The History, 24.7

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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7Julian, having discussed with his chief officers the plan for the siege of Ctesiphon, it appeared to some of them that it would be an act of unseasonable temerity to attack that city, both because its situation made it almost impregnable, and also because King Sapor was believed to be hastening to its protection with a formidable army.

2The better opinion prevailed; and the sagacious emperor being convinced of its wisdom, sent Arinthæus with a division of light infantry, to lay waste the surrounding districts, which were rich both in herds and in crops, with orders also to pursue the enemy with equal energy, for many of them were wandering about, concealed amid overgrown by-ways, and lurking-places known only to themselves. The booty was abundant.

3But Julian himself, being always eager to extend his conquests, disregarded the advice of those who remonstrated against his advance; and reproaching his chiefs, as men who out of mere laziness and a love of ease advised him to let go the kingdom of Persia when he had almost made himself master of it, left the river on his left hand, and led by unlucky guides, determined to proceed towards the inland parts of the country by forced marches.

4And he ordered all his ships to be burnt, as if with the fatal torch of Bellona herself, except twelve of the smaller vessels, which he arranged should be carried on waggons, as likely to be of use for building bridges. And he thought this a most excellently conceived plan, to prevent his fleet if left behind from being of any use to the enemy, or on the other hand to prevent what happened at the outset of the expedition, nearly twenty thousand men being occupied in moving and managing the vessels.

5Then, as the men began in their alarm to grumble to themselves (as indeed manifest truth pointed out), that the soldiers if hindered from advancing by the height of the mountains or the dryness of the country, would have no means of returning to get water, and when the deserters, on being put to the torture openly confessed that they had made a false report, he ordered all hands to labour to extinguish the flames. But the fire, having got to a great head, had consumed most of them, so that only the twelve could be preserved unhurt, which were set apart to be taken care of.

6In this way the fleet being unseasonably destroyed, Julian, relying on his army which was now all united, having none of its divisions diverted to other occupations, and so being strong in numbers, advanced inland, the rich district through which he marched supplying him with an abundance of provisions.

7When this was known, the enemy, with a view to distressing us by want of supplies, burnt up all the grass and the nearly ripe crops; and we, being unable to advance by reason of the conflagration, remained stationary in our camp till the fire was exhausted. And the Persians, insulting us from a distance, sometimes spread themselves widely on purpose, sometimes offered us resistance in a compact body; so that to us who beheld them from a distance it might seem that the reinforcements of the king had come up, and we might imagine that it was on that account that they had ventured on their audacious sallies and unwonted enterprises.

8Both the emperor and the troops were greatly vexed at this, because they had no means of constructing a bridge, since the ships had been inconsiderately destroyed, nor could any check be offered to the movements of the strange enemy, whom the glistening brilliancy of their arms showed to be close at hand; this armour of theirs being singularly adapted to all the inflections of their body. There was another evil of no small weight, that the reinforcements which we were expecting to arrive under the command of Arsaces and some of our own generals, did not make their appearance, being detained by the causes already mentioned.

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