The History, 27.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4While the events above mentioned were taking place in Gaul and Italy, a new campaign was being prepared in Thrace. For Valens, acting on the decision of his brother, by whose will he was entirely governed, marched against the Goths, having a just cause of complaint against them, because at the beginning of the late civil war they had sent assistance to Procopius. It will here be desirable to say a few words of the origin of this people, and the situation of their country.

2The description of Thrace would be easy if the pens of ancient authors agreed on the subject; but as the obscurity and variety of their accounts is of but little assistance to a work which professes to tell the truth, it will be sufficient for us to record what we remember to have seen ourselves.

3The undying authority of Homer informs us that these countries were formerly extended over an immense space of tranquil plains and high rising grounds; since that poet represents both the north and the west wind as blowing from thence: a statement which is either fabulous, or else which shows that the extensive district inhabited by all those savage tribes was formerly included under the single name of Thrace.

4Part of this region was inhabited by the Scordisci, who now live at a great distance from these provinces; a race formerly savage and uncivilized, as ancient history proves, sacrificing their prisoners to Bellona and Mars, and drinking with eagerness human blood out of skulls. Their ferocity engaged the Roman republic in many wars; and on one occasion led to the destruction of an entire army with its general.

5But we see that the country now, the district being in the form of a crescent, resembles a splendid theatre; it is bounded on the west by mountains, on the abrupt summit of which are the thickly wooded passes of the Succi, which separate Thrace from Dacia.

6On the left, or northern side, the heights of the Balkan form the boundary, as in one part does the Danube also, where it touches the Roman territory: a river with many cities, fortresses, and castles on its banks.

7On the right, or southern side, lies Mount Rhodope; on the east, the country is bounded by a strait, which becomes more rapid from being swollen by the waters of the Euxine sea, and proceeds onwards with its tides towards the Ægean, separating the continents of Europe and Asia by a narrow space.

8At a confined corner on the eastward it joins the frontier of Macedonia by a strait and precipitous defile named Acontisma; near to which are the valley and station of Arethusa, where one may see the tomb of Euripides, illustrious for his sublime tragedies; and Stagira, where we are told that Aristotle, who as Cicero says pours from his mouth a golden stream, was born.

9In ancient times, tribes of barbarians occupied these countries, differing from each other in customs and language. The most formidable of which, from their exceeding ferocity, were the Odrysæans, men so accustomed to shed human blood, that when they could not find enemies enough, they would, at their feasts, when they had eaten and drunk to satiety, stab their own bodies as if they belonged to others.

10But as the republic grew in strength while the authority of the consular form of government prevailed, Marcus Didius, with great perseverance, attacked these tribes which had previously been deemed invincible, and had roved about without any regard either to divine or human laws. Drusus compelled them to confine themselves to their own territories; Minucius defeated them in a great battle on the river Maritza, which flows down from the lofty mountains of the Odrysæans; and after those exploits, the rest of the tribes were almost destroyed in a terrible battle by Appius Claudius the proconsul. And the Roman fleets made themselves masters of the towns on the Bosporus, and on the coast of the Sea of Marmora.

11After these generals came Lucullus; who was the first of all our commanders who fought with the warlike nation of the Bessi: and with similar vigour he crushed the mountaineers of the district of the Balkan, in spite of their obstinate resistance. And while he was in that country the whole of Thrace was brought under the power of our ancestors, and in this way, after many doubtful campaigns, six provinces were added to the republic.

12Of these provinces the first one comes to, that which borders on the Illyrians, is called by the especial name of Thrace; its chief cities are Philippopolis, the ancient Eumolpias, and Beræa; both splendid cities. Next to this the province of the Balkan boasts of Hadrianople, which used to be called Uscudama, and Anchialos, both great cities. Next comes Mysia, in which is Marcianopolis, so named from the sister of the emperor Trajan, also Dorostorus, and Nicopolis, Odyssus.

13Next comes Scythia, in which the chief towns are Dionysiopolis, Tomis, and Calatis. The last of all is Europa; which besides many municipal towns has two principal cities, Apri and Perinthus, which in later times has received the name of Heraclea. Beyond this is Rhodope, in which are the cities of Maximianopolis, Maronea, and Ænus, after founding and leaving which, it was thought Æneas proceeded onwards to Italy, of which, after long wanderings, he became master, expecting by the auspices to enjoy there perpetual prosperity.

14But it is certain, as the invariable accounts of all writers represent, that these tribes were nearly all agricultural, and, that living on the high mountains in these regions above mentioned, they are superior to us in health, vigour, and length of life; and they believe that this superiority arises from the fact, that in their food they for the most part abstain from all that is hot; also that the constant dews besprinkle their persons with a cold and bracing moisture, and that they enjoy the freshness of a purer atmosphere; and that they are the first of all tribes to feel the rays of the morning sun, which are instinct with life, before they become tainted with any of the foulness arising from human things. Having discussed this matter let us now return to our original narrative.

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