The History, 30.1

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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1While all these difficulties and disturbances had been caused by the perfidy of the Duke Marcellianus, in treacherously murdering the king of the Quadi, a terrible crime was committed in the East, where Para, king of Armenia was also murdered by secret treachery; the original cause of which wicked action we have ascertained to be this:—

2Some men of perverse temperament, who delighted in public misfortune, had concocted a number of accusations against this prince for acts which they imputed to him even when scarcely grown up, and had exaggerated them to Valens. Among these men was the Duke Terentius, a man who always walked about with a downcast melancholy look, and throughout his life was an unwearied sower of discord.

3He, having formed a combination with a few people of Para’s nation, whom a consciousness of their own crimes had filled with fear, was continually harping in his letters to the court on the deaths of Cylax and Artabannes; adding also that this same young king was full of haughtiness in all his conduct, and that he behaved with excessive cruelty to his subjects.

4In consequence of these letters, Para, as if it were intended that he should become a partaker in a treaty of which existing circumstances required ratification, was invited to court with all the ceremony to which he was entitled as a king, and then was detained at Tarsus in Cilicia, with a show of honour, without being able to procure permission to approach the emperor’s camp, or to learn why his arrival had been so eagerly pressed; since on this point all around him preserved a rigid silence. At last, however, by means of private information, he learnt that Terentius was endeavouring by letter to persuade the Roman sovereign to send without delay another king to Armenia; lest, out of hatred to Para, and a knowledge of what they had to expect if he returned among them, his nation, which at present was friendly to us, should revolt to the Persians, who had long been eager to reduce them under their power either by violence, fear, or flattery.

5Para, reflecting on this warning, foreboded grievous mischief for himself; and being a man of forethought and contrivance, as he could not perceive any means of safety, except by a speedy departure, by the advice of his most trusty friends he collected a body of 300 persons who had accompanied him from his own country, and with horses selected for especial speed, acting as men are wont to do under the pressure of great terror and perplexity, that is to say, with more boldness than prudence; late one afternoon he started boldly forth at the head of his escort, formed in one solid body.

6And when the governor of the province, having received information from the officer who kept the gate, came with prompt energy and found him in the suburb, he earnestly entreated him to remain; but finding that he could not prevail upon him, he quitted him, for fear of his own life.

7And not long afterwards Para, with his escort, turned back upon the legion which was pursuing him and on the point of overtaking him, and pouring arrows upon them as thick as sparks of fire, though designedly missing them, he put them to flight, filling them, tribune and all, with complete consternation, so that they returned to the city with greater speed than they left it.

8After this, Para being released from all fear, continued his laborious and rapid journey for two days and two nights, till he reached the Euphrates; where, for want of boats, he was unable to pass the river, which at that place is full of strong currents and too deep to be forded. His men, not being skilful swimmers, were afraid to trust themselves to the stream, and he himself showed more hesitation than any of them; indeed he would have halted there altogether, if while every one was suggesting one plan or another, he had not at last hit upon the following expedient, which seemed the safest in this emergency.

9They took a number of little beds which they found in the neighbouring houses, and supported them each on two bladders, of which there were plenty at hand in the vineyards. And then he and his nobles placed themselves each on a bed, leading their horses after them, and so floated down and across the stream; by which contrivance, after extreme danger, they at last reached the opposite bank.

10All the rest swam their horses, and though they were terribly tossed about and often almost sunk by the eddying stream, still, though much exhausted by their wetting, they also reached the opposite bank; when having rested for a short time and refreshed themselves, they proceeded on their way, travelling further than on the previous days.

11When this transaction became known, the emperor being greatly moved at the king’s flight, fearing he would break off his alliance, sent Daniel and Barzimeres to bring him back; the one being a count, the other the tribune of the Scutarii, and he placed under their command a thousand archers prepared for a rapid march by the lightness of their equipment.

12These officers, trusting to their acquaintance with the country, and feeling sure that Para, as a stranger who was not accustomed to it, would take a roundabout way, sought to cut him off by marking a short cut through some valleys; and having divided their forces, they blockaded the two nearest roads, which were three miles from one another, in order that whichever Para took he might be caught before he expected it. But he escaped their manœuvre in this way:—

13A traveller who happened to be hastening towards the western bank of the river, saw that the two roads were filled with armed soldiers, and accordingly quitted this road in order to avoid them, and made his way by an almost invisible path, which lay between them, overgrown with bushes and brambles, and fell in with the Armenians, who were by this time greatly fatigued. He was brought before the king, and, being admitted by him to a private conference, related to him secretly what he had seen, and was detained in safety.

14And presently, without anything being done to give an idea that they were alarmed, a horseman was sent secretly to the road on the right side to prepare a resting-place and some food. And when he had been gone a little time, another was sent to the left with directions to move with great rapidity, and do the same thing; neither horseman being aware that the other had been sent in a different direction.

15And after this arrangement had been thus cleverly made, the king himself, with his escort, retraced his steps through the jungle by which the traveller had come, taking him for his guide, and passing through this overgrown path, which was almost too narrow for a loaded horse, he left the Roman soldiers behind him and so escaped. Meanwhile our troops, who had made prisoners of the soldiers who had been thus sent out to impose upon them, waited a long time, while watching for the king, and stretching out their hands, as one may say, to seize the game which they expected would rush into them. And while they were thus waiting for the arrival of Para, he reached his kingdom in safety, where he was received with great joy by his countrymen, and still remained unshaken in his fidelity to us, burying in silence the injuries which he had received.

16After this, Daniel and Barzimeres, having been thus balked of their prey, returned to Tarsus, and were loaded with bitter reproaches as inactive and blundering officers. But like venomous serpents whose first spring has failed, they only whetted their deadly fangs, in order at the first opportunity to inflict all the injury in their power on the king who had thus escaped them.

17And, with a view to palliate the effect of their own mistake, or rather of the defeat their hopes, which the deeper sagacity of the king had contrived, they began to fill the emperor’s ears, which were at all times most ready to receive all kinds of reports with false accusations against Para; pretending that he was skilled in Circean incantations, so as to be able to transform people, or to afflict them with sickness in a marvellous manner, adding, moreover, that it was by means of arts of this kind that he had rendered himself invisible, and that if allowed to continue changing his shape, he would cause them great trouble, if permitted to live to boast of having deceived them.

18In this manner the hatred which Valens had conceived against him was increased to an incredible degree; and plan after plan was laid to take his life, either by force or stratagem; and orders to that effect were transmitted by secret letters to Trajan, who at that time was in Armenia, in chief command of the forces in that kingdom.

19Trajan, accordingly, began to surround Para with treacherous blandishments—at one time showing him some letters of Valens, which appeared to indicate that he was favourably disposed towards the king—at another, partaking cheerfully of his entertainments, he at last, with great apparent respect (but in pursuance of a deliberate plot), invited him to supper. Para, fearing no hostility, came, and was placed in the seat of honour at the feast.

20Exquisite delicacies were set before him, and the splendid palace resounded with the music of lyres and lutes. Presently, when the wine had circulated freely, the master of the feast quitted it for a moment, under pretence of some natural want, and immediately a ferocious barbarian of the troop they call Supræ was sent in, brandishing a drawn sword, and with a terribly ferocious countenance, to murder the youth, against whose escape ample precautions had now been taken.

21As soon as he saw him, the king, who as it happened was on the further side of the couch, jumped up and drew his dagger to defend his life by every means in his power, but was stabbed in the breast, and fell like a miserable victim, being shamefully cut to pieces with repeated blows.

22By this foul contrivance was his credulity shamefully deceived at a feast which is respected even on the coast of the Euxine Sea, under the eye of the Deity of Hospitality; and the blood of a stranger and a guest was sprinkled on the splendid tablecloths, and, by its foaming gore, filled the guests with loathing, who at once dispersed in great horror. If the dead can feel sorrow or indignation, then let that illustrious Fabricius Luscinus groan at the evidence of this deed, knowing with what greatness of mind he himself repelled Demochares (or, as some call him, Nicias), the king’s servant, who in a secret conference offered to poison Pyrrhus, at that time desolating Italy with cruel wars, and wrote to the king, bidding him beware of his immediate attendants: such great reverence in the first ages of antiquity was there for the rights of hospitality even when claimed by an enemy.

23But this modern, strange, and shameful act was excused by the precedent afforded by the death of Sertorius; though the emperor’s flatterers were perhaps ignorant that, as Demosthenes—the everlasting glory of Greece—affirms, an unlawful and wicked action cannot be defended by its resemblance to another crime, or by the fact that that crime met with impunity.

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