The History, 26.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1Having narrated with exceeding care the series of transactions in my own immediate recollection, it is necessary now to quit the track of notorious events, in order to avoid the dangers often found in connection with truth; and also to avoid exposing ourselves to unreasonable critics of our work, who would make an outcry as if they had been personally injured, if anything should be passed over which the emperor has said at dinner, if any cause should be overlooked for which the common soldiers were assembled round their standards, or if there were not inserted a mention of every insignificant fort, however little such things ought to have room in a varied description of different districts. Or if the name of every one who filled the office of urban prætor be not given, and many other things quite impertinent to the proper idea of a history, which duly touches on prominent occurrences, and does not stoop to investigate petty details or secret motives, which any one who wishes to know may as well hope to be able to count those little indivisible bodies flying through space, which we call atoms.

2Some of the ancients, fearing this kind of criticism, though they composed accounts of various actions in a beautiful style, forbore to publish them, as Tully, a witness of authority, mentions in a letter to Cornelius Nepos. However, let us, despising the ignorance of people in general, proceed with the remainder of our narrative.

3The course of events being terminated so mournfully, by the death of two emperors at such brief intervals, the army, having paid the last honours to the dead body which was sent to Constantinople to be interred among the other emperors, advanced towards Nicæa, which is the metropolis of Bithynia, where the chief civil and military authorities applied themselves to an anxious consideration of the state of affairs, and as some of them were full of vain hopes, they sought for a ruler of dignity and proved wisdom.

4In reports, and the concealed whispers of a few persons, the name of Equitius was ventilated, who was at that time tribune of the first class of the Scutarii; but he was disapproved by the most influential leaders as being rough and boorish; and their inclinations rather tended towards Januarius, a kinsman of Julian, who was the chief commissary of the camp in Illyricum.

5However, he also was rejected because he was at a distance; and, as a man well qualified and at hand, Valentinian was elected by the unanimous consent of all men, and the manifest favour of the Deity. He was the tribune of the second class of the Scutarii, and had been left at Ancyra, it having been arranged that he should follow afterwards. And, because no one denied that this was for the advantage of the republic, messengers were sent to beg him to come with all speed; and for ten days the empire was without a ruler, which the soothsayer Marcus, by an inspection of entrails at Rome, announced to be the case at that moment in Asia.

6But in the meanwhile, to prevent any attempt to overturn what had been thus settled, or any movement on the part of the fickle soldiers to set aside the election in favour of some one on the spot, Equitius and Leo, who was acting as commissary under Dagalaiphus the commander of the cavalry, and who afterwards incurred great odium as master of the offices, strove with great prudence and vigilance to establish, to the best of their power, what had been the decision of the whole army, they being also natives of Pannonia, and partisans of the emperor elect.

7When Valentinian arrived in answer to the summons he had received, either in obedience to omens which guided him in the prosecution of the affair, as was generally thought, or to repeated warnings conveyed in dreams, he would not come into public or be seen by any one for two days, because he wished to avoid the bissextile day of February which came at that time, and which he knew to have been often an unfortunate day for the Roman empire: of this day I will here give a plain explanation.

8The ancients who were skilled in the motions of the world and the stars, among whom the most eminent are Meton, Euctemon, Hipparchus, and Archimedes, define it as the period of the revolving year when the sun, in accordance with the laws which regulate the heavens, having gone through the zodiac, in three hundred and sixty-five days and nights, returns to the same point: as, for instance, when, after having moved on from the second degree of the Ram, it returns again to it after having completed its circuit.

9But the exact period of a year extends over the number of days above mentioned and six hours more. And so the correct commencement of the next year will not begin till after midday and ends in the evening. The third year begins at the first watch, and lasts till the sixth hour of the night. The fourth begins at daybreak.

10Now as the beginning of each year varies, one commencing at the sixth hour of the day, another at the same hour of the night, to prevent the calculation from throwing all science into confusion by its perplexing diversity, and the months of autumn from sometimes being found to come in the spring, it has been settled that those six hours which in a period of four years amount to twenty-four shall be put together so as to make one day and night.

11And after much consideration it has been so arranged with the concurrence of many learned men, that thus the revolutions of the year may come to one regular end, removed from all vagueness and uncertainty, so that the theory of the heavens may not be clouded by any error, and that the months may retain their appointed position.

12Before their dominions had reached any wide extent, the Romans were for a long time ignorant of this fact, and having been for many years involved in obscure difficulties, they were in deeper darkness and error than ever, when they gave the priests the power of intercalating, which they, in profligate subservience to the interests of the farmers of the revenue, or people engaged in lawsuits, effected by making additions or subtractions at their own pleasure.

13And from this mode of proceeding many other expedients were adopted, all of which were fallacious, and which I think it superfluous now to enumerate. But when they were given up, Octavianus Augustus, in imitation of the Greeks, corrected these disorderly arrangements and put an end to these fluctuations, after great deliberation fixing the duration of the year at twelve months and six hours, during which the sun with its perpetual movement runs through the whole twelve signs, and concludes the period of a whole year.

14This rule of the bissextile year, Rome, which is destined to endure to the end of time, established with the aid of the heavenly Deity. Now let us return to our history.

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