The History, 26.8

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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8Another fortunate circumstance occurred to swell the prosperity of the rebels. A tribune named Rumitalca, who had joined the partisans of Procopius, having been intrusted with the guard of the palace, digested a plan, and after mingling with the soldiers, passed over by sea to the town formerly known as Drepanum, but now as Helenopolis, and thence marched upon Nicæa, and made himself master of it before any one dreamt of such a step.

2Valens sent Vadomarius, who had formerly been duke and king of the Allemanni, with a body of troops experienced in that kind of work, to besiege Nicæa, and proceeded himself to Nicomedia; and passing on from that city, he pressed the siege of Chalcedon with all his might; but the citizens poured reproaches on him from the walls, calling him Sabaiarius, or beer-drinker. Now Sabai is a drink made of barley or other grain, and is used only by poor people in Illyricum.

3At last, being worn out by the scarcity of supplies and the exceeding obstinacy of the garrison, he was preparing to raise the siege, when the garrison who were shut up in Nicæa suddenly opened the gates and issued forth, destroying a great portion of the works of the besiegers, and under the command of the faithful Rumitalca hastened on eagerly in the hope of cutting off Valens, who had not yet quitted the suburb of Chalcedon. And they would have succeeded in their attempt if he had not learnt the imminence of his danger from some rumour, and eluded the enemy who were pressing on his track, by departing with all speed by a road lying between the lake Sunon and the winding course of the river Gallus. And through this circumstance Bithynia also fell into the hands of Procopius.

4When Valens had returned by forced marches from this city to Ancyra, and had learnt that Lupicinus was approaching with no inconsiderable force from the East, he began to entertain better hopes, and sent Arinthæus as his most approved general to encounter the enemy.

5And when Arinthæus reached Dadastana, where we have mentioned that Jovian died, he suddenly saw in his front, Hyperechius, who had previously been only a subaltern, but who now, as a trusty friend, had received from Procopius the command of the auxiliary forces. And thinking it no credit to defeat in battle a man of no renown, relying on his authority and on his lofty personal stature, he shouted out a command to the enemy themselves to take and bind their commander; they obeyed, and so this mere shadow of a general was arrested by the hands of his own men.

6In the interim, a man of the name of Venustus, who had been an officer of the treasury under Valens, and who had some time before been sent to Nicomedia, to distribute pay to the soldiers who were scattered over the East, when he heard of this disaster, perceived that the time was unfavourable for the execution of his commission, and repaired in haste to Cyzicus with the money which he had with him.

7There, as it happened, he met Serenianus, who was at that time the count of the guards, and who had been sent to protect the treasury, and who now, with a garrison collected in a hurry, had undertaken the defence of the city, which was impregnable in its walls, and celebrated also for many ancient monuments, though Procopius, in order, now that he had got possession of Bithynia, to make himself master of the Hellespont, had sent a strong force to besiege it.

8The siege went on slowly; often numbers of the besiegers were wounded by arrows and bullets, and other missiles; and by the skill of the garrison a barrier of the strongest iron chain was thrown across the mouth of the harbour, fastened strongly to the land on each side, to prevent the ships of the enemy, which were armed with beaks, from forcing their way in.

9This boom, however, after great exertions on the part of both soldiers and generals, who were all exhausted by the fierce nature of the struggle, a tribune of the name of Aliso, an experienced and skilful warrior, cut through in the following manner:—He fastened together three vessels, and placed upon them a kind of testudo, thus,—on the benches stood a body of armed men, united together by their shields, which joined above their heads; behind them was another row, who stooped, so as to be lower; a third rank bent lower still, so as to form a regular gradation; so that the last row of all, resting on their haunches, gave the whole formation the appearance of an arch. This kind of machine is employed in contests under the walls of towns, in order that while the blows of missiles and stones fall on the slippery descent they may pass off like so much rain.

10Aliso then, being for a while defended from the shower of missiles, by his own vast strength held a log under this chain, while with a mighty blow of his axe he cut it through, so that being driven asunder, it left the broad entrance open, and thus the city was laid open unprotected to the assault of the enemy. And on this account, when, after the death of the originator of all this confusion, cruel vengeance was taken on the members of his party, the same tribune, from a recollection of his gallant action, was granted his life and allowed to retain his commission, and a long time afterwards fell in Isauria in a conflict with a band of ravagers.

11When Cyzicus was thus opened to him, Procopius hastened thither, and pardoned all who had opposed him, except Serenianus, whom he put in irons, and sent to Nicæa, to be kept in close confinement.

12And immediately he appointed the young Hormisdas (the son of the former Prince Hormisdas) proconsul intrusting him in the ancient fashion with the command both in civil and military affairs. He conducted himself, as his natural disposition prompted him, with moderation, but was almost seized by the soldiers whom Valens had sent by the difficult passes of Phrygia; he saved himself, however, by great energy, embarking on board a vessel which he kept in readiness for any emergency, carrying off also his wife, who followed him, and was nearly taken prisoner, had he not protected her under a shower of arrows. She was a lady of high family and great wealth, whose modesty and the glorious destiny reserved for her subsequently saved her husband from great dangers.

13In consequence of this victory Procopius was elated beyond measure, and not knowing that a man, however happy, if Fortune turns her wheel may become most miserable before evening, he ordered the house of Arbetio, which he had previously spared as that of one of his own partisans, to be rifled, and it was full of furniture of countless value. The reason of his indignation against Arbetio was, that though he had summoned him several times to come to him, he had deferred his audience, pleading old age and sickness.

14And this presumptuous man might, from the uncertainty in human affairs, have feared some great change; but though without any resistance he could have overrun the provinces of the East with the willing consent of the natives themselves, who, from weariness of the severe rule under which they then were, were eager for any change whatever, he indolently lingered, hoping to gain over some cities of Asia Minor, and to collect some men who were skilful in procuring gold, and who would be of use to him in future battles, which he expected would be both numerous and severe.

15Thus he was allowing himself to grow blunt, like a rusty sword; just as formerly Pescennius Niger, when repeatedly urged by the Roman people to come to their aid at a time of great extremity, lost a great deal of time in Syria, and at last was defeated by Severus in the Gulf of Issus (which is a town in Cilicia, where Alexander conquered Darius), and was put to death by a common soldier in a suburb of Antioch.

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