The History, 15.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4Soon after this transaction had been thus terminated, war was declared against the tribes of the Allemanni around Lentia, who had often made extensive incursions into the contiguous Roman territories. The emperor himself set out on the expedition, and went as far as Rhætia, and the district of the Canini. And there, after long and careful deliberation, it was decided to be both honourable and expedient that Arbetio, the master of the horse, should march with a division of the troops, in fact with the greater part of the army, along the borders of the lake of Brigantia, with the object of coming to an immediate engagement with the barbarians. And I will here describe the character of the ground briefly, as well as I can.

2The Rhine rising among the defiles of lofty mountains, and forcing its way with immense violence through steep rocks, stretches its onward course without receiving any foreign waters, in the same manner as the Nile pours down with headlong descent through the cataracts. And it is so abundantly full by its own natural riches that it would be navigable up to its very source were it not like a torrent rather than a stream.

3And soon after it has disentangled itself from its defiles, rolling onward between high banks, it enters a vast lake of circular form, which the Rhætian natives call Brigantia, being four hundred and sixty furlongs in length, and of nearly equal extent in breadth, unapproachable on account of a vast mass of dark woods, except where the energy of the Romans has made a wide road through them, in spite of the hostility of the barbarians, and the unfavourable character both of the ground and the climate.

4The Rhine forcing its way into this pool, and roaring with its foaming eddies, pierces the sluggish quiet of the waters, and rushes through the middle from one end to the other. And like an element separated from some other element by eternal discord, without any increase or diminution of the volume of water which it has brought into the lake, it comes forth from it again with its old name and its unalloyed power, never having suffered from the contact, and so proceeds till it mingles with the waves of the sea.

5And what is exceedingly strange, the lake is not moved at all by this rapid passage of the river through it, nor is it affected by the muddy soil beneath the waters of the lake; the two bodies of water being incapable of mingling with each other. A thing which would be supposed impossible, did not the very sight of the lake prove the fact.

6In a similar manner, the Alpheus, rising in Arcadia, being seized with a love for the fountain Arethusa, passing through the Ionian sea, as is related by the poets, proceeds onward till it arrives at the neighbourhood of its beloved fountain.

. . . . . .

7Arbetio not choosing to wait till messengers arrived to announce the approach of the barbarians, although he knew the fierce way in which they begin their wars, allowed himself to be betrayed into a hidden ambush, where he stood without the power of moving, being bewildered by the suddenness of his disaster.

8In the mean time the enemy, showing themselves, sprang forth from their hiding-places and spared not one who came in their way, but overwhelmed them with every kind of weapon. For none of our men could offer the smallest resistance, nor was there any hope of any of them being able to save their lives except by a speedy flight. Therefore, being intent only on avoiding wounds, our soldiers, losing all order, ran almost at random in every direction, exposing their backs to the blows of the enemy. Nevertheless the greater part of them, scattering themselves among narrow paths, were saved from danger by the protecting darkness of the night, and at the return of day recovered their courage and rejoined their different legions. But still by this sad and unexpected disaster a vast number of common soldiers and ten tribunes were slain.

9The Allemanni were greatly elated at this event, and advanced with increased boldness, every day coming up to the fortifications of the Romans while the morning mists obscured the light; and drawing their swords roamed about in every direction, gnashing their teeth, and threatening us with haughty shouts. Then with a sudden sally our Scutarii would rush forth, and after being stopped for a moment by the resistance of the hostile squadrons, would call out all their comrades to join them in the engagement.

10But the greater part of our men were alarmed by the recollection of their recent disaster, and Arbetio hesitated, thinking everything pregnant with danger. Upon this three tribunes at once sallied forth, Arintheus who was a lieutenant commander of the heavy troops, Seniauchus who commanded the cavalry of the Comites, and Bappo who had the command of the Promoti and of those troops who had been particularly intrusted to his charge by the emperor.

11These men, looking on the common cause as their own, resolved to repel the violence of the enemy according to the example of their ancient comrades. And pouring down upon the foe like a torrent, not in a regular line of battle, but in desultory attacks like those of banditti, they put them all to flight in a disgraceful manner. Since they, being in loose order and straggling, and hampered by their endeavours to escape, exposed their unprotected bodies to our weapons, and were slain by repeated blows of sword and spear.

12Many too were slain with their horses, and seemed as they lay on their backs to be so entangled as still to be sitting on them. And when this was seen, all our men who had previously hesitated to engage in battle with their comrades, poured forth out of the camp; and now, forgetful of all precautions, they drove before them the mob of barbarians, except such as flight had saved from destruction, trampling on the heaps of slain, and covered with gore.

13When the battle was thus terminated the emperor in triumph and joy returned to Milan to winter quarters.

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