The History, 21.13

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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13While Julian was thus carrying out new projects, and alternating between hope and fear, Constantius at Edessa, being made anxious by the various accounts brought him by his spies, was full of perplexity. At one time collecting his army for battle; at another, wishing to lay siege to Bezabde on two sides, if he could find an opportunity; taking at the same time prudent precautions not to leave Mesopotamia unprotected, while about to march into the districts of Armenia.

2But while still undecided, he was detained by various causes. Sapor also remained on the other side of the Tigris till the sacrifices should become propitious to his moving. For if after crossing the river he found no resistance, he might without difficulty penetrate to the Euphrates. On the other hand, if he wished to keep his soldiers for the civil war, he feared to expose them to the dangers of a siege; having already experienced the strength of the walls and the vigour of the garrison.

3However, not to lose time, and to avoid inactivity, he sent Arbetio and Agilo, the captains of his infantry and cavalry, with very large forces, to march with all speed; not to provoke the Persians to battle, but to establish forts on the nearest bank of the Tigris, which might be able to reconnoitre, and see in what direction the furious monarch broke forth; and with many counsels given both verbally and in writing, he charged them to retreat with celerity the moment the enemy’s army began to cross the river.

4While these generals were watching the frontier as they were ordered, and spying out the secret designs of their most crafty enemy, he himself, with the main body of his army, made head against his most pressing foes, as if prepared for battle; and defended the adjacent towns by rapid movements. Meantime spies and deserters continually coming in, related to him opposite stories; being in fact ignorant of what was intended, because among the Persians no one knows what is decided on except a few taciturn and trusty nobles, by whom the god Silence is worshipped.

5But the emperor was continually sent for by the generals whom I have mentioned, who implored him to send them aid. For they protested that unless the whole strength of the army was collected together, it would be impossible to withstand the onset of the furious Sapor.

6And while things in this quarter were thus full of anxiety, other messengers arrived in numbers, by whose accurate statements he learnt that Julian had traversed Italy and Illyricum with great rapidity, had occupied the defiles of the Succi, and called in auxiliaries from all quarters, and was now marching through Thrace with a very large force.

7Constantius, learning this, was overwhelmed with grief, but supported by one comfort, that he had always triumphed over internal commotions. Nevertheless, though the affair made it very difficult for him to decide on a line of action, he chose the best; and sent a body of troops on by public conveyances, in order as quickly as possible to make head against the impending danger.

8And as that plan was universally approved, the troops went as they were commanded, in the lightest marching order. But the next day, while he was finally arranging these matters, he received intelligence that Sapor, with his whole army, had returned to his own country, because the auspices were unfavourable. So, his fears being removed, he called in all the troops except those who as usual were assigned for the protection of Mesopotamia, and returned to Hierapolis.

9And still doubting what would be the final result of all his difficulties, when he had collected his army together he convened all the centuries and companies and squadrons by sound of trumpet; and the whole plain being filled with the host, he, standing on a lofty tribune, in order to encourage them the more readily to execute what he should direct, and being surrounded by a numerous retinue, spoke thus with great appearance of calmness and a studied look of confidence.

10“Being always anxious never to do or say anything inconsistent with incorruptible honour, like a cautious pilot, who turns his helm this way or that way according to the movement of the waves, I am now constrained, my most affectionate subjects, to confess my errors to you, or rather, if I were to say the plain truth, my humanity, which I did think would be beneficial to our common interests. So now that you may the better understand what is the object of convoking this assembly, listen, I pray you, with impartiality and kindness.

11“At the time when Magnentius, whom your bravery overcome, was obstinately labouring to throw all things into confusion, I sent Gallus my cousin, who had been lately raised to the rank of Cæsar, to guard the East. But he, having by many wicked and shameful arts departed from justice, was punished by a legal sentence.

12“Would that Envy had then been contented, that most bitter exciter of troubles! And that we had nothing to grieve us but the single recollection of past sorrows, unaccompanied by any idea of present danger! But now a new circumstance, more grievous than any former one I will venture to say, has taken place, which the gods who aid us will put an end to by means of your innate valour.

13“Julian, whom, while you were combating the nations which threaten Illyricum on all sides, I appointed to protect Gaul, presuming on the issue of some trifling battles which he has fought against the half-armed Germans, and full of silly elation, has taken a few auxiliary battalions into his noble alliance, men from their natural ferocity and the desperateness of their situation ready for acts of the most mischievous audacity, and has conspired against the public safety, trampling down justice, the parent and nurse of the Roman world. That power I believe, both because I myself have experienced it, and because all antiquity assures me of its might, will, as an avenger of wickedness, soon trample down their pride like so many ashes.

14“What then remains, except to hasten to encounter the whirlwind thus raised against us? so as by promptitude to crush the fury of this rising war before it comes to maturity and strength? Nor can it be questioned that, with the favour of the supreme deity, by whose everlasting sentence ungrateful men are condemned, the sword which they have wickedly drawn will be turned to their own destruction. Since never having received any provocation, but rather after having been loaded with benefits, they have risen up to threaten innocent men with danger.

15“For as my mind augurs, and as justice, which will aid upright counsels, promises, I feel sure that when once we come to close quarters, they will be so benumbed with fear as neither to be able to stand the fire of your glancing eyes nor the sound of your battle cry.” This speech harmonized well with the feelings of the soldiers. In their rage they brandished their shields, and after answering him in terms of eager goodwill, demanded to be led at once against the rebels. Their cordiality changed the emperor’s fear into joy; and having dismissed the assembly, as he knew by past experience that Arbetio was most eminently successful in putting an end to intestine wars, he ordered him to advance first by the road which he himself designed to take, with the spearmen and the legion of Mattium, and several battalions of light troops; he also ordered Gomoarius to take with him the Leti, to check the enemy on their arrival among the defiles of the Succi; he was selected for this service because he was unfriendly to Julian on account of some slight he had received from him in Gaul.

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