The History, 19.7

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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7Now the nations of the barbarians, being amazed at the novelty of this attempt, and rendered by it more savage than ever, discarding all delay, determined to proceed with their works, since open assaults availed them but little. And with extreme warlike eagerness they all now hastened to die gloriously, or else to propitiate the souls of the dead by the ruin of the city.

2And now, the necessary preparations having been completed by the universal alacrity, at the rising of the day-star all kinds of structures and iron towers were brought up to the walls; on the lofty summits of which balistæ were fitted, which beat down the garrison who were placed on lower ground.

3And when day broke the iron coverings of the bodies of the foe darkened the whole heaven, and the dense lines advanced without any skirmishers in front, and not in an irregular manner as before, but to the regular and soft music of trumpets; protected by the roofs of the engines, and holding before them wicker shields.

4And when they came within reach of our missiles, the Persian infantry, holding their shields in front of them, and even then having difficulty in avoiding the arrows which were shot from the engines on the walls, for scarcely any kind of weapon found an empty space, they broke their line a little; and even the cuirassiers were checked and began to retreat, which raised the spirits of our men.

5Still the balistæ of the enemy, placed on their iron towers, and pouring down missiles with great power from their high ground on those in a lower position, spread a great deal of slaughter in our ranks. At last, when evening came on, both sides retired to rest, and the greater part of the night was spent by us in considering what device could be adopted to resist the formidable engines of the enemy.

6At length, after we had considered many plans, we determined on one which the rapidity with which it could be executed made the safest—to oppose four scorpions to the four balistæ; which were carefully moved (a very difficult operation) from the place in which they were; but before this work was finished, day arrived, bringing us a mournful sight, inasmuch as it showed us the formidable battalions of the Persians, with their trains of elephants, the noise and size of which animals are such that nothing more terrible can be presented to the mind of man.

7And while we were pressed on all sides with the vast masses of arms, and works, and beasts, still our scorpions were kept at work with their iron slings, hurling huge round stones from the battlements, by which the towers of the enemy were crushed and the balistæ and those who worked them were dashed to the ground, so that many were desperately injured, and many crushed by the weight of the falling structures. And the elephants were driven back with violence, and surrounded by the flames which we poured forth against them, the moment that they were wounded retired, and could not be restrained by their riders. The works were all burnt, but still there was no cessation from the conflict.

8For the king of the Persians himself, who is never expected to mingle in the fight, being indignant at these disasters, adopting a new and unprecedented mode of action, sprang forth like a common soldier among his own dense columns; and as the very number of his guards made him the more conspicuous to us who looked from afar on the scene, he was assailed by numerous missiles, and was forced to retire after he had lost many of his escort, while his troops fell back by echellons; and at the end of the day, though frightened neither by the sad sight of the slaughter nor of the wounds, he at length allowed a short period to be given to rest.

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