The History, 24.2

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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2After this we arrived at a fort called Thilutha, situated in the middle of the river on a very high piece of ground, and fortified by nature as if by the art of man. The inhabitants were invited gently, as was best, to surrender, since the height of their fort made it impregnable; but they refused all terms as yet, though they answered that when the Romans had advanced further so as to occupy the interior of the country, they also as an appendage would come over to the conqueror.

2Having made this reply they quietly looked down upon our boats as they passed under the very walls without attempting to molest them. When that fort was passed we came to another called Achaiacala, also defended by the river flowing round it, and difficult to scale, where we received a similar answer, and so passed on. The next day we came to another fort which had been deserted because its walls were weak; and we burnt it and proceeded.

3In the two next days we marched two hundred furlongs, and arrived at a place called Paraxmalcha. We then crossed the river, and seven miles further on we entered the city of Diacira, which we found empty of inhabitants but full of corn and excellent salt, and here we saw a temple placed on the summit of a lofty height. We burnt the city and put a few women to death whom we found there, and having passed a bituminous spring; we entered the town of Ozogardana, which its inhabitants had deserted for fear of our approaching army; in that town is shown a tribunal of the emperor Trajan.

4This town also we burnt after we had rested there two days to refresh our bodies. On the second day just at nightfall, the Surena (who is the officer next in rank to the king among the Persians), and a man named Malechus Podosaces, the chief of the Assanite Saracens, who had long ravaged our frontiers with great ferocity, laid a snare for Hormisdas, whom by some means or other they had learnt was about to go forth on a reconnoitring expedition, and only failed because the river being very narrow at that point, was so deep as to be unfordable.

5And so at daybreak, when the enemy were now in sight, the moment that they were discovered by their glittering helmets and bristling armour, our men sprang up vigorously to the conflict, and dashed at them with great courage; and although the enemy wielded their huge bows with great strength, and the glistening of their weapons increased the alarm of our soldiers, yet their rage, and the compactness of their ranks, kept alive and added fuel to their courage.

6Animated by their first success, our army advanced to the village of Macepracta, where were seen vestiges of walls half destroyed, which had once been of great extent, and had served to protect Assyria from foreign invasion.

7At this point a portion of the river is drawn off in large canals which convey it to the interior districts of Babylonia, for the service of the surrounding country and cities. Another branch of the river known as the Nahamalca, which means “the river of kings,” passes by Ctesiphon; at the beginning of this stream there is a lofty tower like a lighthouse, by which our infantry passed on a carefully constructed bridge.

8The cavalry and cattle then took the stream where it was less violent, and swam across obliquely; another body was suddenly attacked by the enemy with a storm of arrows and javelins, but our light-armed auxiliaries as soon as they reached the other side, supported them, and put the enemy to flight, cutting them to pieces as they fled.

9After having successfully accomplished this exploit, we arrived at the city of Pirisabora, of great size and populousness, and also surrounded with water. But the emperor having ridden all round the walls and reconnoitred its position, began to lay siege to it with great caution, as if he would make the townsmen abandon its defence from mere terror. But after several negotiations and conferences with them, as they would yield neither to promises nor to threats, he set about the siege in earnest, and surrounded the walls with three lines of soldiers. The whole of the first day the combat was carried on with missiles till nightfall.

10But the garrison, full of courage and vigour, spreading cloths loose everywhere over the battlements to weaken the attacks of our weapons, and protected by shields strongly woven of osier, made a brave resistance, looking like figures of iron, since they had plates of iron closely fitting over every limb, which covered their whole person with a safe defence.

11Sometimes also they earnestly invited Hormisdas as a countryman and a prince of royal blood to a conference; but when he came they reviled him with abuse and reproaches as a traitor and deserter; and after a great part of the day had been consumed in this slow disputing, at the beginning of night many kinds of engines were brought against the walls, and we began to fill up the ditches.

12But before it was quite dawn, the garrison perceived what was being done, with the addition that a violent stroke of a battering-ram had broken down a tower at one corner; so they abandoned the double city wall, and occupied a citadel close to the wall, erected on the level summit of a ragged hill, of which the centre, rising up to a great height in its round circle, resembled an Argive shield, except that in the north it was not quite round, but at that point it was protected by a precipice which ran sheer down into the Euphrates; the walls were built of baked bricks and bitumen, a combination which is well known to be the strongest of all materials.

13And now the savage soldiery, having traversed the city, which they found empty, were fighting fiercely with the defenders who poured all kinds of missiles on them from the citadel. Being hard pressed by the catapults and balistæ of our men, they also raised on the height huge bows of great power, the extremities of which, rising high on each side, could only be bent slowly; but the string, when loosed by violent exertion of the fingers, sent forth iron-tipped arrows with such force as to inflict fatal wounds on any one whom they struck.

14Nevertheless, the fight was maintained on both sides with showers of stones thrown by the hand, and as neither gained any ground a fierce contest was protracted from daybreak to nightfall with great obstinacy; and at last they parted without any advantage to either side. The next day the fight was renewed with great violence, and numbers were slain on each side, and still the result was even; when the emperor, being eager amid this reciprocal slaughter to try every chance, being guarded by a solid column, and defended from the arrows of the enemy by their closely packed shields, rushed forward with a rapid charge up to the enemy’s gates, which were faced with stout iron.

15And although he was still in some danger, being hard pressed with stones and bullets and other weapons, still he cheered on his men with frequent war-cries while they were preparing to force in the gates in order to effect an entrance, and did not retreat till he found himself on the point of being entirely overwhelmed by the mass of missiles which were poured down on him.

16However, he came off safe with only a few of his men slightly wounded; not without feeling some modest shame at being repulsed. For he had read that Scipio Æmilianus, with the historian Polybius, a citizen of Megalopolis in Arcadia, and thirty thousand soldiers, had, by a similar attack, forced the gate of Carthage.

17But the account given by the old writers may serve to defend this modern attempt; for Æmilianus approached a gate protected by a stone-covered testudo, under which he safely forced his way into the city while the garrison was occupied in demolishing this stone roof. But Julian attacked a place completely exposed, while the whole face of heaven was darkened by the fragments of rock and weapons which were showered upon him, and was even then with great difficulty repulsed and forced to retire.

18After this hasty and tumultuous assault, as the vast preparations of sheds and mounds which were carried on were attended with much difficulty, through the hindrances offered by the garrison, Julian ordered an engine called helepolis to be constructed with all speed; which, as we have already mentioned, King Demetrius used, and earned the title of Poliorcetes by the number of cities which he took.

19The garrison, anxiously viewing this engine, which was to exceed the height of their lofty towers, and considering at the same time the determination of the besiegers, suddenly betook themselves to supplications, and spreading over the towers and walls, imploring the pardon and protection of the Romans with outstretched hands.

20And when they saw that the works of the Romans were suspended, and that those who were constructing them were doing nothing, which seemed a sure token of peace, they requested an opportunity of conferring with Hormisdas.

21And when this was granted, Mamersides, the commander of the garrison, was let down by a rope, and conducted to the emperor as he desired; and having received a promise of his own life, and of impunity to all his comrades, he was allowed to return to the city. And when he related what had been done, the citizens unanimously agreed to follow his advice and accept the terms; and peace was solemnly made with all the sanctions of religion, the gates were thrown open, and the whole population went forth proclaiming that a protecting genius had shone upon them in the person of the great and merciful Cæsar.

22The number of those who surrendered was two thousand five hundred, for the rest of the citizens, expecting the siege beforehand, had crossed the river in small boats and abandoned the city. In the citadel a great store of arms and provisions was found; and after they had taken what they required, the conquerors burnt the rest as well as the place itself.

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