The History, 26.10

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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10About the same time, his kinsman Marcellus, an officer of the guard, who commanded the garrison of Nicæa, hearing of the treachery of the soldiers and the death of Procopius, attacked Serenianus, who was confined in the palace, unexpectedly at midnight, and put him to death. And his death was the safety of many.

2For if he, a man of rude manners, bitter temper, and a love of injuring people, had survived Valens’s victory, having also great influence with Valens from the similarity of his disposition and the proximity of their birthplaces, he would have studied the secret inclinations of a prince always inclined to cruelty, and would have shed the blood of many innocent persons.

3Having killed him, Marcellus by a rapid march seized on Chalcedon, and with the aid of a few people, whom the lowness of their condition and despair urged to crime, obtained a shadow of authority which proved fatal to him, being deceived by two circumstances, because he thought that the three thousand Goths who, after their kings had been conciliated, had been sent to aid Procopius, who had prevailed on them to support him by pleading his relationship to Constantine, would at a small cost be easily won over to support him, and also because he was ignorant of what had happened in Illyricum.

4While these alarming events were taking place, Equitius, having learnt by trustworthy reports from his scouts that the whole stress of the war was now to be found in Asia, passed through the Succi, and made a vigorous attempt to take Philippopolis, the ancient Eumolpias, which was occupied by a garrison of the enemy. It was a city in a most favourable position, and likely to prove an obstacle to his approach if left in his rear, and if he, while conducting reinforcements to Valens (for he was not yet acquainted with what had happened at Nacolia), should be compelled to hasten to the district around Mount Hæmus.

5But when, a few days later, he heard of the foolish usurpation of Marcellus, he sent against him a body of bold and active troops, who seized him as a mischievous slave, and threw him into prison. From which, some days afterwards, he was brought forth, scourged severely with his accomplices, and put to death, having deserved favour by no action of his life except that he had slain Serenianus, a man as cruel as Phalaris, and faithful only in barbarity, which he displayed on the slightest pretext.

6The war being now at an end by the death of the leader, many were treated with much greater severity than their errors or faults required, especially the defenders of Philippopolis, who would not surrender the city or themselves till they saw the head of Procopius, which was conveyed to Gaul.

7Some, however, by the influence of intercessors, received mercy, the most eminent of whom was Araxius, who, when the crisis was at its height, had applied for and obtained the office of prefect. He, by the intercession of his son-in-law Agilo, was punished only by banishment to an island, from which he soon afterwards escaped.

8But Euphrasius and Phronemius were sent to the west to be at the disposal of Valentinian. Euphrasius was acquitted, but Phronemius was transported to the Chersonesus, being punished more severely than the other, though their case was the same, because he had been a favourite with the late emperor Julian, whose memorable virtues the two brothers now on the throne joined in disparaging, though they were neither like nor equal to him.

9To these severities other grievances of greater importance, and more to be dreaded than any sufferings in battle, were added. For the executioner, and the rack, and bloody modes of torture, now attacked men of every rank, class, or fortune, without distinction. Peace seemed as a pretext for establishing a detestable tribunal, while all men cursed the ill-omened victory that had been gained as worse than the most deadly war.

10For amid arms and trumpets the equality of every one’s chance makes danger seem lighter; and often the might of martial valour obtains what it aims at; or else a sudden death, if it befalls a man, is attended by no feeling of ignominy, but brings an end to life and to suffering at the same time. When, however, laws and statutes are put forth as pretexts for wicked counsels, and judges, affecting the equity of Cato or Cassius, sit on the bench, though in fact everything is done at the discretion of over-arrogant power, on the whim of which every man’s life or death depends, the mischief is fatal and incurable.

11For at this time any one might go to the palace on any pretext, and if he were inflamed with a desire of appropriating the goods of others, though the person he accused might be notoriously innocent, he was received by the emperor as a friend to be trusted and deserving to be enriched at the expense of others.

12For the emperor was quick to inflict injury, always ready to listen to informers, admitting the most deadly accusations, and exulting unrestrainedly in the diversity of punishments devised; ignorant of the expression of Tully, which teaches us that those men are unhappy who think themselves privileged to do everything.

13This implacability, unworthy of a just cause, and disgracing his victory, exposed many innocent men to the torturers, crushing them beneath the rack, or slaying them by the stroke of the fierce executioner. Men who, if nature had permitted, would rather have lost ten lives in battle than be thus tortured while guiltless of all crime, having their estates confiscated, as if guilty of treason, and their bodies mutilated before death, which is the most bitter kind of death.

14At last, when his ferocity was exhausted by his cruelties, men of the highest rank were still exposed to proscription, banishment, and other punishments which, though severe, appear lighter to some people. And in order to enrich some one else, men of noble birth, and perhaps still more richly endowed with virtues, were stripped of their patrimony and driven into exile, where they were exhausted with misery, perhaps being even reduced to subsist by beggary. Nor was any limit put to the cruelties which were inflicted till both the prince and those about him were satiated with plunder and bloodshed.

15While the usurper, whose various acts and death we have been relating, was still alive, on the 21st of July, in the first consulship of Valentinian and his brother, fearful dangers suddenly overspread the whole world, such as are related in no ancient fables or histories.

16For a little before sunrise there was a terrible earthquake, preceded by incessant and furious lightning. The sea was driven backwards, so as to recede from the land, and the very depths were uncovered, so that many marine animals were left sticking in the mud. And the depths of its valleys and the recesses of the hills, which from the very first origin of all things had been lying beneath the boundless waters, now beheld the beams of the sun.

17Many ships were stranded on the dry shore, while people straggling about the shoal water picked up fishes and things of that kind in their hands. In another quarter the waves, as if raging against the violence with which they had been driven back, rose, and swelling over the boiling shallows, beat upon the islands and the extended coasts of the mainland, levelling cities and houses wherever they encountered them. All the elements were in furious discord, and the whole face of the world seemed turned upside down, revealing the most extraordinary sights.

18For the vast waves subsided when it was least expected, and thus drowned many thousand men. Even ships were swallowed up in the furious currents of the returning tide, and were seen to sink when the fury of the sea was exhausted; and the bodies of those who perished by shipwreck floated about on their backs or faces.

19Other vessels of great size were driven on shore by the violence of the wind, and cast upon the housetops, as happened at Alexandria; and some were even driven two miles inland, of which we ourselves saw one in Laconia, near the town of Mothone, which was lying and rotting where it had been driven.

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