The History, 17.13

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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13These matters then, as has been related, having been thus successfully terminated, the public interests required that the army should at once march against the Limigantes, the revolted slaves of the Sarmatians, who had perpetrated many atrocities with impunity. For, as soon as the countrymen of free blood had attacked us, they also, forgetful of their former condition, thinking to take advantage of a favourable opportunity, burst through the Roman frontier, in this wickedness alone agreeing with their masters and enemies.

2But on deliberation we determined that their offence also should be punished with more moderation than its greatness deserved; and that vengeance should limit itself to removing them to a distance where they could no longer harass our territories. The consciousness of a long series of crimes made them fearful of danger.

3And therefore, suspecting that the weight of war was about to fall upon them, they were prepared, as exigency might require, to resort to stratagem, arms, or entreaties. But at the first sight of our army they became as it were panic-stricken; and being reduced to despair, they begged their lives, offering a yearly tribute, and a body of their chosen youths for our army, and promising perpetual obedience. But they were prepared to refuse if they were ordered to emigrate (as they showed by their gestures and countenances), trusting to the strength of the place where, after they had expelled their masters, they had fixed their abode.

4For the Parthiscus waters this land, proceeding with oblique windings till it falls into the Danube. But while it flows unmixed, it passes through a vast extent of country, which, near its junction with the Danube, it narrows into a very small corner, so that over on the side of the Danube those who live in that district are protected from the attack of the Romans, and on the side of the Parthiscus they are secured from any irruptions of the barbarians. Since along its course the greater part of the ground is frequently under water from the floods, and always swampy and full of osiers, so as to be quite impassable to strangers; and besides the mainland there is an island close to the mouth of the river, which the stream itself seems to have separated into its present state.

5Accordingly, at the desire of the emperor, they came with native arrogance to our bank of the river, not, as the result showed, with the intention of obeying his commands, but that they might not seem alarmed at the presence of his soldiers. And there they stood, stubbornly showing that they had come bent on resistance.

6And as the emperor had foreseen that this might happen, he secretly divided his army into several squadrons, and by the rapidity of their movements hemmed in the barbarians between his own lines. And then, standing on a mound, with a few of his officers and a small body-guard, he gently admonished them not to give way to ferocity.

7But they, wavering and in doubt, were agitated by various feelings, and mingling craft with their fury, they had recourse to arms and to prayers at the same time. And meditating to make a sudden attack on those of our men who were nearest, they threw their shields some distance before them, with the intent that while they made some steps forward to recover them, they might thus steal a little ground without giving any indication of their purpose.

8And as it was now nearly evening, and the departing light warned us to avoid further delay, our soldiers raised their standards and fell upon them with a fiery onset. And they, in close order, directed all their force against the mound on which (as has been already said) the emperor himself was standing, fixing their eyes on him, and uttering fierce outcries against him.

9Our army was indignant at such insane audacity, and forming into a triangle, to which military simplicity has given the name of “the boar’s head,” with a violent charge they scattered the barbarians now pressing vigorously upon the emperor; on the right our infantry slew their infantry, and on the left our cavalry dashed among their squadrons of light horsemen.

10The prætorian cohort, carefully guarding the emperor, spared neither the breasts of those who attacked nor the backs of those who fled, and the barbarians, yielding in their stubbornness to death alone, showed by their horrid cries that they grieved not so much at their own death as at the triumph of our army. And, beside the dead, many lay with their legs cut off, and so deprived of the resource of flight, others had lost their hands; some who had received no wound were crushed by the weight of those who fell upon them, and bore their torments in profound silence.

11Nor, amid all their sufferings, did any one of them ask for mercy, or throw away his sword, or implore a speedy death, but clinging resolutely to their arms, wounded as they were, they thought it a lesser evil to be subdued by the strength of another than by their own consciences, and at times they were heard to grumble that what had happened was the work of fortune, not of their deserts. And so this whole battle was brought to an end in half an hour, in which such numbers of barbarians fell that nothing but the fact of our victory proved that there had been any battle at all.

12Those in arms had scarcely been routed when the relations of the dead, of every age and sex, were brought forward in crowds, having been dragged from their humble dwellings. And all their former pride being now gone, they descended to the lowest depths of servile obedience, and after a very short time nothing but barrows of the dead and bands of captives were beheld.

13So, the heat of strife and the excitement of victory stimulating our men, they rose up to destroy all who had escaped the battle, or who were lying hidden in their dwellings. And when, eager for the blood of the barbarians, our soldiers had reached the spot, they tore to pieces the slight straw-thatched huts; nor could even the strongest-built cottages, or the stoutest beams save any one from death.

14At last, when everything was set on fire, and when no one could be concealed any longer, since every protection for their lives was destroyed, they either perished obstinately in the flames, or else, if they avoided the fire and sallied out, they only escaped that destruction to fall beneath the sword of their enemies.

15Some, however, did escape from the weapons of the enemy and from the spreading flames, and committed themselves to the stream, trusting to their skill in swimming to enable them to reach the further bank; but many of them were drowned, and others were transfixed by our javelins, so that the winding stream of the vast river was discoloured with blood, and thus, by the agency of both elements, did the indignation and valour of the conquerors destroy the Sarmatians.

16After these events it was determined to leave the barbarians no hope nor comfort of life; and after burning their houses and carrying off their families, an order was given to collect boats in order to hunt out those who, being on the opposite bank of the river, had escaped the attack of our men.

17And immediately, that the alacrity of our warriors might have no time to cool, some light-armed troops were embarked in boats, and led by secret paths to occupy the retreats of the Sarmatians. The barbarians at first were deceived by seeing only the boats of their own country, and crews with whom they were acquainted.

18But when the weapons glittered in the distance, and they perceived that what they feared was upon them, they sought refuge in their accustomed marshes. And our soldiers pursuing them with great animosity, slew numbers of them, and gained a victory in a place where it had not been supposed that any soldier could find a footing, much less do any bold action.

19After the Anicenses had thus been routed and almost destroyed, we proceeded at once to attack the Picenses, who are so called from the regions which they inhabit, which border on one another; and these tribes had fancied themselves the more secure from the disasters of their allies, which they had heard of by frequent rumours. To crush them (for it was an arduous task for those who did not know the country to follow men scattered in many directions as they were) the aid of Taifali and of the free-born Sarmatians was sought.

20And as the nature of the ground separated the auxiliary battalions from each other, our own troops took the ground nearest Mœsia, the Taifali that nearest to their own settlements, while the free Sarmatians occupied that in front of their original position.

21The Limigantes, alarmed at the still fresh examples of nations subdued and crushed by us, for a long time hesitated and wavered whether they should attack us or ask for peace, having arguments of no small weight for either line of conduct. But at last, through the influence of the council of the elders, the idea of surrender prevailed; and the submission also of those who had dared to attack their free-born masters was added to our numerous victories; and the rest of them, who had previously despised their masters, thinking them unwarlike and easily subdued, now finding them stronger than themselves, submitted to them.

22Accordingly, having received pledges of their safety, and having quitted the defence of their mountains, the greater portion of them came with speed to the Roman camp, and they spread over a vast extent of ground, bringing with them their parents, their children, their wives, and all the movable treasures which their rapid motions had allowed them to carry off.

23And those who it had been supposed would rather lose their lives than quit their country, while they mistook their mad licentiousness for liberty, now submitted to obey our orders, and to take up another abode in peace and good faith, so as to be undisturbed for the future by wars or seditions. And having been thus accepted as subjects, in accordance with their own wish as it was believed, they remained quiet for a time; but afterwards they broke out in destructive wickedness, as shall be related at the proper time.

24While our affairs were thus prospering, Illyricum was put in a state of twofold security, since the emperor, in endeavouring by two means to accomplish this object, succeeded in both. He brought back and established in their ancient homes the people who had been banished, whom, although they were objects of suspicion from their natural fickleness, he believed would go on more moderately than of old. And to crown this kindness, he set over them as a king, not one of low birth, but the very man whom they themselves had formerly chosen, as eminent for all the virtues of mind and body.

25After such a wise action, Constantius, being now raised above all fear, and having received from the unanimous consent of his soldiers the title of Sarmaticus, from the name of the nation which he had subdued; and being now about to leave the army, summoned all his cohorts and centuries and maniples, and mounting the tribune, surrounded by the standards and eagles, and by a great number of soldiers of all ranks, he addressed the troops in these words, choosing his topics as usual so as to gain the favour of all.

26“The recollection of our glorious exploits, the dearest of all feelings to brave men, encourages me to repeat, though with great moderation, what, in our heaven-granted victories, and before battle, and in the very heat of the strife, we, the most faithful champions of the Roman state, have conducted to a deservedly prosperous issue. For what can be so honourable or so justly worthy to be handed down to the recollection of posterity as the exultation of the soldier in his brave deeds, and of the general in his wise plans?

27“The rage of our enemies, in their arrogant pride thinking to profit by our absence, while we were protecting Italy and Gaul, was overrunning Illyricum, and with continual sallies they were ravaging even the districts beyond our frontiers; crossing the rivers, sometimes in boats made of hollow trees, sometimes on foot; not relying on combats, nor on their arms and strength, but being accustomed to secret forays, and having been from the very earliest era of their nation an object of fear to our ancestors, from their cunning and the variety of their manœuvres, which we indeed, being at a great distance, bore as long as we could, thinking that the vigour of our generals would be able to protect us from even slight injury.

28“But when their licentiousness led them on to bolder attempts, and to inflict great and frequent injury on our provinces, we, having first fortified the passes of the Tyrol, and having secured the safety of the Gauls by watchful care, leaving no danger behind us, have marched into Pannonia, in order, with the favour of the everlasting deity, to strengthen our tottering interests in that country. And after everything was prepared, we set forth, as you know, at the end of the spring, and undertook a great enterprise; first of all taking care that the countless darts of the enemy should not prevent us from making a bridge. And when, with no great trouble, this had been accomplished, after we had set our foot upon the enemy’s territories, we defeated, with very little loss to ourselves, the Sarmatians, who with obstinate courage set themselves to resist us to the death. And we also crushed the Quadi, who were bringing reinforcements to the Sarmatians, and who with similar courage attacked our noble legions.

29“These tribes, after heavy losses sustained in their attacks, and their stubborn and toilsome resistance, have at length learnt the power of our valour, and throwing away their arms, have allowed their hands, prepared for fighting, to be bound behind their backs; and seeing that their only hope of safety is in prayer, have fallen at the feet of your merciful emperor, whose wars they found are usually successful. Having got rid of these enemies, we with equal courage defeated the Limigantes, and after we had put numbers of them to the sword, the rest found their only means of escaping danger lay in fleeing to their hiding-places in the marshes.

30“And when these things were successfully terminated, it seemed to be a seasonable opportunity for mercy. So we compelled the Limigantes to remove to very distant lands, that they might not be able any more to move to our injury; and we spared the greatest part of them. And we made Zizais king over the free-born portion of them, sure that he would be faithful to us, and thinking it more honour to create a king for the barbarians than to take one from them, the dignity being increased by this honourable consideration, that the ruler whom we thus gave them had before been elected and accepted by them.

31“So we and the republic have in one campaign obtained a fourfold reward: first, vengeance on our guilty assailants; next, abundance of captive slaves from the enemy, for valour is entitled to those rewards which it has earned with its toil and prowess.

32“Thirdly, we have ample resources and great treasures of wealth; our labour and courage having preserved the patrimony of each of us undiminished. This, in the mind of a good sovereign, is the best fruit of prosperity.

33“Lastly, I myself have the well-won spoil of a surname derived from the enemy—the title of Sarmaticus—which you unanimously have (if I may say so without arrogance) deservedly conferred on me.”

34After he had made an end of speaking, the whole assembly, with more alacrity than usual, since its hope of booty and gain was increased, rose up with joyful voices in praise of the emperor; and, as usual, calling God to witness that Constantius was invincible, returned with joy to their tents. And the emperor was conducted back to his palace, and having rested two days, re-entered Sirmium with a triumphal procession; and the troops returned to their appointed stations.

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