The History, 21.12

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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12When Julian heard of this transaction, being then at Nissa, as he feared nothing unfriendly in his rear, and had read and heard that this city, though often besieged, had never been destroyed or taken, hastened the more eagerly to gain it, either by stratagem, or by some kind of flattery or other, before any more formidable event should arise.

2Therefore he ordered Jovinus, the captain of his cavalry, who was marching over the Alps, and had entered Noricum, to return with all speed, to remedy by some means or other, the evil which had burst out. And, that nothing might be wanting, he bade him retain all the soldiers who were marching after his court or his standards and passing through that town, and to avail himself of their help to the utmost.

3When he had made these arrangements, having soon afterwards heard of the death of Constantius, he crossed through Thrace, and entered Constantinople: and having been often assured that the siege would be protracted rather than formidable, he sent Immo with some other counts to conduct it; and removed Jovinus to employ him in other matters of greater importance.

4Therefore, having surrounded Aquileia with a double line of heavy infantry, the generals all agreed upon trying to induce the garrison to surrender, using alternately threats and caresses; but after many proposals and replies had been interchanged, their obstinacy only increased, and the conferences were abandoned, having proved wholly ineffectual.

5And because there was now no prospect but that of a battle, both sides refreshed themselves with sleep and food; and at daybreak the trumpets sounded, and the two armies, arrayed for reciprocal slaughter, attacked one another with loud shouts, but with more ferocity than skill.

6Therefore the besiegers, bearing wooden penthouses over them, and closely woven wicker defences, marched on slowly and cautiously, and attempted to undermine the walls with iron tools: many also bore ladders which had been made of the height of the walls, and came up close to them: when some were dashed down by stones hurled on their heads, others were transfixed by whizzing javelins, and falling back, dragged with them those who were in their rear; and others, from fear of similar mischances, shrank from the attack.

7The besieged being encouraged by the issue of this first conflict, and hoping for still better success, disregarded the rest of the attacks made on them; and with resolute minds they stationed engines in suitable positions, and with unwearied toil discharged the duties of watching and of whatever else could tend to their safety.

8On the other hand, the besiegers, though fearing another combat, and full of anxiety, still out of shame would not appear lazy or cowardly, and as they could make no way by open attacks, they also applied themselves to the various manœuvres employed in sieges. And because there was no ground favourable for working battering-rams or other engines, nor for making mines, since the river Natiso passed under the walls of the city, they contrived a plan worthy to be compared with any effort of ancient skill.

9With great rapidity they built some wooden towers, higher than the battlements of the enemy, and then fastening their boats together, they placed these towers on them. In them they stationed soldiers, who, with undaunted resolution, laboured to drive down the garrison from the walls; while under them were bodies of light infantry wholly unencumbered, who going forth from the hollow parts of the towers below, threw drawbridges across, which they had put together beforehand, and so tried to cross over to the bottom of the wall while the attention of the garrison was diverted from them; so that while those above them were attacking one another with darts and stones, those who crossed over on the drawbridges might be able without interruption to break down a portion of the wall and so effect an entrance.

10But once more a clever design failed in its result. For when the towers came close to the walls, they were assailed with brands steeped in pitch, and reeds, and faggots, and every kind of food for flames, all kindled. The towers quickly caught fire, and yielding under the weight of the men who were mounted on them, fell into the river, while some of the soldiers on their summits, even before they fell, had been pierced with javelins hurled from the engines on the walls, and so died.

11Meanwhile the soldiers at the foot of the wall, being cut off by the destruction of their comrades in the boats, were crushed with huge stones, with the exception of a few, who, in spite of the difficult ground over which their flight lay, escaped by their swiftness of foot. At last, when the contest had been protracted till evening, the usual signal for retreat was given, and the combatants parted to pass the night with very different feelings.

12The losses of the besiegers, who had suffered greatly, encouraged the defenders of the town with hopes of victory, though they also had to mourn the deaths of some few of their number. Nevertheless, the preparations went on rapidly. Rest and food refreshed their bodies during the night; and at dawn of day the conflict was renewed at the trumpet’s signal.

13Some, holding their shields over their heads, in order to fight with more activity; others, in front, bore ladders on their shoulders, and rushed on with eager vehemence, exposing their breasts to wounds from every kind of weapon. Some endeavoured to break down the iron bars of the gates; but were attacked with fire, or crushed under stones hurled from the walls. Some boldly strove to cross the fosses, but fell beneath the sudden sallies of soldiers rushing out from postern gates, or were driven back with severe wounds. For those who sallied forth had an easy retreat within the walls, and the rampart in front of the walls, strengthened with turf, saved those who lay in wait behind it from all danger.

14Although the garrison excelled in endurance and in the arts of war, without any other aid than that of their walls, still our soldiers, being attacked as they were from a more numerous force, became impatient of the long delay, and moved round and round the suburbs, seeking diligently to discover by what force or what engines they could make their way out of the city.

15But as, through the greatness of the difficulties in their way, they could not accomplish this, they began to slacken their exertions as to the siege itself, and leaving a few watches and outposts, ravaged the adjacent country, and thus obtained all kinds of supplies, dividing their booty with their comrades. The consequence was, that excessive eating and drinking proved injurious to their health.

16When, however, Immo and his colleagues reported this to Julian, who was passing the winter at Constantinople, he applied a wise remedy to such a disorder, and sent thither Agilo, the commander of his infantry, an officer in great esteem, that when a man of his rank and reputation appeared there and took the intelligence of the death of Constantius to the army, the siege might be terminated in that way.

17In the mean while, not to abandon the siege of Aquileia, as all other attempts had proved futile, the generals endeavoured to compel the citizens to surrender by want of water. So they cut the aqueducts; but as the garrison still resisted with undiminished courage, they, with vast valour, diverted the stream of the river. But this again was done in vain; for they reduced the allowance of water to each man; and contented themselves with the scanty supply they could procure from wells.

18While these affairs were proceeding thus, Agilo arrived, as he had been commanded; and, being protected by a strong body of heavy infantry, came up boldly close to the walls; and in a long and veracious speech, told the citizens of the death of Constantius, and the confirmation of Julian’s power; but was reviled and treated as a liar. Nor would any one believe his statement of what had occurred, till on promise of safety he was admitted by himself to the edge of the defences; where, with a solemn oath, he repeated what he had before related.

19When his story was heard, they all, eager to be released from their protracted sufferings, threw open the gates and rushed out, admitting him in the joy as a captain who brought them peace; and excusing themselves, they gave up Nigrinus as the author of their mad resistance, and a few others; demanding that their punishment should be taken as an atonement for the treason and sufferings of the city.

20Accordingly, a few days later, the affair was rigorously investigated; Mamertinus, the prefect of the prætorium, sitting as judge; and Nigrinus, as the cause of the war, was burnt alive. After him, Romulus and Sabostius, men who had held high office, being convicted of having sown discord in the empire without any regard to the consequences, were beheaded; and all the rest escaped unpunished, as men who had been driven to hostilities by necessity, and not by their own inclination; this being the decision of the merciful and clement emperor, after a full consideration of justice. These things, however, happened some time afterwards.

21But Julian, who was still at Nissa, was occupied in the graver cases, being full of fears on both sides. For he was apprehensive lest the defiles of the Julian Alps might be seized and barred against him by some sudden onset of the troops who had been shut up in Aquileia; by which he might lose the provinces beyond, and the supplies which he was daily expecting from that quarter.

22And he also greatly feared the power of the East; hearing that the soldiers who were scattered over Thrace had been suddenly collected together to act against him, and were advancing towards the frontiers of the Succi, under command of Count Marcianus. But, devising measures suitable to this mass of pressing anxieties, he quickly assembled his Illyrian army, long inured to war, and eager to renew its martial labours under a warlike chief.

23Nor even at this critical moment did he forget the interests of individuals; but devoted some time to hearing contested causes, especially those concerning municipal bodies, in whose favour he was too partial, so that he raised several persons who did not deserve such honour to public offices.

24It was here that he found Symmachus and Maximus, two eminent senators, who had been sent by the nobles as envoys to Constantius, and had returned again. He promoted them with great honour; so that, preferring them to others more deserving, he made Maximus prefect of the eternal city, in order to gratify Rufinus Vulcatius, whose nephew he was. Under his administration the city enjoyed great plenty, and there was an end to the complaints of the common people, which had been so frequent.

25Afterwards, in order to add security to those of his affairs which were still unsettled, and encourage the confidence of the loyal, he raised Mamertinus, the prefect of the prætorium in Illyricum, and Nevitta to the consulship; though he had so lately assailed the memory of Constantine as the person who had set the example of thus promoting low-born barbarians.

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