The History, 27.10

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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10About the same time, when Valentinian had gone forth on an expedition very cautiously as he fancied, a prince of the Allemanni, by name Rando, who had been for some time preparing for the execution of a plan which he had conceived, with a body of light-armed troops equipped only for a predatory expedition, surprised and stormed Mayence, which was wholly destitute of a garrison.

2And as he arrived at the time when a great solemnity of the Christian religion was being celebrated, he found no obstacle whatever in carrying off a vast multitude of both men and women as prisoners, with no small quantity of goods as booty.

3After this, for a short interval a sudden hope of brighter fortune shone upon the affairs of Rome. For as king Vithicabius, the son of Vadomarius, a bold and warlike man, though in appearance effeminate and diseased, was continually raising up the troubles of war against us, great pains were taken to have him removed by some means or other.

4And because after many attempts it was found impossible to defeat him or to procure his betrayal, his most confidential servant was tampered with by one of our men, and by his hand he lost his life; and after his death, all hostile attacks upon us were laid aside for a while. But his murderer, fearing punishment if the truth should get abroad, without delay took refuge in the Roman territory.

5After this an expedition on a larger scale than usual was projected with great care and diligence against the Allemanni, to consist of a great variety of troops: the public safety imperatively required such a measure, since the treacherous movements of that easily recruited nation were regarded with continual apprehension, while our soldiers were the more irritated, because, on account of the constant suspicion which their character awakened, at one time abject and suppliant, at another arrogant and threatening, they were never allowed to rest in peace.

6Accordingly, a vast force was collected from all quarters, well furnished with arms and supplies of provisions, and the count Sebastian having been sent for with the Illyrian and Italian legions which he commanded, as soon as the weather got warm, Valentinian, accompanied by Gratian, crossed the Rhine without resistance. Having divided the whole army into four divisions, he himself marched with the centre, while Jovinus and Severus, the two captains of the camp, commanded the divisions on each side, thus protecting the army from any sudden attack.

7And immediately under the guidance of men who knew the roads, all the approaches having been reconnoitred, the army advanced slowly through a most extensive district, the soldiers by the slowness of their march being all the more excited to wish for battle, and gnashing their teeth in a threatening manner, as if they had already found the barbarians. And as, after many days had passed, no one could be found who offered any resistance, the troops applied the devouring flame to all the houses and all the crops which were standing, with the exception of such supplies for their own magazines as the doubtful events of war compelled them to collect and store up.

8After this the emperor advanced further, with no great speed, till he arrived at a place called Solicinium, where he halted, as if he had suddenly come upon some barrier, being informed by the accurate report of his advanced guard that the barbarians were seen at a distance.

9They, seeing no way of preserving their safety unless they defended themselves by a speedy battle, trusting in their acquaintance with the country, with one consent occupied a lofty hill, abrupt and inaccessible in its rugged heights on every side except the north, where the ascent was gentle and easy. Our standards were fixed in the usual manner, and the cry, “To arms!” was raised; and the soldiers, by the command of the emperor and his generals, rested in quiet obedience, waiting for the raising of the emperor’s banner as the signal for engaging in battle.

10And because little or no time could be spared for deliberation, since on one side the impatience of the soldiers was formidable, and on the other the Allemanni were shouting out their horrid yells all around, the necessity for rapid operations led to the plan that Sebastian with his division should seize the northern side of the hill, where we have said the ascent was gentle, in which position it was expected that, if fortune favoured him, he would be able easily to destroy the flying barbarians. And when he, as had been arranged, had moved forward first, while Gratian was kept behind with the Jovian legion, that young prince being as yet of an age unfit for battle or for hard toil, Valentinian, like a deliberate and prudent general, took off his helmet, and reviewed his centuries and maniples, and not having informed any of the nobles of his secret intentions, and having sent back his numerous body of guards, went forward himself with a very small escort, whose courage and fidelity he could trust, to reconnoitre the foot of the hill, declaring (as he was always apt to think highly of his own skill) that it must be possible to find another path which led to the summit besides that which the advanced guard had reported.

11He then, as he advanced by a devious track over ground strange to him, and across pathless swamps, was very nearly being killed by the sudden attack of a band placed in an ambuscade on his flank, and being driven to extremities, only escaped by spurring his horse to a gallop in a different direction over a deep swamp, so at last, after being in the most imminent danger, he rejoined his legions. But so great had been his peril that his chamberlain, who was carrying his helmet, which was adorned with gold and precious stones, disappeared, helmet and all, while the man’s body could never be found, so that it could be known positively whether he were alive or dead.

12Then, when the men had been refreshed by rest, and the signal for battle was raised, and the clang of warlike trumpets roused their courage, two youths of prominent valour, eager to be the first to encounter the danger, dashed on with fearless impetuosity before the line of their comrades. One was of the band of Scutarii, by name Salvius, the other, Lupicinus, belonging to the Gentiles. They raised a terrible shout, brandished their spears, and when they reached the foot of the rocks, in spite of the efforts of the Allemanni to repel them, pushed steadily on to the higher ground; while behind them came the main body of the army, which following their lead over places rough with brambles and rugged, at last, after vast exertions, reached the very summit of the heights.

13Then again, with great spirit on both sides, the conflict raged with spears and swords. On our side the soldiers were more skilful in the art of war; on the other side the barbarians, ferocious but incautious, closed with them in the mighty fray; while our army extending itself, outflanked them on both sides with its overlapping wings, the enemy’s alarm being increased by our shouts, the neighing of the horses, and the clang of trumpets.

14Nevertheless they resisted with indomitable courage, and the battle was for some time undecided; both sides exerted themselves to the utmost, and death was scattered almost equally.

15At last the barbarians were beaten down by the ardour of the Romans, and being disordered and broken, were thrown into complete confusion; and as they began to retreat they were assailed with great effect by the spears and javelins of their enemies. Soon the retreat became a flight, and panting and exhausted, they exposed their backs and the back sinews of their legs and thighs to their pursuers. After many had been slain, those who fled fell into the ambuscade laid for them by Sebastian, who was posted with his reserve at the back of the mountain, and who now fell unexpectedly on their flank, and slew numbers of them, while the rest who escaped concealed themselves in the recesses of the woods.

16In this battle we also suffered no inconsiderable loss. Among those who fell was Valerian, the first officer of the domestic guards, and one of the Scutarii, named Natuspardo, a warrior of such pre-eminent courage that he might be compared to the ancient Sicinius or Sergius.

17After these transactions, accompanied with this diversity of fortune, the army went into winter quarters, and the emperor returned to Treves.

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