The History, 31.10

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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10It was when autumn was passing into winter that terrible whirlwinds swept over Thrace; and as if the Furies were throwing everything into confusion, awful storms extended even into distant regions.

2And now the people of the Allemanni, belonging to the district of Lintz, who border on the Tyrol, having by treacherous incursions violated the treaty which had been made with them some time before, began to make attempts upon our frontier; and this calamity had the following lamentable beginning.

3One of this nation who was serving among the guards of the emperor, returned home at the call of some private business of his own; and being a very talkative person, when he was continually asked what was doing in the palace, he told them that Valens, his uncle, had sent for Gratian to conduct the campaign in the East, in order that by their combined forces they might drive back the inhabitants of the countries on our eastern frontier, who had all conspired for the overthrow of the Roman state.

4The people of Lintz greedily swallowed this intelligence, looking on it as if it concerned themselves also as neighbours, being so rapid and active in their movements; and so they assembled, in predatory bands, and when the Rhine was sufficiently frozen over to be passable, in the month of February. . . . The Celtæ, with the Petulantes legion, repulsed them, but not without considerable loss.

5These Germans, though thus compelled to retreat, being aware that the greater part of our army had been despatched into Illyricum, where the emperor was about to follow to assume the command, became more bold than ever, and conceived the idea of greater enterprises. Having collected the inhabitants of all the adjacent countries into one body, and with 40,000 armed men, or 70,000, as some, who seek to enhance the renown of the emperor, have boasted, they with great arrogance and confidence burst into our territories.

6Gratian, when he heard of this event, was greatly alarmed, and recalling the cohorts which he had sent on before into Pannonia, and collecting others whom he had prudently retained in Gaul, he committed the affair to the conduct of Nannienus, a leader of great prudence and skill, joining with him as his colleague with equal power, Mellobaudes, the count-commander of the domestics and king of the Franks, a man of great courage and renown in war.

7Nannienus took into his consideration the variable chances of fortune, and therefore voted for acting slowly and with caution, while Mellobaudes, hurried away by a fierce desire for fighting, according to his usual custom, was eager at once to march against the enemy; and would not brook delay.

8Presently a horrid shout was raised by the enemy, and the trumpeters on our side also gave the signal for battle, upon which a fierce engagement began near Colmar. On both sides numbers fell beneath the blows of arrows and hurled javelins.

9But while the battle was raging, the multitude of the enemy appeared so countless, that our soldiers, avoiding a conflict with them on the open field, dispersed as best they could among the different narrow paths overgrown with trees; but they afterwards stood their ground firmly, and by the boldness of their carriage and the dazzling splendour of their arms, when seen from a distance, made the barbarians fear that the emperor himself was at hand.

10And they suddenly turned their backs, still offering occasional resistance, to leave no chance for safety untried; but at last they were routed with such slaughter that of their whole number not above 9,000, as was reckoned, escaped, and these owed their safety to the thickness of the woods. Among the many bold and gallant men who perished was their king, Priarius, who had been the principal cause of this ruinous war.

11Gratian was greatly delighted and encouraged by this success; and intending now to proceed to the East, he secretly crossed the Rhine, and turned his march to the left, being full of sanguine hopes, and resolving, if fortune should only favour his enterprise, to destroy the whole of this treacherous and turbulent nation.

12And as intelligence of this design was conveyed to the people of Lintz by repeated messengers, they, who had already been reduced to great weakness by the almost entire destruction of their forces, and were now greatly alarmed at the expected approach of the emperor, hesitated what to do, and as neither by resistance, nor by anything which they could do or devise, did they perceive any possibility of obtaining ever so brief a respite, they withdrew with speed to their hills, which were almost inaccessible from the steepness of their precipices, and reaching the most inaccessible rocks by a winding path, they conveyed thither their riches and their families, and prepared to defend them with all their might.

13Having deliberated on this difficulty, our general selected 500 men of proved experience in war out of each legion, to station opposite to the entrances to this wall of rock. And they, being further encouraged by the fact that the emperor himself was continually seen actively employed among the front rank, endeavoured to scale the precipices, not doubting but that if they could once set foot upon the rocks they should instantly catch the barbarians, like so much game, without any conflict; and so an engagement was commenced towards the approach of noon, and lasted even to the darkness of night.

14Both sides experienced heavy losses. Our men slew numbers, and fell in numbers; and the armour of the emperor’s body-guard, glittering with gold and brilliant colours, was crushed beneath the weight of the heavy missiles hurled upon them.

15Gratian held a long deliberation with his chief officers; and it seemed to them fruitless and mischievous to contend with unreasonable obstinacy against these rugged and overhanging rocks; at last (as is usual in such affairs), after various opinions had been delivered, it was determined, without making any more active efforts, to blockade the barbarians and reduce them by famine; since against all active enterprises the character of the ground which they occupied was a sufficient defence.

16But the Germans still held out with unflinching obstinacy, and being thoroughly acquainted with the country, retreated to other mountains still more lofty than those which they occupied at first. Thither also the emperor turned with his army, with the same energy as before, seeking for a path which might lead him to the heights.

17And when the barbarians saw him thus with unwearied perseverance intent upon their destruction, they surrendered; and having by humble supplication obtained mercy, they furnished a reinforcement of the flower of their youth to be mingled with our recruits, and were permitted to retire in safety to their native land.

18It is beyond all belief how much vigour and rapidity of action Gratian, by the favour of the eternal Deity, displayed in gaining this seasonable and beneficial victory, which broke the power of the Western tribes at a time when he was preparing to hasten in another direction. He was indeed a young prince of admirable disposition, eloquent, moderate, warlike, and merciful, rivalling the most admirable of his predecessors, even while the down of youth was still upon his cheeks; the only drawback to his character being that he was sometimes drawn into ridiculous actions, when, in consequence of temptations held out by his minions and favourites, he imitated the vain pursuits of Cæsar Commodus; but he was never bloodthirsty.

19For as that prince, because he had been accustomed to slay numbers of wild beasts with his javelins in the sight of the people, and prided himself beyond measure on the skill with which he slew a hundred lions let loose at the same time in the amphitheatre with different missiles, and without ever having to repeat his shot; so Gratian, in the enclosures called preserves, slew wild beasts with his arrows, neglecting much serious business for this amusement, and this at a time when if Marcus Antoninus had resumed the empire he would have found it hard, without colleagues of equal genius to his own, and without the most serious deliberation of counsel, to remedy the grievous disasters of the republic.

20Therefore having made all the arrangements which the time would permit for the affairs of Gaul, and having punished the traitor of the Scutarii who had betrayed to the barbarians the intelligence that the emperor was about to depart with all speed for Illyricum, Gratianus quitted the army, and passing through the fortress known as that of Arbor Felix, he proceeded by forced marches to carry his assistance to those who needed it.

21About this time, while Frigeridus was with great wisdom devising many schemes likely to prove of advantage to the general safety, and was preparing to fortify the defiles of the Succi, to prevent the enemy (who, by the rapidity of their movements and their fondness for sallies, were always threatening the northern provinces like a torrent) from extending their inroads any further, he was superseded by a count named Maurus, a man cruel, ferocious, fickle, and untrustworthy. This man, as we have related in our account of preceding transactions, being one of Julian’s body-guard to whom the defence of the palace was expressly committed, while that prince was doubting about accepting the imperial authority, took the chain from his own neck and offered it to him for a diadem.

22Thus, in the most critical aspect of our difficulties, a cautious and energetic general was removed, when, even if he had previously retired into private life, he ought, from the greatness of the affairs which required his superintendence, to have been brought back again to the camp.

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