The History, 23.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1To pass over minute details, these were the principal events of the year. But Julian, who in his third consulship had taken as his colleague Sallustius, the prefect of Gaul, now entered on his fourth year, and by a novel arrangement took as his colleague a private individual; an act of which no one recollected an instance since that of Diocletian and Aristobulus.

2And although, foreseeing in his anxious mind the various accidents that might happen, he urged on with great diligence all the endless preparations necessary for his expedition, yet distributing his diligence everywhere; and being eager to extend the recollection of his reign by the greatness of his exploits, he proposed to rebuild at a vast expense the once magnificent temple of Jerusalem, which after many deadly contests was with difficulty taken by Vespasian and Titus, who succeeded his father in the conduct of the siege. And he assigned the task to Alypius of Antioch, who had formerly been proprefect of Britain.

3But though Alypius applied himself vigorously to the work, and though the governor of the province co-operated with him, fearful balls of fire burst forth with continual eruptions close to the foundations, burning several of the workmen and making the spot altogether inaccessible. And thus the very elements, as if by some fate, repelling the attempt, it was laid aside.

4About the same time the emperor conferred various honours on the ambassadors who were sent to him from the Eternal City, being men of high rank and established excellence of character. He appointed Apronianus to be prefect of Rome, Octavianus to be proconsul of Africa, Venustus to be viceroy of Spain, and promoted Rufinus Aradius to be count of the East in the room of his uncle Julian, lately deceased.

5When all this had been carried out as he arranged, he was alarmed by an omen which, as the result showed, indicated an event immediately at hand. Felix, the principal treasurer, having died suddenly of a hemorrhage, and Count Julian having followed him, the populace, looking on their public titles, hailed Julian as Felix and Augustus.

6Another bad omen had preceded this, for, on the very first day of the year, as the emperor was mounting the steps of the temple of the Genius, one of the priests, the eldest of all, fell without any one striking him, and suddenly expired; an event which the bystanders, either out of ignorance or a desire to flatter, affirmed was an omen affecting Sallustius, as the elder consul; but it was soon seen that the death it portended was not to the elder man, but to the higher authority.

7Besides these several other lesser signs from time to time indicated what was about to happen; for, at the very beginning of the arrangements for the Parthian campaign, news came that there had been an earthquake at Constantinople, which those skilful in divination declared to be an unfavourable omen to a ruler about to invade a foreign country; and therefore advised Julian to abandon his unreasonable enterprise, affirming that these and similar signs can only be disregarded with propriety when one’s country is invaded by foreign armies, as then there is one everlasting and invariable law, to defend its safety by every possible means, allowing no relaxation nor delay. News also came by letter that at Rome the Sibylline volumes had been consulted on the subject of the war by Julian’s order, and that they had in plain terms warned him not to quit his own territories that year.

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