The History, 19.6

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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6Thus fortune showed us a ray of safety, granting us one day in which we suffered but little, while the enemy sustained a heavy loss; the remainder of the day was given to rest in order to recruit our strength; and at the dawn of the next morning we saw from the citadel an innumerable multitude, which, after the capture of the fort called Ziata, was being led to the enemy’s camp. For a promiscuous multitude had taken refuge in Ziata on account of its size and strength; it being a place ten furlongs in circumference.

2In those days many other fortresses also were stormed and burnt, and many thousands of men and women carried off from them into slavery; among whom were many men and women, enfeebled by age, who, fainting from different causes, broke down under the length of the journey, gave up all desire of life, and were hamstrung and left behind.

3The Gallic soldiers beholding these wretched crowds, demanded by a natural but unseasonable impulse to be led against the forces of the enemy, threatening their tribunes and principal centurions with death if they refused them leave.

4And as wild beasts kept in cages, being rendered more savage by the smell of blood, dash themselves against their movable bars in the hope of escaping, so these men smote the gates, which we have already spoken of as being blockaded, with their swords; being very anxious not to be involved in the destruction of the city till they had done some gallant exploit; or, if they ultimately escaped from their dangers, not to be spoken of as having done nothing worth speaking of, or worthy of their Gallic courage. Although when they had sallied out before, as they had often done, and had inflicted some loss on the raisers of the mounds, they had always experienced equal loss themselves.

5We, at a loss what to do, and not knowing what resistance to oppose to these furious men, at length, having with some difficulty won their consent thereto, decided, since the evil could be endured no longer, to allow them to attack the Persian advanced guard, which was not much beyond bow-shot; and then, if they could force their line, they might push their advance further. For it was plain that if they succeeded in this, they would cause a great slaughter of the enemy.

6And while the preparations for this sally were being made, the walls were still gallantly defended with unmitigated labour and watching, and planting engines for shooting stones and darts in every direction. But two high mounds had been raised by the Persian infantry, and the blockade of the city was still pressed forward by gradual operations; against which our men, exerting themselves still more vigorously, raised also immense structures, topping the highest works of the enemy; and sufficiently strong to support the immense weight of their defenders.

7In the mean time the Gallic troops, impatient of delay, armed with their axes and swords, went forth from the open postern gate, taking advantage of a dark and moonless night. And imploring the Deity to be propitious, and repressing even their breath when they got near the enemy, they advanced with quick step and in close order, slew some of the watch at the outposts, and the outer sentinels of the camp (who were asleep, fearing no such event), and entertained secret hopes of penetrating even to the king’s tent if fortune assisted them.

8But some noise, though slight, was made by them in their march, and the groans of the slain aroused many from sleep; and while each separately raised the cry “to arms,” our soldiers halted and stood firm, not venturing to move any further forward. For it would not have been prudent, now that those whom they sought to surprise were awakened, to hasten into open danger, while the bands of Persians were now heard to be flocking to battle from all quarters.

9Nevertheless the Gallic troops, with undiminished strength and boldness, continued to hew down their foes with their swords, though some of their own men were also slain, pierced by the arrows which were flying from all quarters; and they still stood firm, when they saw the whole danger collected into one point, and the bands of the enemy coming on with speed; yet no one turned his back: and they withdrew, retiring slowly as if in time to music, and gradually fell behind the pales of the camp, being unable to sustain the weight of the battalions pressing close upon them, and being deafened by the clang of the Persian trumpets.

10And while many trumpets in turn poured out their clang from the city, the gates were opened to receive our men, if they should be able to reach them: and the engines for missiles creaked, though no javelins were shot from them, in order that the captains of the advanced guard of the Persians, ignorant of the slaughter of their comrades, might be terrified by the noise into falling back, and so allowing our gallant troops to be admitted in safety.

11And owing to this manœuvre, the Gauls about daybreak entered the gate although with diminished numbers; many of them severely and others slightly wounded. They lost four hundred men this night, when if they had not been hindered by more formidable obstacles, they would have slain in his very tent not Rhesus nor Thracians sleeping before the walls of Troy, but the king of Persia, surrounded by one hundred thousand armed men.

12To their leaders, as champions of valiant actions, the emperor, after the fall of the city, ordered statues in armour to be erected at Edessa in a frequented spot. And those statues are preserved up to the present time unhurt.

13When the next day showed the slaughter which had been made, nobles and satraps were found lying amongst the corpses, and all kinds of dissonant cries and tears indicated the changed posture of the Persian host: everywhere was heard wailing; and great indignation was expressed by the princes, who thought that the Romans had forced their way through the sentries in front of the walls. A truce was made for three days by the common consent of both armies, and we gladly accepted a little respite in which to take breath.

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