The History, 19.11

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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11While these perplexing transactions were taking place, intelligence full of importance and danger reached Constantius who was reposing in winter quarters at Sirmium, informing him (as he had already greatly feared) that the Sarmatian Limigantes, who, as we have before related, had expelled their masters from their hereditary homes, had learnt to despise the lands which had been generously allotted to them in the preceding year, in order to prevent so fickle a class from undertaking any mischievous enterprise, and had seized on the districts over the border; that they were straggling, according to their national custom, with great licence over the whole country, and would throw everything into disorder if they were not put down.

2The emperor, judging that any delay would increase their insolence, collected from all quarters a strong force of veteran soldiers, and before the spring was much advanced, set forth on an expedition against them, being urged to greater activity by two considerations; first, because the army, having acquired great booty during the last summer, was likely to be encouraged to successful exertion in the hope of similar reward; and secondly, because, as Anatolius was at that time prefect of Illyricum, everything necessary for such an expedition could be readily provided without recourse to any stringent measures.

3For under no other prefect’s government (as is agreed by all), up to the present time, had the northern provinces ever been so flourishing in every point of view; all abuses being corrected with a kind and prudent hand, while the people were relieved from the burden of transporting the public stores (which often caused such losses as to ruin many families), and also from the heavy income tax. So that the natives of those districts would have been free from all damage and cause of complaint, if at a later period some detestable collectors had not come among them, extorting money, and exaggerating accusations, in order to build up wealth and influence for themselves, and to procure their own safety and prosperity by draining the natives; carrying their severities to the proscription and even execution of many of them.

4To apply a remedy to this insurrection, the emperor set out, as I have said, with a splendid staff, and reached Valeria, which was formerly a part of Pannonia, but which had been established as a separate province, and received its new name in honour of Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian. And having encamped his army on the banks of the Danube, he watched the movements of the barbarians, who, before his arrival, had been proposing, under friendly pretences, to enter Pannonia, meaning to lay it waste during the severity of the winter season, before the snow had been melted by the warmth of spring and the river had become passable, and while our people were unable from the cold to bear bivouacking in the open air.

5He at once therefore sent two tribunes, each accompanied by an interpreter, to the Limigantes, to inquire mildly why they had quitted the homes which at their own request had been assigned to them after the conclusion of the treaty of peace, and why they were now straggling in various directions, and passing their boundaries in contempt of his prohibitions.

6They made vain and frivolous excuses, fear compelling them to have recourse to lies, and implored the emperor’s pardon, beseeching him to discard his displeasure, and to allow them to cross the river and come to him to explain the hardships under which they were labouring; alleging their willingness, if required, to retire to remoter lands, only within the Roman frontier, where, enjoying lasting peace and worshipping tranquillity as their tutelary deity, they would submit to the name and discharge the duties of tributary subjects.

7When the tribunes returned and related this, the emperor, exulting that an affair which appeared full of inextricable difficulties was likely to be brought to a conclusion without any trouble, and being eager to add to his acquisitions, admitted them all to his presence. His eagerness for acquiring territory was fanned by a swarm of flatterers, who were incessantly saying that when all distant districts were at peace, and when tranquillity was established everywhere, he would gain many subjects, and would be able to enlist powerful bodies of recruits, thereby relieving the provinces, which would often rather give money than personal service (though this expectation has more than once proved very mischievous to the state).

8Presently he pitched his camp near Acimincum, where a lofty mound was raised to serve for a tribune; and some boats, loaded with soldiers of the legions, without their baggage, under command of Innocentius, an engineer who had suggested the measure, were sent to watch the channel of the river, keeping close under the bank; so that, if they perceived the barbarians in disorder, they might come upon them and surprise their rear, while their attention was directed elsewhere.

9The Limigantes became aware of the measures thus promptly taken, but still employed no other means of defence than humility and entreaty; though secretly they cherished designs very different from those indicated by their words and gestures.

10But when they saw the emperor on his high mound preparing a mild harangue, and about to address them as men who would prove obedient in future, one of them, seized with a sudden fury, hurled his shoe at the tribune, and cried out, “Marha, Marha!” which in their language is a signal of war; and a disorderly mob following him, suddenly raised their barbaric standard, and with fierce howls rushed upon the emperor himself.

11And when he, looking down from his high position, saw the whole place filled with thousands of men running to and fro, and their drawn swords and rapiers threatening him with immediate destruction, he descended, and mingling both with the barbarians and his own men, without any one perceiving him or knowing whether he was an officer or a common soldier; and since there was no time for delay or inaction, he mounted a speedy horse, and galloped away, and so escaped.

12But his few guards, while endeavouring to keep back the mutineers, who rushed on with the fierceness of fire, were all killed, either by wounds, or by being crushed beneath the weight of others who fell upon them; and the royal throne, with its golden cushion, was torn to pieces without any one making an effort to save it.

13But presently, when it became known that the emperor, after having been in the most imminent danger of his life, was still in peril, the army, feeling it to be the most important of all objects to assist him, for they did not yet think him safe, and confiding in their prowess, though from the suddenness of the attack they were only half formed, threw themselves, with loud and warlike cries upon the bands of the barbarians, fearlessly braving death.

14And because in their fiery valour our men were resolved to wipe out disgrace by glory, and were full of anger at the treachery of the foe, they slew every one whom they met without mercy, trampling all under foot, living, wounded, and dead alike; so that heaps of dead were piled up before their hands were weary of the slaughter. For the rebels were completely overwhelmed, some being slain, and others fleeing in fear, many of whom implored their lives with various entreaties, but were slaughtered with repeated wounds. And when, after they were all destroyed, the trumpets sounded a retreat, it was found that only a very few of our men were killed, and these had either been trampled down at first, or had perished from the insufficiency of their armour to resist the violence of the enemy.

15But the most glorious death was that of Cella, the tribune of the Scutarii, who at the beginning of the uproar set the example of plunging first into the middle of the Sarmatian host.

16After these blood-stained transactions, Constantius took what precautions prudence suggested for the security of his frontiers, and then returned to Sirmium, having avenged himself on the perfidity of his enemies. And having there settled everything which the occasion required, he quitted Sirmium and went to Constantinople, that by being nearer to the East, he might remedy the disasters which had been sustained at Amida, and having reinforced his army with new levies, he might check the attempts of the king of Persia with equal vigour; as it was clear that Sapor, if Providence and some more pressing occupation did not prevent him, would leave Mesopotamia and bring the war over the plains on this side of that country.

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