The History, 18.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5A certain man named Antoninus, who from having been a wealthy merchant had become superintendent of the accounts of the duke of Mesopotamia, and after that entered the corps of the protectores, a man of experience and wisdom, and very well known in all that country. Being through the avarice of certain persons involved in heavy losses, and perceiving that while defending actions against men of influence he was being sunk lower and lower through injustice, since the judges who had to decide on his affairs sought to gratify people in power, he, not wishing to kick against the pricks, bent himself to obsequious caresses; and confessing that he owed what was claimed of him, the claim, by collusion, was transferred to the treasury. He now, having resolved on a flagitious plan, began secretly to look into the secrets of the whole republic; and being acquainted with both languages, he devoted his attention to the accounts; remarking the amount, quality, and situation of the different divisions of the army, and the employment of them on any expeditions; inquiring also with unwearied diligence into the extent of the supplies of arms and provisions, and other things likely to be needful in war.

2And when he had made himself acquainted with all the internal circumstances of the East, and had learnt that a great portion of the troops and of the money for their pay was distributed in Illyricum, where the emperor himself was detained by serious business; as the day was now approaching which had been fixed for the payment of the money for which he had been constrained by fear to give an acknowledgment of his bond; and as he saw that he must be overwhelmed by disasters on all sides, since the chief treasurer was devoted to the interests of his adversary; he conceived the audacious design of crossing over to the Persians with his wife and children, and his whole numerous family of relations.

3And to elude the observation of the soldiers at their different stations, he bought for a small price a farm in Hiaspis, a district on the banks of the Tigris. And, relying on this pretext, since no one would venture to ask why a landed proprietor should go to the extreme frontier of the Roman territory, as many others did the same, by the agency of some trusty friends who were skilful swimmers, he carried on frequent secret negotiations with Tamsapor, who was at that time governing the country on the other side of the river with the rank of duke, and with whom he was already acquainted. And at last, having received from the Persian camp an escort of well-mounted men, he embarked in some boats, and crossed over at night with all his family, in the same manner as Zopyrus, the betrayer of Babylon, had formerly done, only with an opposite object.

4While affairs in Mesopotamia were in this state, the hangers-on of the palace, always singing the same song for our destruction, at last found a handle to injure the gallant Ursicinus; the gang of eunuchs being still the contrivers and promoters of the plot; since they are always sour tempered and savage, and having no relations, cling to riches as their dearest kindred.

5The design now adopted was to send Sabinianus, a withered old man of great wealth, but infirm and timid, and from the lowness of his birth far removed from any office of command, to govern the districts of the East; while Ursicinus should be recalled to court, to command the infantry, as successor to Barbatio. And then he, this greedy promoter of revolution, as they called him, being within their reach, could easily be attacked by his bitter and formidable enemies.

6While these things were going on in the camp of Constantius, as at a festival or a theatre, and while the dispensers of rank which was bought and sold were distributing the price agreed upon among the influential houses, Antoninus, having reached Sapor’s winter quarters, was received with gladness; and being ennobled by the grant of a turban, an honour which gives admission to the royal table, and also that of assisting at and delivering one’s opinion in the councils of the Persians, went onwards, not with a punt pole or a tar rope, as the proverb is (that is to say, not by any tedious or circuitous path), but with flowing sails into the conduct of state affairs, and stirring up Sapor, as formerly Maharbal roused the sluggish Hannibal, was always telling him that he knew how to conquer, but not how to use a victory.

7For having been bred up in active life, and being a thorough man of business, he got possession of the feelings of his hearers, who like what tickles their ears, and who do not utter their praises aloud, but, like the Phæacians in Homer, admire in silence, while he recounted the events of the last forty years; urging that, after all these continual wars, and especially the battles of Hileia and Singara, where that fierce combat by night took place, in which we lost a vast number of our men, as if some fecial had interposed to stop them, the Persians, though victorious, had never advanced as far as Edessa or the bridges over the Euphrates. Though with their warlike power and splendid success, they might have pushed their advantages, especially at that moment, when in consequence of the protracted troubles of their civil wars the blood of the Romans was being poured out on all sides.

8By these and similar speeches the deserter, preserving his sobriety at the banquets, where, after the fashion of the ancient Greeks, the Persians deliberate on war and other important affairs, stimulated the fiery monarch, and persuaded him to rely upon the greatness of his fortune, and to take up arms the moment that the winter was over, and he himself boldly promised his assistance in many important matters.

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