The History, 19.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8Night had put an end to the combat; and when a slight rest had been procured from sleep, the moment that the dawn, looked for as the harbinger of better fortune, appeared, Sapor, full of rage and indignation, and perfectly reckless, called forth his people to attack us. And as his works were all burnt, as we have related, and the attack had to be conducted by means of their lofty mounds raised close to our walls, we also from mounds within the walls, as fast as we could raise them, struggled in spite of all our difficulties, with all our might, and with equal courage, against our assailants.

2And long did the bloody conflict last, nor was any one of the garrison driven by fear of death from his resolution to defend the city. The conflict was prolonged, till at last, while the fortune of the two sides was still undecided, the structure raised by our men, having been long assailed and shaken, at last fell, as if by an earthquake.

3And the whole space which was between the wall and the external mound being made level as if by a causeway or a bridge, opened a passage to the enemy, which was no longer embarrassed by any obstacles; and numbers of our men, being crushed or enfeebled by their wounds, gave up the struggle. Still men flocked from all quarters to repel so imminent a danger, but from their eager haste they got in one another’s way, while the boldness of the enemy increased with their success.

4By the command of the king all his troops now hastened into action, and a hand-to-hand engagement ensued. Blood ran down from the vast slaughter on both sides: the ditches were filled with corpses, and thus a wider path was opened for the besiegers. And the city, being now filled with the eager crowd which forced its way in, all hope of defence or of escape was cut off, and armed and unarmed without any distinction of age or sex were slaughtered like sheep.

5It was full evening, when, though fortune had proved adverse, the bulk of our troops was still fighting in good order; and I, having concealed myself with two companions in an obscure corner of the city, now under cover of darkness, made my escape by a postern gate where there was no guard; and aided by my own knowledge of the country and by the speed of my companions, I at last reached the tenth milestone from the city.

6Here, having lightly refreshed ourselves, I tried to proceed, but found myself, as a noble unaccustomed to such toil, overcome by fatigue of the march. I happened to fall in, however, with what, though a most unsightly object, was to me, completely tired out, a most seasonable relief.

7A groom riding a runaway horse, barebacked and without a bridle, in order to prevent his falling had knotted the halter by which he was guiding him tightly to his left hand, and presently, being thrown, and unable to break the knot, he was torn to pieces as he was dragged over the rough ground and through the bushes, till at last the weight of his dead body stopped the tired beast; I caught him, and mounting him, availed myself of his services at a most seasonable moment, and after much suffering arrived with my companions at some sulphurous springs of naturally hot water.

8On account of the heat we had suffered greatly from thirst, and had been crawling about for some time in search of water; and now when we came to this well it was so deep that we could not descend into it, nor had we any ropes; but, taught by extreme necessity, we tore up the linen clothes which we wore into long rags, which we made into one great rope, and fastened to the end of it a cap which one of us wore beneath his helmet; and letting that down by the rope, and drawing up water in it like a sponge, we easily quenched our thirst.

9From hence we proceeded rapidly to the Euphrates, intending to cross to the other side in the boat which long custom had stationed in that quarter, to convey men and cattle across.

10When lo! we see at a distance a Roman force with cavalry standards, scattered and pursued by a division of Persians, though we did not know from what quarter it had come so suddenly on them in their march.

11This example showed us that what men call indigenous people are not sprung from the bowels of the earth, but merely appear unexpectedly by reason of the speed of their movements: and because they were seen unexpectedly in various places, they got the name of Sparti, and were believed to have sprung from the ground, antiquity exaggerating their renown in a fabulous manner, as it does that of other things.

12Roused by this sight, since our only hope of safety lay in our speed, we drew off through the thickets and woods to the high mountains; and from thence we went to Melitina, a town of the Lesser Armenia, where we found our chief just on the point of setting off, in whose company we went on to Antioch.

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