The History, 29.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1At the conclusion of the winter, Sapor, king of Persia, being full of cruelty and arrogance from the confidence engendered by his former battles, having completed his army to its full number, and greatly strengthened it, sent out a force of cuirassiers, archers, and mercenary troops, to make an invasion of our territories.

2Against this force, Count Trajan and Vadomarius, the ex-king of the Allemanni, advanced with a mighty army, having been enjoined by the emperor to remember his orders to act on the defensive rather than on the offensive against the Persians.

3When they arrived at Vagabanta, a place well suited for the manœuvres of the legions, they supported against their will a rapid charge which was made upon them by the squadrons of the enemy, and retreated with the design not to be the first to slay any of the hostile soldiers, and not to be looked upon as guilty of having broken the treaty. At last, under the pressure of extreme necessity, they came to an engagement with the barbarians, and after having slain a great number of them, were victorious.

4During the cessation of regular operations which ensued, several slight skirmishes occurred through the impatience of both armies, which ended with different results; and at last the summer ended, and a truce was agreed to by common consent, and the two armies separated, though the generals were violently inflamed against each other. The king of Parthia, intending to pass the winter at Ctesiphon, returned to his own home, and the Roman emperor went to Antioch; and while he tarried there, in complete security from foreign enemies, he had very nearly perished through domestic treachery, as shall be related in the coming narrative.

5A certain Procopius, a restless man, at all times covetous and fond of disturbances, had persuaded Anatolius and Spudasius, officers about the palace, who had been ordered to restore what they had appropriated from the treasury, to bring a plot against the Count Fortunatianus, who was especially obnoxious as being represented to be the principal demander of this restitution. He, being a man of naturally harsh temper, was thereupon inflamed almost to insanity, and exercising the authority of the office which he filled, he delivered up to trial before the tribunal of the prefect a person of the lowest birth, named Palladius, for being a poisoner in the train of Anatolius and Spudasius; Heliodorus, also an interpreter of the Fates from the events which happened at any one’s birth; with the intent that they should be compelled by torture to relate all that they knew.

6And when they came with rigid scrutiny to inquire into what had been done or attempted, Palladius boldly exclaimed, that the matters now under investigation were trivial, and such as might well be passed over; that he himself, if he might be allowed to speak, could bring forward some circumstances both formidable and more important, which, having been prepared with great exertion, would throw everything into confusion, if they were not provided against beforehand. Being ordered to explain without fear all he knew, he made a deposition at great length, affirming that Fidustius the president, and Pergamius and Irenæus, had secretly learnt, by the detestable arts of magic, the name of the person who should become emperor after Valens.

7Fidustius was at once arrested (for he happened by chance be on the spot), and being brought secretly before the emperor, when confronted with the informer, he did not attempt by any denial to throw a doubt on what was already revealed, but laid open the whole of this wretched plot; confessing in plain words, that he himself, with Hilarius and Patricius, men skilled in the art of soothsaying, of whom Hilarius had filled high offices in the palace, had held consultations about the future possessors of the empire; that by secret arts they had searched into the Fates, which had revealed to them the name of an excellent emperor, admonishing them at the same time that a miserable end awaited the investigators of these omens.

8And while they were hesitating, unable to decide who at that moment was superior to all other men in vigour of mind, Theodorus appeared to excel all the rest, a man who had already arrived at the second class of secretaries. And in truth he deserved the opinion which they entertained of him; for he was descended from an ancient and illustrious family in Gaul; he had been liberally educated from his earliest childhood; he was eminent for modesty, prudence, humanity, courtesy, and literature. He always appeared superior to the post or place which he was filling, and was equally popular among high and low, and he was nearly the only man whose tongue was never unbridled, but who always reflected on what he was going to say, yet without ever being restrained by any fear of danger.

9Fidustius, who had been tortured so severely that he was at the point of death, added further, that all that he had now stated he had communicated to Theodorus by the intervention of Eucærius, a man of great literary accomplishments, and of very high reputation; indeed, he had a little time before governed Asia with the title of proprefect.

10Eucærius was now thrown into prison; and when a report of all that had taken place was, as usual, laid before the emperor, his amazing ferocity burst out more unrestrainedly than ever, like a burning firebrand, being fed by the base adulation of many persons, and especially of Modestus, at that time prefect of the prætorium.

11He, being every day alarmed at the prospect of a successor, addressed himself to the task of conciliating Valens, who was of a rustic and rather simple character, by tickling him with all kinds of disguised flattery and caresses, calling his uncouth language and rude expressions “flowers of Ciceronian eloquence.” Indeed, to raise his vanity higher, he would have promised to raise him up to the stars if he had desired it.

12So Theodorus also was ordered to be arrested with all speed at Constantinople, to which city he had repaired on some private business, and to be brought to the court. And while he was on his way back, in consequence of various informations and trials which were carried on day and night, numbers of people were dragged away from the most widely separated countries—men eminent for their birth and high authority.

13The public prisons, being now completely filled, could no longer contain the crowds which were confined in them, while private houses were equally crammed to suffocation, for nearly every one was a prisoner, and every man shuddered to think when it might be his turn or that of his nearest relations.

14At last Theodorus himself arrived, in deep mourning, and half dead through fear. And while he was kept concealed in some obscure place in the vicinity, and all things were being got ready for his intended examination, the trumpet of civil discord suddenly sounded.

15And because that man who knowingly passes over facts appears to be an equally unfaithful historian with him who invents circumstances which never happened, we do not deny (what, in fact, is quite undoubted) that the safety of Valens had often before been attacked by secret machinations, and was now in the greatest possible danger. And that a sword, as one may say, was presented to his throat by the officers of the army, and only averted by Fate, which was reserving him for lamentable misfortunes in Thrace.

16For one day as he was taking a gentle nap in the afternoon, in a shady spot between Antioch and Seleucia, he was attacked by Sallust, at that time an officer of the Scutarii; and on various other occasions he was plotted against by many other persons, from whose treacherous designs he only escaped because the precise moment of his death had been determined at his birth by Destiny.

17As sometimes happened in the times of the emperors Commodus and Severus, whose safety was continually assailed with extreme violence, so that after many various dangers at the hands of their countrymen, the one was dangerously wounded by a dagger in the amphitheatre, as he entered it for the purpose of witnessing an entertainment, by a senator named Quintianus, a man of wicked ambition. The other, when extremely old, was assailed as he was lying in his bedchamber, by a centurion of the name of Saturninus, who was instigated to the act by Plautian the prefect, and would have been killed if his youthful son had not come to his assistance.

18Valens, therefore, was to be excused for taking every precaution to defend his life, which traitors were endeavouring to take. But it was an unpardonable fault in him that, through tyrannical pride, he, with haste and with inconsiderate and malicious persecution, inflicted the same severities on the innocent as on the guilty, making no distinction between their deserts; so that while the judges were still doubting about their guilt, the emperor had made up his mind about their punishment, and men learnt that they were condemned before they knew that they were suspected.

19But his obstinate resolution was strengthened since it received a spur from his own avarice, and that also of those who at that time were about the palace, and were constantly seeking new sources of gain; while if on any rare occasion any mention was made of humanity, they styled it slackness; and by their bloodthirsty flatteries perverted the resolution of a man who bore men’s lives on the tip of his tongue, guiding it in the worst direction, and assailing everything with unseemly confusion, while seeking to accomplish the total ruin of the most opulent houses.

20For Valens was a man who was especially exposed and open to the approaches of treacherous advisers, being tainted with two vices of a most mischievous character: one, that when he was ashamed of being angry, that very shame only rendered him the more intolerably furious; and secondly, that the stories which, with the easiness of access of a private individual, he heard in secret whispers, he took at once to be true and certain, because his haughty idea of the imperial dignity did not permit him to examine whether they were true or not.

21The consequence was that, under an appearance of clemency, numbers of innocent men were driven from their homes, and sent into exile: and their property was confiscated to the public treasury, and then seized by himself for his private uses; so that the owners, after their condemnation, had no means of subsistence but such as they could beg; and were worn out with the distresses of the most miserable poverty. For fear of which that wise old poet Theognis advises a man to rush even into the sea.

22And even if any one should grant that these sentences were in some instances right, yet it surely was an odious severity; and from this conduct of his it was remarked that the maxim was sound which says, “that there is no sentence more cruel than that which, while seeming to spare, is still harsh.”

23Therefore all the chief magistrates and the prefect of the prætorium, to whom the conduct of these investigations was committed, having been assembled together, the racks were got ready, and the weights, and lead, and scourges, and other engines of torture. And all places resounded with the horrors of the cruel voice of the executioners, and the cries uttered amid the clanking of chains: “Hold him!” “Shut him up!” “Squeeze him!” “Hide him!” and other yells uttered by the ministers of those hateful duties.

24And since we saw numbers condemned to death after having endured cruel torture, everything being thrown into complete confusion as if in perfect darkness, because the complete recollection of everything which then took place has in some degree escaped me, I will mention briefly what I do remember.

25Among the first who were summoned before the bench, was Pergamius, who, as we have already mentioned, was betrayed by Palladius, who accused him of having arrived at a foreknowledge of certain events through wicked incantations. As he was a man of exceeding eloquence, and very likely to say dangerous things, and after some very trivial interrogatories had been put to him, seeing that the judges were hesitating what questions to put first and what last, he began himself to harangue them boldly, and shouting out the names with a loud voice and without any cessation, he named several thousand persons as accomplices with himself, demanding that people should be brought forward to be accused of great crimes from every part of the empire, up to the very shores of the great Atlantic. The task that he thus seemed to be putting together for them was too arduous; so they condemned him to death; and afterwards put whole troops of others to death, till they came to the case of Theodorus, which was regarded, after the manner of the Olympian games, as a crowning of the whole.

26The same day, among other circumstances, this melancholy event took place, that Salia, who a little while before had been the chief treasurer in Thrace, when he was about to be brought out of his prison to have his cause heard, and was putting on his shoes, as if suddenly overwhelmed by the dread of his impending destruction, died in the hands of his gaolers.

27So when the court was opened, and when the judges exhibited the decrees of the law, though, in accordance with the desire of the emperor, they moderated the severity of the charges brought before them, one general alarm seized all people. For Valens had now so wholly departed from justice, and had become so accomplished in the infliction of injury, that he was like a wild beast in an amphitheatre; and if any one who had been brought before the court escaped, he grew furious beyond all restraint.

28Presently Patricius and Hilarius were brought before the court, and were ordered to enumerate the whole series of their actions: and as they differed a little at the beginning of their statement, they were both put to the torture, and presently the tripod which they had used was brought in; and they, being reduced now to the greatest extremity, gave a true account of the whole affair from the very beginning. And first Hilarius spoke as follows:—

29“We did construct, most noble judges, under most unhappy auspices, this little unfortunate tripod which you see, in the likeness of that at Delphi, making it of laurel twigs: and having consecrated it with imprecations of mysterious verses, and with many decorations and repeated ceremonies, in all proper order, we at last moved it; and the manner in which we moved it as often as we consulted it upon any secret affair, was as follows:—

30“It was placed in the middle of a building, carefully purified on all sides by Arabian perfumes; and a plain round dish was placed upon it, made of different metals. On the outer side of which the four-and-twenty letters of the alphabet were engraved with great skill, being separated from one another by distances measured with great precision.

31“Then a person clothed in linen garments, and shod with slippers of linen, with a small linen cap on his head, bearing in his hand sprigs of vervain as a plant of good omen, in set verses, propitiated the deity who presides over foreknowledge, and thus took his station by this dish, according to all the rules of the ceremony. Then over the tripod he balanced a ring which he held suspended by a flaxen thread of extreme fineness, and which had also been consecrated with mystic ceremonies. And as this ring touched and bounded off from the different letters which still preserved their distances distinct, he made with these letters, by the order in which he touched them, verses in the heroic metre, corresponding to the questions which we had asked; the verses being also perfect in metre and rhythm; like the answers of the Pythia which are so celebrated, or those given by the oracles of the Branchidæ.

32“Then, when we asked who should succeed the present emperor, since it was said that it would be a person of universal accomplishments, the ring bounded up, and touched the two syllables ΘΕΟ; and then as it added another letter, some one of the bystanders exclaimed that Theodorus was pointed out by the inevitable decrees of Fate. We asked no further questions concerning the matter: for it seemed quite plain to us that he was the man who was intended.”

33And when he had with this exactness laid the knowledge of this affair open to the eyes of the judges, he added with great benevolence, that Theodorus knew nothing of the matter. When after this they were asked whether the oracles which they had consulted had given them any foreknowledge of their present sufferings, they repeated these well-known verses which clearly pronounce that this employment of investigating those high secrets would cost them their lives. Nevertheless, they added, that the Furies equally threatened the judges themselves, and also the emperor, breathing only slaughter and conflagration against them. It will be enough to quote the three final verses.

“Οὐ μὰν νηποινίγε σὸν ἔσσεται αἷμα, καὶ αὐτοῖς
Τισφόνη βαρύμηνις ἐφοπλίζει κανιὸν οῖτον
Ἔν πεδίοισι Μίμαντος ἀλαλεμένοισιν ἄρηα.”
“Thy blood shall not fall unaveng’d on earth:
The fierce Tisiphone still keeps her eye
Fixed on thy slayers; arming evil fate
Against them when arrayed on Mima’s plain
They seek to stem the tide of horrid war.”
When he had read these verses they were both tortured with great severity, and carried away dead.

34Afterwards, that the whole workshop where the wickedness had been wrought might be disclosed to the world, a great number of men of rank were brought in, among whom were some of the original promoters of the whole business. And when each, regarding nothing but his own personal safety, sought to turn the destruction which menaced himself in some other quarter, by the permission of the judges, Theodorus began to address them. First of all, he humbled himself with entreaties for pardon; then being compelled to answer more precisely to the charges alleged, he proved that he, after having been informed of the whole affair by Eucærius, was prevented by him from repeating it to the emperor, as he had often attempted to do: since Eucærius affirmed that what did not spring from a lawless desire of reigning, but from some fixed law of inevitable fate, would surely come to pass.

35Eucærius, when cruelly tortured, confirmed this statement by his own confession. His own letters were employed to convict Theodorus, letters which he had written to Hilarius full of indirect hints, which showed that he had conceived a sure hope of such events from the prophecies of the soothsayers; and was not inclined to delay, but was looking for an opportunity of attaining the object of his desires.

36After the establishment of these facts, the prisoners were removed; and Eutropius, who at that time was governing Asia with the rank of proconsul, having been involved in the accusation as having been a partisan of theirs, was nevertheless acquitted; being exculpated by Pasiphilus the philosopher, who, though cruelly tortured to make him implicate Eutropius by a wicked lie, could not be moved from his vigorous resolution and fortitude.

37To that was added the philosopher Simonides, a young man, but the most rigidly virtuous of all men in our time. An information had been laid against him as having been made aware of what was going on by Fidustius, as he saw that his cause depended, not on its truth, but on the will of one man, avowed that he had known all that was alleged, but had forborne to mention it out of regard for his character for constancy.

38When all these matters had been minutely inquired into, the emperor, in answer to the question addressed to him by the judges, ordered them all to be condemned and at once executed: and it was not without shuddering that the vast populace beheld the mournful spectacle; filling the whole air with lamentations (since they looked on the misery of each individual as threatening the whole community with a similar fate) when the whole number of accused persons, except Simonides, were executed in a melancholy manner. Simonides being reserved to be burnt alive by the express command of the savage judge, who was enraged at his dignified constancy.

39And he, abandoning life as an imperious mistress, and defying the sudden destruction thus coming on him, was burnt without giving any sign of shrinking; imitating, in his death, the philosopher Peregrinus, surnamed Proteus, who having determined to quit the world, at the quinquennial games of Olympia, in the sight of all Greece, mounted a funeral pile which he had built himself, and was there burnt alive.

40After his death, on the ensuing days a vast multitude of almost all ranks, whose names it would be too arduous a task to enumerate, being convicted by calumnious accusations, were despatched by the executioners, after having been first exhausted by every description of torture. Some were put to death without a moment’s breathing-time or delay, while the question was still being asked whether they deserved to be punished at all; in fact, men were slaughtered like sheep in all directions.

41After this, innumerable quantities of papers, and many heaps of volumes were collected, and burnt under the eyes of the judges, having been taken out of various houses as unlawful books; in order to lessen the unpopularity arising from so many executions, though in fact, the greater part of them were books teaching various kinds of liberal accomplishments, or books of law.

42Not long afterwards, Maximus, the celebrated philosopher, a man of vast reputation for learning, from whose eloquent discourses the emperor Julian derived his great learning and wisdom, being accused of having been acquainted with the verses of the oracle mentioned above, and confessing that he had known something of them, but that he had not divulged what he knew, as being bound to keep silence out of consideration for his promise; but adding that he had of his own accord predicted that those who had consulted the oracle would perish by public execution, was conducted to Ephesus, his native place, and there beheaded. And thus by his own forfeiture of life, he found that the injustice of a judge is the worst of all crimes.

43Diogenes, too, a man of noble family, great forensic eloquence and pre-eminent courtesy, who had some time before been governor of Bithynia, being entangled in the toils of wicked falsehood, was put to death in order to afford a pretext for seizing on his ample patrimony.

44Alypius also, who had been governor of Britain, a man of most delightful mildness of temper, and who had lived a tranquil and retired life (since even against such as him did Injustice stretch forth her hands), was involved in the greatest misfortune; and was accused, with Hierocles his son, a youth of most amiable disposition, of having been guilty of poisoning, on the unsupported information of a low fellow named Diogenes, who had been tortured with extreme severity to force him to make confessions which might please the emperor, or rather, which might please his accuser. When his limbs could no longer endure their punishment, he was burnt alive; and Alypius, after having had his property confiscated, was condemned to banishment, though by an extraordinary piece of good fortune he received back his son after he had been condemned, and had actually been led out to suffer a miserable death.

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