The History, 18.6

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

« Amm. 18.5 | Amm. 18.6 | Amm. 18.7 | About This Work »

6About this time Sabinianus, being elated at the power which he had suddenly acquired, and having arrived in Cilicia, gave his predecessor letters from the emperor, desiring him to hasten to court to be invested with higher dignities. In fact the affairs of Asia were in such a state that, even if Ursicinus had been at Ultima Thule their urgency would have required him to be summoned thence to set them right, since he was a man of the ancient discipline, and from long experience especially skilful in the Persian manner of conducting war.

2But when the report of this reached the provinces, all ranks of the citizens and agricultural population, by formal edicts and by unanimous outcries, endeavoured to detain him, almost forcibly, as the public defender of their country, remembering that though for ten years he had been left to his own resources with a scanty and unwarlike force, he had yet incurred no loss; and fearing for their safety if at so critical a time he should be removed and a man of utter inactivity assume the rule in his stead.

3We believe, and indeed there is no doubt of it, that fame flies on wings through the paths of the air; and she it was who now gave information of these events to the Persians while deliberating on the entire aspect of affairs. At last, after many arguments pro and con, they determined, on the advice of Antoninus, that as Ursicinus was removed, and as the new governor was contemptible, they might venture to neglect laying siege to cities, an operation which would cause a mischievous loss of time, and at once cross the Euphrates, and advance further, in order, outstripping all rumour of their march, to occupy those provinces which, throughout all our wars, had always been safe (except in the time of Gallienus), and which, from their long enjoyment of peace, were very wealthy. And in this enterprise, with the favour of God, Antoninus offered himself as a most desirable guide.

4His advice, therefore, being unanimously praised and adopted, and the attention of the whole nation being directed to the speedy collection of those things which were required, supplies, soldiers, arms, and equipments, the preparation of everything for the coming campaign was continued the whole winter.

5In the mean time, we, hastening at the emperor’s command towards Italy, after having been detained a short time on the western side of Mount Taurus, reached the river Hebrus, which descends from the mountains of the Odrysæ, and there we received letters from the emperor, ordering us, without the least delay, to return to Mesopotamia, without any officers, and having, indeed, no important duty to discharge, since all the power had been transferred to another.

6And this had been arranged by those mischievous meddlers in the government, in order that if the Persians failed and returned to their own country, our success might be attributed to the valour of the new governor; while, if our affairs turned out ill, Ursicinus might be impeached as a traitor to the republic.

7Accordingly we, being tossed about without any reason, after much time had been lost, returned, and found Sabinianus, a man full of pride, of small stature, and of a petty and narrow mind, scarcely able without fear to encounter the slight noise of a beast, much less to face the crash of battle.

8Nevertheless, since our spies brought positive and consistent intelligence that all kind of preparations were going on among the enemy, and since their report was confirmed by that of the deserters, while this manikin was in a state of perplexity, we hastened to Nisibis to make such preparation as seemed requisite, lest the Persians, while concealing their intention to besiege it, should come upon it by surprise.

9And while all things necessary were being pressed forward within the walls, continued fires and columns of smoke being seen on the other side of the Tigris, near the town called the Camp of the Moors, and Sisara, and the other districts on the Persian frontier, and spreading up to the city itself, showed that the predatory bands of the enemy had crossed the river, and entered our territories.

10And therefore we hastened forwards with a forced march, to prevent the roads from being occupied; and when we had advanced two miles, we saw a fine boy of about eight years old, as we guessed, wearing a necklace, of noble appearance, standing on the top of a small hillock, and crying out, stating himself to be the son of a man of noble birth, whom his mother, while fleeing in her alarm at the approach of the enemy, had left in her panic in order to be less encumbered. We pitied him, and at the command of our general, I put him on my horse, in front of me, and took him back to the city, while the predatory bands of the enemy, having blockaded the city, were ravaging all around.

11And because I was alarmed at the difficulties in which we should be placed by a blockade, I put the child in at a half open postern gate, and hastened back with all speed to my troop. And I was very nearly taken prisoner; for a tribune named Abdigidus, accompanied by a groom, was fleeing, pursued by a squadron of cavalry, and though the master escaped the servant was taken. And as I was passing by rapidly, they, examining the servant, inquired of him who was the chief who had advanced against them; and when they heard that Ursicinus had a little while before entered the city, and was on his way to Mount Izala, they put their informant to death, and then, forming into one body, pursued us with ceaseless speed.

12But I outstripped them by the speed of my horse, and finding my comrades reposing securely under the walls of a slight fort, called Amudis, with their horses dispersed over the grass, I waved my hand, and raising the hem of my cloak: by this usual signal I gave notice that the enemy was at hand, and then joining them we retreated together, though my horse was greatly fatigued.

13Our alarm was increased by the brightness of the night, as the moon was full, and by the even level of the plain, which, if our danger should become worse, afforded no possible hiding-place, as having neither trees, nor bushes, nor anything but low herbage.

14Accordingly we adopted the following plan: we lit a lamp and fastened it tightly on a horse, which we turned loose without a rider, and let go where it pleased to our left, while we marched towards the high ground on our right, in order that the Persians might fancy the light a torch held before the general as he proceeded slowly forwards, and so keep on in that direction. And unless we had adopted this precaution we should have been circumvented, and have fallen as prisoners into the power of the enemy.

15Being delivered from this danger, when we had come to a woody spot, full of vines and fruit-bearing trees, called Meiacarire, a name derived from the cool springs found there, we found that the inhabitants had all fled, and there was only a single soldier remaining behind, concealed in a remote corner. And when he was brought before our general, and through fear told all kinds of different stories, and so became an object of suspicion; at last, under the compulsion of our threats, he told the real truth, that he was a native of Gaul, and had been born among the Parisii, that he had served in our cavalry, but that fearing punishment for some offence he had deserted to the Persians; that he had since married a wife of excellent character, and had a family, and that having been frequently sent as a spy to our camp, he had always brought the Persians true intelligence. And now he said he had been sent by the nobles Tamsapor and Nohodares, who were in command of the predatory bands, to bring them such intelligence as he could collect. After telling us this, and also that he knew of the operations of the enemy, he was put to death.

16Afterwards, as our anxiety increased, we proceeded from thence with as much speed as we could make to Amida, a city celebrated at a later period for the disaster which befel it. And when our scouts had rejoined us there we found in one of their scabbards a scrap of parchment written in cipher, which they had been ordered to convey to us by Procopius, whom I have already spoken of as ambassador to the Persians with the Count Lucillianus; its terms were purposely obscure, lest if the bearers should be taken prisoners, and the sense of the writing understood, materials should be found for fatal mischief.

17The purport was, “The ambassadors of the Greeks, having been rejected, and being perhaps to be put to death, the aged king, not contented with the Hellespont, will throw bridges over the Granicus and the Rhyndacus, and invade Asia Minor with a numerous host, being by his own natural disposition irritable and fierce; and being now prompted and inflamed by him who was formerly the successor of the Roman emperor Hadrian, it is all over with the Greeks if they do not take care.”

18The meaning of this was that the Persian king, having crossed the rivers Anzaba and Tigris, at the prompting of Antoninus was aiming at the sovereignty of the entire East. When it had been interpreted with difficulty, from its great obscurity, a wise plan was decided on.

19The satrap of Corduena, a province under the authority of the Persians, was a man named Jovinianus, who had grown up to manhood in the Roman territories, and was secretly friendly to us, because he had been detained as a hostage in Syria, and being now allured by the love of liberal studies, he was exceedingly desirous to return among us.

20To this man I, being sent with a faithful centurion, for the purpose of learning with greater certainty what was being done, reached him by travelling over pathless mountains, and dangerous defiles. And when he saw and recognized me, he received me courteously, and I avowed to him alone the reason of my coming; and having received from him a silent guide, well acquainted with the country, I was sent to some lofty rocks at a distance, from which, if one’s eyes did not fail, one could see even the most minute object fifty miles off.

21There we remained two whole days; and on the morning of the third day we saw all the circuit of the earth, which we call the horizon, filled with countless hosts of men, and the king marching before them glittering with the brilliancy of his robes. And next to him on his left hand marched Grumbates, king of the Chionitæ, a man of middle age, and wrinkled limbs, but of a grand spirit, and already distinguished for many victories. On his right hand was the king of the Albani, of equal rank and splendour. After them came various generals, renowned for their rank and power, who were followed by a multitude of all classes, picked from the flower of the neighbouring nations, and trained by long hardship to endure any toil or danger.

22How long, O mendacious Greece, wilt thou tell us of Doriscus, the Thracian town, and of the army counted there in battalions in a fenced space, when we careful, or to speak more truly, cautious historians, exaggerate nothing, and merely record what is established by evidence neither doubtful nor uncertain!

« Amm. 18.5 | Amm. 18.6 | Amm. 18.7 | About This Work »

Version menu

Table of contents