The History, 30.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5At the beginning of the spring Valentinian quitted Treves, and proceeded by rapid marches along the usual high roads. And as he approached the districts to which he was hastening, he was met by ambassadors from the Sarmatians, who threw themselves at his feet, and, with prayers, breathing no wish but for peace, entreated him to be favourable and merciful to them, assuring him that he would not find any of their countrymen implicated in or privy to any evil action.

2And when they had frequently repeated this assertion, he, after careful deliberation, made answer to them, that these matters must be diligently inquired into by an accurate investigation in the district where they were said to have happened, and if they had happened, then they must be punished. After this, when he had reached Carnuntum, a city of the Illyrians, now indeed in a desolate and ruinous state, but still very convenient for the general of an army, he from thence sallied out whenever either chance or skill afforded him an opportunity; and by the possession of this post in their neighbourhood, he checked the inroads of the barbarians.

3And although he alarmed all people in that district, since it was expected that, as a man of active and impetuous feelings, he would speedily command the judges to be condemned through whose perfidy or desertion the empire had been left undefended on the side of the Pannonians, yet when he did arrive he was so lukewarm in the business that he neither inquired into the death of the king Gabricius, nor did he make any accurate investigation into the calamities which the republic had sustained, with a view to learning through whose misconduct or negligence these events had taken place; so that in fact, in proportion as he was severe in punishing his common soldiers, he was remiss in correcting (even by harsh words) those of higher rank.

4The only person whom he pursued with any especial hatred was Probus; whom from the first moment that he saw him he never ceased to threaten, and to whom he never softened; and the causes of this animosity against him were not obscure nor trivial. When Probus first obtained the rank of prefect of the prætorium, the power of which he was continually labouring to extend by all kinds of means (I wish I could say by all lawful means), he forgot the lessons which he might have learnt from his illustrious descent, and devoted himself more to flattery than to modesty.

5For reflecting on the resolution of the emperor, who considered nothing but how he might amass money from all quarters, without any distinction between just and unjust actions; he never attempted to lead back the misguided prince into the path of equity, as mild and wise rulers often have done; but rather followed his lead through all his winding and tortuous paths.

6And to this conduct were owing the heavy distresses which afflicted the emperor’s subjects; the ruinous titles, privileges, and exemptions, which alike ate up the fortunes of poor and rich; under different pretexts which were produced, each more powerful than the other, as the fruit of a long experience in injuring. Lastly, the burdens of all tributes and taxes were augmented in a manifold degree; and drove some of the highest nobles from fear of the worst to emigrate from their homes; some also after being drained to the utmost by the cruelty of the revenue officers, as they really had nothing more to give, were thrown into prison, of which they became permanent inmates. And some, becoming weary of life and light, sought a release from their miseries by hanging themselves.

7Unvarying report made known the treacherous and inhuman character of these transactions; but Valentinian, as if his ears had been stopped with wax, was ignorant of the report, being eager to acquire money indiscriminately, even from the most trivial sources, and thinking only of what was presented to him; though he would perhaps have spared the Pannonian provinces, if he had earlier known of these melancholy sources of gain with which he became acquainted when it was too late, owing to the following occurrence:—

8Following the example of the inhabitants of other provinces, the people of Epirus were compelled by the prefect to send envoys to thank him, and a certain philosopher named Iphicles, a man of tried courage and magnanimity (who was very unwilling to undertake the commission), was elected to discharge that duty.

9And when he saw the emperor, having been recognized by him and questioned as to the cause of his arrival, he answered in Greek; and, like a philosopher who professed himself a votary of truth, when the prince inquired more precisely, if those who had sent him did really think well of the prefect, he replied, that they had sent him against their will, and with bitter groans.

10The emperor, stricken by this speech as by an arrow, now investigated his actions like a sagacious beast, inquiring of him, in his own language, about different persons whom he knew: for instance, where was this man or that man (mentioning some one of high reputation and honour, or some very rich man, or some other person well known as having filled some high office). And when he learnt that this man had been hanged, that that one had been banished beyond the seas, and that a third had killed himself or had expired under torture, he became furiously angry, while Leo, who was at that time master of the offices, added fuel to his passion—O shameful villany! Leo, it should be borne in mind, was at this very time secretly aiming at the prefecture; and had he obtained that office and authority, he would undoubtedly have governed with such audacity, that the administration of Probus would in comparison have been extolled as a model of justice and humanity.

11So the emperor remained at Carnuntum; and during the three summer months he occupied himself uninterruptedly in preparing arms and magazines, in the hope that chance might afford him a good opportunity of making use of them; intending to take a favourable season for attacking the Quadi, who had lately caused an atrocious disturbance; since in their chief town, Faustinus, the nephew of Juventius, the prefect of the prætorium, who had attained the rank of military secretary, was tortured and then put to death by the executioners, under the very eyes of Probus; having been accused of slaying an ass in some magical operation, as his enemies asserted; but he himself said it was to use for strengthening his hair, which was beginning to fall off.

12Another charge was also maliciously brought against him, namely, that when a person of the name of Nigrinus had in jest asked him to make him a secretary, he replied in ridicule of the man and his petition, “Make me emperor if you wish to obtain that.” And because some gave an unfair interpretation to this jest, Faustinus himself, and Nigrinus, and several other persons were put to death.

13Accordingly, having sent forward Merobaudes with a strong force of infantry under his command, and Sebastian for his colleague, to ravage the districts of the barbarians with fire and sword, Valentinian speedily moved his camp to Buda; and having with great rapidity made a bridge of boats in order to guard against any sudden mishap, he crossed the river in another place and entered the territories of the Quadi, who from their precipitous mountains were watching for his approach; the main body of their nation, in their perplexity and uncertainty of what might happen, had taken refuge with their families in those hills; but were overwhelmed with consternation when they unexpectedly saw the imperial standards in their country.

14Valentinian advanced with as much rapidity as he could, slaughtering every one of whatever age whom his sudden inroad surprised straggling about the country, and after burning all their dwellings, he returned safe without having experienced the slightest loss. And then, as autumn was now on the wane, he stopped awhile at Buda, seeking where best to fix his winter quarters in a region subject to very rigorous frost. And he could not find any suitable place except Sabaria, though that town was at the time in a very bad state of defence, having been ruined by frequent sieges.

15Accordingly when he reached this place, though it was one of great consequence to him, he remained there but a very short time; and having left it, he marched along the bank of the river, which he strengthened with several forts and castles, and manned them with adequate garrisons. He then proceeded to Bregitio; and in that town, after settling down there in quiet, his Destiny, by numerous prodigies, portended to him his approaching fate.

16For a very few days before some of those comets, which ever give token of the ruins of lofty fortunes, and of which we have already explained the origin, appeared in the heavens. Also, a short time before, a thunderbolt fell at Sirmium, accompanied with a terrific clap of thunder, and set fire to a portion of the palace and senate-house: and much about the same time an owl settled on the top of the royal baths at Sabaria, and pouring forth a funeral strain, withstood all the attempts to slay it with arrows or stones, however truly aimed, and though numbers of people shot at it in diligent rivalry.

17And again, when the emperor was quitting the city to return to the camp, he set out to leave it by the same gate by which he had entered it, with the object of obtaining an augury that he should speedily return to Gaul. But the spot through neglect had become choked up with ruins; and when they were cleaning it out they found that the door, which had originally closed the entrance, had fallen down: and a great multitude of people, though labouring with all their might, were unable to remove it; so that after waiting the greater part of the day there, he was obliged at last to go out by another gate.

18And on the night preceding the day on which he died, he saw in a dream, such as often visits a man in his sleep, his absent wife sitting by, with dishevelled hair, and clad in a mourning robe; which some people fancied was Fortune, who was about in this sad apparel to take her leave of him.

19After this, when he came forth in the morning, his brow was contracted, and his countenance somewhat melancholy; and when his horse was brought to him, it would not let him mount, but reared up its forefeet over the shoulders of the equerry who was holding it. Valentinian, according to the usual bent of his savage temper, grew immoderately furious, and ordered the equerry’s hand to be cut off, which had, he said, pushed him aside when mounting a horse he was used to: and the innocent youth would have perished under torture if Cerealis, the principal master of the horse, had not delayed the barbarous infliction at his own risk.

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