The History, 24.3

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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3The day after these transactions, serious news reached the emperor as he was quietly taking his dinner, that the Surena, the Persian general, had surprised three squadrons of our advanced guard, and slain a few, among whom was one tribune; and had also taken a standard.

2Immediately Julian became violently exasperated, and flew to the spot with an armed band, placing much hope of success in the rapidity of his movements: he routed the assailants disgracefully, cashiered the other two tribunes as blunderers and cowards, and in imitation of the ancient laws of Rome disbanded ten of the soldiers who had fled, and then condemned them to death.

3Then, having burnt the city as I have already mentioned, he mounted a tribunal which he had caused to be erected, and having convoked his army, he thanked them, and counted upon their achieving other similar exploits. He also promised them each a hundred pieces of silver; but seeing that they were inclined to murmur, as being disappointed at the smallness of the sum, he became most indignant and said:—

4“Behold the Persians who abound in wealth of every kind; their riches may enrich you if we only behave gallantly with one unanimous spirit of resolution. But after having been very rich, I assure you that the republic is at this moment in great want, through the conduct of those men who, to increase their own wealth, taught former emperors to return home after buying peace of the barbarians with gold.

5“The treasury is empty, the cities are exhausted, the finances are stripped bare. I myself have neither treasures, nor, noble as I am by birth, do I inherit anything from my family but a heart free from all fear. Nor shall I be ashamed to place all my happiness in the cultivation of my mind, while preferring an honourable poverty. For the Fabricii also conducted great wars while poor in estate and rich only in glory.

6“Of all these things you may have plenty, if, discarding all fear, you act with moderation, obeying the cautious guidance of God and myself, as far as human reason can lead you safely; but if you disobey, and choose to return to your former shameful mutinies, proceed.

7“As an emperor should do, I by myself, having performed the important duties which belong to me, will die standing, despising a life which any fever may take from me: or else I will abdicate my power, for I have not lived so as to be unable to descend to a private station. I rejoice in, and feel proud of the fact that there are with me many leaders of proved skill and courage, perfect in every kind of military knowledge.”

8By this modest speech of their emperor, thus unmoved alike by prosperity and adversity, the soldiers were for a time appeased, regaining confidence with an expectation of better success; and unanimously promised to be docile and obedient, at the same time extolling Julian’s authority and magnanimity to the skies; and, as is their wont when their feelings are genuine and cordial, they showed them by a gentle rattling of their arms.

9Then they returned to their tents, and refreshed themselves with food, for which they had abundant means, and with sleep during the night. But Julian encouraged his army not by the idea of their families, but by the thoughts of the greatness of the enterprises in which they were embarked: continually making vows—“So might he be able to make the Persians pass under the yoke.” “So might he restore the Roman power which had been shaken in those regions,”—in imitation of Trajan, who was accustomed frequently to confirm anything he had said by the imprecations—“So may I see Dacia reduced to the condition of a province; so may I bridge over the Danube and Euphrates,”—using many similar forms of attestation.

10Then after proceeding fourteen miles further we came to a certain spot where the soil is fertilized by the abundance of water. But as the Persians had learnt that we should advance by this road, they removed the dams and allowed the waters to flood the country.

11The ground being thereby, for a great distance, reduced to the state of a marsh, the emperor gave the soldiers the next day for rest, and advancing in front himself, constructed a number of little bridges of bladders, and coracles made of skins, and rafts of palm-tree timber, and thus led his army across, though not without difficulty.

12In this region many of the fields are planted with vineyards and various kinds of fruit trees; and palm-trees grow there over a great extent of country, reaching as far as Mesene and the ocean, forming great groves. And wherever any one goes he sees continual stocks and suckers of palms, from the fruit of which abundance of honey and wine is made, and the palms themselves are said to be divided into male and female, and it is added that the two sexes can be easily distinguished.

13They say further that the female trees produce fruit when impregnated by the seeds of the male trees, and even that they feel delight in their mutual love: and that this is clearly shown by the fact that they lean towards one another, and cannot be bent back even by strong winds—and if by any unusual accident a female tree is not impregnated by the male seed, it produces nothing but imperfect fruit, and if they cannot find out with what male tree any female tree is in love, they smear the trunk of some tree with the oil which proceeds from her, and then some other tree naturally conceives a fondness for the odour; and these proofs create some belief in the story of their copulation.

14The army then, having sated itself with these fruits, passed by several islands, and instead of the scarcity which they apprehended, the fear arose that they would become too fat. At last, after having been attacked by an ambuscade of the enemy’s archers, but having avenged themselves well, they came to a spot where the larger portion of the Euphrates is divided into a number of small streams.

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