The History, 29.6

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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6While Theodosius was thus exerting himself, and toiling in Mauritania and Africa, the nation of the Quadi was roused to make a sudden movement. It was a nation now not very formidable, but one which had formerly enjoyed vast renown for its warlike genius and power, as its achievements prove, some of which were distinguished for the rapidity, as well as for the greatness, of their success; instances are:—Aquileia, which was besieged by them and the Marcomanni; Opitergium, which was destroyed by them, and many other bloody successes which were gained in that rapid campaign when the Julian Alps were passed, and that illustrious emperor Marcus, of whom we have already spoken, was hardly able to offer them any resistance. And indeed they had, for barbarians, just ground of complaint.

2For Valentinian, who from the beginning of his reign had been full of a resolution to fortify his frontier, which was a glorious decision, but one carried too far in this case, ordered a fortress capable of containing a strong garrison to be constructed on the south side of the river Danube, in the very territories of the Quadi, as if they were subject to the Roman authority. The natives, being very indignant at this, and anxious for their own rights and safety, at first contented themselves with trying to avert the evil by an embassy and expostulations.

3But Maximin, always eager for any wickedness, and unable to bridle his natural arrogance, which was now increased by the pride which he felt in his rank as prefect, reproached Equitius, who at that time was the commander of the forces in Illyricum, as careless and inactive, because the work, which it was ordered should be carried on with all speed, was not yet finished. And he added, as a man guided only by zeal for the common good, that if the rank of Duke of Valeria were only conferred on his own little son, Marcellianus, the fortification would be soon completed without any more pretexts for delay. Both his wishes were presently granted.

4Marcellianus received the promotion thus suggested, and set out to take possession of his government; and when he reached it, being full of untimely arrogance, as might be expected from the son of such a father, without attempting to conciliate those whom false dreams of gain had caused to quit their native land, he applied himself to the work which had been recently begun, and had only been suspended to afford an opportunity for the inhabitants to present petitions against it.

5Lastly, when their king Gabinius requested, in a most moderate tone, that no innovations might be made, he as if intending to assent to his petition, with feigned courtesy invited him and some other persons to a banquet: and then as he was departing after the entertainment, unsuspicious of treachery, he caused him, in infamous violation of the sacred rights of hospitality, to be murdered.

6The report of so atrocious an act was speedily spread abroad, and roused the indignation of the Quadi and other surrounding tribes, who, bewailing the death of the king, collected together and sent forth predatory bands, which crossed the Danube; and when no hostilities were looked for, attacked the people who were occupied in the fields about the harvest; and having slain the greater portion of them, carried off all the survivors to their own country with a great booty of different kinds of cattle.

7And at that time an inexpiable atrocity was very near being committed, which would have been reckoned among the most disgraceful disasters which ever happened to the Roman state, for the daughter of Constantius had a narrow escape of being taken prisoner as she was at dinner in a hotel called the Pistrensian, when on her way to be married to Gratian: and she was only saved by the promptitude of Messala the governor of the province, who, aided by the favour of the propitious Deity, placed her in a carriage belonging to him as governor, and conducted her back with all possible speed to Sirmium, a distance of about twenty-six miles.

8By this fortunate chance the royal virgin was delivered from the peril of miserable slavery; and if she had been taken and her captors had refused to ransom her, it would have been the cause of terrible disasters to the republic. After this the Quadi in conjunction with the Sarmatians, extended their ravages further (since both these tribes were addicted beyond measure to plunder and robbery), carrying off, men, women, and cattle, and exulting in the ashes of burnt villas, and in the misery of the murdered inhabitants, whom they fell upon unexpectedly and slaughtered without mercy.

9All the neighbouring districts were filled with apprehension of similar evils, and Probus, the prefect of the prætorium, who was at that time at Sirmium, a man wholly unexperienced in war, being panic-struck with the calamitous appearance of these new occurrences, and scarcely able to raise his eyes for fear, was for a long time wavering in doubt what to do. At first he prepared some swift horses and resolved to fly the next night; but afterwards, taking advice from some one who gave him safer counsel, he stayed where he was, but without doing anything.

10For he had been assured that all those who were within the walls of the city would immediately follow him, with the intention of concealing themselves in suitable hiding-places; and if that had been done, the city, left without defenders, would have fallen into the hands of the enemy.

11Presently, after his terror had been a little moderated, he applied himself with some activity to do what was most pressing; he cleared out the fosses which were choked up with ruins; he repaired the greater portion of the walls which, through the security engendered by a long peace, had been neglected, and had fallen into decay, and raised them again to the height of lofty towers, devoting himself zealously to the work of building. In this way the work was speedily completed, because he found that the sums which some time before had been collected for the erection of a theatre were sufficient for the purpose he was now pressing forward. And to this prudent measure he added another of like precaution, in summoning a cohort of archer cavalry from the nearest station, that it might be at hand to resist a siege should any take place.

12By these barriers, as they may be called, the barbarians were forced to abandon their design of besieging the city, since they were not skilful in contests of this kind, and were also hampered by the burden of their booty; accordingly they turned aside to pursue Equitius. And when, from the information given them by their prisoners, they learnt that he had retired to the most remote part of Valeria, they hastened thither by forced marches, gnashing their teeth, and determined on his death, because they believed that it was through his means their innocent king had been circumvented.

13And as they were hastening onwards with impetuous and vengeful speed, they were met by two legions, the Pannonian and the Mœsian, both of approved valour, who, if they had acted in harmony, must unquestionably have come off victorious. But while they were hastening onward to attack the barbarians separately, a quarrel arose between them on the subject of their honour and dignity, which impeded all their operations.

14And when intelligence of this dissension reached the Sarmatians, who are a most sagacious people, they, without waiting for any regular signal of battle, attacked the Mœsians first; and while the soldiers, being surprised and in disorder, were slowly making ready their arms, many of them were killed; on which the barbarians with increased confidence attacked the Pannonians, and broke their line also; and when the line of battle was once disordered, they redoubled their efforts, and would have destroyed almost all of them, if some had not saved themselves from the danger of death by a precipitate flight.

15Amid these calamitous inflictions of adverse fortune, Theodosius the younger, Duke of Mœsia, then in the first bloom of youth, but afterwards a prince of the highest reputation, in many encounters defeated and vanquished the Free Sarmatians (so called to distinguish them from their rebellious slaves), who had invaded our frontier on the other side, till he exhausted them by his repeated victories; and with such vigour did he crush the assembled crowds combined to resist his arms, that he glutted the very birds and beasts with the blood of the vast numbers justly slain.

16Those who remained having lost all their pride and spirit, fearing lest a general of such evident promptitude and courage should rout or destroy these invading battalions on the very edge of his frontier, or lay ambuscades for them in the recesses of the woods, made from time to time many vain attempts to escape, and at last, discarding all confidence in battle, they begged indulgence and pardon for their past hostility. And being thoroughly subdued, they did nothing for some time contrary to the treaty of peace, being more especially terrified because a strong force of Gallic soldiers had come to the defence of Illyricum.

17While these events were agitating the empire, and while Claudius was prefect of the Eternal City, the Tiber, which intersects its walls, and which, after receiving the waters of many drains and copious streams, falls into the Tyrrhenian Sea, overflowed its banks, in consequence of an abundance of rain, and extending to a size beyond that of a river, overwhelmed almost everything with its flood.

18All those parts of the city which lie in the plain were under water, and nothing reared its head above but the hills and other spots of rising ground, which seemed like islands, out of the reach of present danger. And, as the vastness of the inundation permitted of no departure in any direction to save the multitude from dying of famine, great quantities of provisions were brought in barges and boats. But when the bad weather abated, and the river which had burst its bounds returned to its accustomed channel, the citizens discarded all fear, and apprehended no inconvenience for the future.

19Claudius, as a prefect, conducted himself very quietly, nor was any sedition in his time provoked by any real grievance. He also repaired many ancient buildings; and among his improvements he built a large colonnade contiguous to the bath of Agrippa, and gave it the name of The Colonnade of Success, because a temple bearing that title is close to it.

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