The History, 21.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5While these transactions were carried on in this spirited manner, Julian, considering to what great internal divisions his conduct had given rise, and that nothing is so advantageous for the success of sudden enterprise as celerity of action, saw with his usual sagacity that if he openly avowed his revolt from the emperor, he should be safer; and feeling uncertain of the fidelity of the soldiers, having offered secret propitiatory sacrifices to Bellona, he summoned the army by sound of trumpet to an assembly, and standing on a tribune built of stone, with every appearance of confidence in his manner, he spoke thus with a voice unusually loud:—

2“I imagine that you, my gallant comrades, exalted by the greatness of your own achievements, have long been silently expecting this meeting, in order to form a previous judgment of, and to take wise measures against the events which may be expected. For soldiers united by glorious actions ought to hear rather than speak; nor ought a commander of proved justice to think anything but what is worthy of praise and approbation. That therefore I may explain to you what I propose, I entreat you to listen favourably to what I will briefly set before you.

3“From my earliest year, by the will of God, I have been placed among you, with whom I have crushed the incessant inroads of the Franks and Allemanni, and checked the endless licentiousness of their ravages; by our united vigour we have opened the Rhine to the Roman armies, whenever they choose to cross it; standing immovable against reports, as well as against the violent attacks of powerful nations, because I trusted to the invincibility of your valour.

4“Gaul, which has beheld our labours, and which, after much slaughter and many periods of protracted and severe disasters, is at last replaced in a healthy state, will for ever bear witness to posterity of our achievements.

5“But now since, constrained both by the authority of your judgment, and also by the necessity of the case, I have been raised to the rank of emperor, under the favour of God and of you, I aim at still greater things, if fortune should smile on my undertakings. Boasting at least that I have secured to the army, whose equity and mighty exploits are so renowned, a moderate and merciful chief in time of peace, and in war a prudent and wary leader against the combined forces of the barbarians.

6“In order therefore that by the cordial unanimity of our opinions we may prevent ill fortune by anticipating it, I beg you to follow my counsel, salutary, as I think it, since the state of our affairs corresponds to the purity of my intentions and wishes. And while the legions of Illyricum are occupied by no greater force than usual, let us occupy the further frontier of Dacia; and then take counsel from our success what is to be done next.

7“But as brave generals, I entreat you to promise with an oath that you will adhere to me with unanimity and fidelity; while I will give my customary careful attention to prevent anything from being done rashly or carelessly; and if any one requires it, will pledge my own unsullied honour that I will never attempt nor think of anything but what is for the common good.

8“This especially I request and beseech you to observe, that none of you let any impulse of sudden ardour lead you to inflict injury on any private individual; recollecting that our greatest renown is not derived so much from the numberless defeats of the enemy as from the safety of the provinces, and their freedom from injury, which is celebrated as an eminent example of our virtue.”

9The emperor’s speech was approved as though it had been the voice of an oracle, and the whole assembly was greatly excited, and being eager for a change, they all with one consent raised a tremendous shout, and beat their shields with a violent crash, calling him a great and noble general, and, as had been proved, a fortunate conqueror and king.

10And being all ordered solemnly to swear fidelity to him, they put their swords to their throats with terrible curses, and took the oath in the prescribed form, that for him they would undergo every kind of suffering, and even death itself, if necessity should require it; and their officers and all the friends of the prince gave a similar pledge with the same forms.

11Nebridius the prefect alone, boldly and unshakenly refused, declaring that he could not possibly bind himself by an oath hostile to Constantius, from whom he had received many and great obligations.

12When these words of his were heard, the soldiers who were nearest to him were greatly enraged, and wished to kill him; but he threw himself at the feet of Julian, who shielded him with his cloak. Presently, when he returned to the palace, Nebridius appeared before him, threw himself at his feet as a suppliant, and entreated him to relieve his fears by giving him his right hand. Julian replied, “Will there be any conspicuous favour reserved for my own friends if you are allowed to touch my hand? However, depart in peace as you will.” On receiving this answer, Nebridius retired in safety to his own house in Tuscany.

13By these preliminary measures, Julian having learnt, as the importance of the affair required, what great influence promptness and being beforehand has in a tumultuous state of affairs, gave the signal to march towards Pannonia, and advancing his standard and his camp, boldly committed himself to fickle fortune.

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