The History, 25.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8The peace which had been granted on pretence of humanity was turned to the ruin of many who were so exhausted by want of food as to be at the last gasp, and who in consequence could only creep along, and were either carried away by the current of the river from not being able to swim, or if able to overcome the force of the stream so far as to reach the bank, were either slain like sheep by the Saracens or Persians (because, as we stated some time back, the Germans had driven them out), or sent to a distance to be sold for slaves.

2But when the trumpets openly gave the signal for crossing the river, it was dreadful to see with what ardour every individual hastened to rush into this danger, preferring himself to all his comrades, in the desire of avoiding the many dangers and distresses behind him. Some tried to guide the beasts who were swimming about at random, with hurdles hurriedly put together; others, seated on bladders, and others, being driven by necessity to all kinds of expedients, sought to pass through the opposing waves by crossing them obliquely.

3The emperor himself with a few others crossed over in the small boats, which we said were saved when the fleet was burnt, and then sent the same vessels backwards and forwards till our whole body was brought across. And at length all of us, except such as were drowned, reached the opposite bank of the river, being saved amid our difficulties by the favour of the Supreme Deity.

4While we were still oppressed with the fear of impending disasters, we learnt from information brought in by our outposts that the Persians were throwing a bridge over the river some way off, at a point out of our sight, in order that while all ideas of war were put an end to on our side by the ratification of the treaty of peace, they might come upon our invalids as they proceeded carelessly onwards, and on the animals exhausted with fatigue. But when they found their purpose discovered, they relinquished their base design.

5Being now relieved from this suspicion, we hastened on by rapid marches, and approached Hatra, an ancient town in the middle of a desert, which had been long since abandoned, though at different times those warlike emperors, Trajan and Severus, had attacked it with a view to its destruction, but had been almost destroyed with their armies, as we have related in our history of their exploits.

6And as we now learnt that over the vast plain before us for seventy miles in that arid region no water could be found but such as was brackish and fetid, and no kind of food but southernwood, wormwood, dracontium, and other bitter herbs, we filled the vessels which we had with sweet water, and having slain the camels and the rest of the beasts of burden, we thus sought to insure some kind of supplies, though not very wholesome.

7For six days the army marched, till at last even grass, the last comfort of extreme necessity, could not be found; when Cassianus, Duke of Mesopotamia, and the tribune Mauricius, who had been sent forward with this object, came to a fort called Ur, and brought some food from the supplies which the army under Procopius and Sebastian, by living sparingly, had managed to preserve.

8From this place another person of the name of Procopius, a secretary, and Memoridus, a military tribune, was sent forward to Illyricum and Gaul to announce the death of Julian, and the subsequent promotion of Jovian to the rank of emperor.

9And Jovian deputed them to present his father-in-law Lucillianus (who, after giving up military service, had retired to the tranquillity of private life, and who was at that time dwelling at Sirmium) with a commission as captain of the forces of cavalry and infantry, and to urge him at the same time to hasten to Milan, to support him there in any difficulties which might arise, or (what he feared most) to oppose any attempts which might be made to bring about a revolution.

10And he also gave them still more secret letters, in which he warned Lucillianus to bring him some picked men of tried energy and fidelity, of whose aid he might avail himself according as affairs should turn out.

11He also made a wise choice, and selected Malarichus, who was at that time in Italy on his own private affairs, sending him the ensigns of office that he might succeed Jovinus as commander of the forces in Gaul, in which appointment he had an eye on two important objects; first, to remove a general of especial merit who was an object of suspicion on that very account, and also by the promotion to so high a position of a man whose hopes were not set on anything so lofty to bind him to exert all his zeal in supporting the doubtful position of the maker of his fortunes.

12And the officers who went to perform these commands were also enjoined to extol the emperor’s conduct, and wherever they went to agree in reporting that the Parthian campaign had been brought to an honourable termination; they were also charged to prosecute their journey with all speed by night and day, delivering as they went letters from the new emperor to all the governors of provinces and commanders of the forces on their road; and when they had secretly learnt the opinions of them all, to return to him with all speed, in order that when he knew what was being done in the distant provinces, he might be able to frame well-digested and wise plans for strengthening himself in his government.

13But Fame (being alway the most rapid bearer of bad news), outstripping these couriers, flew through the different provinces and nations; and above all others struck the citizens of Nisibis with bitter sorrow when they heard that their city was surrendered to Sapor, whose anger and enmity they dreaded, from recollecting the havoc and slaughter which he had made in his frequent attempts to take the place.

14For it was clear that the whole eastern empire would have fallen under the power of Persia long before if it had not been for the resistance which this city, strong in its admirable position and its mighty walls, had been able to offer. But miserable as they now were, and although they were filled with a still greater fear of what might befall them hereafter, they were supported by this slender hope, that, either from his own inclination or from being won over by their prayers, the emperor might consent to keep their city in its existing state, as the strongest bulwark of the east.

15While different reports were flying about of what had taken place, the scanty supplies which I have spoken of as having been brought, were consumed, and necessity might have driven the men to eat one another, if the flesh of the animals slain had not lasted them a little longer; but the consequence of our destitute condition was, that the arms and baggage were thrown away; for we were so worn out with this terrible famine, that whenever a single bushel of corn was found (which seldom happened), it was sold for ten pieces of gold at the least.

16Marching on from thence, we come to Thilsaphata where Sebastian and Procopius, with the tribunes and chief officers of the legions which had been placed under their command for the protection of Mesopotamia, came to meet the emperor as the solemn occasion required, and being kindly received, accompanied us on our march.

17After this, proceeding with all possible speed, we rejoiced when we saw Nisibis, where the emperor pitched a standing camp outside the walls; and being most earnestly entreated by the whole population to come to lodge in the palace according to the custom of his predecessors, he positively refused, being ashamed that an impregnable city should be surrendered to an enraged enemy while he was within its walls.

18But as the evening was getting dark, Jovian, the chief secretary, was seized while at supper, the man who at the siege of the city Maogamalcha we have spoken of as escaping with others by a subterranean passage, and being led to an out-of-the-way place, was thrown headlong down a dry well, and overwhelmed with a heap of stones which were thrown down upon him, because after the death of Julian he also had been named by a few persons as fit to be made emperor; and after the election of his namesake had not behaved with any modesty, but had been heard to utter secret whispers concerning the business, and had from time to time invited some of the leading soldiers to entertainments.

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