enemy they turned and fled for refuge to those with whom
they had disdained to march in company. The Persarmenian
Artabanes, a deserter who had proved his fidelity to the
Komans by slaying twenty Persians, exhibited his courage in
a conspicuous place between the adverse armies by dismounting
and despatching a mighty Persian. These single combats were
perhaps a feature in many of the battles of the sixth century ;
they are certainly a feature in the pages of the historians.

1 At this point the two books of after the other books had been given to

Procopius known as de Bello Persico the world. Procopius apologises for

come to an end, but the thread of the the necessity whicn compels him to

narrative is resumed in the de Bello abandon his method of geographical

Qothico, Bk. iv., which was written divisions (2?. O. iv. 1).

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Meanwhile Dagisthaeus was accused of misconducting the
siege of Petra, through disloyalty or culpable negligence.
Justinian ordered that he should be arrested, and appointed
Bessas, who had recently returned from Italy, in his stead.
Men wondered at this appointment, and thought that the
Emperor was foolish to entrust the command to a general who
was far advanced in years, and whose career in the "West had
been inglorious ; but the choice, as we shall see, was justified
by the result. The subordinate commanders were "Wilgang 1
a Herul, Benilus the brother of Buzes, Babas a Thracian,
and Odonachus (all of whom preceded Bessas to Lazica) ; and
John the Armenian, who had shown his valoui* at the battle of

The first labour that devolved on Bessas was to suppress
the revolt of the Abasgi. The territory of this nation extended
along the lunated eastern coast of the Euxine, and was sepa-
rated from Colchis by the country of the Apsilians, who
inhabited that ambiguous district between the western spurs of
Caucasus and the sea, a district which belongs to Asia, and
might be claimed by Europe. The Apsilians had long been'
Christians, and submitted to the lordship of their Lazic neigh-
bours, who had at one time also held sway over the Abasgi.
Like the Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries,
Abasgia was governed by two princes, of whom one ruled in
the west and the other in the east These potentates
increased their revenue by the sale of beautiful boys, whom
they tore in early childhood from the arms of their reluctant
parents and made eunuchs ; for in the Eoman Empire these
comely and useful slaves were in . constant demand, and
secured a high price from the opulent and luxurious nobles.
It was the glory of Justinian to compass the abolition of this
unnatural practice ; the subjects supported the remonstrances
which the Emperor's envoy, himself an Abasgian eunuch,
made to their kings ; the monarchy, or tyranny, was abolished,
and a people which had worshipped trees embraced Christianity,
to enjoy, as they thought, a long period of freedom under the
protection of the Roman Augustus. But the mildest pro-

1 Uligagns (Procopius), bat Agathias first part compare TPtMielm, for the
calls the same man OtitiyaYfot. The second Wotf-gang.
name is evidently Wilgang: for the

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chap, ix THE LAZIC WAR 445

tectorate tends insensibly to become domination. Eoman sol-
diers entered the country, and taxes were imposed on the new
friends of the Emperor. The Abasgi preferred being tyrannised
over by men of their own blood to being the slaves of a foreign
master, and accordingly they elected two new kings, Opsites
in the east and Sceparnas in the west But it would have
been rash to brave the jealous anger of Justinian without the
support of some stronger power, and when Nabedes, after the
great defeat of the Persians at Hippis, visited Lazica, he
received sixty noble hostages from the Abasgi, who craved the

Online LibraryJ. B. (John Bagnell) BuryA history of the later Roman empire, from Arcadius to Irene (395 A. D. to 800 A. D.); → online text (page 45 of 49)