The History, 31.4

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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4Accordingly, under the command of their leader Alavivus, they occupied the banks of the Danube; and having sent ambassadors to Valens, they humbly entreated to be received by him as his subjects, promising to live quietly, and to furnish a body of auxiliary troops if any necessity for such a force should arise.

2While these events were passing in foreign countries, a terrible rumour arose that the tribes of the north were planning new and unprecedented attacks upon us: and that over the whole region which extends from the country of the Marcomanni and Quadi to Pontus, a barbarian host composed of different distant nations, which had suddenly been driven by force from their own country, was now, with all their families, wandering about in different directions on the banks of the river Danube.

3At first this intelligence was lightly treated by our people, because they were not in the habit of hearing of any wars in those remote districts till they were terminated either by victory or by treaty.

4But presently, as the belief in these occurrences grew stronger, being confirmed, too, by the arrival of the foreign ambassadors, who, with prayers and earnest entreaties, begged that the people thus driven from their homes and now encamped on the other side of the river, might be kindly received by us, the affair seemed a cause of joy rather than of fear, according to the skilful flatterers who were always extolling and exaggerating the good fortune of the emperor; congratulating him that an embassy had come from the furthest corners of the earth unexpectedly, offering him a large body of recruits; and that, by combining the strength of his own nation with these foreign forces, he would have an army absolutely invincible; observing further that, by the yearly payment for military reinforcements which came in every year from the provinces, a vast treasure of gold might be accumulated in his coffers.

5Full of this hope he sent forth several officers to bring this ferocious people and their waggons into our territory. And such great pains were taken to gratify this nation which was destined to overthrow the empire of Rome, that not one was left behind, not even of those who were stricken with mortal disease. Moreover, having obtained permission of the emperor to cross the Danube and to cultivate some districts in Thrace, they crossed the stream day and night, without ceasing, embarking in troops on board ships and rafts, and canoes made of the hollow trunks of trees, in which enterprise, as the Danube is the most difficult of all rivers to navigate, and was at that time swollen with continual rains, a great many were drowned, who, because they were too numerous for the vessels, tried to swim across, and in spite of all their exertions were swept away by the stream.

6In this way, through the turbulent zeal of violent people, the ruin of the Roman empire was brought on. This, at all events, is neither obscure nor uncertain, that the unhappy officers who were intrusted with the charge of conducting the multitude of the barbarians across the river, though they repeatedly endeavoured to calculate their numbers, at last abandoned the attempt as hopeless: and the man who would wish to ascertain the number might as well (as the most illustrious of poets says) attempt to count the waves in the African sea, or the grains of sand tossed about by the zephyr.

7Let, however, the ancient annals be accredited which record that the Persian host which was led into Greece, was, while encamped on the shores of the Hellespont, and making a new and artificial sea, numbered in battalions at Doriscus; a computation which has been unanimously regarded by all posterity as fabulous.

8But after the innumerable multitudes of different nations, diffused over all our provinces, and spreading themselves over the vast expanse of our plains, who filled all the champaign country and all the mountain ranges, are considered, the credibility of the ancient accounts is confirmed by this modern instance. And first of all Fritigernus was received with Alavivus; and the emperor assigned them a temporary provision for their immediate support, and ordered lands to be assigned them to cultivate.

9At that time the defences of our provinces were much exposed, and the armies of barbarians spread over them like the lava of Mount Etna. The imminence of our danger manifestly called for generals already illustrious for their past achievements in war: but nevertheless, as if some unpropitious deity had made the selection, the men who were sought out for the chief military appointments were of tainted character. The chief among them were Lupicinus and Maximus, the one being Count of Thrace, the other a leader notoriously wicked—and both men of great ignorance and rashness.

10And their treacherous covetousness was the cause of all our disasters. For (to pass over other matters in which the officers aforesaid, or others with their unblushing connivance, displayed the greatest profligacy in their injurious treatment of the foreigners dwelling in our territory, against whom no crime could be alleged) this one melancholy and unprecedented piece of conduct (which, even if they were to choose their own judges, must appear wholly unpardonable) must be mentioned.

11When the barbarians who had been conducted across the river were in great distress from want of provisions, those detested generals conceived the idea of a most disgraceful traffic: and having collected hounds from all quarters with the most insatiable rapacity, they exchanged them for an equal number of slaves, among whom were several sons of men of noble birth.

12About this time also, Vitheric, the king of the Gruthungi, with Alatheus and Saphrax, by whose influence he was mainly guided, and also with Farnobius, approached the bank of the Danube, and sent envoys to the emperor to entreat that he also might be received with the same kindness that Alavivus and Fritigern had experienced.

13But when, as seemed best for the interests of the state, these ambassadors had been rejected, and were in great anxiety as to what they should do, Athanaric, fearing similar treatment, departed; recollecting that long ago, when he was discussing a treaty of alliance with Valens, he had treated that emperor with contempt, in affirming that he was bound by a religious obligation never to set his foot on the Roman territory; and that by this excuse he had compelled the emperor to conclude a peace in the middle of the war. And he, fearing that the grudge which Valens bore him for this conduct was still lasting, withdrew with all his forces to Caucalandes, a place which, from the height of its mountains and the thickness of its woods, is completely inaccessible; and from which he had lately driven out the Sarmatians.

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