The History, 17.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5In the consulship of Datianus and Cerealis, when all arrangements in Gaul were made with more careful zeal than before, and while the terror caused by past events still checked the outbreaks of the barbarians, the king of the Persians, being still on the frontiers of those nations which border on his dominions, and having made a treaty of alliance with the Chionitæ and the Gelani, the most warlike and indefatigable of all tribes, being about to return to his own country, received the letters of Tamsapor which announced to him that the Roman emperor was a suppliant for peace.

2And he, suspecting that Constantius would never have done so if the empire had not been weakened all over, raised his own pretensions, and embracing the name indeed of peace, offered very unwelcome conditions. And having sent a man of the name of Narses as ambassador with many presents, he gave him letters to Constantius, in which he in no respect abated of his natural pride. The purport of these letters we have understood to be this:—

3“I, Sapor, king of kings, partner of the stars, brother of the sun and moon, to Constantius Cæsar my brother send much greeting. I am glad and am well pleased that at last thou hast returned to the right way, and hast acknowledged the incorruptible decree of equity, having gained experience by facts, and having learnt what disasters an obstinate covetousness of the property of others has often caused.

4“Because therefore the language of truth ought to be unrestrained and free, and because men in the highest rank ought only to say what they mean, I will reduce my propositions into a few words; remembering that I have already often repeated what I am now about to say.

5“Even your own ancient records bear witness that my ancestors possessed all the country up to the Strymon and the frontier of Macedonia. And these lands it is fitting that I who (not to speak arrogantly) am superior to those ancient kings in magnificence, and in all eminent virtues, should now reclaim. But I am at all times thoughtful to remember that, from my earliest youth, I have never done anything to repent of.

6“And therefore it is a duty in me to recover Armenia and Mesopotamia, which were wrested from my ancestor by deliberate treachery. That principle was never admitted by us which you with exultation assert, that all successes in war deserve praise, without considering whether they were achieved by valour or by treachery.

7“Lastly, if you are willing to be guided by one who gives you good advice, I would bid you despise a small part of your dominions which is ever the parent of sorrow and bloodshed, in order to reign in safety over the rest. Wisely considering that physicians also sometimes apply cautery or amputation, and cut off portions of the body that the patient may have good use of the rest of his limbs. Nay, that even beasts do the same: since when they observe on what account they are most especially hunted, they will of their own accord deprive themselves of that, in order henceforth to be able to live in security.

8“This, in short, I declare, that should my present embassy return without having succeeded in its object, after giving the winter season to rest I will gird myself up with all my strength, and while fortune and justice give me a well-founded hope of ultimate success, I will hasten my march as much as Providence will permit.”

9Having given long consideration to this letter, the emperor with upright and wise heart, as the saying is, made answer in this manner:—

10“Constantius, always august, conqueror by land and sea, to my brother Sapor much health. I congratulate thee on thy safety, as one who is willing to be a friend to thee if thou wilt. But I greatly blame thy insatiable covetousness, now more grasping than ever.

11“Thou demandest Mesopotamia as thine own, and then Armenia. And thou biddest me cut off some members from my sound body in order to place its health on a sound footing: a demand which is to be rejected at once rather than to be encouraged by any consent. Receive therefore the truth, not covered with any pretences, but clear, and not to be shaken by any threats.

12“The prefect of my prætorian guard, thinking to undertake an affair which might be beneficial to the state, without my knowledge discoursed about peace with thy generals, by the agency of some low persons. Peace we should neither regret nor refuse—let it only come with credit and honour, in such a way as to impair neither our self-respect nor our dignity.

13“For it would be an unbecoming and shameful thing when all men’s ears are filled with our exploits, so as to have shut even the mouth of envy; when after the destruction of tyrants the whole Roman world obeys us, to give up those territories which even when limited to the narrow boundaries of the east we preserved undiminished.

14“But I pray thee make an end of the threats which thou utterest against me, in obedience to thy national habit, when it cannot be doubted that it is not from inactivity, but from moderation, that we have at times endured attacks instead of being the assailants ourselves: and know that, whenever we are attacked, we defend our own with bravery and good will: being assured both by thy reading and thy personal experience that in battle it has been rare for Romans to meet with disaster; and that in the final issue of a war we have never come off the worst.”

15The embassy was therefore dismissed without gaining any of its objects; and indeed no other reply could be given to the unbridled covetousness of the king. And a few days afterwards, Count Prosper followed, and Spectatus the tribune and secretary; and also, by the suggestion of Musonianus, Eustathius the philosopher, as one skilful in persuading, bearing a letter from the emperor, and presents, with a view to induce Sapor to suspend his preparations, so that all our attention might be turned to fortifying the northern provinces in the most effective manner.

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