The History, 28.2

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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2Valentinian having several great and useful projects in his head, began to fortify the entire banks of the Rhine, from its beginning in the Tyrol to the straits of the ocean, with vast works; raising lofty castles and fortresses, and a perfect range of towers in every suitable place, so as to protect the whole frontier of Gaul; and sometimes, by constructing works on the other side of the river, he almost trenched upon the territories of the enemy.

2At last considering that one fortress, of which he himself had laid the very foundations, though sufficiently high and safe, yet, being built on the very edge of the river Neckar, was liable to be gradually undermined by the violent beating of its waters, he formed a plan to divert the river itself into another channel; and, having sought out some workmen who were skilful in such works and collected a strong military force, he began that arduous labour.

3Day after day large masses of oaken beams were fastened together, and thrown into the channel, and by them huge piles were continually fixed and unfixed, being all thrown into disorder by the rising of the stream, and afterwards they were broken and carried away by the current.

4However, the resolute diligence of the emperor and the labour of the obedient soldiery prevailed; though the troops were often up to their chins in the water while at work; and at last, though not without considerable risk, the fixed camp was protected against all danger from the violence of the current, and is still safe and strong.

5Joyful and exulting in this success, the emperor, perceiving that the weather and the season of the year did not allow him any other occupation, like a good and active prince began to apply his attention to the general affairs of the republic. And thinking the time very proper for completing one work which he had been meditating, he began with all speed to raise a fortification on the other side of the Rhine, on Mount Piri, a spot which belongs to the barbarians. And as rapidity of action was one great means of executing this design with safety, he sent orders to the Duke Arator, through Syagrius, who was then a secretary, but who afterwards became prefect and consul, to attempt to make himself master of this height in the dead of the night.

6The duke at once crossed over with the secretary, as he was commanded; and was beginning to employ the soldiers whom he had brought with him to dig out the foundations, when he received a successor, Hermogenes. At the very same moment there arrived some nobles of the Allemanni, fathers of the hostages, whom, in accordance with our treaty, we were detaining as important pledges for the long continuance of the peace.

7And they, with bended knees entreated him not to let the Romans, with an improvident disregard of all safety (they whose fortune their everlasting good faith had raised to the skies), now be misled by a base error to trample all former agreements under foot, and attempt an act unworthy of them.

8But since it was to no purpose that they used these and similar arguments, as they were not listened to, and finding that they had no chance of a conciliatory answer, they reluctantly returned, bewailing the loss of their sons; and when they were gone, from a secret hiding-place in a neighbouring hill a troop of barbarians sprang forth, waiting, as far as was understood, for the answer which was to be given to the nobles; and attacking our half-naked soldiers, who were carrying loads of earth, drew their swords and quickly slew them, and with them the two generals.

9Nor was any one left to relate what had happened, except Syagrius, who, after they were all destroyed returned to the court, where by the sentence of his offended emperor he was dismissed the service; on which he retired to his own home; being judged by the severe decision of the prince to have deserved this sentence because he was the only one who escaped.

10Meanwhile the wicked fury of bands of robbers raged through Gaul to the injury of many persons; since they occupied the most frequented roads, and without any hesitation seized upon everything valuable which came in their way. Besides many other persons who were the victims of these treacherous attacks, Constantianus, the tribune of the stable, was attacked by a secret ambuscade and slain; he was a relation of Valentinian, and the brother of Cerealis and Justina.

11In other countries, as if the Furies were stirring up similar evils to afflict us on every side, the Maratocupreni, those most cruel banditti, spread their ravages in every direction. They were the natives of a town of the same name in Syria, near Apamea; very numerous, marvellously skilful in every kind of deceit, and an object of universal fear, because, under the character of merchants or soldiers of high rank, they spread themselves quietly over the country, and then pillaged all the wealthy houses, villages, and towns which came in their way.

12Nor could any one guard against their unexpected attacks; since they fell not upon any previously selected victim, but in places in various parts, and at great distances, and carried their devastations wherever the wind led them. For which reason the Saxons were feared beyond all other enemies, because of the suddenness of their attacks. They then, in bands of sworn comrades, destroyed the riches of many persons; and being under the impulse of absolute fury, they committed the most mournful slaughters, being not less greedy of blood than of booty. Nevertheless, that I may not, by entering into too minute details, impede the progress of my history, it will be sufficient to relate one destructive device of theirs.

13A body of these wicked men assembled in one place, pretending to be the retinue of a receiver of the revenue, or of the governor of the province. In the darkness of the evening they entered the city, while the crier made a mournful proclamation, and attacked with swords the house of one of the nobles, as if he had been proscribed and sentenced to death. They seized all his valuable furniture, because his servants, being utterly bewildered by the suddenness of the danger, did not defend the house; they slew several of them, and then before the return of daylight withdrew with great speed.

14But being loaded with a great quantity of plunder, since from their love of booty they had left nothing behind, they were intercepted by a movement of the emperor’s troop, and were cut off and all slain to a man. And their children, who were at the time very young, were also destroyed to prevent their growing up in the likeness of their fathers; and their houses which they had built with great splendour at the expense of the misery of others, were all pulled down. These things happened in the order in which they have been related.

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