The History, 18.7

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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7After the kings had passed by Nineveh, an important city of the province of Adiabene, they offered a sacrifice in the middle of the bridge over the Anzaba, and as the omens were favourable, they advanced with great joy; while we, calculating that the rest of their host could hardly pass over in three days, returned with speed to the satrap, and rested, refreshing ourselves by his hospitable kindness.

2And returning from thence through a deserted and solitary country, under the pressure of great necessity, and reaching our army more rapidly than could have been expected, we brought to those who were hesitating the certain intelligence that the kings had crossed over the river by a bridge of boats, and were marching straight towards us.

3Without delay, therefore, horsemen with horses of picked speed were sent to Cassianus, duke of Mesopotamia, and to Euphronius, at that time the governor of the province, to compel the residents in the country to retire with their families and all their flocks to a safer place; and to quit at once the town of Carræ, which was defended by very slight walls; and further, to burn all the standing crops, that the enemy might get no supplies from the land.

4And when these orders had been executed, as they were without delay, and when the fire was kindled, the violence of the raging element so completely destroyed all the corn, which was just beginning to swell and turn yellow, and all the young herbage, that from the Euphrates to the Tigris nothing green was to be seen. And many wild beasts were burnt, and especially lions, who infest these districts terribly, but who are often destroyed or blinded in this manner.

5They wander in countless droves among the beds of rushes on the banks of the rivers of Mesopotamia, and in the jungles; and lie quiet all the winter, which is very mild in that country. But when the warm weather returns, as these regions are exposed to great heat, they are forced out by the vapours, and by the size of the gnats, with swarms of which every part of that country is filled. And these winged insects attack the eyes, as being both moist and sparkling, sitting on and biting the eyelids; the lions, unable to bear the torture, are either drowned in the rivers, to which they flee for refuge, or else by frequent scratchings tear their eyes out themselves with their claws, and then become mad. And if this did not happen the whole of the East would be overrun with beasts of this kind.

6While the plains were thus being laid waste by fire, as I have described, the tribunes, who were sent with a body of protectores, fortified all the western bank of the Euphrates with castles and sharp palisades and every kind of defence, fixing also large engines for hurling missiles on those spots where the more tranquil condition of the river made it likely that the enemy might attempt to cross.

7While these things were being expeditiously done, Sabinianus, chosen in the hurried moment of general danger as the fittest conductor of an internecine war, was living luxuriously, according to his custom, at the tombs of Edessa, as if he had established peace with the dead, and had nothing to fear: and he took especial pleasure in breaking the silence of the place with the sounding measures of the martial pyathicari, instead of the usual theatrical exhibitions; a fancy, considering the place, pregnant with omens. Since these and similar gloomy scenes foreshow future commotions, as we learn in the progress of time, all good men ought to avoid them.

8In the mean time, passing by Nisibis as of no importance, while the conflagration increased through the dryness of the crops, the kings, dreading a scarcity of food, marched through the grassy valleys at the foot of the mountains.

9When they had arrived at a small place called Bebase (from which place to the town of Constantina, which is one hundred miles distant, the whole country is an arid desert, except where a little water is found in some wells), they hesitated for some time, doubting what to do; and at last resolving to proceed in reliance on the endurance of their men, they learnt from a trusty spy that the Euphrates was swollen by the melting of the snow, and was now extensively inundating the adjacent lands, and so could not possibly be forded.

10Therefore they turned to see what opportunities chance might afford them, being now cut off unexpectedly from the hope which they had conceived. And in the present emergency a council was held, at which Antoninus was requested to give his advice: and he counselled them to direct their march to the right, so that by a longer circuit they might reach the two strong forts of Barzala and Laudias, to which he could guide them through a region fertile in everything, and still undestroyed, since the march of the army was expected to be made in a straight line. And the only river on their road was one small and narrow, to be passed near its source, before it was increased by any other streams, and easily fordable.

11When they had heard this, they praised their adviser, and bidding him lead the way, the whole army turned from its previously appointed line, and followed his guidance.

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