The History, 17.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1After the various affairs which we have described were brought to a conclusion, the warlike young prince, now that the battle of Strasburg had secured him the navigation of the Rhine, felt anxious that the ill-omened birds should not feed on the corpses of the slain, and so ordered them all to be buried without distinction. And having dismissed the ambassadors whom we have mentioned as having come with some arrogant messages before the battle, he returned to Saverne.

2From this place he ordered all the booty and the prisoners to be brought to Metz, to be left there till his return. Then departing for Mayence, to lay down a bridge at that city and to seek the barbarians in their own territories, since he had left none of them in arms, he was at first met by great opposition on the part of his army; but addressing them with eloquence and persuasion he soon won them to his opinion. For their affection for him, becoming strengthened by repeated experience, induced them to follow one who shared in all their toils, and who, while never surrendering his authority, was still accustomed, as every one saw, to impose more labour on himself than on his men. They soon arrived at the appointed spot, and, crossing the river by a bridge they laid down, occupied the territory of the enemy.

3The barbarians, amazed at the greatness of his enterprise, inasmuch as they had fancied they were situated in a position in which they could hardly be disturbed, were now led by the destruction of their countrymen to think anxiously of their own future fate, and accordingly, pretending to implore peace that they might escape from the violence of his first invasion, they sent ambassadors to him with a set message, offering a lasting treaty of agreement; but (though it is not known what design or change of circumstances altered their purpose) they immediately afterwards sent off some others with all speed, to threaten our troops with implacable war if they did not at once quit their territories.

4And when this was known, the Cæsar, as soon as all was quiet, at the beginning of night embarked 800 men in some small swift boats, with the intention that they should row with all their strength up stream for some distance, and then land and destroy all they could find with fire and sword.

5After he had made this arrangement, the barbarians were seen at daybreak on the tops of the mountains, on which our soldiers were led with speed to the higher ground; and when no enemy was found there (since the barbarians, divining their plan, immediately retreated to a distance), presently large volumes of smoke were seen, which indicated that our men had broken into the enemy’s territory, and were laying it waste.

6This event broke the spirit of the Germans, who, deserting the ambuscades which they had laid for our men in narrow defiles full of lurking-places, they fled across the river Maine to carry aid to their countrymen.

7For, as is often the case in times of uncertainty and difficulty, they were panic-stricken by the incursion of our cavalry on the one side, and the sudden attacks of our infantry, conveyed in boats, on the other; and therefore, relying on their knowledge of the country, they sought safety in the rapidity of their flight; and, as their retreat left the motions of our troops free, we plundered the wealthy farms of their crops and their cattle, sparing no one. And having carried off a number of prisoners, we set fire to, and burnt to the ground all their houses, which in that district were built more carefully than usual, in the Roman fashion.

8And when we had penetrated a distance of ten miles, till we came near a wood terrible from the denseness of its shade, our army halted for a while, and stayed its advance, having learnt from information given by a deserter that a number of enemies were concealed in some subterranean passages and caverns with many entrances in the neighbourhood, ready to sally forth when a favourable opportunity should appear.

9Nevertheless our men presently ventured to advance in full confidence, and found the roads blockaded by oaks, ashes, and pines, of great size, cut down and laid together. And so they retreated with caution, perceiving that it was impossible to advance except by long and rugged defiles; though they could hardly restrain their indignation at being compelled to do so.

10The weather too became very severe, so that they were enveloped in all kinds of toil and danger to no purpose (forasmuch as it was now past the autumnal equinox, and the snow, which had already fallen in those regions, covered the mountains and the plains), and so, instead of proceeding, Julian undertook a work worthy of being related.

11He repaired with great expedition, while there was no one to hinder him, the fortress which Trajan had constructed in the territory of the Allemanni, and to which he had given his own name, and which had lately been attacked with great violence and almost destroyed. And he placed there a temporary garrison, and also some magazines, which he had collected from the barbarians.

12But when the Allemanni saw these preparations made for their destruction, they assembled rapidly in great consternation at what had already been done, and sent ambassadors to implore peace, with prayers of extreme humility. And the Cæsar, now that he had fully matured and secured the success of all his designs, taking into consideration all probabilities, granted them a truce for ten months. In reality he was especially influenced by this prudent consideration, that the camp which he had thus occupied without hindrance, in a way that could hardly have been hoped for, required, nevertheless, to be fortified with mural engines and other adequate equipments.

13Trusting to this truce, three of the most ferocious of those kings who had sent reinforcements to their countrymen when defeated at Strasburg, came to him, though still in some degree of alarm, and took the oaths according to the formula in use in their country, that they would create no further disturbance, but that they would keep the truce faithfully up to the appointed day, because that had been the decision of our generals; and that they would not attack the fortress; and that they would even bring supplies to it on their shoulders if the garrison informed them that they were in want; all which they promised, because their fear bridled their treachery.

14In this memorable war, which deserves to be compared with those against the Carthaginians or the Gauls, yet was accompanied with very little loss to the republic, Julian triumphed as a fortunate and successful leader. The very smallness of his losses might have given some colour to the assertions of his detractors, who declared that he had only fought bravely on all occasions, because he preferred dying gloriously to being put to death like his brother Gallus, as a condemned malefactor, as they had expected he would be, if he had not, after the death of Constantius, continued to distinguish himself equally by splendid exploits.

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