The History, 25.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4Julian was a man to be classed with heroic characters, and conspicuous for the brilliancy of his exploits and his innate majesty. For since, as wise men lay it down, there are four cardinal virtues,—temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude,—with corresponding external accessaries, such as military skill, authority, prosperity, and liberality, he eagerly cultivated them all as if they had been but one.

2And in the first place, he was of a chastity so inviolate that, after the loss of his wife he never indulged in any sexual pleasures, recollecting what is told in Plato of Sophocles the tragedian, that being asked when he was a very old man whether he still had any commerce with women, he said “No,” with this further addition, that “he was glad to say that he had at all times avoided such indulgence as a tyrannous and cruel master.”

3And to strengthen this resolution he often called to mind the words of the lyric poet Bacchylides, whom he used to read with pleasure, and who said that as a fine painter makes a handsome face, so chastity adorns a life that aims at greatness. And even when in the prime of life he so carefully avoided this taint that there was never the least suspicion of his becoming enamoured even of any of his household, as has often happened.

4And this kind of temperance increased in him, being strengthened by a sparing indulgence in eating and sleeping, to which he rigidly adhered whether abroad or at home. For in time of peace his frugal allowance of food was a marvel to all who knew him, as resembling that of a man always wishing to resume the philosopher’s cloak. And in his various campaigns he used commonly only to take a little plain food while standing, as is the custom of soldiers.

5And when after being fatigued by labour he had refreshed his body with a short rest, as soon as he awoke he would go by himself round all the sentries and outposts; after which he retired to his serious studies.

6And if any voice could bear witness to his use of the nocturnal lamp, by which he pursued his lucubrations, it would show that there was a vast difference between some emperors and him, who did not even indulge himself in those pleasures permitted by the necessities of human nature.

7Of his prudence there were also many proofs, of which it will be sufficient to recount a few. He was profoundly skilled in war, and also in the arts of peace. He was very attentive to courtesy, claiming just so much respect as he considered sufficient to mark the difference between contempt and insolence. He was older in virtue than in years, being eager to acquire all kinds of knowledge. He was a most incorruptible judge, a rigid censor of morals and manners, mild, a despiser of riches, and indeed of all mortal things. Lastly, it was a common saying of his, “That it was beneath a wise man, since he had a soul, to aim at acquiring praise by his body.”

8Of his justice there are many conspicuous proofs: first, because, with all proper regard to circumstances and persons, he inspired awe without being cruel; secondly, because he repressed vice by making examples of a few, and also because he threatened severe punishment more frequently than he employed it.

9Lastly, to pass over many circumstances, it is certain that he treated with extreme moderation some who were openly convicted of plotting against him, and mitigated the rigour of the punishment to which they were sentenced with genuine humanity.

10His many battles and constant wars displayed his fortitude, as did his endurance of extreme cold and heat. From a common soldier we require the services of the body, from an emperor those of the mind. But having boldly thrown himself into battle, he would slay a ferocious foe at a single blow; and more than once he by himself checked the retreat of our men at his own personal risk. And when he was putting down the rule of the furious Germans, and also in the scorching sands of Persia, he encouraged his men by fighting in the front ranks of his army.

11Many well-known facts attest his skill in all that concerns a camp; his storming of cities and castles amid the most formidable dangers; the variety of his tactics for battles, the skill he showed in choosing healthy spots for his camps, the safe principles on which his lines of defence and outposts were managed.

12So great was his authority, that while he was feared he was also greatly loved as his men’s comrade in their perils and dangers. And in the hottest struggles he took notice of cowards for punishment. And while he was yet only Cæsar, he kept his soldiers in order while confronting the barbarians, and destitute of pay as I have mentioned before. And haranguing his discontented troops, the threat which he used was that he would retire into private life if they continued mutinous.

13Lastly, this single instance will do as well as many, by haranguing the Gallic legions, who were accustomed to the frozen Rhine, in a simple address, he persuaded them to traverse vast regions and to march through the warm plains of Assyria to the borders of Media.

14His good fortune was so conspicuous that, riding as it were on the shoulders of Fortune, who was long his faithful guide, he overcame enormous difficulties in his victorious career. And after he quitted the regions of the west, they all remained quiet during his life-time, as if under the influence of a wand powerful enough to tranquillize the world.

15Of his liberality there are many and undoubted proofs. Among which are his light exactions of tribute, his remission of the tribute of crowns, and of debts long due, his putting the rights of individuals on an equal footing with those of the treasury, his restoration of their revenues and their lands to different cities, with the exception of such as had been lawfully sold by former princes; and also the fact that he was never covetous of money, which he thought was better kept by its owners, often quoting the saying, “that Alexander the Great, when he was asked where he kept his treasures, kindly answered ‘Among my friends.’”

16Having discussed those of his good qualities which have come within our knowledge, let us now proceed to unfold his faults, though they have been already slightly noticed. He was of an unsteady disposition; but this fault he corrected by an excellent plan, allowing people to set him right when guilty of indiscretion.

17He was a frequent talker, rarely silent. Too much devoted to divination, so much so as in this particular to equal the emperor Adrian. He was rather a superstitious than a legitimate observer of sacred rites, sacrificing countless numbers of victims; so that it was reckoned that if he had returned from the Parthians there would have been a scarcity of cattle. Like the celebrated case of Marcus Cæsar, about whom it was written, as it is said, “The white cattle to Marcus Cæsar, greeting. If you conquer there is an end of us.”

18He was very fond of the applause of the common people, and an immoderate seeker after praise even in the most trifling matters; often, from a desire of popularity, indulging in conversation with unworthy persons.

19But in spite of all this he deserved, as he used to say himself, to have it thought that that ancient Justice, whom Aratus says fled to heaven from disgust with the vices of men, had in his reign returned again to the earth; only that sometimes he acted arbitrarily and inconsistently.

20For he made some laws which, with but few exceptions, were not offensive, though they very positively enforced or forbade certain actions. Among the exceptions was that cruel one which forbade Christian masters of rhetoric and grammar to teach unless they came over to the worship of the heathen gods.

21And this other ordinance was equally intolerable, namely one which allowed some persons to be unjustly enrolled in the companies of the municipal guilds, though they were foreigners, or by privilege or birth wholly unconnected with such companies.

22As to his personal appearance it was this. He was of moderate stature, with soft hair, as if he had carefully dressed it, with a rough beard ending in a point, with beautiful brilliant eyes, which displayed the subtlety of his mind, with handsome eyebrows and a straight nose, a rather large mouth, with a drooping lower lip, a thick and stooping neck, large and broad shoulders. From head to foot he was straight and well proportioned, which made him strong and a good runner.

23And since his detractors have accused him of provoking new wars, to the injury of the commonwealth, let them know the unquestionable truth, that it was not Julian but Constantius who occasioned the hostility of the Parthians by greedily acquiescing in the falsehoods of Metrodorus, as we have already set forth.

24In consequence of this conduct our armies were slain, numbers of our soldiers were taken prisoners, cities were rased, fortresses were stormed and destroyed, provinces were exhausted by heavy expenses, and in short the Persians, putting their threats into effect, were led to seek to become masters of everything up to Bithynia and the shores of the Propontis.

25While the Gallic wars grew more and more violent, the Germans overrunning our territories, and being on the point of forcing the passes of the Alps in order to invade Italy, there was nothing to be seen but tears and consternation, the recollection of the past being bitter, the expectation of the future still more woeful. All these miseries, this youth, being sent into the West with the rank of Cæsar, put an end to with marvellous celerity, treating the kings of those countries as base-born slaves.

26Then in order to re-establish the prosperity of the east, with similar energy he attacked the Persians, and would have gained in that country both a triumph and a surname, if the will of heaven had been in accordance with his glorious plans and actions.

27And as we know by experience that some men are so rash and hasty that if conquered they return to battle, if shipwrecked, to the sea, in short, each to the difficulties by which he has been frequently overcome, so some find fault with this emperor for returning to similar exploits after having been repeatedly victorious.

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