The History, 25.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1The night was dark and starless, and passed by us as nights are passed in times of difficulty and perplexity; no one out of fear daring to sit down, or to close his eyes. But as soon as day broke, brilliant breastplates surrounded with steel fringes, and glittering cuirasses, were seen at a distance, and showed that the king’s army was at hand.

2The soldiers were roused at this sight, and hastened to engage, since only a small stream separated them from the Persians, but were checked by the emperor; a sharp skirmish did indeed take place between our outposts and the Persians, close to the rampart of our camp, in which Machamæus, the captain of one of our squadrons was stricken down: his brother Maurus, afterwards Duke of Phœnicia, flew to his support, and slew the man who had killed Machamæus, and crushed all who came in his way, till he himself was wounded in the shoulder by a javelin; but he still was able by great exertions to bring off his brother, who was now pale with approaching death.

3Both sides were nearly exhausted with the intolerable violence of the heat and the repeated conflicts, but at last the hostile battalions were driven back in great disorder. Then while we fell back to a greater distance, the Saracens were also compelled to retreat from fear of our infantry, but presently afterwards joining themselves to the Persian host, they attacked us again, with more safety to themselves for the purpose of carrying off the Roman baggage. But when they saw the emperor they again retreated upon their reserve.

4After leaving this district we reached a village called Hucumbra, where we rested two days, procuring all kinds of provisions and abundance of corn, so that we moved on again after being refreshed beyond our hopes; all that the time would not allow us to take away we burnt.

5The next day the army was advancing more quietly, when the Persians unexpectedly fell upon our last division, to whom that day the duty fell of bringing up the rear, and would easily have slain all the men, had not our cavalry, which happened to be at hand, the moment that they heard what was going on, hastened up, though scattered over the wide valley, and repulsed this dangerous attack, wounding all who had thus surprised them.

6In this skirmish fell Adaces, a noble satrap, who had formerly been sent as ambassador to the emperor Constantius, and had been kindly received by him. The soldier who slew him brought his arms to Julian, and received the reward he deserved.

7The same day one of our corps of cavalry, known as the third legion, was accused of having gradually given way, so that when the legions were on the point of breaking the enemy’s line, they nearly broke the spirit of the whole army.

8And Julian, being justly indignant at this, deprived them of their standards, broke their spears, and condemned all those who were convicted of having misbehaved of marching among the baggage and prisoners; while their captain, the only one of their number who had behaved well, was appointed to the command of another squadron, the tribune of which was convicted of having shamefully left the field.

9And four other tribunes of companies were also cashiered for similar misconduct; for the emperor was contented with this moderate degree of punishment out of consideration for his impending difficulties.

10Accordingly, having advanced seventy furlongs with very scanty supplies, the herbage and the corn being all burnt, each man saved for himself just as much of the grain or forage as he could snatch from the flames and carry.

11And having left this spot, when the army had arrived at the district called Maranx, near daybreak an immense multitude of Persians appeared, with Merenes, the captain of their cavalry, and two sons of the king, and many nobles.

12All the troops were clothed in steel, in such a way that their bodies were covered with strong plates, so that the hard joints of the armour fitted every limb of their bodies; and on their heads were effigies of human faces so accurately fitted, that their whole persons being covered with metal, the only place where any missiles which fell upon them could stick, was either where there were minute openings to allow of the sight of the eyes penetrating, or where holes for breathing were left at the extremities of the nostrils.

13Part of them who were prepared to fight with pikes stood immovable, so that you might have fancied they were held in their places by fastenings of brass; and next to them the archers (in which art that nation has always been most skilful from the cradle) bent their supple bows with widely extended arms, so that the strings touched their right breasts, while the arrows lay just upon their left hands; and the whistling arrows flew, let loose with great skill of finger, bearing deadly wounds.

14Behind them stood the glittering elephants in formidable array, whose grim looks our terrified men could hardly endure; while the horses were still more alarmed at their growl, odour, and unwonted aspect.

15Their drivers rode on them, and bore knives with handles fastened to their right hands, remembering the disaster which they had experienced at Nisibis; and if the ferocious animal overpowered his overseer, they pierced the spine where the head is joined to the neck with a vigorous blow, that the beast might not recoil upon their own ranks, as had happened on that occasion, and trample down their own people; for it was found out by Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal, that in this way these animals might be very easily deprived of life.

16The sight of these beasts caused great alarm; and so this most intrepid emperor, attended with a strong body of his armed cohorts and many of his chief officers, as the crisis and the superior numbers of the enemy required, marshalled his troops in the form of a crescent with the wings bending inwards to encounter the enemy.

17And to hinder the onset of the archers from disordering our columns, by advancing with great speed he baffled the aim of their arrows; and after he had given the formal signal for fighting, the Roman infantry, in close order, beat back the front of the enemy with a vigorous effort.

18The struggle was fierce, and the clashing of the shields, the din of the men, and the doleful whistle of the javelins, which continued without intermission, covered the plains with blood and corpses, the Persians falling in every direction; and though they were often slack in fighting, being accustomed chiefly to combat at a distance by means of missiles, still now foot to foot they made a stout resistance; and when they found any of their divisions giving way, they retreated like rain before the wind, still with showers of arrows seeking to deter their foes from pursuing them. So the Parthians were defeated by prodigious efforts, till our soldiers, exhausted by the heat of the day, on the signal for retreat being sounded, returned to their camp, encouraged for the future to greater deeds of daring.

19In this battle, as I have said, the loss of the Persians was very great—ours was very slight. But the most important death in our ranks was that of Vetranio, a gallant soldier who commanded the legion of Zianni.

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