The History, 24.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5So we advanced and came to some groves, and also to some fields fertile with a great variety of crops, where we found a palace built in the Roman fashion, which, so pleased were we with the circumstance, we left unhurt.

2There was also in this same place a large round space, enclosed, containing wild beasts, intended for the king’s amusement; lions with shaggy manes, tusked boars, and bears of amazing ferocity (as the Persian bears are), and other chosen beasts of vast size. Our cavalry, however, forced the gates of this enclosure, and killed all the beasts with hunting-spears and clouds of arrows.

3This district is rich and well cultivated: not far off is Coche, which is also called Seleucia; where we fortified a camp with great celerity, and rested there two days to refresh the army with timely supplies of water and provisions. The emperor himself in the meanwhile proceeded with his advanced guard and reconnoitred a deserted city which had been formerly destroyed by the Emperor Verus, where an everlasting spring forms a large tube which communicates with the Tigris. Here we saw, hanging on gallows, many bodies of the relations of the man whom we have spoken of above as having betrayed Pirisabora.

4Here also Nabdates was burnt alive, he whom I have mentioned above as having been taken with eighty of his garrison while hiding among the ruins of the city which we had taken; because at the beginning of the siege he had secretly promised to betray it, but afterwards had resisted us vigorously, and after having been unexpectedly pardoned had risen to such a pitch of violence as to launch all kinds of abuse against Hormisdas.

5Then after advancing some distance we heard of a sad disaster: for while three cohorts of the advanced guard, who were in light marching order, were fighting with a Persian division which had made a sally out of the city gates, another body of the enemy cut off and slew our cattle, which were following us on the other side of the river, with a few of our foragers who were straggling about in no great order.

6The emperor was enraged and indignant at this; he was now near the district of Ctesiphon, and had just reached a lofty and well-fortified castle. He went himself to reconnoitre it, being, as he fancied, concealed, as he rode with a small escort close to the walls; but as from too much eagerness he got within bowshot, he was soon noticed, and was immediately assailed by every kind of missile, and would have been killed by an arrow shot from an engine on the walls, if it had not struck his armour-bearer, who kept close by his side, and he himself, being protected by the closely-packed shields of his guards, fell back, after having been exposed to great danger.

7At this he was greatly enraged, and determined to lay siege to the fort; but the garrison was very resolute to defend it, believing the place to be nearly inaccessible, and that the king, who was advancing with great speed at the head of a large army, would soon arrive to their assistance.

8And now, the vineæ and everything else required for the siege being prepared, at the second watch, when the night, which happened to be one of very bright moonlight, made everything visible to the defenders on the battlements, suddenly the whole multitude of the garrison formed into one body, threw open the gates and sallied out, and attacking a division of our men who were not expecting them, slew numbers, among whom one tribune was killed as he was endeavouring to repel the attack.

9And while this was going on, the Persians, having attacked a portion of our men in the same manner as before from the opposite side of the river, slew some and took others prisoners. And our men, in alarm, and because they believed the enemy had come into the field in very superior numbers, behaved at first with but little spirit; but presently, when they recovered their courage, they flew again to arms, and being roused by the sound of the trumpets, they hastened to the charge with threatening cries, upon which the Persians retired to the garrison without further contest.

10And the emperor, being terribly angry, reduced those of the cavalry who had shown a want of courage when attacked to serve in the infantry, which is a severer service and one of less honour.

11Then, being very eager to take a castle where he had incurred so much danger, he devoted all his own labour and care to that end, never himself retiring from the front ranks of his men, in order that by fighting in the van he might be an example of gallantry to his soldiers, and might be also sure to see, and therefore able to reward, every gallant action. And when he had exposed himself a long time to imminent danger, the castle, having been assailed by every kind of manœuvre, weapon, and engine, and by great valour on the part of the besiegers, was at length taken and burnt.

12After this, in consideration of the great labour of the exploits which they had performed, and which were before them, he granted rest to his army, exhausted with its excessive toil, and distributed among them provisions in abundance. Then a rampart was raised round the camp, with dense rows of palisades, and a deep fosse, as sudden sallies and various formidable manœuvres were dreaded, since they were very near Ctesiphon.

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