The History, 25.3

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

« Amm. 25.2 | Amm. 25.3 | Amm. 25.4 | About This Work »

3When we set forward, the Persians, who had learnt by their frequent defeats to shun pitched battles, laid secret ambuscades on our road, and, occupying the hills on each side, continually reconnoitred our battalions as they marched, so that our soldiers, being kept all day on the watch, could neither find time to erect ramparts round their camp, or to fortify themselves with palisades.

2And while our flanks were strongly guarded, and the army proceeded onward in as good order as the nature of the ground would allow, being formed in squares, though not quite closed up, suddenly news was brought to the emperor, who had gone on unarmed to reconnoitre the ground in front, that our rear was attacked.

3He, roused to anger by this mishap, without stopping to put on his breastplate, snatched up his shield in a hurry, and while hastening to support his rear, was recalled by fresh news that the van which he had quitted was now exposed to a similar attack.

4Without a thought of personal danger, he now hastened to strengthen this division, and then, on another side, a troop of Persian cuirassiers attacked his centre, and pouring down with vehemence on his left wing, which began to give way, as our men could hardly bear up against the foul smell and horrid cries of the elephants, they pressed us hard with spears and clouds of arrows.

5The emperor flew to every part of the field where the danger was hottest; and our light-armed troops dashing out wounded the backs of the Persians, and the hocks of the animals, which were turned the other way.

6Julian, disregarding all care for his own safety, made signs by waving his hands, and shouted out that the enemy were fleeing in consternation; and cheering on his men to the pursuit, threw himself eagerly into the conflict. His guards called out to him from all sides to beware of the mass of fugitives who were scattered in consternation, as he would beware of the fall of an ill-built roof, when suddenly a cavalry spear, grazing the skin of his arm, pierced his side, and fixed itself in the bottom of his liver.

7He tried to pull it out with his right hand, and cut the sinews of his fingers with the double-edged point of the weapon; and, falling from his horse, he was borne with speed by the men around him to his tent; and the physician tried to relieve him.

8Presently, when his pain was somewhat mitigated, so that his apprehensions were relieved, contending against death with great energy, he asked for arms and a horse, in order that, by revisiting his troops, who were still engaged, he might restore their confidence, and appear so secure of his own recovery as to have room for anxiety for the safety of others; with the same energy, though with a different object, with which the celebrated leader, Epaminondas, when he was mortally wounded at Mantinea, and had been borne out of the battle, asked anxiously for his shield; and when he saw it he died of his wound cheerfully, having been in fear for the loss of his shield, while quite fearless about the loss of his life.

9But as Julian’s strength was inferior to his firmness, and as he was weakened by the loss of blood, he remained without moving: and presently he gave up all hope of life; because, on inquiry, he found that the place where he had fallen was called Phrygia; for he had been assured by an oracle that he was destined to die in Phrygia.

10When he was brought back to his tent, it was marvellous with what eagerness the soldiers flew to avenge him, agitated with anger and sorrow; and striking their spears against their shields, determined to die if Fate so willed it. And although vast clouds of dust obscured their sight, and the burning heat hindered the activity of their movements, still, as if they were released from all military discipline by the loss of their chief, they rushed unshrinkingly on the enemy’s swords.

11On the other hand the Persians, fighting with increased spirit, shot forth such clouds of arrows, that we could hardly see the shooters through them; while the elephants, slowly marching in front, by the vast size of their bodies, and the formidable appearance of their crests, terrified alike our horses and our men.

12And far off was heard the clashing of armed men, the groans of the dying, the snorting of the horses, and the clang of swords, till both sides were weary of inflicting wounds, and the darkness of night put an end to the contest.

13Fifty nobles and satraps of the Persians, with a vast number of the common soldiers, were slain; and among them, two of their principal generals, Merena and Nohodares. Let the grandiloquence of antiquity marvel at the twenty battles fought by Marcellus in different places; let it add Sicinius Dentatus, adorned with his mass of military crowns; let it further extol Sergius, who is said to have received twenty-three wounds in his different battles, among whose posterity was that last Catiline, who tarnished the glories of his distinguished family by everlasting infamy.

14But sorrow now overpowered the joy at this success. While the conflict was thus carried on after the withdrawal of the emperor, the right wing of the army was exhausted by its exertions; and Anatolius, at that time the master of the offices, was killed; Sallust the prefect was in imminent danger, and was saved only by the exertions of his attendant, so that at last he escaped, while Sophorius his counsellor was killed; and certain soldiers, who, after great danger, had thrown themselves into a neighbouring fort, were unable to rejoin the main army till three days afterwards.

15And while these events were taking place, Julian, lying in his tent, thus addressed those who stood around him sorrowing and mourning: “The seasonable moment for my surrendering this life, O comrades, has now arrived, and, like an honest debtor, I exult in preparing to restore what nature reclaims; not in affliction and sorrow, since I have learnt, from the general teaching of philosophers, how much more capable of happiness the mind is than the body; and considering that when the better part is separated from the worse, it is a subject of joy rather than of mourning. Reflecting, also, that there have been instances in which even the gods have given to some persons of extreme piety, death as the best of all rewards.

16“And I well know that it is intended as a gift of kindness to me, to save me from yielding to arduous difficulties, and from forgetting or losing myself; knowing by experience that all sorrows, while they triumph over the weak, flee before those who endure them manfully.

17“Nor have I to repent of any actions; nor am I oppressed by the recollection of any grave crime, either when I was kept in the shade, and, as it were, in a corner, or after I arrived at the empire, which, as an honour conferred on me by the gods, I have preserved, as I believe, unstained. In civil affairs I have ruled with moderation and, whether carrying on offensive or defensive war, have always been under the influence of deliberate reason; prosperity, however, does not always correspond to the wisdom of man’s counsels, since the powers above reserve to themselves the regulation of results.

18“But always keeping in mind that the aim of a just sovereign is the advantage and safety of his subjects, I have been always, as you know, inclined to peace, eradicating all licentiousness—that great corruptress of things and manners—by every part of my own conduct; and I am glad to feel that in whatever instances the republic, like an imperious mother, has exposed me deliberately to danger, I have stood firm, inured to brave all fortuitous disturbing events.

19“Nor am I ashamed to confess that I have long known, from prophecy, that I should fall by the sword. And therefore do I venerate the everlasting God that I now die, not by any secret treachery, nor by a long or severe disease, or like a condemned criminal, but I quit the world with honour, fairly earned, in the midst of a career of flourishing glory. For, to any impartial judge, that man is base and cowardly who seeks to die when he ought not, or who avoids death when it is seasonable for him.

20“This is enough for me to say, since my strength is failing me; but I designedly forbear to speak of creating a new emperor, lest I should unintentionally pass over some worthy man; or, on the other hand, if I should name one whom I think proper, I should expose him to danger in the event of some one else being preferred. But, as an honest child of the republic, I hope that a good sovereign will be found to succeed me.”

21After having spoken quietly to this effect, he, as it were with the last effort of his pen, distributed his private property among his dearest friends, asking for Anatolius, the master of the offices. And when the prefect Sallust replied that he was now happy, he understood that he was slain, and bitterly bewailed the death of his friend, though he had so proudly disregarded his own.

22And as all around were weeping, he reproved them with still undiminished authority, saying that it was a humiliating thing to mourn for an emperor who was just united to heaven and the stars.

23And as they then became silent, he entered into an intricate discussion with the philosophers Maximus and Priscus on the sublime nature of the soul, while the wound of his pierced side was gaping wide. At last the swelling of his veins began to choke his breath, and having drank some cold water, which he had asked for, he expired quietly about midnight, in the thirty-first year of his age. He was born at Constantinople, and in his childhood lost his father, Constantius, who, after the death of his brother Constantine, perished amid the crowd of competitors for the vacant crown. And at the same early age he lost his mother, Basilina, a woman descended from a long line of noble ancestors.

« Amm. 25.2 | Amm. 25.3 | Amm. 25.4 | About This Work »

Version menu

Table of contents