The History, 14.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1After the events of an expedition full of almost insuperable difficulties, while the spirits of all parties in the state, broken by the variety of their dangers and toils, were still enfeebled; while the clang of trumpets was ringing in men’s ears, and the troops were still distributed in their winter quarters, the storms of angry fortune surrounded the commonwealth with fresh dangers through the manifold and terrible atrocities of Cæsar Gallus: who, when just entering into the prime of life, having been raised with unexpected honour from the lowest depth of misery to the highest rank, exceeded all the legitimate bounds of the power conferred on him, and with preposterous violence threw everything into confusion. For by his near relationship to the royal family, and his connection with the name of Constantine, he was so inflated with pride, that if he had had more power, he would, as it seemed, have ventured to attack even the author of his prosperity.

2His wife added fuel to his natural ferocity; she was a woman immoderately proud of her sisterly relationship to Augustus, and had been formerly given in marriage by the elder Constantine to King Hannibalianus, his brother’s son. She was an incarnate fury: never weary of inflaming his savage temper, thirsting for human blood as insatiably as her husband. The pair, in process of time, becoming more skilful in the infliction of suffering, employed a gang of underhand and crafty talebearers, accustomed in their wickedness to make random additions to their discoveries, which consisted in general of such falsehoods as they themselves delighted in; and these men loaded the innocent with calumnies, charging them with aiming at kingly power, or with practising infamous acts of magic.

3And among his less remarkable atrocities, when his power had gone beyond the bounds of moderate crimes, was conspicuous the horrible and sudden death of a certain noble citizen of Alexandria, named Clematius. His mother-in-law, having conceived a passion for him, could not prevail on him to gratify it; and in consequence, as was reported, she, having obtained an introduction by a secret door into the palace, won over the queen by the present of a costly necklace, and procured a fatal warrant to be sent to Honoratus, at that time count-governor of the East, in compliance with which Clematius was put to death, a man wholly innocent of any kind of wickedness, without being permitted to say a word in his defence.

4After this iniquitous transaction, which struck others also with fear lest they should meet with similar treatment, as if cruelty had now obtained a licence, many were condemned on mere vague suspicion; of whom some were put to death, others were punished by the confiscation of their property, and driven forth as exiles from their homes, so that having nothing left but their tears and complaints, they were reduced to live on the contributions of their friends; and many opulent and famous houses were shut up, the old constitutional and just authority being changed into a government at the will of a bloodthirsty tyrant.

5Nor amid these manifold atrocities was any testimony of an accuser, not even of a suborned one, sought for, in order to give at least an appearance of these crimes being committed according to law and statute, as very commonly even the most cruel princes have done: but whatever suited the implacable temper of Cæsar was instantly accomplished in haste, as if its accordance with human and divine law had been well considered.

6After these deeds a fresh device was adopted, and a body of obscure men, such as, by reason of the meanness of their condition, were little likely to excite suspicion, were sent through all the districts of Antioch, to collect reports, and to bring news of whatever they might hear. They, travelling about, and concealing their object, joined clandestinely in the conversational circles of honourable men, and also in disguise obtained entrance into the houses of the rich. When they returned they were secretly admitted by back doors into the palace, and then reported all that they had been able to hear or to collect; taking care with an unanimous kind of conspiracy to invent many things, and to exaggerate for the worse all they really knew; at the same time suppressing any praises of Cæsar which had come to their ears, although these were wrung from many, against their consciences, by the dread of impending evils.

7And it had happened sometimes that, if in his secret chamber, when no domestic servant was by, the master of the house had whispered anything into his wife’s ear, the very next day, as if those renowned seers of old, Amphiaraus or Marcius, had been at hand to report it, the emperor was informed of what had been said; so that even the walls of a man’s secret chamber, the only witnesses to his language, were viewed with apprehension.

8And Cæsar’s fixed resolution to inquire into these and other similar occurrences was increased by the queen, who constantly stimulated his desire, and was driving on the fortunes of her husband to headlong destruction, while she ought rather, by giving him useful advice, to have led him back into the paths of truth and mercy, by feminine gentleness, as, in recounting the acts of the Gordiani, we have related to have been done by the wife of that truculent emperor Maximinus.

9At last, by an unsurpassed and most pernicious baseness, Gallus ventured on adopting a course of fearful wickedness, which indeed Gallienus, to his own exceeding infamy, is said formerly to have tried at Rome; and, taking with him a few followers secretly armed, he used to rove in the evening through the streets and among the shops, making inquiries in the Greek language, in which he was well skilled, what were the feelings of individuals towards Cæsar. And he used to do this boldly in the city, where the brillancy of the lamps at night often equalled the light of day. At last, being often recognized, and considering that if he went out in this way he should be known, he took care never to go out except openly in broad daylight, to transact whatever business which he thought of serious importance. And these things caused bitter though secret lamentation, and discontent to many.

10But at that time Thalassius was the present prefect of the palace, a man of an arrogant temper; and he, perceiving that the hasty fury of Gallus gradually increased to the danger of many of the citizens, did not mollify it by either delay or wise counsels, as men in high office have very often pacified the anger of their princes; but by untimely opposition and reproof, did often excite him the more to frenzy; often also informing Augustus of his actions, and that too with exaggeration, and taking care, I know not with what intention, that what he did should not be unknown to the emperor. And at this Cæsar soon became more vehemently exasperated, and, as if raising more on high than ever the standard of his contumacy, without any regard to the safety of others or of himself, he bore himself onwards like a rapid torrent, with an impetuosity which would listen to no reason, to sweep away all the obstacles which opposed his will.

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