The History, 31.14

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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14Such was the death of Valens, when he was about fifty years old, and had reigned rather less than fourteen years. We will now describe his virtues, which were known to many, and his vices.

2He was a faithful and steady friend—a severe chastiser of ambition—a rigid upholder of both military and civil discipline—always careful that no one should assume importance on account of any relationship to himself; slow both in conferring office, and in taking it away; a very just ruler of the provinces, all of which he protected from injury, as if each had been his own house; devoting singular care to the lessening the burdens of the state, and never permitting any increase of taxation. He was very moderate in the exaction of debts due to the state, but a vehement and implacable foe to all thieves, and to every one convicted of peculations; nor in affairs of this kind was the East, by its own confession, ever better treated under any other emperor.

3Besides all this, he was liberal with due regard to moderation, of which quality there are many examples, one of which it will be sufficient to mention here:—As in palaces there are always some persons covetous of the possessions of others, if any one petitioned for lapsed property, or anything else which it was usual to apply for, he made a proper distinction between just and unjust claims, and when he gave it to the petitioner, while reserving full liberty to any one to raise objections, he often associated the successful candidate with three or four partners, in order that those covetous suitors might conduct themselves with more moderation, when they saw the profits for which they were so eager diminished by this device.

4Of the edifices, which in the different cities and towns he either repaired or built from their foundations, I will say nothing (to avoid prolixity), allowing those things to speak for themselves. These qualities, in my opinion, deserve the imitation of all good men. Now let us enumerate his vices.

5He was an immoderate coveter of great wealth; impatient of labour, he affected an extreme severity, and was too much inclined to cruelty; his behaviour was rude and rough; and he was little imbued with skill either in war or in the liberal arts. He willingly sought profit and advantage in the miseries of others, and was more than ever intolerable in straining ordinary offences into sedition or treason; he cruelly encompassed the death or ruin of wealthy nobles.

6This also was unendurable, that while he wished to have it appear that all actions and suits were decided according to the law, and while the investigation of such affairs was delegated to judges especially selected as the most proper to decide them, he still would not allow any decision to be given which was contrary to his own pleasure. He was also insulting, passionate, and always willing to listen to all informers, without the least distinction as to whether the charges which they advanced were true or false. And this vice is one very much to be dreaded, even in private affairs of everyday occurrence.

7He was dilatory and sluggish; of a swarthy complexion; had a cast in one eye, a blemish, however, which was not visible at a distance; his limbs were well set; his figure was neither tall nor short; he was knock-kneed, and rather pot-bellied.

8This is enough to say about Valens: and the recollection of his contemporaries will fully testify that this account is a true one. But we must not omit to mention that when he had learnt that the oracle of the tripod, which we have related to have been moved by Patricius and Hilanus, contained those three prophetic lines, the last of which is,—

“Ἐν πεδίοισι Μίμαντος ἀλαλκομένοισιν ἄρηα.”
“Repelling murd’rous war in Mimas’ plain;”

—he, being void of accomplishments and illiterate, despised them at first; but as his calamities increased, he became filled with abject fear, and, from a recollection of this same prophecy, began to dread the very name of Asia, where he had been informed by learned men that both Homer and Cicero had spoken of the Mountain of Mimas over the town of Erythræ.

9Lastly,—after his death, and the departure of the enemy, it is said that a monument was found near the spot where he is believed to have died, with a stone fixed into it inscribed with Greek characters, indicating that some ancient noble of the name of Mimas was buried there.

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