The History, 29.2

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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2During all this time, Palladius, the original cause of these miseries, whom we have already spoken of as having been arrested by Fortunatianus, being, from the lowness of his original condition, a man ready to fall into every kind of wickedness, by heaping one murder on another diffused mourning and lamentation over the whole empire.

2For being allowed to name any persons he chose, without distinction of rank, as men contaminated by the practice of forbidden arts, like a huntsman who has learnt to mark the secret tracks of wild beasts, he enclosed many victims within his wretched toils, some as being polluted with a knowledge of poisonings, others as accomplices of those who were guilty of treason.

3And that wives too might not have leisure to weep over the miseries of their husbands, officers were sent at once to seal up the house of any one who was condemned, and who, while examining all the furniture, slipped in among it old women’s incantations, or ridiculous love-tokens, contrived to bring destruction on the innocent; and then, when these things were mentioned before the bench, where neither law, nor religion, nor equity were present to separate truth from falsehood, those whom they thus accused, though utterly void of offence, without any distinction, youths, and decrepit old men, without being heard in their defence, found their property confiscated, and were hurried off to execution in litters.

4One of the consequences in the eastern provinces was, that from fear of similar treatment, people burnt all their libraries; so great was the terror which seized upon all ranks. For, to cut my story short, at that time all of us crawled about as if in Cimmerian darkness, in the same kind of dread as the guest of Dionysius of Sicily; who, while feasting at a banquet more irksome than famine itself, saw a sword suspended over his head by a single horsehair.

5There was a man named Bassianus, of most noble family, a secretary, and eminently distinguished for his military services, who, on a charge of having entertained ambitious projects, and of having sought oracles concerning their issue, though he declared he had only consulted the oracles to know the sex of his next child, was saved indeed from death by the great interest made for him by his relations who protected him; but he was stripped of all his splendid inheritance.

6Amid all this destruction and ruin, Heliodorus, that hellish colleague of Palladius in bringing about these miseries (being what the common people call a mathematician), having been admitted into the secret conferences of the imperial palace, and been tempted by every kind of caress and cajolery to relate all he knew or could invent, was putting forth his fatal stings.

7For he was carefully feasted on the most delicate food, and furnished with large sums of money to give to his concubines; and he strutted about in every direction with a pompous, haughty countenance, and was universally dreaded. Being the more confident and arrogant, because as he was high chamberlain, he could go constantly and openly to the brothels, in which, as he desired, he was freely entertained, while revealing the edicts of the “parental guardian of the state,” which were destined to be disastrous to many.

8And through his means, as an advocate at the bar, Valens was instructed beforehand in what would most contribute to success—what to place in the first part of his speech, and with what figures, and what inventions to work up splendid passages.

9And as it would take a long time to enumerate all the devices of that villain, I will mention this one only, which, in its rash boldness, assailed the very pillars of the patrician dignity. As I have said before, he was raised to exceeding arrogance by being admitted to the secret conferences of the princes; and being, from the lowness of his birth, a man ready for any wickedness, he laid an information against that illustrious pair of consuls, the brothers Eusebius and Hypatius, relations of the former emperor Constantius, as having conceived desires of a higher fortune, and formed projects and entered into enterprises for the attainment of supreme power. Adding, in order to procure additional credit for this falsehood, that Eusebius had had a set of imperial robes prepared for him.

10And when the story had been swallowed willingly, Valens raging and threatening, a prince who never ought to have had any power at all, because he thought that everything, even injustice, was in his power, was incessantly active in causing the production, even from the most distant countries, of all those whom the lawless accuser in profound security had insisted ought to be produced; and further commanded a prosecution to be instituted on the criminal charge.

11And when equity had long been tossed to and fro by knotty difficulties, while that abandoned profligate persisted with unyielding obstinacy in maintaining the truth of his assertions, while the severest tortures were unable to wring any confession from the prisoners, and when every circumstance proved that those eminent men were free from all consciousness of anything of the kind, still the false accuser was treated with the same respect as he had previously received. But though the prisoners were sentenced to exile and a heavy fine, a short time afterwards they were recalled from banishment, restored to their former rank and dignity, and their fine repaid.

12Still after all these shameful transactions, the prince did not proceed with any more moderation or decency than before; never considering that in a wise government it is well not to be too keen in hunting out offences, even as a means of inflicting distress upon one’s enemies; and that nothing is so unbecoming as to display a bitterness of disposition in connection with supreme authority.

13But when Heliodorus died, whether of sickness or through some deliberate violence is uncertain (I should not like to say, and I wish that the facts themselves were equally silent), many men of rank in mourning robes, among whom were these two brothers of consular rank, by the express command of the emperor, attended his funeral when he was borne to his grave by the undertakers.

14At that time, and in that place, the whole vileness and stupidity of the ruler of the empire was publicly displayed. When he was entreated to abstain from abandoning himself to inconsolable grief, he remained obstinately inflexible, as if he had stopped his ears with wax to pass the rocks of the Sirens.

15But at last, being overcome by the pertinacious entreaties of his court, he ordered some persons to go on foot, bareheaded, and with their hands folded, to the burial-place of this wretched gladiator to do him honour. One shudders now to recollect the decree by which so many men of high rank were humiliated, especially some of consular dignity, after all their truncheons and robes of honour, and all the worldly parade of having their names recorded in the annals of their nation.

16Among them all, our friend Hypatius was most conspicuous, recommended as he was to every one by the beauty of the virtues which he had practised from his youth; being a man of quiet and gentle wisdom, preserving an undeviating honesty combined with the greatest courtesy of manner, so that he conferred a fresh lustre on the glory of his ancestors, and was an ornament to his posterity, by the memorable actions which he performed in the office of prefect, to which he was twice appointed.

17At the same time, this circumstance came to crown the other splendid actions of Valens, that, while in the case of others he gave way to such furious violence, that he was even vexed when the severity of their punishment was terminated by death, yet he pardoned Pollentianus, the tribune, a man stained with such enormous wickedness, that at that very time he was convicted on his own confession of having cut out the womb of a living woman and taken from it her child, in order to summon forth spirits from the shades below, and to consult them about a change in the empire. He looked on this wretch with the eye of friendship, in spite of the murmurs of the whole bench of senators, and discharged him in safety, suffering him to retain not only his life, but his vast riches and full rank in the army.

18O most glorious learning, granted by the express gift of heaven to happy mortals, thou who hast often refined even vicious natures! How many faults in the darkness of that age wouldst thou have corrected if Valens had ever been taught by thee that, according to the definition of wise men, empire is nothing else but the care of the safety of others; and that it is the duty of a good emperor to restrain power, to resist any desire to possess all things, and all implacability of passion, and to know, as the dictator Cæsar used to say, “That the recollection of cruelty was an instrument to make old age miserable!” And therefore that it behoves any one who is about to pass a sentence affecting the life and existence of a man, who is a portion of the world, and makes up the complement of living creatures, to hesitate long and much, and never to give way to intemperate haste in a case in which what is done is irrevocable. According to that example well known to all antiquity.

19When Dolabella was proconsul in Asia, a matron at Smyrna confessed that she had poisoned her son and her husband, because she had discovered that they had murdered a son whom she had had by a former husband. Her case was adjourned—the council to whom it had been referred being in doubt how to draw a line between just revenge and unprovoked crime; and so she was remitted to the judgment of the Areopagus, those severe Athenian judges, who are said to have decided disputes even among the gods. They, when they had heard the case, ordered the woman and her accuser to appear before them again in a hundred years, to avoid either acquitting a poisoner, or punishing one who had been the avenger of her kindred. So that is never to be thought too slow which is the last of all things.

20After all the acts of various iniquity already mentioned, and after even the free persons who were allowed to survive had been thus shamefully branded, the eye of Justice which never sleeps, that unceasing witness and avenger of events, became more attentive and vigilant. For the avenging Furies of those who had been put to death, working on the everlasting deity with their just complaints, kindled the torches of war, to confirm the truth of the oracle, which had given warning that no crime can be perpetrated with impunity.

21While the affairs thus narrated were taking place, Antioch was exposed to great distress through domestic dissension, though not molested by any attacks on the side of Parthia. But the horrid troop of Furies, which after having caused all sorts of miseries there, had quitted that city, now settled on the neck of the whole of Asia, as will be seen in what follows.

22A certain native of Trent, by name Festus, a man of the lowest obscurity of birth, being a relation of Maximin, and one who had assumed the manly robe at the same time with himself, was cherished by him as a companion, and by the will of the Fates had now crossed over to the east, and having there become governor of Syria, and master of the records, he set a very good and respectable example of lenity. From this he was promoted to govern Asia with the rank of proconsul, being thus, as the saying is, borne on with a fair wind to glory.

23And hearing that Maximin caused the destruction of every virtuous man, he began from this time to denounce his actions as mischievous and disgraceful. But when he saw that, in consequence of the removal of those persons whom he had impiously put to death, that wicked man had arrived at the dignity of prefect, he began to be excited to similar conduct and similar hopes. And suddenly changing his character like an actor, he applied himself to the study of doing injury, and went about with fixed and severe eyes, trusting that he also should soon become a prefect, if he only polluted himself with the blood of innocent men.

24And although there are many and various instances in which, to put the best construction on them, he acted with great harshness, still it will be sufficient to enumerate a few, which are notorious and commonly spoken of, seeming to be done in rivalry of the deeds which were committed at Rome; for the principle of good and bad actions is the same everywhere, even if the importance of the circumstances be unequal.

25There was a philosopher named Cæranius, a man of no inconsiderable merit, whom he put to death with the most cruel tortures, and without any one coming forward to avenge him, because, when writing familiarly to his wife, he had put a postscript in Greek, “σὺ δὲ νόει, καὶ στέφε τὴν πύλην.”—“Do you take care and adorn the gate,” which is a common expression to let the hearer know that something of importance is to be done.

26There was a certain simple old woman who was wont to cure intermittent fever by a gentle incantation, whom he put to death as a witch, after she had been summoned, with his consent, to his daughter, and had cured her.

27There was a certain citizen of high respectability, among whose papers, when they were searched by the officers on some business or other, was found the nativity of some one of the name of Valens. He, when asked on what account he had troubled himself about the star of the emperor, had repelled the accusation by declaring that it was his own brother Valens whose nativity was thus found, and when he promised to bring abundant proof that he had long been dead, the judges would not wait for evidence of the truth of his assertion, but put him to the torture and cruelly slew him.

28A young man was seen in the bath to put the fingers of each hand alternately against the marble and against his own chest, and then to repeat the names of the seven vowels, fancying that a remedy for a pain in the stomach. For this he was brought before the court, put to the torture, and then beheaded.

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