The History, 25.2

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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2After this there was an armistice for three days, while the men attended to their own wounds or those of their friends, during which we were destitute of supplies, and distressed by intolerable hunger; and since, as all the corn and forage was burnt, both men and cattle were in extreme danger of starvation, a portion of the food which the horses of the tribunes and superior officers were carrying was distributed among the lower classes of the soldiers, who were in extreme want.

2And the emperor, who had no royal dainties prepared for himself, but who was intending to sup under the props of a small tent on a scanty portion of pulse, such as would often have been despised by a prosperous common soldier, indifferent to his own comfort, distributed what was prepared for him among the poorest of his comrades.

3He gave a short time to anxious and troubled sleep; and when he awoke, and, as was his custom, began to write something in his tent, in imitation of Julius Cæsar, while the night was still dark, being occupied with the consideration of the writings of some philosophers, he saw, as he told his friends, in mournful guise, the vision of the Genius of the Empire, whom, when he first became emperor, he had seen in Gaul, sorrowfully departing through the curtains of his tent with the cornucopia, which he bore in his hand veiled, as well as his head.

4And although for a moment he stood stupefied, yet being above all fear, he commended the future to the will of heaven; and leaving his bed, which was made on the ground, he rose, while it was still but little past midnight, and supplicating the deities with sacred rites to avert misfortune, he thought he saw a bright torch, falling, cut a passage through the air and vanish from his sight; and then he was horror-stricken, fearing that the star of Mars had appeared openly threatening him.

5For this brightness was of the kind which we call διαΐσσοντα, not falling down or reaching the ground. Indeed, he who thinks that solid substances can fall from heaven is rightly accounted profane and mad. But these occurrences take place in many ways, of which it will be enough to enumerate a few.

6Some think that sparks falling off from the ethereal fire, as they are able to proceed but a short distance, soon become extinguished; or, perhaps, that rays of fire coming against the dense clouds, sparkle from the suddenness of the contact; or that some light attaches itself to a cloud, and taking the form of a star, runs on as long as it is supported by the power of the fire; but being presently exhausted by the magnitude of the space which it traverses, it becomes dissolved into air, passing into that substance from the excessive attrition of which it originally derived its heat.

7Therefore, without loss of time, before daybreak, he sent for the Etruscan soothsayers, and consulted them what this new kind of star portended; who replied, that he must cautiously avoid attempting any new enterprise at present, showing that it was laid down in the works of Tarquitius, ”on divine affairs,” that when a light of this kind is seen in heaven, no battle ought to be engaged in, or any similar measure be undertaken.

8But as he despised this and many other similar warnings, the diviners at least entreated him to delay his march for some hours; but they could not prevail even to this extent, as the emperor was always opposed to the whole science of divination. So at break of day the camp was struck.

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