The History, 28.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5In the third consulship of the emperors a vast multitude of Saxons burst forth, and having crossed the difficult passage of the ocean, made towards the Roman frontier by rapid marches, having before often battened on the slaughter of our men. The first storm of this invasion fell upon the count Nannenus, who was in command in that district, being a veteran general of great merit and experience.

2He now engaged in battle with a host which fought as if resolved on death; but when he found that he had lost many of his men, and that he himself, having been wounded, would be unequal to a succession of battles, he sent word to the emperor of what was necessary, and prevailed on him to send Severus, the commander of the infantry, to aid him at this crisis.

3That general brought with him a sufficient body of troops, and when he arrived in the country he so arrayed his men that he terrified the barbarians, and threw them into such disorder, even before any battle took place, that they did not venture to engage him, but, panic-stricken at the brilliant appearance of the standards and eagles, they implored pardon and peace.

4The question of granting it to them was long discussed, with variety of opinion, between the Roman commanders; but at last, as it seemed for the advantage of the republic, a truce was granted, and after they had agreed to the conditions proposed, one of which was that they should furnish a number of young men suitable for military service, the Saxons were permitted to withdraw, but without their baggage, and to return to their own country.

5But when they, being now freed from all fear, were preparing to return, some of our infantry were sent forward, who secretly laid an ambuscade in a certain hidden defile, from which they would easily be able to attack them as they passed. But the matter turned out very differently from what was expected.

6For some of our men being roused by the noise of the Saxons, sprang from their ambush unseasonably; and being suddenly seen, while they were hastening to establish themselves, the barbarians, with a terrible yell, put them to flight. Presently, however, they halted in a solid body, and being now driven to extremities, were compelled to fight, though their strength was far from great. The slaughter was great, and they would have been all cut off to a man, had not a column of cuirassier cavalry, which had been similarly placed in ambuscade at a place where the road divided, in order there also to attack the barbarians in their passage, been roused by the uproar, and come up suddenly.

7Then the battle raged more fiercely, and with dauntless breasts the Romans pressed forward on all sides, and with drawn swords hemmed in their enemies, and slew them; nor did any of them ever return home, for not one survived the slaughter. And although an impartial judge will blame the action as treacherous and disgraceful, still if he weighs all the circumstances, he will not regret that a mischievous band of robbers was at length destroyed when such an opportunity presented itself.

8After these affairs had been consummated thus successfully, Valentinian revolving in his mind a great variety of opinions, was filled with anxious solicitude, considering and contemplating different measures for breaking the pride of the Allemanni and their king Macrianus, who were incessantly and furiously disturbing the republic with their restless movements.

9For that ferocious nation, though from its earliest origin diminished by various disasters, yet continually revives, so that it might be considered as having been free from attacks for many ages. At last, after the emperor had considered and approved of one plan after another, it was finally determined to excite the Burgundians to attack them, the Burgundians being a warlike people, with an immense population of active youths, and therefore formidable to all their neighbours.

10And the emperor sent repeated letters to their chiefs by some silent and trustworthy messengers, to urge them to attack the Allemanni at a certain fixed time, and promising that he likewise would cross the Rhine with the Roman legions, and attack their forces when in disorder, and seeking to escape the unexpected attack of the Burgundians.

11The letters of the emperor were received with joy, for two reasons: first, because for many ages the Burgundians had looked upon themselves as descended from the Romans; and secondly, because they had continual quarrels with the Allemanni about their salt-pits and their borders. So they sent against them some picked battalions, which, before the Roman soldiers could be collected, advanced as far as the banks of the Rhine, and, while the emperor was engaged in the construction of some fortresses, caused the greatest alarm to our people.

12Therefore, after waiting for some time, Valentinian having failed to come on the appointed day as promised, and finding that none of his engagements were performed, they sent ambassadors to the court, requesting assistance to enable them to return in safety to their own land, and to save them from exposing their rear unprotected to their enemies.

13But when they perceived that their request was virtually refused by the excuses and pleas for delay with which it was received, they departed from the court in sorrow and indignation; and when the chiefs of the Burgundians received their report, they were very furious, thinking they had been mocked; and so they slew all their prisoners and returned to their native land.

14Among them their king is called by one general name of “Hendinos,” and according to a very ancient custom of theirs, is deposed from his authority if under his government the state meets with any disaster in war; or if the earth fails to produce a good crop; in the same way as the Egyptians are accustomed to attribute calamities of that kind to their rulers. The chief priest among the Burgundians is called “the Sinistus.” But he is irremovable and not exposed to any such dangers as the kings.

15Taking advantage of this favourable opportunity, Theodosius, the commander of the cavalry, passed through the Tyrol and attacked the Allemanni, who, out of fear of the Burgundians, had dispersed into their villages. He slew a great number, and took some prisoners, whom by the emperor’s command he sent to Italy, where some fertile districts around the Po were assigned to them, which they still inhabit as tributaries.

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