The History, 17.12

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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12In the mean time, while the emperor was passing the winter quietly at Sirmium, he received frequent and trustworthy intelligence that the Sarmatians and the Quadi, two tribes contiguous to each other, and similar in manners and mode of warfare, were conjointly overrunning Pannonia and the second province of Mœsia, in straggling detachments.

2These tribes are more suited to predatory incursions than to regular war; they carry long spears, and wear breastplates made of horn scraped and polished, let into linen jackets, so that the layers of horn are like the feathers of a bird. Their horses are chiefly geldings, lest at the sight of mares they should be excited and run away, or, when held back in reserve, should betray their riders by their fierce neighing.

3They cover vast spaces in their movements, whether in pursuit or in retreat, their horses being swift and very manageable; and they lead with them one or sometimes two spare chargers apiece, in order that the change may keep up the strength of their cattle, and that their vigour may be preserved by alternations of rest.

4Therefore, after the vernal equinox was past, the emperor, having collected a strong body of soldiers, marched forth under the guidance of propitious fortune. Having arrived at a suitable place, he crossed the Danube, which was now flooded from the melting of the snow, by a bridge of boats, and descended on the lands of the barbarians, which he began to lay waste. They, being taken by surprise through the rapidity of his march, and seeing that the battalions of his warlike army were at their throats, when they had not supposed it possible that such a force could be collected for a year, had no courage to make a stand, but, as the only means of escaping unexpected destruction, took to flight.

5When many had been slain, fear fettering their steps, those whose speed had saved them from death hid themselves among the secret defiles of the mountains, and from thence beheld their country destroyed by the sword, which they might have delivered if they had resisted with as much vigour as they fled.

6These events took place in that part of Sarmatia which looks towards the second Pannonia. Another military expedition, conducted with equal courage, routed the troops of the barbarians in Valeria, who were plundering and destroying everything within their reach.

7Terrified at the greatness of this disaster, the Sarmatians, under pretext of imploring peace, planned to divide their force into three bodies, and to attack our army while in a state of fancied security; so that they should neither be able to prepare their weapons, nor avoid wounds, nor (which is the last resource in a desperate case) take to flight.

8There were with the Sarmatians likewise on this occasion, as partners in their danger, the Quadi, who had often before taken part in the injuries inflicted on us; but their prompt boldness did not help them on this occasion, rushing as they did into open danger.

9For many of them were slain, and the survivors escaped among the hills, with which they were familiar. And as this event raised the spirits and courage of our army, they united in solid columns, and marched with speed into the territories of the Quadi; who, having learnt by the past to dread the evils which impended over them, came boldly into the emperor’s presence to implore peace as suppliants, since he was inclined to be merciful in such cases. On the day appointed for settling the conditions, one of their princes named Zizais, a young man of great stature, marshalled the ranks of the Sarmatians to offer their entreaties of peace in the fashion of an army; and as soon as they came within sight, he threw away his arms, and fell like one dead, prostrating himself on his breast before the emperor; his very voice from fear refusing its office, when he ought to have uttered his entreaties, he awakened the more pity, making many attempts, and being scarcely able from the violence of his sobs to give utterance to his wishes.

10At last, having recovered himself, and being bidden to rise up, he knelt, and having regained the use of his tongue, he implored pardon for his offences. His followers also, whose mouths had been closed by fear while the fate of their leader was still doubtful, were admitted to offer the same petition, and when he, being commanded to rise, gave them the signal which they had been long expecting, to present their petition, they all threw away their javelins and their shields, and held out their hands in an attitude of supplication, striving to surpass their prince in the humility of their entreaties.

11Among the other Sarmatians the prince had brought with him three chiefs of tribes, Rumo, Zinafer, and Fragiledus, and many nobles who came to offer the same petition with earnest hope of success. And they, being elated at the promise of safety, undertook to make amends for their former deeds of hostility by performing the conditions now imposed on them; giving up willingly into the power of the Romans themselves, their wives and children, and all their possessions. The kindness of the emperor, united with justice, subdued them; and he bidding them be of good cheer and return to their homes, they restored our prisoners. They also brought the hostages who were demanded of them, and promised prompt obedience to all the emperor’s commands.

12Then, encouraged by this example of our clemency, other chieftains came with all their tribe, by name Araharius and Usafer, men of distinction among the nobles, and at the head of a great force of their countrymen; one of them being chief of a portion of the Quadi who dwelt beyond the mountains, and the other of a division of the Sarmatians: the two being united by the proximity of their territories, and their natural ferocity. But the emperor, fearing the number of their followers, lest, while pretending to make a treaty, they should suddenly rise up in arms, separated them; ordering those who were acting for the Sarmatians to retire for a while, while he was examining into the affairs of Araharius and the Quadi.

13And when they presented themselves before him, bowing according to their national custom, as they were not able to clear themselves of heavy charges, so, fearing extreme punishment, they gave the hostages which were demanded, though they had never before been compelled to give pledges for their fidelity.

14These matters being thus equitably and successfully settled, Usafer was admitted to offer his petition, though Araharius loudly protested against this, and maintained that the peace ratified with him ought to comprehend Usafer also, as an ally of his though of inferior rank, and subject to his command.

15But when the question was discussed, the Sarmatians were pronounced independent of any other power, as having been always vassals of the Roman empire; and they willingly embraced the proposal of giving hostages as a pledge of the maintenance of tranquillity.

16After this there came a vast number of nations and princes, flocking in crowds, when they heard that Araharius had been allowed to depart in safety, imploring us to withdraw the sword which was at their throats; and they also obtained the peace which they requested on similar terms, and without any delay gave as hostages the sons of their nobles whom they brought from the interior of the country; and they also surrendered, as we insisted, all their prisoners, from whom they parted as unwillingly as from their own relations.

17When these arrangements were completed, the emperor’s anxiety was transferred to the Sarmatians, who were objects of pity rather than of anger. It is incredible how much prosperity our connection with their affairs had brought them, so as to give grounds for really believing, what some persons do imagine, that Fate may be either overcome or created at the will of the emperor.

18There were formerly many natives of this kingdom, of high birth and great power, but a secret conspiracy armed their slaves against them; and as among barbarians all right consists in might, they, as they were equal to their masters in ferocity, and superior in number, completely overcame them.

19And these native chiefs, losing all their wisdom in their fear, fled to the Victohali, whose settlements were at a great distance, thinking it better in the choice of evils to become subject to their protectors than slaves to their own slaves. But afterwards, when they had obtained pardon from us, and had been received as faithful allies, they deplored their hard fate, and invoked our direct protection. Moved by the undeserved hardship of their lot, the emperor, when they were assembled before him, addressed them with kind words in the presence of his army, and commanded them for the future to own no master but himself and the Roman generals.

20And that the restoration of their liberty might carry with it additional dignity, he made Zizais their king, a man, as the event proved, deserving the rewards of eminent fortune, and faithful. After these glorious transactions, none of the Sarmatians were allowed to depart till all our prisoners had returned, as we had before insisted.

21When these matters had been concluded in the territories of the barbarians, the camp was moved to Szœni, that there also the emperor might, by subjugation or slaughter, terminate the war with the Quadi, who were keeping that district in a state of agitation. Their prince Vitrodorus, the son of king Viduarius, and Agilimundus, an inferior chieftain, with the other nobles and judges who governed the different tribes, as soon as they saw the imperial army in the bosom of their kingdom and of their native land, threw themselves at the feet of the soldiers, and having obtained pardon, promised obedience; and gave their children as hostages for the performance of the conditions imposed upon them; and drawing their swords, which they worship as deities, they swore to remain faithful.

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