The History, 14.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8After passing over the summit of Mount Taurus, which towards the east rises up to a vast height, Cilicia spreads itself out for a very great distance—a land rich in all valuable productions. It is bordered on its right by Isauria, which is equally fertile in vines and in many kinds of grain. The Calycadnus, a navigable river, flows through the middle of Isaurus.

2This province, besides other towns, is particularly adorned by two cities, Seleucia, founded by King Seleucus, and Claudiopolis, which the Emperor Claudius Cæsar established as a colony. For the city of Isauria, which was formerly too powerful, was in ancient times overthrown as an incurable and dangerous rebel, and so completely destroyed that it is not easy to discover any traces of its pristine splendour.

3The province of Cilicia, which exults in the river Cydnus, is ornamented by Tarsus, a city of great magnificence. This city is said to have been founded by Perseus, the son of Jupiter and Danaë; or else, and more probably, by a certain emigrant who came from Ethiopia, by name Sandan, a man of great wealth and of noble birth. It is also adorned by the city of Anazarbus, which bears the name of its founder; and by Mopsuestia, the abode of the celebrated seer Mopsus, who wandered from his comrades the Argonauts when they were returning after having carried off the Golden Fleece, and strayed to the African coast, where he died a sudden death. His heroic remains, though covered by Punic turf, have ever since that time cured a great variety of diseases, and have generally restored men to sound health.

4These two provinces being full of banditti were formerly subdued by the proconsul Servilius, in a piratical war, and were passed under the yoke, and made tributary to the empire. These districts being placed, as it were, on a prominent tongue of land, are cut off from the main continent by Mount Amanus.

5The frontier of the East stretching straight forward for a great distance, reached from the banks of the river Euphrates to those of the Nile, being bounded on the left by the tribes of the Saracens and on the right by the sea.

6Nicator Seleucus, after he had occupied that district, increased its prosperity to a wonderful degree, when, after the death of Alexander, king of Macedonia, he took possession of the kingdom of Persia by right of succession; being a mighty and victorious king, as his surname indicates. And making free use of his numerous subjects, whom he governed for a long time in tranquillity, he changed groups of rustic habitations into regular cities, important for their great wealth and power, the greater part of which at the present day, although they are called by Greek names which were given them by the choice of their founder, have nevertheless not lost their original appellations which the original settlers of the villages gave them in the Assyrian language.

7After Osdroene, which, as I have already said, I intend to omit from this description, the first province to be mentioned is Commagena, now called Euphratensis, which has arisen into importance by slow degrees, and is remarkable for the splendid cities of Hierapolis, the ancient Ninus, and Samosata.

8The next province is Syria, which is spread over a beautiful champaign country. This province is ennobled by Antioch, a city known over the whole world, with which no other can vie in respect of its riches, whether imported or natural: and by Laodicea and Apameia, and also by Seleucia, all cities which have ever been most prosperous from their earliest foundation.

9After this comes Phœnicia, a province lying under Mount Lebanon, full of beauty and elegance, and decorated with cities of great size and splendour, among which Tyre excels all in the beauty of its situation and in its renown. And next come Sidon and Berytus, and on a par with them Emissa and Damascus, cities founded in remote ages.

10These provinces, which the river Orontes borders, a river which passes by the foot of the celebrated and lofty mountain Cassius, and at last falls into the Levant near the Gulf of Issus, were added to the Roman dominion by Cnæus Pompey, who, after he had conquered Tigranes, separated them from the kingdom of Armenia.

11The last province of the Syrias is Palestine, a district of great extent, abounding in well-cultivated and beautiful land, and having several magnificent cities, all of equal importance, and rivalling one another as it were, in parallel lines. For instance, Cæsarea, which Herod built in honour of the Prince Octavianus, and Eleutheropolis, and Neapolis, and also Ascalon, and Gaza, cities built in bygone ages.

12In these districts no navigable river is seen: in many places, too, waters naturally hot rise out of the ground well suited for the cure of various diseases. These regions also Pompey formed into a Roman province after he had subdued the Jews and taken Jerusalem: and he made over their government to a local governor.

13Contiguous to Palestine is Arabia, a country which on its other side joins the Nabathæi—a land full of the most plenteous variety of merchandize, and studded with strong forts and castles, which the watchful solicitude of its ancient inhabitants has erected in suitable defiles, in order to repress the inroads of the neighbouring nations. This province, too, besides several towns, has some mighty cities, such as Bostra, Gerasa, and Philadelphia, fortified with very strong walls. It was the Emperor Trajan who first gave this country the name of a Roman province, and appointed a governor over it, and compelled it to obey our laws, after having by repeated victories crushed the arrogance of the inhabitants, when he was carrying his glorious arms into Media and Parthia.

14There is also the island of Cyprus, not very far from the continent, and abounding in excellent harbours, which, besides its many municipal towns, is especially famous for two renowned cities, Salamis and Paphos, the one celebrated for its temple of Jupiter, the other for its temple of Venus. This same Cyprus is so fertile, and so abounding in riches of every kind, that without requiring any external assistance, it can by its own native resources build a merchant ship from the very foundation of the keel up to the top sails, and send it to sea fully equipped with stores.

15It is not to be denied that the Roman people invaded this island with more covetousness than justice. For when Ptolemy, the king, who was connected with us by treaty, and was also our ally, was without any fault of his own proscribed, merely on account of the necessities of our treasury, and slew himself by taking poison, the island was made tributary to us, and its spoils placed on board our fleet, as if taken from an enemy, and carried to Rome by Cato. We will now return to the actions of Constantius in their due order.

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