The History, 24.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1After having ascertained the alacrity of his army, which with ardour and unanimity declared with their customary shout that their fortunate emperor was invincible, Julian thinking it well to put an early end to his enterprise, after a quiet night ordered the trumpets to sound a march; and everything being prepared which the arduous difficulties of the war required, he at daybreak entered the Assyrian territory in high spirits, riding in front of his ranks, and exciting all to discharge the duties of brave men in emulation of his own courage.

2And as a leader of experience and skill, fearing lest his ignorance of the country might lead to his being surprised by secret ambuscades, he began his march in line of battle. He ordered fifteen hundred skirmishers to precede him a short distance, who were to march slowly looking out on each side and also in front, to prevent any sudden attack. The infantry in the centre were under his own command, they being the flower and chief strength of the whole army, while on the right were some legions under Nevitta, who was ordered to march along the banks of the Euphrates. The left wing with the cavalry he gave to Arinthæus and Hormisdas, with orders to lead them in close order through the level and easy country of the plain. The rear was brought up by Dagalaiphus and Victor, and the last of all was Secundinus, Duke of Osdruena.

3Then in order to alarm the enemy by the idea of his superior numbers, should they attack him anywhere, or perceive him from a distance, he opened his ranks so as to spread both horses and men over a larger space, in such a way that the rear was distant from the van nearly ten miles; a manœuvre of great skill which Pyrrhus of Epirus is said to have often put in practice, extending his camp, or his lines, and sometimes on the other hand compressing them all, so as to present an appearance of greater or lesser numbers than the reality, according to the circumstances of the moment.

4The baggage, the sutlers, all the camp-followers, and every kind of equipment, he placed between the two flanks of troops as they marched, so as not to leave them unprotected and liable to be carried off by any sudden attack, as has often happened. The fleet, although the river was exceedingly winding, was not allowed either to fall behind or to advance before the army.

5After two days’ march we came near a deserted town called Dura, on the bank of the river, where many herds of deer were found, some of which were slain by arrows, and others knocked down with the heavy oars, so that soldiers and sailors all had plenty of food; though the greater part of the animals, being used to swimming, plunged into the rapid stream and could not be stopped till they had reached their well known haunts.

6Then after an easy march of four days, as evening came on, he embarked a thousand light-armed troops on board his boats, and sent the Count Lucillianus to storm the fortress of Anatha, which, like many other forts in that country, is surrounded by the waters of the Euphrates; Lucillianus having, as he was ordered, placed his ships in suitable places, besieged the island, a cloudy night favouring a secret assault.

7But as soon as it became light, one of the garrison going out to get water, saw the enemy, and immediately raised an outcry, which roused the awakened garrison to arm in their defence. And presently, from a high watch-tower, the emperor examined the situation of the fort, and came up with all speed escorted by two vessels, and followed by a considerable squadron laden with engines for the siege.

8And as he approached the walls, and considered that the contest could not be carried on without great risk, he tried both by conciliatory and threatening language to induce the garrison to surrender; and they, having invited Hormisdas to a conference, were won over by his promises and oaths to rely on the mercy of the Romans.

9At last, driving before them a crowned ox, which among them is a sign of peace, they descended from the fort as suppliants; the fort was burnt, and Pusæus, its commander, who was afterwards Duke of Egypt, was appointed to the rank of tribune. The rest of the garrison with their families and property were conducted with all kindness to the Syrian city of Chalcis.

10Among them was found a certain soldier, who formerly, when Maximian invaded Persia, had been left in this district as an invalid, though a very young man, but who was now bent with age, and according to his own account had several wives, as is the custom of that country, and a numerous offspring. He now full of joy, professing to have been a principal cause of the surrender, was led to our camp, calling many of his comrades to witness that he had long foreseen and often foretold that, though nearly a hundred years’ old, he should be buried in Roman ground. After this event, the Saracens brought in some skirmishers of the enemy whom they had taken; these were received with joy by the emperor, the Saracens rewarded, and sent back to achieve similar exploits.

11The next day another disaster took place; a whirlwind arose, and made havoc in many places, throwing down many buildings, tearing in pieces the tents, and throwing the soldiers on their backs or on their faces, the violence of the wind overpowering their steadiness of foot. And the same day another equally perilous occurrence took place. For the river suddenly overflowed its banks, and some of the ships laden with provisions were wrecked, the piers and dams which had been constructed of stone to check and repress the waters being swept away; and whether that was done by treachery or through the weight of the waters could not be known.

12After having stormed and burnt the chief city, and sent away the prisoners, the army with increased confidence raised triumphant shouts in honour of the emperor, thinking that the gods were evidently making him the object of their peculiar care.

13And because in these unknown districts they were forced to be on unusual guard against hidden dangers, the troops especially feared the craft and exceeding deceitfulness of the enemy; and therefore the emperor was everywhere, sometimes in front, sometimes with his light-armed battalions protecting the rear, in order to see that no concealed danger threatened it, reconnoitring the dense jungles and valleys, and restraining the distant sallies of his soldiers, sometimes with his natural gentleness, and sometimes with threats.

14But he allowed the fields of the enemy which were loaded with every kind of produce to be burnt with their crops and cottages, after his men had collected all that they could themselves make use of. And in this way the enemy were terribly injured before they were aware of it; for the soldiers freely used what they had acquired with their own hands, thinking that they had found a fresh field for their valour; and joyful at the abundance of their supplies, they saved what they had in their own boats.

15But one rash soldier, being intoxicated, and having crossed over to the opposite bank of the river, was taken prisoner before our eyes by the enemy, and was put to death.

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