The History, 31.5

Ammian  translated by C. D. Yonge

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5But the Thuringians, though they had some time since received permission to cross the river, were still wandering up and down the banks, being hindered by a twofold obstacle; first, that in consequence of the mischievous dissimulation of the said generals they were not supplied with the necessary provisions; and also because they were designedly detained that they might the more easily be plundered under the wicked semblance of traffic.

2And when they ascertained these facts, they began to grumble, and proposed to resist the evils which they apprehended from the treachery of these men by open force; and Lupicinus, who feared that they would resist, brought up his troops close to them, in order to compel them to be gone with all possible rapidity.

3The Gruthungi seized this as a favourable opportunity, and seeing that the Roman soldiers were occupied in another quarter, and that the vessels which used to go up and down, to prevent them from crossing, were now stationary, crossed the river on roughly-made rafts, and pitched their camp at a great distance from Fritigern.

4But he, by his innate foresight, provided against everything that could happen, and marching on slowly as well in obedience to the commands he had received as to allow time for other powerful kings to join him, came by slow marches to Marcianopolis, arriving later than he was expected. And here another atrocious occurrence took place, which kindled the torches of the Furies for general calamity.

5Alavivus and Fritigern were invited to a banquet; while Lupicinus drew up his soldiers against the chief host of the barbarians, and so kept them at a distance from the walls of the town; though they with humble perseverance implored admission in order so to procure necessary provisions, professing themselves loyal and obedient subjects. At last a serious strife arose between the citizens and the strangers who were thus refused admittance, which gradually led to a regular battle. And the barbarians, being excited to an unusual pitch of ferocity when they saw their relations treated as enemies, began to plunder the soldiers whom they had slain.

6But when Lupicinus, of whom we have already spoken, learnt by secret intelligence that this was taking place, while he was engaged in an extravagant entertainment, surrounded by buffoons, and almost overcome by wine and sleep, he, fearing the issue, put to death all the guards who, partly as a compliment and partly as a guard to the chiefs, were on duty before the general’s tent.

7The people who were still around the walls heard of this with great indignation, and rising up by degrees into a resolution to avenge their kings, who, as they fancied, were being detained as prisoners, broke out with furious threats. And Fritigern, being a man of great readiness of resource, and fearing that perhaps he might be detained with the rest as a hostage, exclaimed that there would be a terrible and destructive conflict if he were not allowed to go forth with his companions in order to pacify the multitude, who he said had broken out in this tumult from believing that their leaders had been trepanned and murdered under show of courtesy. Having obtained permission, they all went forth, and were received with cheers and great delight; they then mounted their horses and fled, in order to kindle wars in many quarters.

8When Fame, ever the malignant nurse of bad news, bruited this abroad, the whole nation of the Thuringians became suddenly inflamed with a desire for war; and among many preparations which seemed to betoken danger, the standards of war were raised according to custom, and the trumpets poured forth sounds of evil omen; while the predatory bands collected in troops, plundering and burning villages, and throwing everything that came in their way into alarm by their fearful devastations.

9Against these hosts, Lupicinus, having collected his forces with the greatest possible rapidity, advanced with more rashness than prudence, and halted in battle array nine miles from the city. The barbarians, perceiving this, charged our battalions before we expected them, and dashing upon the shields with which they covered their bodies, they cut down all who fell in their way with their swords and spears; and urged on by their bloodthirsty fury, they continued the slaughter, till they had taken our standards, and the tribunes and the greater part of the soldiers had fallen, with the exception of the unhappy general, who could find nothing to do but, while all the rest were fighting, to betake himself to flight, and return full gallop to the city. And then the enemies, clothing themselves in the arms of the Romans whom they had slain, pushed on their devastating march without hindrance.

10And since, after recounting various other exploits, we have now come to this portion of our subject, we call upon our readers (if we shall ever have any) not to expect a minute detail of everything that took place, or of the number of the slain, which indeed it would be utterly impossible to give. It will be sufficient to abstain from concealing any part of the truth by a lie, and to give the general outline of what took place: since a faithful honesty of narration is always proper if one would hand events down to the recollection of posterity.

11Those who are ignorant of antiquity declare that the republic was never so overwhelmed with the darkness of adverse fortune; but they are deceived in consequence of the stupor into which they are thrown by these calamities, which are still fresh in their memory. For if the events of former ages, or even of those immediately preceding our own times are considered, it will be plain that such melancholy events have often happened, of which I will bring to mind several instances.

12The Teutones and the Cimbri came suddenly from the remote shores of the ocean, and overran Italy; but, after having inflicted enormous disasters on the Roman republic, they were at last overcome by our illustrious generals, and being wholly vanquished, learnt by their ultimate destruction what martial valour, combined with skill, can effect.

13Again, in the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the insane fury of a number of different nations combined together, after fearful wars . . . would have left but a small part of them.

14But, soon after these calamitous losses, the state was re-established in all its former strength and prosperity; because the soberness of our ancestry had not yet become infected with the luxury and softness of a more effeminate way of life, and had not learnt to indulge in splendid banquets, or the criminal acquisition of riches. But both the highest classes and the lowest living in harmony, and imbued with one unanimous spirit, eagerly embraced a glorious death in the cause of the republic as a tranquil and quiet haven.

15The great multitudes of the Scythian nations, having burst through the Bosphorus, and made their way to the shores of the Sea of Azov with 2000 ships, inflicted fearful losses on us by land and sea; but also lost a great portion of their own men, and so at last returned to their own country.

16Those great generals, the Decii, father and son, fell fighting against the barbarians. The cities of Pamphylia were besieged, many islands were laid waste; Macedon was ravaged with fire and sword. An enormous host for a long time blockaded Thessalonica and Cyzicus. Arabia also was taken; and so at the same time was Nicopolis, which had been built by the Emperor Trajan as a monument of his victory over the Dacians.

17After many fearful losses had been both sustained and inflicted Philippopolis was destroyed, and, unless our annals speak falsely, 100,000 men were slaughtered within its walls. Foreign enemies roved unrestrained over Epirus, and Thessaly, and the whole of Greece; but after that glorious general Claudius had been taken as a colleague in the empire (though again lost to us by an honourable death), the enemy was routed by Aurelian, an untiring leader, and a severe avenger of injuries; and after that they remained quiet for a long time without attempting anything, except that some bands of robbers now and then ranged the districts in their own neighbourhood, always, however, to their own injury. And now I will return to the main history from which I have digressed.

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