The History, 24.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8The emperor, to comfort his soldiers who were made anxious by these events, ordered the prisoners who were of slender make, as the Persians usually are, and who were now more than usually emaciated, to be brought before the army; and looking at our men he said, “Behold what those warlike spirits consider men, little ugly dirty goats; and creatures who, as many events have shown, throw away their arms and take to flight before they can come to blows.”

2And when he had said this, and had ordered the prisoners to be removed, he held a consultation on what was to be done; and after many opinions of different kinds had been delivered, the common soldiers inconsiderately crying out that it was best to return by the same way they had advanced, the emperor steadily opposed this idea, and was joined by several officers who contended that this could not be done, since all the forage and crops had been destroyed throughout the plain, and the remains of the villages which had been burnt were all in complete destitution, and could afford no supplies; because also the whole soil was soaked everywhere from the snows of winter, and the rivers had overflowed their banks and were now formidable torrents.

3There was this further difficulty, that in those districts where the heat and evaporation are great, every place is infested with swarms of flies and gnats, and in such numbers that the light of the sun and of the stars is completely hidden by them.

4And as human sagacity was of no avail in such a state of affairs, we were long in doubt and perplexity; and raising altars and sacrificing victims we consulted the will of the gods; inquiring whether it was their will that we should return through Assyria, or advancing slowly along the foot of the mountain chain, should surprise and plunder Chiliocomum near Corduena; but neither of these plans was conformable to the omens presented by an inspection of the sacrifices.

5However it was decided, that since there was no better prospect before us, to seize on Corduena; and on the 16th June we struck our camp, and at daybreak the emperor set forth, when suddenly was seen either smoke or a great cloud of dust; so that many thought it was caused by herds of wild asses, of which there are countless numbers in those regions, and who were now moving in a troop, in order by their compactness to ward off the ferocious attacks of lions.

6Some, however, fancied that it was caused by the approach of the Saracen chieftains, our allies, who had heard that the emperor was besieging Ctesiphon in great force: some again affirmed that the Persians were lying in wait for us on our march.

7Therefore amid all these doubtful opinions, the trumpets sounded a halt, in order to guard against any reverse, and we halted in a grassy valley near a stream, where, packing our shields in close order and in a circular figure, we pitched our camp and rested in safety. Nor, so dark did it continue till evening, could we distinguish what it was that had so long obscured the view.

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