The History, 16.12

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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12When this disgraceful disaster had become known, Chnodomarius and Vestralpus, the kings of the Allemanni, and Urius and Ursicinus, with Serapion, and Suomarius, and Hortarius, having collected all their forces into one body, encamped near the city of Strasburg, thinking that the Cæsar, from fear of imminent danger, had retreated at the very time that he was wholly occupied with completing a fortress to enable him to make a permanent stand.

2Their confidence and assurance of success was increased by one of the Scutarii who deserted to them, who, fearing punishment for some offence which he had committed, crossed over to them after the departure of Barbatio, and assured them that Julian had now only 13,000 men remaining with him. For that was the number of troops that he had now with him, while the ferocious barbarians were stirring up attacks upon him from all sides.

3And as he constantly adhered to the same story, they were excited to more haughty attempts by the confidence with which he inspired them, and sent ambassadors in an imperious tone to Cæsar, demanding that he should retire from the territory which they had acquired by their own valour in arms. But he, a stranger to fear, and not liable to be swayed either by anger or by disappointment, despised the arrogance of the barbarians, and detaining the ambassadors till he had completed the works of his camp, remained immovable on his ground with admirable constancy.

4But King Chnodomarius, moving about in every direction, and being always the first to undertake dangerous enterprises, kept everything in continual agitation and confusion, being full of arrogance and pride, as one whose head was turned by repeated success.

5For he had defeated the Cæsar Decentius in a pitched battle, and he had plundered and destroyed many wealthy cities, and he had long ravaged all Gaul at his own pleasure without meeting with any resistance. And his confidence was now increased by the recent retreat of a general superior to him in the number and strength of his forces.

6For the Allemanni, beholding the emblems on their shields, saw that a few predatory bands of their men had wrested those districts from those soldiers whom they had formerly never engaged but with fear, and by whom they had often been routed with much loss. And these circumstances made Julian very anxious, because, after the defection of Barbatio, he himself under the pressure of absolute necessity was compelled to encounter very populous tribes, with but very few, though brave troops.

7And now, the sun being fully risen, the trumpets sounded, and the infantry were led forth from the camp in slow march, and on their flanks were arrayed the squadrons of cavalry, among which were both the cuirassiers and the archers, troops whose equipment was very formidable.

8And since from the spot from which the Roman standards had first advanced to the rampart of the barbarian camp were fourteen leagues, that is to say one-and-twenty miles, Cæsar, carefully providing for the advantage and safety of his army, called in the skirmishers who had gone out in front, and having ordered silence in his usual voice, while they all stood in battalions around him, addressed them in his natural tranquillity of voice.

9“The necessity of providing for our common safety, to say the least of it, compels me, and I am no prince of abject spirit, to exhort you, my comrades, to rely so much on your own mature and vigorous valour, as to follow my counsels in adopting a prudent manner of enduring or repelling the evils which we anticipate, rather than resort to an overhasty mode of action which must be doubtful in its issue.

10“For though amid dangers youth ought to be energetic and bold, so also in cases of necessity it should show itself manageable and prudent. Now what I think best to be done, if your opinion accords with mine, and if your just indignation will endure it, I will briefly explain.

11“Already noon is approaching, we are weary with our march, and if we advance we shall enter upon rugged paths where we can hardly see our way. As the moon is waning the night will not be lighted up by any stars. The earth is burnt up with the heat, and will afford us no supplies of water. And even if by any contrivance we could get over these difficulties comfortably, still, when the swarms of the enemy fall upon us, refreshed as they will be with rest, meat, and drink, what will become of us? What strength will there be in our weary limbs, exhausted as we shall be with hunger, thirst, and toil, to encounter them?

12“Therefore, since the most critical difficulties are often overcome by skilful arrangements, and since, after good counsel has been taken in good part, divine-looking remedies have often re-established affairs which seemed to be tottering; I entreat you to let us here, surrounded as we are with fosse and rampart, take our repose, after first parcelling out our regular watches, and then, having refreshed ourselves with sleep and food as well as the time will allow, let us, under the protection of God, with the earliest dawn move forth our conquering eagles and standards to reap a certain triumph.”

13The soldiers would hardly allow him to finish his speech, gnashing their teeth, and showing their eagerness for combat by beating their shields with their spears; and entreating at once to be led against the enemy already in their sight, relying on the favour of the God of heaven, and on their own valour, and on the proved courage of their fortunate general. And, as the result proved, it was a certain kind genius that was present with them thus prompting them to fight while still under his inspiration.

14And this eagerness of theirs was further stimulated by the full approval of the officers of high rank, and especially of Florentius the prefect of the prætorian guard, who openly gave his opinion for fighting at once, while the enemy were in the solid mass in which they were now arranged; admitting the danger indeed, but still thinking it the wisest plan, because, if the enemy once dispersed, it would be impossible to restrain the soldiers, at all times inclined by their natural vehemence of disposition towards sedition; and they were likely to be, as he thought, so indignant at being denied the victory they sought, as to be easily tempted to the most lawless violence.

15Two other considerations also added to the confidence of our men. First, because they recollected that in the previous year, when the Romans spread themselves in every direction over the countries on the other side of the Rhine, not one of the barbarians stood to defend his home, nor ventured to encounter them; but they contented themselves with blockading the roads in every direction with vast abattis, throughout the whole winter retiring into the remote districts, and willingly endured the greatest hardships rather than fight; recollecting also that, after the emperor actually invaded their territories, the barbarians neither ventured to make any resistance, nor even to show themselves at all, but implored peace in the most suppliant manner, till they obtained it.

16But no one considered that the times were changed, because the barbarians were at that time pressed with a threefold danger. The emperor hastening against them through the Tyrol, the Cæsar who was actually in their country cutting off all possibility of retreat, while the neighbouring tribes, whom recent quarrels had converted into enemies, were all but treading on their heels; and thus they were surrounded on all sides. But since that time the emperor, having granted them peace, had returned to Italy, and the neighbouring tribes, having all cause of quarrel removed, were again in alliance with them; and the disgraceful retreat of one of the Roman generals had increased their natural confidence and boldness.

17Moreover there was another circumstance which at this crisis added weight to the difficulties which pressed upon the Romans. The two royal brothers, who had obtained peace from Constantius in the preceding year, being bound by the obligations of that treaty, neither ventured to raise any disturbance, nor indeed to put themselves in motion at all. But a little after the conclusion of that peace one of them whose name was Gundomadus, and who was the most loyal and the most faithful to his word, was slain by treachery, and then all his tribe joined our enemies; and on this the tribe of Vadomarius also, against his will, as he affirmed, ranged itself on the side of the barbarians who were arming for war.

18Therefore, since all the soldiers of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, approved of engaging instantly, and would not relax the least from the rigour of their determination, on a sudden the standard-bearer shouted out, “Go forth, O Cæsar, most fortunate of all princes. Go whither thy better fortune leads thee. At least we have learnt by your example the power of valour and military skill. Go on and lead us, as a fortunate and gallant champion. You shall see what a soldier under the eye of a warlike general, a witness of the exploits of each individual, can do, and how little, with the favour of the Deity, any obstacle can avail against him.”

19When these words were heard, without a moment’s delay, the whole army advanced and approached a hill of moderate height, covered with ripe corn, at no great distance from the banks of the Rhine. On its summit were posted three cavalry soldiers of the enemy as scouts, who at once hastened back to their comrades to announce that the Roman army was at hand; but one infantry soldier who was with them, not being able to keep up with them, was taken prisoner by the activity of some of our soldiers, and informed us that the Germans had been passing over the river for three days and three nights.

20And when our generals beheld them now at no great distance forming their men into solid columns, they halted, and formed all the first ranks of their troops into a similarly solid body, and with equal caution the enemy likewise halted.

21And when in consequence of this halt, the enemy saw (as the deserter I mentioned above had informed them) that all our cavalry was ranged against them in our right wing, then they posted all their own cavalry in close order on their left wing. And with them they mingled every here and there a few infantry, skirmishers and light-armed soldiers, which indeed was a very wise manœuvre.

22For they knew that a cavalry soldier, however skilful, if fighting with one of our men in complete armour, while his hands were occupied with shield and bridle, so that he could use no offensive weapon but the spear which he brandished in his right hand, could never injure an enemy wholly covered with iron mail; but that an infantry soldier, amid the actual struggles of personal conflict, when nothing is usually guarded against by a combatant except that which is straight before him, may crawl unperceivedly along the ground, and piercing the side of the Roman soldier’s horse, throw the rider down headlong, rendering him thus an easy victim.

23When these dispositions had been thus made, the barbarians also protected their right flank with secret ambuscades and snares. Now the whole of these warlike and savage tribes were on this day under the command of Chnodomarius and Serapio, monarchs of more power than any of their former kings.

24Chnodomarius was indeed the wicked instigator of the whole war, and bearing on his head a helmet blazing like fire, he led on the left wing with great boldness, confiding much on his vast personal strength. And now with great eagerness for the impending battle he mounted a spirited horse, that by the increased height he might be more conspicuous, leaning upon a spear of most formidable size, and remarkable for the splendour of his arms. Being indeed a prince who had on former occasions shown himself brave as a warrior and a general, eminent for skill above his fellows.

25The right wing was led by Serapio, a youth whose beard had hardly grown, but who was beyond his years in courage and strength. He was the son of Mederichus the brother of Chnodomarius, a man throughout his whole life of the greatest perfidy; and he had received the name of Serapio because his father, having been given as a hostage, had been detained in Gaul for a long time, and had there learnt some of the mysteries of the Greeks, in consequence of which he had changed the name of his son, who at his birth was named Agenarichus, into that of Serapio.

26These two leaders were followed by five other kings who were but little inferior in power to themselves, by ten petty princes, a vast number of nobles, and thirty-five thousand armed men, collected from various nations partly by pay, and partly by a promise of requiting their service by similar assistance on a future day.

27The trumpets now gave forth a terrible sound; Severus, the Roman general in command of the left wing, when he came near the ditches filled with armed men, from which the enemy had arranged that those who were there concealed should suddenly rise up, and throw the Roman line into confusion, halted boldly, and suspecting some yet hidden ambuscade, neither attempted to retreat nor advance.

28Seeing this, Julian, always full of courage at the moment of the greatest difficulty, galloped with an escort of two hundred cavalry through the ranks of the infantry at full speed, addressing them with words of encouragement, as the critical circumstances in which they were placed required.

29And as the extent of the space over which they were spread and the denseness of the multitude thus collected into one body, would not allow him to address the whole army (and also because on other accounts he wished to avoid exposing himself to malice and envy, as well as not to affect that which Augustus thought belonged exclusively to himself), he, while taking care of himself as he passed within reach of the darts of the enemy, encouraged all whom his voice could reach, whether known or unknown to him, to fight bravely, with these and similar words:—

30“Now, my comrades, the fit time for fighting has arrived; the time which I, as well as you, have long desired, and which you just now invited when, with gestures of impatience, you demanded to be led on.” Again, when he came to those in the rear rank, who were posted in reserve: “Behold,” said he, “my comrades, the long-wished-for day is at hand, which incites us all to wash out former stains, and to restore to its proper brightness the Roman majesty. These men before you are barbarians, whom their own rage and intemperate madness have urged forward to meet with the destruction of their fortunes, defeated as they will now be by our might.”

31Presently, when making better dispositions for the array of some troops who, by long experience in war, had attained to greater skill, he aided his arrangements by these exhortations. “Let us rise up like brave men; let us by our native valour repel the disgrace which has at one time been brought upon our arms, from contemplating which it was that after much delay I consented to take the name of Cæsar.”

32But to any whom he saw inconsiderately demanding the signal to be given for instant battle, and likely by their rash movements to be inattentive to orders, he said, “I entreat you not to be too eager in your pursuit of the flying enemy, so as to risk losing the glory of the victory which awaits us, and also never to retreat, except under the last necessity.

33“For I shall certainly take no care of those who flee. But among those who press on to the slaughter of the enemy I shall be present, and share with you indiscriminately, provided only that your charge be made with moderation and prudence.”

34While repeatedly addressing these and similar exhortations to the troops, he drew up the principal part of his army opposite to the front rank of the barbarians. And suddenly there arose from the Allemanni a great shout, mingled with indignant cries, all exclaiming with one voice that the princes ought to leave their horses and fight in the ranks on equal terms with their men, lest if any mischance should occur they should avail themselves of the facility of escaping, and leave the mass of the army in miserable plight.

35When this was known, Chnodomarius immediately leapt down from his horse, and the rest of the princes followed his example without hesitation. For indeed none of them doubted but that their side would be victorious.

36Then the signal for battle being given as usual by the sound of trumpets, the armies rushed to the combat with all their force. First of all javelins were hurled, and the Germans, hastening on with the utmost impetuosity, brandishing their javelins in their right hands, dashed among the squadrons of our cavalry, uttering fearful cries. They had excited themselves to more than usual rage; their flowing hair bristling with their eagerness, and fury blazing from their eyes. While in opposition to them our soldiers, standing steadily, protecting their heads with the bulwark of their shields, and drawing their swords or brandishing their javelins, equally threatened death to their assailants.

37And while in the very conflict of battle, the cavalry kept their gallant squadrons in close order, and the infantry strengthened their flanks, standing shoulder to shoulder with closely-locked shields, clouds of thick dust arose, and the battle rocked to and fro, our men sometimes advancing, sometimes receding. Some of the most powerful warriors among the barbarians pressed upon their antagonists with their knees, trying to throw them down; and in the general excitement men fought hand to hand, shield pressing upon shield; while the heaven resounded with the loud cries of the conquerors and of the dying. Presently, when our left wing, advancing forward, had driven back with superior strength the vast bands of German assailants, and was itself advancing with loud cries against the enemy, our cavalry on the right wing unexpectedly retreated in disorder; but when the leading fugitives came upon those in the rear, they halted, perceiving themselves covered by the legions, and renewed the battle.

38This disaster had arisen from the cuirassiers seeing their commander slightly wounded, and one of their comrades crushed under the weight of his own arms, and of his horse, which fell upon him while they were changing their position, on which they all fled as each could, and would have trampled down the infantry, and thrown everything into confusion, if the infantry had not steadily kept their ranks and stood immovable, supporting each other. Julian, when from a distance he saw his cavalry thus seeking safety in flight, spurred his horse towards them, and himself stopped them like a barrier.

39For as he was at once recognized by his purple standard of the dragon, which was fixed to the top of a long spear, waving its fringe as a real dragon sheds its skin, the tribune of one squadron halted, and turning pale with alarm, hastened back to renew the battle.

40Then, as is customary in critical moments, Julian gently reproached his men: “Whither,” said he, “gallant comrades, are ye retreating? Are ye ignorant that flight, which never insures safety, proves the folly of having made a vain attempt? Let us return to our army, to be partakers of their glory, and not rashly desert those who are fighting for the republic.”

41Saying these words in a dignified tone, he led them all back to discharge their duties in the fight, imitating in this the ancient hero Sylla, if we make allowances for the difference of situation. For when Sylla, having led his army against Archelaus, the general of Mithridates, became exhausted by the violence of the conflict, and was deserted by all his soldiers, he ran to the foremost rank, and seizing a standard he turned it against the enemy, exclaiming, “Go! ye once chosen companions of my dangers; and when you are asked where I, your general, was left, tell them this truth,—alone in Bœotia, fighting for us all, to his own destruction.”

42The Allemanni, when our cavalry had been thus driven back and thrown into confusion, attacked the first line of our infantry, expecting to find their spirit abated, and to be able to rout them without much resistance.

43But when they came to close quarters with them, they found they had met an equal match. The conflict lasted long; for the Cornuti and Braccati, veterans of great experience in war, frightening even by their gestures, shouted their battle cry, and the uproar, through the heat of the conflict, rising up from a gentle murmur, and becoming gradually louder and louder, grew fierce as that of waves dashing against the rocks; the javelins hissed as they flew hither and thither through the air; the dust rose to the sky in one vast cloud, preventing all possibility of seeing, and causing arms to fall upon arms, man upon man.

44But the barbarians, in their undisciplined anger and fury, raged like the flames; and with ceaseless blows of their swords sought to pierce through the compact mass of the shields with which our soldiers defended themselves, as with the testudo.

45And when this was seen, the Batavi, with the royal legion, hastened to the support of their comrades, a formidable band, well able, if fortune aided them, to save even those who were in the extremest danger. And amid the fierce notes of their trumpets, the battle again raged with undiminished ferocity.

46But the Allemanni, still charging forward impetuously, strove more and more vigorously, hoping to bear down all opposition by the violence of their fury. Darts, spears, and javelins never ceased; arrows pointed with iron were shot; while at the same time, in hand-to-hand conflict, sword struck sword, breastplates were cloven, and even the wounded, if not quite exhausted with loss of blood, rose up still to deeds of greater daring.

47In some sense it may be said that the combatants were equal. The Allemanni were the stronger and the taller men; our soldiers by great practice were the more skilful. The one were fierce and savage, the others composed and wary; the one trusted to their courage, the others to their physical strength.

48Often, indeed, the Roman soldier was beaten down by the weight of his enemy’s arms, but he constantly rose again; and then, on the other hand, the barbarian, finding his knees fail under him with fatigue, would rest his left knee on the ground, and even in that position attack his enemy, an act of extreme obstinacy.

49Presently there sprang forward with sudden vigour a fiery band of nobles, among whom also were the princes of the petty tribes, and, as the common soldiers followed them in great numbers, they burst through our lines, and forced a path for themselves up to the principal legion of the reserve, which was stationed in the centre, in a position called the prætorian camp; and there the soldiery, being in closer array, and in densely serried ranks, stood firm as so many towers, and renewed the battle with increased spirit. And intent upon parrying the blows of the enemy, and covering themselves with their shields as the Mirmillos do, with their drawn swords wounded their antagonists in the sides, which their too vehement impetuosity left unprotected.

50And thus the barbarians threw away their lives in their struggles for victory, while toiling to break the compact array of our battalions. But still, in spite of the ceaseless slaughter made among them by the Romans, whose courage rose with their success, fresh barbarians succeeded those who fell; and as the frequent groans of the dying were heard, many became panic-stricken, and lost all strength.

51At last, exhausted by their losses, and having no strength for anything but flight, they sought to escape with all speed by different roads, like as sailors and traders, when the sea rages in a storm, are glad to flee wherever the wind carries them. But any one then present will confess that escape was a matter rather to be wished than hoped for.

52And the merciful protection of a favourable deity was present on our side, so that our soldiers, now slashing at the backs of the fugitives, and finding their swords so battered that they were insufficient to wound, used the enemy’s own javelins, and so slew them. Nor could any one of the pursuers satiate himself enough with their blood, nor allow his hand to weary with slaughter, nor did any one spare a suppliant out of pity.

53Numbers, therefore, lay on the ground, mortally wounded, imploring instant death as a relief; others, half dead, with failing breath turned their dying eyes to the last enjoyment of the light. Of some the heads were almost cut off by the huge weapons, and merely hung by small strips to their necks; others, again, who had fallen because the ground had been rendered slippery by the blood of their comrades, without themselves receiving any wound, were killed by being smothered in the mass of those who fell over them.

54While these events were proceeding thus prosperously for us, the conquerors pressed on vigorously, though the edges of their weapons were blunted by frequent use, and shining helmets and shields were trampled under foot. At last, in the extremity of their distress, the barbarians, finding the heaps of corpses block up all the paths, sought the aid of the river, which was the only hope left to them, and which they had now reached.

55And because our soldiers unweariedly and with great speed pressed, with arms in their hands, upon the fleeing bands, many, hoping to be able to deliver themselves from danger by their skill in swimming, trusted their lives to the waves. And Julian, with prompt apprehension, seeing what would be the result, strictly forbade the tribunes and captains to allow any of our men to pursue them so eagerly as to trust themselves to the dangerous currents of the river.

56In consequence of which order they halted on the brink, and from it wounded the Germans with every kind of missile; while, if any of them escaped from death of that kind by the celerity of their movements, they still sunk to the bottom from the weight of their own arms.

57And as sometimes in a theatrical spectacle the curtain exhibits marvellous figures, so here one could see many strange things in that danger; some unconsciously clinging to others who were good swimmers, others who were floating were pushed off by those less encumbered as so many logs, others again, as if the violence of the stream itself fought against them, were swallowed up in the eddies. Some supported themselves on their shields, avoiding the heaviest attacks of the opposing waves by crossing them in an oblique direction, and so, after many dangers, reached the opposite brink, till at last the foaming river, discoloured with barbarian blood, was itself amazed at the unusual increase it had received.

58And while this was going on, Chnodomarius, the king, finding an opportunity of escaping, making his way over the heaps of dead with a small escort, hastened with exceeding speed towards the camp which he had made near the two Roman fortresses of Alstatt and Lauterbourg, in the country of the Tribocci, that he might embark in some boats which had already been prepared in case of any emergency, and so escape to some secret hiding-place in which he might conceal himself.

59And because it was impossible for him to reach his camp without crossing the Rhine, he hid his face that he might not be recognized, and after that retreated slowly. And when he got near the bank of the river, as he was feeling his way round a marsh, partly overflowed, seeking some path by which to cross it, his horse suddenly stumbled in some soft and sticky place, and he was thrown down, but though he was fat and heavy, he without delay reached the shelter of a hill in the neighbourhood; there he was recognized (for indeed he could not conceal who he was, being betrayed by the greatness of his former fortune): and immediately a squadron of cavalry came up at full gallop with its tribune, and cautiously surrounded the wooded mound; though they feared to enter the thicket lest they should fall into any ambuscade concealed among the trees.

60But when he saw them he was seized with extreme terror, and of his own accord came forth by himself and surrendered; and his companions, two hundred in number, and his three most intimate friends, thinking it would be a crime in them to survive their king, or not to die for him if occasion required, gave themselves up also as prisoners.

61And, as barbarians are naturally low spirited in adverse fortune, and very much the reverse in moments of prosperity, so now that he was in the power of another he became pale and confused, his consciousness of guilt closing his mouth; widely different from him who lately, insulting the ashes of the Gauls with ferocious and lamentable violence, poured forth savage threats against the whole empire.

62Now after these affairs were thus by the favour of the deity brought to an end, the victorious soldiers were recalled at the close of the day to their camp by the signal of the trumpeter, and marched towards the bank of the Rhine, and there erecting a rampart of shields piled together in several rows, they refreshed themselves with food and sleep.

63There fell in this battle, of Romans 243, and four generals: Bainobaudes, the tribune of the Cornuti, and with him Laipso, and Innocentius, who commanded the cuirassiers, and one tribune who had no particular command, and whose name I forget. But of the Allemanni, there were found 6000 corpses on the field, and incalculable numbers were carried down by the waves of the river.

64Then Julian, as one who was now manifestly approved by fortune, and was also greater in his merit than even in his authority, was by unanimous acclamation hailed as Augustus by the soldiers; but he sharply reproved them for so doing, affirming with an oath that he neither wished for such an honour, nor would accept it.

65In order to increase the joy at his recent success, Julian ordered Chnodomarius to be brought before him at his council; who at first bowing, and then like a suppliant, prostrating himself on the ground, and imploring pardon with entreaties framed after the fashion of his nation, was bidden to take courage.

66A few days afterwards he was conducted to the court of the emperor, and thence he was sent to Rome, where he died of a lethargy in the foreign camp which is stationed on Mons Cælius.

67Notwithstanding that these numerous and important events were brought to so happy an issue, some persons in the palace of Constantius, disparaging Julian in order to give pleasure to the emperor, in a tone of derision called him Victorinus, because he, modestly relating how often he had been employed in leading the army, at the same time related that the Germans had received many defeats.

68They at the same time, by loading the emperor with empty praises, of which the extravagance was glaringly conspicuous, so inflated an inherent pride, already beyond all natural bounds, that he was led to believe that, whatever took place in the whole circumference of the earth was owing to his fortunate auspices.

69So that, being inflated by the pompous language of his flatterers, he then, and at all subsequent periods, became accustomed in all the edicts which he published to advance many unfounded statements; assuming, that he by himself had fought and conquered, when in fact he had not been present at anything that had happened; often also asserting that he had raised up the suppliant kings of conquered nations. For instance, if while he was still in Italy any of his generals had fought a brilliant campaign against the Persians, the emperor would write triumphant letters to the provinces without the slightest mention of the general throughout its whole length, relating with odious self-praise how he himself had fought in the front ranks.

70Lastly, edicts of his are still extant, laid up among the public records of the empire . . . relating . . . and extolling himself to the skies. A letter also is to be found, though he was forty days’ journey from Strasburg when the battle was fought, describing the engagement, saying that he marshalled the army, stood among the standard-bearers, and put the barbarians to the rout; and with amazing falsehood asserting that Chnodomarius was brought before him, without (oh shameful indignity!) saying a single word about the exploits of Julian; which he would have utterly buried in oblivion if fame had not refused to let great deeds die, however many people may try to keep them in the shade.

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