The History, 18.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8When our generals received intelligence of this from their spies, we settled to march in haste to Samosata, in order to cross the river at that point, and destroying the bridges at Zeugma and Capersana, to check the invasion of the enemy if we could find a favourable chance for attacking them.

2But we met with a sad disaster, worthy to be buried in profound silence. For two squadrons of cavalry, of about seven hundred men, who had just been sent from Illyricum to Mesopotamia as a reinforcement, and who were guarding the passes, becoming enervated and timid, and fearing a surprise by night, withdrew from the public causeways in the evening, a time above all others when they most required watching.

3And when it was remarked that they were all sunk in wine and sleep, about twenty thousand Persians, under the command of Tamsapor and Nohodares, passed without any one perceiving them, and fully armed as they were, concealed themselves behind the high ground in the neighbourhood of Amida.

4Presently, when (as has been said) we started before daybreak on our march to Samosata, our advanced guard, on reaching a high spot which commanded a more distant view, was suddenly alarmed by the glitter of shining arms; and cried out in a hurried manner that the enemy were at hand. Upon this the signal for battle was given, and we halted in a solid column, never thinking of fleeing, since, indeed, those who would have pursued us were in sight; nor to engage in battle with an enemy superior to us in numbers, and especially in cavalry; but seeing the necessity for caution in the danger of certain death which lay before us.

5At last, when it seemed clear that a battle could not be avoided, and while we were still hesitating what to do, some of our men rashly advanced as skirmishers, and were slain. And then, as each side pressed onwards, Antoninus, ambitiously marching in front of the enemy, was recognized by Ursicinus, and addressed by him in a tone of reproach, and called a traitor and a scoundrel; till at last, taking off the tiara which he wore on his head as a badge of honour, he dismounted from his horse, and bending down till his face nearly touched the ground, he saluted the Roman general, calling him patron and master; and holding his hands behind his back, which among the Assyrians is a gesture of supplication, he said, “Pardon me, most noble count, who have been driven to this guilt by necessity, not by my own will. My creditors, as you know, drove me headlong into it: men whose avarice even your high authority, which tried to support me in my distress, could not overcome.” Having said this, he withdrew without turning his back upon him, but retiring backwards in a respectful manner, with his face towards him.

6And while this was taking place, which did not occupy above half an hour, our second rank, which occupied the higher ground, cried out that another body of cuirassiers appeared behind, and was coming on with great speed.

7And then, as is often the case at critical moments, doubting which enemy we ought, or even could resist, and being pressed on all sides by an overwhelming mass, we dispersed in every direction, each fleeing where he could. And while every one was trying to extricate himself from the danger, we were brought, without any order, face to face with the enemy.

8And so struggling vigorously while giving up all desire of saving our lives, we were driven back to the high banks of the Tigris. Some of our men, driven into the water where it was shallow, locked their arms, and so made a stand; others were carried off by the current and drowned; some, still fighting with the enemy, met with various fortune, or, panic-stricken at the numbers of the barbarians, sought the nearest defiles of Mount Taurus. Among these was the general himself, who was recognized and surrounded by a vast body of the enemy; but he escaped with the tribune Aiadalthes and one groom, being saved by the swiftness of his horse.

9I myself was separated from my comrades, and while looking round to see what to do, I met with one of the protectores named Verennianus, whose thigh was pierced through by an arrow, and while at his entreaty I was trying to pull it out, I found myself surrounded on all sides by Persians, some of whom had passed beyond me. I therefore hastened back with all speed towards the city, which, being placed on high ground, is only accessible by one very narrow path on the side on which we were attacked; and that path is made narrower still by escarpments of the rocks, and barriers built on purpose to make the approach more difficult.

10Here we became mingled with the Persians, who were hastening with a run, racing with us, to make themselves masters of the higher ground: and till the dawn of the next day we stood without moving, so closely packed, that the bodies of those who were slain were so propped up by the mass that they could not find room to fall to the ground; and a soldier in front of me, whose head was cloven asunder into equal portions by a mighty sword-blow, still stood upright like a log, being pressed upon all sides.

11And although javelins were incessantly hurled from the battlements by every kind of engine, yet we were protected from that danger by the proximity of the walls. And at last I got in at the postern gate, which I found thronged by a multitude of both sexes flocking in from the neighbouring districts. For it happened by chance on these very days that it was the time of a great annual fair which was held in the suburbs, and which was visited by multitudes of the country people.

12In the mean time all was in disorder with every kind of noise; some bewailing those whom they had lost; others being mortally wounded; and many calling on their different relations whom the crowd prevented them from discovering.

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