The History, 27.7

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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7After these transactions had been thus settled to the delight both of the prince and of the soldiers, but a few days intervened; and then Avitianus, who had been deputy, accused Mamertinus, the prefect of the prætorium, of peculation, on his return from the city whither he had gone to correct some abuses.

2And in consequence of this accusation he was replaced by Rufinus, a man accomplished in every respect, who had attained the dignity of an honourable old age, though it is true that he never let slip any opportunity of making money when he thought he could do so secretly.

3He now availed himself of his access to the emperor to obtain permission for Orfitus, who had been prefect of the city, but who was now banished, to receive back his property which had been confiscated, and return home.

4And although Valentinian was a man of undisguised ferocity, he nevertheless, at the beginning of his reign, in order to lessen the opinion of his cruelty, took all possible pains to restrain the fierce impetuosity of his disposition. But this defect increasing gradually, from having been checked for some time, presently broke out more unrestrained to the ruin of many persons; and his severity was increased by the vehemence of his anger. For wise men define passion as a lasting ulcer of the mind, and sometimes an incurable one, usually engendered from a weakness of the intellect; and they have a plausible argument for asserting this in the fact that people in bad health are more passionate than those who are well; women, than men; old men, than youths; and people in bad circumstances than the prosperous.

5About this time, among the deaths of many persons of low degree, that of Diocles, who had previously been a treasurer of Illyricum, was especially remarked; the emperor having had him burnt alive for some very slight offence, as was also the execution of Diodorus, who had previously had an honourable employment in the provinces, and also that of three officers of the vicar prefect of Italy, who were all put to death with great cruelty because the count of Italy had complained to the emperor that Diodorus had, though in a constitutional manner, implored the aid of the law against him; and that the officers, by command of the judge, served a summons on him as he was setting out on a journey, commanding him to answer to the action according to law. And the Christians at Milan to this day cherish their memory, and call the place where they were buried, the tomb of the innocents.

6Afterwards, in the affair of a certain Pannonian, named Maxentius, on account of the execution of a sentence very properly commanded by the judge to be carried out immediately, he ordered all the magistrates of these towns to be put to death, when Eupraxius, who at that time was quæstor, interposed, saying, “Be more sparing, O most pious of emperors, for those whom you command to be put to death as criminals, the Christian religion honours as martyrs, that is as persons acceptable to the deity.”

7And the prefect Florentius, imitating the salutary boldness of Eupraxius, when he heard that the emperor was in a similar manner very angry about some trifling and pardonable matter, and that he had ordered the execution of three of the magistrates in each of several cities, said to him, “And what is to be done if any town has not got so many magistrates? It will be necessary to suspend the execution there till there are a sufficient number for the purpose.”

8And besides this cruel conduct there was another circumstance horrible even to speak of, that if any one came before him protesting against being judged by a powerful enemy, and requiring that some other judge might hear his case, he always refused it; and however just the arguments of the man might be, he remitted his cause to the decision of the very judge whom he feared. And there was another very bad thing much spoken of; namely, that when it was urged that any debtor was in such absolute want as to be unable to pay anything, he used to pronounce sentence of death on him.

9But some princes do these and other similar actions with the more lofty arrogance, because they never allow their friends any opportunity of setting them right in any mistake they make, either in a plan or in its execution; while they terrify their enemies by the greatness of their power. There can be no question of mistake or error raised before men who consider whatever they choose to do to be in itself the greatest of virtues.

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