The History, 16.10

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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10While matters were thus proceeding in the eastern regions and in the Gauls, Constantius, as if the temple of Janus were now shut and hostilities everywhere at an end, became desirous of visiting Rome, with the intention of celebrating his triumph over Magnentius, to which he could give no name, since the blood that he had spilt was that of Roman foes.

2For indeed, neither by his own exertions, nor by those of his generals did he ever conquer any nation that made war upon him; nor did he make any additions to the empire; nor at critical moments was he ever seen to be the foremost or even among the foremost; but still he was eager to exhibit to the people, now in the enjoyment of peace, a vast procession, and standards heavy with gold, and a splendid train of guards and followers, though the citizens themselves neither expected nor desired any such spectacle.

3He was ignorant, probably, that some of the ancient emperors were, in time of peace, contented with their lictors, and that when the ardour of war forbade all inactivity, one, in a violent storm, had trusted himself to a fisherman’s boat; another, following the example of the Decii, had sacrificed his life for the safety of the republic; another had by himself, accompanied by only a few soldiers of the lowest rank, gone as a spy into the camp of the enemy: in short, that many of them had rendered themselves illustrious by splendid exploits, in order to hand down to posterity a glorious memory of themselves, earned by their achievements.

4Accordingly, after long and sumptuous preparation, . . . in the second prefecture of Orfitus, Constantius, elated with his great honours, and escorted by a formidable array of troops, marching in order of battle, passed through Ocricoli, attracting towards himself the astonished gaze of all the citizens.

5And when he drew near to the city, contemplating the salutations offered him by the senators, and the whole body of fathers venerable from their likeness to their ancestors, he thought, not like Cineas, the ambassador of Pyrrhus, that a multitude of kings was here assembled together, but that the city was the asylum of the whole world.

6And when from them he had turned his eyes upon the citizens, he marvelled to think with what rapidity the whole race of mankind upon earth had come from all quarters to Rome; and, as if he would have terrified the Euphrates or the Rhine with a show of armed men, he himself came on, preceded by standards on both sides, sitting alone in a golden chariot, shining with all kinds of brilliant precious stones, which seemed to spread a flickering light all around.

7Numbers also of the chief officers who went before him were surrounded by dragons embroidered on various kinds of tissue, fastened to the golden or jewelled points of spears, the mouths of the dragons being open so as to catch the wind, which made them hiss as though they were inflamed with anger; while the coils of their tails were also contrived to be agitated by the breeze.

8After these marched a double row of heavy-armed soldiers, with shields and crested helmets, glittering with brilliant light, and clad in radiant breastplates; and among these were scattered cavalry with cuirasses, whom the Persians call Clibanarii, protected by coverings of iron breastplates, and girdled with belts of iron, so that you would fancy them statues polished by the hand of Praxiteles, rather than men. And the light circular plates of iron which surrounded their bodies, and covered all their limbs, were so well fitted to all their motions, that in whatever direction they had occasion to move, the joints of their iron clothing adapted themselves equally to any position.

9The emperor as he proceeded was saluted as Augustus by voices of good omen, the mountains and shores re-echoing the shouts of the people, amid which he preserved the same immovable countenance which he was accustomed to display in his provinces.

10For though he was very short, yet he bowed down when entering high gates, and looking straight before him, as though he had had his neck in a vice, he turned his eyes neither to the right nor to the left, as if he had been a statue: nor when the carriage shook him did he nod his head, or spit, or rub his face or his nose; nor was he ever seen even to move a hand.

11And although this calmness was affectation, yet these and other portions of his inner life were indicative of a most extraordinary patience, as it may be thought, granted to him alone.

12I pass over the circumstance that during the whole of his reign he never either took up any one to sit with him in his chariot, or admitted any private person to be his partner in the consulship, as other emperors had done; also many other things which he, being filled with elation and pride, prescribed to himself as the justest of all rules of conduct, recollecting that I mentioned those facts before, as occasion served.

13As he went on, having entered Rome, that home of sovereignty and of all virtues, when he arrived at the rostra, he gazed with amazed awe on the Forum, the most renowned monument of ancient power; and, being bewildered with the number of wonders on every side to which he turned his eyes, having addressed the nobles in the senate-house, and harangued the populace from the tribune, he retired, with the good-will of all, into his palace, where he enjoyed the luxury he had wished for. And often, when celebrating the equestrian games, was he delighted with the talkativeness of the common people, who were neither proud, nor, on the other hand, inclined to become rebellious from too much liberty, while he himself also reverently observed a proper moderation.

14For he did not, as was usually done in other cities, allow the length of the gladiatorial contests to depend on his caprice; but left it to be decided by various occurrences. Then, traversing the summits of the seven hills, and the different quarters of the city, whether placed on the slopes of the hills or on the level ground, and visiting, too, the suburban divisions, he was so delighted that whatever he saw first he thought the most excellent of all. Admiring the temple of the Tarpeian Jupiter, which is as much superior to other temples as divine things are superior to those of men; and the baths of the size of provinces; and the vast mass of the amphitheatre, so solidly erected of Tibertine stone, to the top of which human vision can scarcely reach; and the Pantheon with its vast extent, its imposing height, and the solid magnificence of its arches, and the lofty niches rising one above another like stairs, adorned with the images of former emperors; and the temple of the city, and the forum of peace, and the theatre of Pompey, and the odeum, and the racecourse, and the other ornaments of the Eternal City.

15But when he came to the forum of Trajan, the most exquisite structure, in my opinion, under the canopy of heaven, and admired even by the deities themselves, he stood transfixed with wonder, casting his mind over the gigantic proportions of the place, beyond the power of mortal to describe, and beyond the reasonable desire of mortals to rival. Therefore giving up all hopes of attempting anything of this kind, he contented himself with saying that he should wish to imitate, and could imitate the horse of Trajan, which stands by itself in the middle of the hall, bearing the emperor himself on his back.

16And the royal prince Hormisda, whose departure from Persia we have already mentioned, standing by answered, with the refinement of his nature, “But first, O emperor, command such a stable to be built for him, if you can, that the horse which you purpose to make may have as fair a domain as this which we see.” And when he was asked what he thought of Rome, he said that “he was particularly delighted with it because he had learnt that men died also there.”

17Now after he had beheld all these various objects with awful admiration, the emperor complained of fame, as either deficient in power, or else spiteful, because, though it usually exaggerates everything, it fell very short in its praises of the things which are at Rome; and having deliberated for some time what he should do, he determined to add to the ornaments of the city by erecting an obelisk in the Circus Maximus, the origin and form of which I will describe when I come to the proper place.

18At this time Eusebia, the queen, who herself was barren all her life, began to plot against Helena, the sister of Constantius, and wife of the Cæsar Julian, whom she had induced to come to Rome under a pretence of affection, and by wicked machinations she induced her to drink a poison which she had procured, which should have the effect, whenever Helena conceived, of producing abortion.

19For already, when in Gaul, she had borne a male child, but that also had been dishonestly destroyed because the midwife, having been bribed, killed it as soon as it was born, by cutting through the navel-string too deeply; such exceeding care was taken that this most gallant man should have no offspring.

20But the emperor, while wishing to remain longer in this most august spot of the whole world, in order to enjoy a purer tranquillity and higher degree of pleasure, was alarmed by repeated intelligence on which he could rely, which informed him that the Suevi were invading the Tyrol, that the Quadi were ravaging Valeria, and that the Sarmatians, a tribe most skilful in plunder, were laying waste the upper Mœsia, and the second Pannonia. And roused by these news, on the thirtieth day after he had entered Rome, he again quitted it, leaving it on the 29th of May, and passing through Trent he proceeded with all haste towards Illyricum.

21And from that city he sent Severus to succeed Marcellus, a man of great experience and ripe skill in war, and summoned Ursicinus to himself. He, having gladly received the letter of summons, came to Sirmium, with a large retinue, and after a long deliberation on the peace which Musonianus had reported as possible to be made with the Persians, he was sent back to the East with the authority of commander-in-chief, and the older officers of our company having been promoted to commands over the soldiers, we younger men were ordered to follow him to perform whatever he commanded us for the service of the republic.

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