The History, 19.12

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

« Amm. 19.11 | Amm. 19.12 | Amm. 19.13 | About This Work »

12But amid these causes of anxiety, as if in accordance with old-established custom, instead of the signal for civil war, the trumpet sounded groundless charges of treason, and a secretary, whom we shall often have to speak of, named Paulus, was sent to inquire into these charges. He was a man skilful in all the contrivances of cruelty, making gain and profit of tortures and executions, as a master of gladiators does of his fatal games.

2For as he was firm and resolute in his purpose of injuring people, he did not abstain even from theft, and invented all kinds of causes for the destruction of innocent men, while engaged in this miserable campaign.

3A slight and trivial circumstance afforded infinite material for extending his investigations. There is a town called Abydum in the most remote corner of the Egyptian Thebais, where an oracle of the god, known in that region by the name of Besa, had formerly enjoyed some celebrity for its prophecies, and had sacred rites performed at it with all the ceremonies anciently in use in the neighbouring districts.

4Some used to go themselves to consult this oracle, some to send by others documents containing their wishes, and with prayers couched in explicit language inquired the will of the deities; and the paper or parchment on which their wants were written, after the answer had been given, was sometimes left in the temple.

5Some of these were spitefully sent to the emperor, and he, narrow minded as he was, though often deaf to other matters of serious consequence, had, as the proverb says, a soft place in his ear for this kind of information; and being of a suspicious and petty temper, became full of gall and fury; and immediately ordered Paulus to repair with all speed to the East, giving him authority, as to a chief of great eminence and experience, to try all the causes as he pleased.

6And Modestus also, at that time count of the East, a man well suited for such a business, was joined with him in this commission. For Hermogenes of Pontus, at that time prefect of the prætorium, was passed over as of too gentle a disposition.

7Paulus proceeded, as he was ordered, full of deadly eagerness and rage; inviting all kinds of calumnies, so that numbers from every part of the empire were brought before him, noble and low born alike; some of whom were condemned to imprisonment, others to instant death.

8The city which was chosen to witness these fatal scenes was Scythopolis in Palestine, which for two reasons seemed the most suitable of all places; first, because it was little frequented and secondly, because it was halfway between Antioch and Alexandria, from which city many of those brought before this tribunal came.

9One of the first persons accused was Simplicius, the son of Philip; a man who, after having been prefect and consul, was now impeached on the ground that he was said to have consulted the oracle how to obtain the empire. He was sentenced to the torture by the express command of the emperor, who in these cases never erred on the side of mercy; but by some special fate he was saved from it, and with uninjured body was condemned to distant banishment.

10The next victim was Parnasius, who had been prefect of Egypt, a man of simple manners, but now in danger of being condemned to death, and glad to escape with exile; because long ago he had been heard to say that when he left Patræ in Achaia, the place of his birth, with the view of procuring some high office, he had in a dream seen himself conducted on his road by several figures in tragic robes.

11The next was Andronicus, subsequently celebrated for his liberal accomplishments and his poetry; he was brought before the court without having given any real ground for suspicion of any kind, and defended himself so vigorously that he was acquitted.

12There was also Demetrius, surnamed Chytras, a philosopher, of great age, but still firm in mind and body; he, when charged with having frequently offered sacrifices in the temple of his oracle, could not deny it; but affirmed that, for the sake of propitiating the deity, he had constantly done so from his early youth, and not with any idea of aiming at any higher fortune by his questions; nor had he known any one who had aimed at such. And though he was long on the rack he supported it with great constancy, never varying in his statement, till at length he was acquitted and allowed to retire to Alexandria, where he was born.

13These and a few others, justice, coming to the aid of truth, delivered from their imminent dangers. But as accusations extended more widely, involving numbers without end in their snares, many perished; some with their bodies mangled on the rack; others were condemned to death and confiscation of their goods; while Paulus kept on inventing groundless accusations, as if he had a store of lies on which to draw, and suggesting various pretences for injuring people, so that on his nod, it may be said, the safety of every one in the place depended.

14For if any one wore on his neck a charm against the quartan ague or any other disease, or if by any information laid by his ill-wishers he was accused of having passed by a sepulchre at nightfall, and therefore of being a sorcerer, and one who dealt in the horrors of tombs and the vain mockeries of the shades which haunt them, he was found guilty and condemned to death.

15And the affairs went on as if people had been consulting Claros, or the oaks at Dodona, or the Delphic oracles of old fame, with a view to the destruction of the emperor.

16Meantime, the crowd of courtiers, inventing every kind of deceitful flattery, affirmed that he would be free from all common misfortunes, asserting that his fate had always shone forth with vigour and power in destroying all who attempted anything injurious to him.

17That indeed strict investigation should be made into such matters, no one in his senses will deny; nor do we question that the safety of our lawful prince, the champion and defender of the good, and on whom the safety of all other people depends, ought to be watched over by the combined zeal of all men; and for the sake of insuring this more completely, when any treasonable enterprise is discovered, the Cornelian laws have provided that no rank shall be exempted even from torture if necessary for the investigation.

18But it is not decent to exult unrestrainedly in melancholy events, lest the subjects should seem to be governed by tyranny, not by authority. It is better to imitate Cicero, who, when he had it in his power either to spare or to strike, preferred, as he tells us himself, to seek occasions for pardoning rather than for punishing, which is characteristic of a prudent and wise judge.

19At that time a monster, horrible both to see and to describe, was produced at Daphne, a beautiful and celebrated suburb of Antioch; namely, an infant with two mouths, two sets of teeth, two heads, four eyes, and only two very short ears. And such a mis-shapen offspring was an omen that the republic would become deformed.

20Prodigies of this kind are often produced, presaging events of various kinds; but as they are not now publicly expiated, as they were among the ancients, they are unheard of and unknown to people in general.

« Amm. 19.11 | Amm. 19.12 | Amm. 19.13 | About This Work »

Version menu

Table of contents