The History, 26.6

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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6Procopius was born and bred in Cilicia, of a noble family, and occupied an advantageous position from his youth, as being a relation of Julian who afterwards became emperor. He was very strict in his way of life and morals, reserved and silent; but both as secretary, and afterwards as tribune distinguishing himself by his services in war, and rising gradually to the highest rank. After the death of Constantius, in the changes that ensued, he, being a kinsman of the emperor, began to entertain higher aims, especially after he was admitted to the order of counts; and it became evident that if ever he were sufficiently powerful, he would be a disturber of the public peace.

2When Julian invaded Persia he left him in Mesopotamia, in command of a strong division of troops, giving him Sebastian for his colleague with equal power; and he was enjoined (as an uncertain rumour whispered, for no certain authority for the statement could be produced) to be guided by the course of events, and if he should find the republic in a languid state, and in need of further aid, to cause himself without delay to be saluted as emperor.

3Procopius executed his commission in a courteous and prudent manner; and soon afterwards heard of the mortal wound and death of Julian, and of the elevation of Jovian to the supreme authority; while at the same time an ungrounded report had got abroad that Julian with his last breath had declared that it was his will that the helm of the state should be intrusted to Procopius. He therefore, fearing that in consequence of this report he might be put to death uncondemned, withdrew from public observation; being especially alarmed after the execution of Jovian, the principal secretary, who, as he heard, had been cruelly put to death with torture, because after the death of Julian he had been named by a few soldiers as one worthy to succeed to the sovereignty, and on that account was suspected of meditating a revolution.

4And because he was aware that he was sought for with great care, he withdrew into a most remote and secret district, seeking to avoid giving offence to any one. Then, finding that his hiding-place was still sought out by Jovian with increased diligence, he grew weary of living like a wild beast (since he was not only driven from high rank to a low station, but was often in distress even for food, and deprived of all human society); so at last, under the pressure of extreme necessity, he returned by secret roads into the district of Chalcedon.

5Where, since that appeared a safer retreat, he concealed himself in the house of a trusty friend, a man of the name of Strategius, who from being an officer about the palace had risen to be a senator; crossing over at times to Constantinople whenever he could do so without being perceived; as was subsequently learnt from the evidence of this same Strategius after repeated investigations had been made into the conduct of all who were accomplices in his enterprise.

6Accordingly, like a skilful scout, since hardship and want had so altered his countenance that no one knew him, he collected the reports that were flying about, spread by many who, as the present is always grievous, accused Valens of being inflamed with a passion for seizing what belonged to others.

7An additional stimulus to his ferocity was the emperor’s father-in-law, Petronius, who, from the command of the Martensian cohort, had been suddenly promoted to be a patrician. He was a man deformed both in mind and appearance, and cruelly eager to plunder every person without distinction; torturing all, guilty and innocent, and then binding them with fourfold bonds; exacting debts due as far back as the time of the emperor Aurelian, and grieving if any one escaped without loss.

8And his natural cruelty was inflamed by this additional incentive, that as he was enriched by the sufferings of others, he was inexorable, cruel, hard hearted, and unfeeling, incapable either of doing justice or of listening to reason. He was more hated than even Cleander, who, as we read, while prefect in the time of Commodus, oppressed people of all ranks with his foolish arrogance; and more tyrannical than Plautian, who was prefect under Severus, and who with more than mortal pride would have thrown everything into confusion, if he had not been murdered out of revenge.

9The cruelties which in the time of Valens, who acted under the influence of Petronius, closed many houses both of poor men and nobles, and the fear of still worse impending, sank deep into the hearts of both the provincials and soldiers, who groaned under the same burdens; and though the prayers breathed were silent and secret, yet some change of the existing state of things by the interposition of the supreme Deity was unanimously prayed for.

10This state of affairs came home to the knowledge of Procopius, and he, thinking that if Fate were at all propitious, he might easily rise to the highest power, lay in wait like a wild beast which prepares to make its spring the moment it sees anything to seize.

11And while he was eagerly maturing his plans, the following chance gave him an opportunity which proved most seasonable. After the winter was past, Valens hastened into Syria; and when he had reached the borders of Bithynia he learnt from the accounts of the generals that the nation of the Goths, who up to that time had never come into collision with us, and who were therefore very fierce and untractable, were all with one consent preparing for an invasion of our Thracian frontier. When he heard this, in order to proceed on his own journey without hindrance, he ordered a sufficient force of cavalry and infantry to be sent into the districts in which the inroads of these barbarians were apprehended.

12Therefore, as the emperor was now at a distance, Procopius, being wearied by his protracted sufferings, and thinking even a cruel death preferable to a longer endurance of them, precipitately plunged into danger; and not fearing the last extremities, but being wrought up almost to madness, he undertook a most audacious enterprise. His desire was to win over the legions known as the Divitenses and the younger Tungricani, who were under orders to march through Thrace for the coming campaign, and, according to custom, would stop two days at Constantinople on their way; and for this object he intended to employ some of them whom he knew, thinking it safer to rely on the fidelity of a few, and dangerous and difficult to harangue the whole body.

13Those whom he selected as emissaries, being secured by the hope of great rewards, promised with a solemn oath to do everything he desired; and undertook also for the goodwill of their comrades, among whom they had great influence from their long and distinguished service.

14As was settled between them, when day broke, Procopius, agitated by all kinds of thoughts and plans, repaired to the Baths of Anastasia, so called from the sister of Constantine, where he knew these legions were stationed; and being assured by his emissaries that in an assembly which had been held during the preceding night all the men had declared their adherence to his party, he received from them a promise of safety, and was gladly admitted to their assembly; where, however, though treated with all honour by the throng of mercenary soldiers, he found himself detained almost as a hostage; for they, like the prætorians who after the death of Pertinax had accepted Julian as their emperor because he bid highest, now undertook the cause of Procopius in the hope of great gain to themselves from the unlucky reign he was planning.

15Procopius therefore stood among them, looking pale and ghost-like; and as a proper royal robe could not be found, he wore a tunic spangled with gold, like that of an officer of the palace, and the lower part of his dress like that of a boy at school; and purple shoes; he also bore a spear, and carried a small piece of purple cloth in his right hand, so that one might fancy that some theatrical figure or dramatic personification had suddenly come upon the stage.

16Being thus ridiculously put forward as if in mockery of all honours, he addressed the authors of his elevation with servile flattery, promising them vast riches and high rank as the first-fruits of his promotion; and then he advanced into the streets, escorted by a multitude of armed men; and with raised standards he prepared to proceed, surrounded by a horrid din of shields clashing with a mournful clang, as the soldiers, fearing lest they might be injured by stones or tiles from the housetops, joined them together above their heads in close order.

17As he thus advanced boldly the people showed him neither aversion nor favour; but he was encouraged by the love of sudden novelty, which is implanted in the minds of most of the common people, and was further excited by the knowledge that all men unanimously detested Petronius, who, as I have said before, was accumulating riches by all kinds of violence, reviving actions that had long been buried, and oppressing all ranks with the exaction of forgotten debts.

18Therefore when Procopius ascended the tribunal, and when, as all seemed thunderstruck and bewildered, even the gloomy silence was terrible, thinking (or, indeed, expecting) that he had only found a shorter way to death, trembling so as to be unable to speak, he stood for some time in silence. Presently when he began, with a broken and languid voice, to say a few words, in which he spoke of his relationship to the imperial family, he was met at first with but a faint murmur of applause from those whom he had bribed; but presently he was hailed by the tumultuous clamours of the populace in general as emperor, and hurried off to the senate-house, where he found none of the nobles, but only a small number of the rabble of the city; and so he went on with speed, but in an ignoble style, to the palace.

19One might marvel that this ridiculous beginning, so improvidently and rashly engaged in, should have led to melancholy disasters for the republic, if one were ignorant of previous history, and imagined that this was the first time any such thing had happened. But, in truth, it was in a similar manner that Andriscus of Adramyttium, a man of the very lowest class, assuming the name of Philip, added a third calamitous war to the previous Macedonian wars. Again, while the emperor Macrinus was at Antioch, it was then that Antoninus Heliogabalus issued forth from Emessa. Thus also Alexander, and his mother Mamæa, were put to death by the unexpected enterprise of Maximinus. And in Africa the elder Gordian was raised to the imperial authority, till, being overwhelmed with agony at the dangers which threatened him, he put an end to his life by hanging himself.

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