The Siege of Amida in 359 by Ammianus Marecllinus

The city walls of Diyarbakir in Southeastern Turkey stretch almost unbroken for 6 kilometres. The current walls were built by Constantius II when the city was called Roman "Amida", and extended by Valentinian I between 367-375 AD. Photo by Gerry Lynch, 2003.
The city walls of Diyarbakir in Southeastern Turkey stretch almost unbroken for 6 kilometres. The current walls were built by Constantius II when the city was called Roman “Amida”, and extended by Valentinian I between 367-375 AD. Photo by Gerry Lynch, 2003.

Ammianus Marcellinus was an army officer of Greek origin who left a history of the wars and conflicts that beset the Roman Empire in the latter half of the fourth century.  Although he is more famous for his account of the Battle of Adrianople, where Emperor Valens was defeated and killed, another interesting portion of his work concerns the siege of Amida, in which Ammianus took part in defending the city from a Persian invasion.  This section begins with Ammianus, an officer under the command of the General Ursicinus, on his way to the city of Samosata after hearing reports of enemy movements.

Book XVIII

Chapter 8

And presently, when we were on the point of going to Samosata (as had been said) and were on our way while it was still twilight, from a high point our eyes caught the gleam of shining arms, and an excited cry was raised that the enemy were upon us; then the usual signal for summoning to battle was given and we halted in close order, thinking it prudent neither t o take flight when our pursuers were already in sight, nor yet (through fear of certain death) to engage with a foe far superior in cavalry and in numbers. Finally, after it became abso–lutely necessary to resort to arms, while we were hesitating as to what ought to be done, some of our men ran forward rashly and were killed. And as both sides pressed forward, Antoninus, who was ostentatiously leading his troops, was recognized by Ursicinus and rated with chiding language; and after being called traitor and criminal, Antoninus took off the tiara which he wore on his head as a token of high honour, sprang from his horse, and bending his body so that he almost touched the ground with his face, he saluted Ursicinus, calling him patron and lord, clasping his hands together behind his back, which among the Assyrians is a gesture of supplication. Then, “Pardon me,” said he, “most illustrious Count, since it is from necessity and not voluntarily that I have descended to this conduct, which I know to be infamous. It was unjust duns, as you know, that drove me mad, whose avarice not even your lofty station, which tried to protect my wretchedness, could check.” As he said these words he withdrew from sight, not turning about, but respectfully walking backwards until he disappeared, and presenting his breast.

While all this took place in the course of half an hour, our soldiers in the rear, who occupied the higher part of the hill, cry out that another force, of heavy-armed cavalry, was to be seen behind the others, and that they were approaching with all possible speed.

And, as is usual in times of trouble, we were in doubt whom we should, or could, resist, and pushed onward by the weight of the vast throng, we all scattered here and there, wherever each saw the nearest way of escape; and while every one was trying to save himself from the great danger, we were mingled in scattered groups with the enemy’s skirmishers. And so, now scorning any desire for life and fighting manfully, we were driven to the banks of the Tigris, which were high and steep. From these some hurled themselves headlong, but entangled by their weapons stuck fast in the shoals of the river; others were dragged down in the eddying pools and swallowed up ; some engaged the enemy and fought with varying success ; others, terrified by the dense array of hostile ranks, sought to reach the nearest elevations of Mount Taurus. Among these the commander himself was recognised and surrounded by a horde of warriors, but he was saved by the speed of his horse and got away, in company with Aiadalthes, a tribune, and a single groom.

I myself, having taken a direction apart from that of my comrades, was looking around to see what to do, when Verennianus, one of the guard, came up with an arrow in his thigh; and while at the earnest request of my colleague I was trying to pull it out, finding myself surrounded on all sides by the advancing Persians, I made up for the delay by breathless speed and aimed for the city, which from the point where we were attacked lay high up and could be approached only by a single very narrow ascent ; and this was made still narrower by mills which had been built or the cliffs for the purpose of making the paths. Here, mingled with the Persians, who were rushing to the higher ground with the same effort as ourselves, we remained motionless until sunrise of the next day, so crowded together that the bodies of the slain, held upright by the throng, could nowhere find room to fall, and that in front of me a soldier with his head cut in two, and split into equal halves by a powerful sword stroke, was so pressed on all sides that he stood erect like a stump. And although showers of weapons from all kinds of artillery flew from the battlements, nevertheless the nearness of the walls saved us from that danger, and when I at last entered the city by a postern gate I found it crowded, since a throng of both sexes had flocked to it from the neighbouring countryside. For, as it chanced, it was at that very time that the annual fair was held in the suburbs, and there was a throng of country folk in addition to the foreign traders. Meanwhile there was a confusion of varied cries, some bewailing their lost kindred, others wounded to the death, many calling upon loved ones from whom they were separated and could not see because of the press.

Chapter 9: A description of Amida, and the number of the legions and troops of cavalry that were on guard there.

This city was once very small, but Constantius, when he was still a Caesar, in order that the neighbours might have a secure place of refuge, at the same time that he built another city called Antoninupolis, surrounded Amida with strong walls and towers; and by establishing there an armoury of mural artillery, he made it a terror to the enemy and wished it to be called after his own name. Now, on the south side it is washed by the winding course of the Tigris, which rises nearby; where it faces the blasts of Eurus it looks down on Mesopotamia’s plains; where it is exposed to the north wind it is close to the river Nymphaeus and lies under the shadow of the peaks of Taurus, which separate the peoples beyond the Tigris from Armenia; opposite the breath of Zephyrus it borders on Gumatheua, a region rich alike in fertility and in tillage, in which is the village called Abarne, famed for its warm baths of healing waters. Moreover, in the very heart of Amida, at the foot of the citadel, a bountiful spring gushes forth, drinkable indeed, but sometimes malodorous from hot vapours. Of this town the regular garrison was formed by the Fifth Legion, Parthica, along with a force of no mean size of natives. But at that time six additional legions, having outstripped the advancing horde of Persians by rapid marches, were drawn up upon its very strong walls. These were the soldiers of Magnentius and Decentius, whom, after finishing the campaigns of the civil wars, the emperor had forced as being untrustworthy and turbulent, to come to the Orient, where none but foreign wars are to be feared; also the soldiers of the Thirtieth, and the Tenth, also called Fortenses, and the Superventores and Praeventores with Aelianus, who was then a count; these troops, when still raw recruits, at the urging of the same Aelianus, then one of the guard, had made a sally from Singara (as I have said) and slain great numbers of the Persians while they were buried in sleep. There were also in the town the greater part of the comites sagittarii, (household archers, that is to say, a squadron of horsemen so-named, in which all the freeborn foreigners serve who are conspicuous above the rest for their prowess in arms and their bodily strength.

Chapter 10: Sapor receives two Roman fortresses in surrender.

While the storm of the first attack was thus busied with unlooked-for undertakings, the king with his own people and the nations that he was leading turned his march to the right from the place called Bebase, as Antoninus had recommended, through Horre and Meiacarire and Charcha, as if he would pass by Amida; but when be had come near two fortresses of the Romans, of which one is called Rema and the other Busa, he learned from the information of deserters that the wealth of many people had been brought there and was kept in what were regarded as lofty and safe fortifications ; and it was added that there was to be found there with a costly outfit a beautiful woman with her little daughter, the wife of a certain Craugasias of Nisibis, a man distinguished among the officials of his town for family, reputation, and influence. Accordingly the king, with a haste due to his greed for seizing others’ property, attacked the fortresses with fiery confidence, whereupon the defenders, overcome with sudden panic and dazzled by the variety of arms, surrendered themselves and all those who had taken refuge with the garrison; and when ordered to depart, they at once handed over the keys of the gates. When entrance was given, whatever was stored there was brought out, and the women, paralyzed with fear, were dragged forth with the children clinging to their mothers and experiencing grievous woes at the beginning of their tender years. And when the king by inquiring whose wife the lady was had found that her husband was Craugasias, he allowed her, fearing as she did that violence would be offered her, to approach nearer without apprehension; and when she had been reassured and covered as far as her very lips with a black veil, he courteously encouraged her with sure hope of regaining her husband and of keeping her honour unsullied. For hearing that her husband ardently loved her, he thought that at this price he might purchase the betrayal of Nisibis. Yet finding that there were others also who were maidens and consecrated to divine service according to the Christian custom, he ordered that they be kept uninjured and allowed to practice their religion in their wonted manner without any opposition; thus he made a pretence of mildness for the time, to the end that all whom he had heretofore terrified by his harshness and cruelty might lay aide their fear and come to him of their own volition, when they learned from recent instances that he now tempered the greatness of his fortune with kindliness and gracious deportment.

BOOK XIX

Chapter 1: Sapor, while urging the people of Amida to surrender, is attacked by the garrison with arrows and spears. While King Grumbates attempts the same thing, his son is slain.

The king, rejoicing in the wretched imprisonment of our men that had come to pass, and anticipating like successes, set forth from there, and slowly advancing, came to Amida on the third day. And when the first gleam of dawn appeared, everything so far as the eye could reach shone with glittering arms, and mail-clad cavalry filled hill and dale. The king himself, mounted upon a charger and overtopping the others, rode before the whole army, wearing in place of a diadem a golden image of a ram’s head set with precious stones, distinguished too by a great retinue of men of the highest rank and of various nations. But it was clear that he would merely try the effect of a conference on the defenders of the walls, since by the advice of Antoninus he was in haste to go elsewhere. However, the power of heaven, in order to compress the miseries of the whole Roman empire within the confines of a single region, had driven the king to an enormous degree of self-confidence, and to the belief that all the besieged would be paralyzed with fear at the mere sight of him, and would resort suppliant prayers. So he rode up to the gates attended by his royal escort, and while with too great assurance he came so near that even his features could clearly be recognized, because of his conspicuous adornment he became the target of arrows and other missiles, and would have fallen, had not the dust hidden him from the sight of his assailants, so that after a part of his garment was torn by the stroke of a lance he escaped, to cause the death of thousands at a later time. In consequence of this attack he raged as if against sacrilegious violators of a temple, and declaring that the lord of so many kings and nations had been outraged, he pushed on with great effort every preparation for destroying the city; but when his most distinguished generals begged that he would not under stress of anger abandon his glorious enterprises, he was appeased by their soothing plea and decided that on the following day the defenders should again be warned to surrender.

And so, at the first dawn of day, Grumbates, king of the Chionitae, wishing to render courageous service to his lord, boldly advanced to the walls with a band of active attendants; but a skilful observer caught sight of him as soon as he chanced to come within range of his weapon, and discharging a ballista, pierced both cuirass and breast of Grumbates’ sort, a youth just come to manhood, who was riding at his father’s side and was conspicuous among his companions for his height and his handsome person. Upon his fall all his countrymen scattered in flight, but presently returned in well-founded fear that his body might be carried off, and with harsh outcries roused numerous tribes to arms; and on their onset weapons flew from both sides like hail and a fierce fight ensued. After a murderous contest, protracted to the very end of the day, at nightfall the body, which had with difficulty been protected amid heaps of slain and streams of blood, was dragged off under cover of darkness, as once upon a time before Troy his companions contended in a fierce struggle over the lifeless comrade of the Thessalian leader. By this death the palace was saddened, and all the nobles, as well as the father, were stunned by the sudden calamity; accordingly a truce was declared and the young roan, honoured for his high birth and beloved, was mourned after the fashion of his own nation. Accordingly he was carried out, armed in his usual manner and placed upon a large and lofty platform, and about him were spread ten couches bearing figures of dead men, so carefully fashioned that the images were like bodies already in the tomb. For the space of seven days all men by communities and companies feasted (lamenting the young prince) with dances and the singing of certain sorrowful dirges. The women for their part, woefully beating their breasts and weeping after their wonted manner, loudly bewailed the hope of their nation cut off in the bloom of youth, just as the priestesses of Venus are often seen to weep at the annual festival of Adonis, which, as the mystic lore of religion tells us, is a kind of symbol of the ripened grain.

Chapter 2: Amida is besieged and assaulted twice within two days by the Persians.

After the body had been burned and the ashes collected and placed in a silver urn, since the father had decided that they should be taken to his native land to be consigned to the earth, they debated what it was best to do; arid it was resolved to propitiate the spirit of the slain youth by burning and destroying the city; for Grumbates would not allow them to go farther while the shade of his only son was unavenged. Accordingly, after two days had been given to rest, a large force was sent to devastate the rich, cultivated fields, which were unprotected as in time of peace; then the city was begirt by a fivefold line of shields, and on the morning of the third day gleaming bands of horsemen filled all places which the eye could reach, and the ranks, advancing at a quiet pace, took the places assigned them by lot. The Persians beset the whole circuit of the walls. The part which faced the east fell to the lot of the Chaonitae, the place where the youth so fatal to us was slain, whose shade was destined to be appeased by the destruction of the city. The Gelani were assigned to the southern side, the Albani guarded the quarter to the north, and to the western gate were opposed the Segestani, the bravest warriors of all. With them, making a lofty show, slowly marched the lines of elephants, frightful with their wrinkled bodies and loaded with armed men, a hideous spectacle, dreadful beyond every form of horror, as I have often declared.

Beholding such innumerable peoples, long sought for to set fire to the Roman world and bent upon our destruction, we despaired of any hope of safety and henceforth strove to end our lives gloriously, which was now our sole desire. And so from sunrise until the day’s end the battle lines stood fast, as though rooted in the same spot; no sound was heard, no neighing of horses; and they withdrew in the same order in which they had come, and then refreshed with food and sleep, when only a small part of the night remained, led by the trumpeters’ blast they surrounded the city with the came awful ring, as if it were soon to fall. And hardly had Grumbates hurled a bloodstained spear, following the usage of his country and the custom of our fetial priest, than the army with clashing weapons flew to the walls, and at once the lamentable tempest of war grew fiercer, the cavalry advancing at full speed as they hurried to the fight with general eagerness, while our men resisted with courage and determination.

Then heads were shattered, as masses of stone, hurled from the scorpions, crushed many of the enemy; others were pierced by arrows, some were struck down by spears and the ground strewn with their bodies, while others that were only wounded retreated in headlong flight to their companions. No less was the grief and no fewer the deaths in the city, since a thick cloud of arrows in compact mass darkened the air, while the artillery which the Persians had acquired from the plunder of Singara inflicted still more wounds. For the defenders, recovering their strength and returning in relays to the contest they had abandoned, when wounded in their great ardour for defence fell with destructive results; or if only mangled, they overturned in their writhing those who stood next to them, or at any rate, so long as they remained alive kept calling for those who had the skill to pull out the arrows implanted in their bodies. Thus slaughter was piled upon slaughter and prolonged to the very end of the day, nor was it lessened even by the darkness of evening, with such great determination did both sides fight. And so the night watches were passed under the burden of arms, while the hills re-echoed from the shouts rising from both sides, as our men praised the power of Constantius Caesar as lord of the world and the universe, and the Persians called Sapor “saansaan ” and “pirosen,” which being interpreted is “king of kings” and “victor in wars.”

And before the coming of daylight the signal was given on the trumpets and the countless forces were aroused anew from all sides to battles of equal heat, rushing to the strife like birds of prey; and the plains and dales as far and as wide as the eye could reach revealed nothing save the flashing arms of savage nations. Presently a shout was raised and all rushed blindly forward, a vast shower of weapons flew from the walls, and as might be supposed, not one that fell among that dense throng of men was discharged in vain. For since so many ills hedged us about, we burned, not with the desire of saving our lives, but, as I have said, of dying bravely; and from the beginning of the day until the light was dim we fought with more fury than discretion, without a pause in the battle on either side. For the shouts of those who would terrify and of those who feared constantly rang out, and such was the heat of battle that scarcely anyone could stand his ground without a wound. At length night put an end to the bloodshed and satiety of woes had brought both sides a longer rest from fighting; for even when time for rest was given us, constant toil and sleeplessness sapped the little strength that remained, and we were terrified by the blood and the pale faces of the dying, to whom not even the last consolation of burial could be given because of the confined space; for within The limits of a city that was none too large there were shut seven legions, a promiscuous throng of strangers and citizens of both sexes, and a few other soldiers, to the number of 20,000 in all. Therefore each cured his wounds according to his ability or the supply of helpers; some, who were severely hurt, gave up the ghost slowly from loss of blood; others, pierced through by arrows, after vain attempts to relieve them, breathed out their lives, and were cast out when death came; others, whose limbs were gashed everywhere, the physicians forbade to be treated, lest their sufferings should be increased by useless infliction of pain; still others plucked out the arrows and through this doubtful remedy endured torments worse than death.

Chapter 3: Ursicinus vainly attempts to surprise the besiegers by night, being opposed by Sabinianus, commander of the infantry.

While the fight was going on at Amida with such determination on both sides, Ursicinus, grieving because he was dependent upon the will of another, who was then of greater authority in the command of the soldiers, frequently admonished Sabinianus, who was still clinging to his graves, that, getting together all his skirmishers, he should hasten by secret paths along the foot of the mountains, in order that with the help of light-armed troops (if fortune was at all favourable) he might surprise the pickets and attack the night watches of the enemy, who had surrounded the walls in wide extent, or by repeated assaults distract the attention of those who were stoutly persisting in the siege. These proposals Sabinianus opposed as dangerous, publicly offering as a pretext letters of the emperor, which expressly directed that whatever could be done should be effected without injury to the soldiers anywhere, but secretly in his inmost heart keeping in mind that he had often been instructed at court to cut of from his predecessor, because of his burning desire for glory, every means of gaining honour, even though it promised to turn out to the advantage of the state. So great pains were taken, even though attended with the destruction of the provinces, that this valiant warrior should not receive mention as author of, or participant in, any noteworthy action. Therefore, alarmed by this unhappy situation, Ursicinus often sent us scouts, although because of the strict guard no one could easily enter the town, and attempted many helpful things; but he obviously could accomplish nothing, being like a lion of huge size and terrible fierceness which did not dare to go to save from danger his whelps that were caught in a net, because he had been robbed of his claws and teeth.

Chapter 4: A plague which broke out in Amida is ended within ten days by a light rain, Remarks on the causes and varieties plagues.

But within the city, where the quantity of corpses scattered through the streets was too great to admit of burial, a plague was added to so many ills, fostered by the contagious infection of maggot infested bodies, the steaming heat, and the weakness of the populace from various causes. The origin of diseases of this kind I shall briefly set forth. Philosophers and eminent physicians have told us that an excess of cold or heat, or of moisture or dryness, produces plagues. Hence those who dwell in marshy or damp places suffer from coughs, from affections of the eyes, and from similar complaints; on the other hand, the inhabitants of hot climates dry up with the heat of fever. But by as much as the substance of fire is fiercer and more effective than the other elements, by so much is drought the swifter to kill. Therefore when Greece was toiling in a ten years’ war in order that a foreigner might not evade the penalty for separating a royal pair, a scourge of this kind raged and many men perished by the darts of Apollo, who is regarded as the sun. And, as Thucydides shows, that calamity which, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, harassed the Athenians with a grievous kind of sickness, gradually crept all the way from the torrid region of Africa acid laid hold upon Attica. Others believe that when the air, as often happens, and the waters are polluted by the stench of corpses or the like, the greater part of their healthfulness is spoiled, or at any rate that a sudden change of air causes minor ailments. Some also assert that when the air is made heavy by grosser exhalations from the earth, it checks the secretions that should be expelled from the body, and is fatal to some; and it is for that reason as we know on the authority of Homer as well as from many later experiences, that when such a pestilence has appeared., the other animals besides man, which constantly look downward, are the first to perish. Now the first kind of plague is called endemic, and causes those who live in places that are too dry to be cut off by frequent fevers. The second is epidemic, which breaks out at certain seasons of the year, dimming the sight of the eyes and causing a dangerous flow of moisture. The third is loemodes, which is also periodic, but deadly from its winged speed.

After we had been exhausted by this destructive plague and a few had succumbed to the excessive heat and still more from the crowded conditions, at last on the night following the tenth day the thick and gross exhalations were dispelled by light showers, and sound health of body was regained.

Chapter 5: Amida is attacked on one side about the walls, and on the other, under the lead of a deserter, by underground passages.

But meanwhile the restless Persian was surrounding the city with sheds and mantlets, and mounds began to be raised and towers here constructed; these last were lofty, with ironclad fronts, and on the top of each a ballista was placed, for the purpose of driving the defenders from the ramparts; vet not even for a moment did the skirmishing by the slingers and archers slacken. There were With us two Magnentian legions, recently brought from Gaul (as I have said) and composed of brave, active men, experienced in battle in the open field, but to the sort of warfare to which we were constrained they –were not merely unsuited, but actually a great hindrance; for when they were not helping with the artillery or in the construction of fortifications, they would sometimes make reckless sallies and after fighting with the greatest confidence return with diminished numbers, accomplishing just as much as would the pouring of a single handful of water (as the saying is) upon a general conflagration. Finally, when the gates were very carefully barred, and their officers forbade them to go forth, they gnashed their teeth like wild beasts. But in the days that followed (as I shall show) their efficiency was conspicuous. In a remote part of the walls on the southern side, which looks down on the river Tigris, there was a tower rising to a lofty height, beneath which yawned rocks so precipitous that one could not look down without shuddering dizziness. From these rocks subterranean arches had been hollowed out, and skillfully made steps led through the roots of the mountain as far as the plateau on which the city stood, in order that water might be brought secretly from the channel of the river; a device which I hate seen in all the fortifications in those regions which border on streams. Through these dark passages, left unguarded because of their steepness, led by a deserter in the city who had gone over to the opposite side, seventy Persian bowmen from the king’s bodyguard who excelled in skill and bravery, protected by the silence of the remote spot, suddenly one by one in the middle of the night mounted to the third story of the tower and there concealed themselves; in the morning they displayed a cloak of red hue, which was the signal for beginning battle, and when they saw the city surrounded on all sides with the floods of their forces, emptying their quivers, and throwing them at their feet, with a conflagration of shouts and yells they sent their shafts in all directions with the utmost skill. And presently all the Persian forces in dense array attacked the city with far greater fury than before. We were perplexed and uncertain where first to offer resistance, whether to those who stood above us or to the throng mounting on scaling-ladders and already laying hold of the very battlements; so the work was divided among us and five of the lighter ballistae were moved and placed over against the tower, rapidly pouring forth wooden shafts, which sometimes pierced even two men at a time. Some of the enemy fell, severely wounded; others, through fear of the clanging engines leaped off headlong and were dashed to pieces. This being so quickly accomplished and the engines restored to their usual places, with a little greater confidence all ran together to defend the walls. And since the wicked deed of the deserter increased the soldiers’ wrath, as if they were running down to a plain they used such strength of arm as they hurled their various weapons, that as the day inclined towards noon the enemy were scattered in bitter defeat, and lamenting the death of many of their number, retreated to their tents through fear of wounds.

Chapter 6: A sally of the Gallic legions, destructive to the Persians.

Fortune thus breathed upon us some hope of safety, since a day had passed without harm to us and with disaster to the enemy; so the remainder of that day was devoted to rest, for refreshing our bodies. But at the arrival of the following dawn we saw from the citadel a countless throng which after the capture of the fortress of Ziata was being taken to the enemy’s camp; for in that stronghold, which was both capacious and well fortified (it covers a space of ten stadia) a multitude of people of all sorts had taken refuge. For other fortifications also were seized and burned during those same days, and from them many thousands of men had been dragged, and were following into slavery, among them many feeble old men, and women already advanced in years, who, when they gave out for various reasons, discouraged by the long march and abandoning the desire to live, were left behind with their calves or hams cut out.

The Gallic soldiers, seeing these throngs of wretches, with a reasonable, but untimely, impulse demanded that the opportunity be given them of encountering the enemy, threatening death to the tribunes who forbade them, and to the higher officers; if they in their turn prevented them. And just as ravening beasts in cages, roused to greater fierceness by the odor of carrion, in the hope of escape dash against the revolving bars, so did they hew with swords at the gates, which (as I said above) were locked, being exceedingly anxious lest, if the city should be destroyed, they also might perish without any glorious action, or if it were saved from peril, they should be said to have done nothing worth while, as the greatness of Gaul demanded; and yet before this they had made frequent sallies and attempted to interfere with the builders of mounds, had killed some, and had suffered the like themselves.

We, at our wit’s end and in doubt what opposition ought to be made to the raging Gauls, at last chose this course as the best, to which they reluctantly consented: that since they could no longer be restrained, they should wait for a while and then be allowed to attack the enemy’s outposts, which were stationed not much farther than a bowshot away, with the understanding that if they broke through them, they might keep right on. For it was apparent that, if their request were granted, they would deal immense slaughter. While preparations for this were going on, the walls were being vigorously defended by various kinds of effort: lay toil arid watchfulness and by placing engines so as to scatter stones and darts in all directions. Moreover, a band of Persian footsoldiers were slowly constructing two lofty mounds near the city and its ramparts, and in opposition to these our soldiers also with extreme care were rearing earthworks of great height, equal in elevation to those of the enemy and capable of supporting the greatest possible weight of fighting men.

Meanwhile the Gauls, impatient of delay, armed with axes and swords rushed out through an opened postern gate, taking advantage of a gloomy, moonless night and praying for the protection of heaven, that it might propitiously and willingly aid them. And holding their very breath when they had come near the enemy, they rushed violently upon them in close order, and having slain some of the outposts, they butchered the outer guards of the camp in their sleep (since they feared nothing of the kind), and secretly thought of a surprise attack on the king himself, if a favourable fortune smiled on them. But the sound of their cautious advance, slight though it was, and the groans of the dying were heard, and many of the enemy were roused from sleep and sprang up, while each for himself raised the call to arms. Our soldiers stood rooted to the spot, not daring to advance farther; for it no longer seemed prudent, when those against whom the surprise was directed were aroused, to rush into open danger, since now throngs of raging Persians were coming to battle from every side, fired with fury. But the Gauls faced them, relying on their strength of body and keeping their courage unshaken as long as they could, cut down their opponents with the sword, while a part of their own number were, slain or wounded by the cloud of arrows flying from every side. But when they saw that the whole weight of peril and all the troops of the, enemy were turned against one spot, although not one of them turned his back, they made haste to get away; and as if retreating to music, they were gradually forced out beyond the rampart, and being now unable to withstand the bands of foemen rushing upon them in close order, and excited by the blare of trumpets from the camp, they withdrew. And while many clarions sounded from the city, the gates were thrown open to admit our men, if they could succeed in getting so far, and the hurling engines roared constantly, but without discharging any missiles, in order that since those in command of the outposts, after the death of their comrades were unaware of what was going on behind them, the men stationed before the walls of the city might abandon their unsafe position, and the brave men might be admitted through the gate without harm. By this device the Gauls entered the gate about daybreak in diminished numbers, a part severely others slightly wounded (the losses of that night were four hundred); and if a mightier fate had not prevented, they would have slain, not Rhesus nor the Thracians encamped before the walls of Troy, but the king of the Persians in his own tent, protected by a hundred thousand armed men. In honour of their officers, as leaders in these brave deeds, after the destruction of the city the emperor ordered statues in full armour to be made and set up in a frequented spot at Edessa, and they are preserved intact to the present time.

When on the following day the slaughter was revealed, and among the corpses of the slain there were found grandees and satraps, and dissonant cries and tears bore witness to the disasters in this or that place, everywhere mourning was heard and the indignation of the kings at the thought that the Romans had forced their way in through the guards posted before the walls. And as because of this event a truce of three days was granted by common consent, we also gained time to take breath.

Chapter 7: Towers and other siege works are brought up to the walls of the city ; they are set on fire by the Romans.

Then the enemy, horrified and maddened by the unexpected mishap, set aside all delay, and since force was having little effect, now planned to decide the contest by siege works; and all of them, fired with the greatest eagerness for battle, now hastened to meet a glorious death or with the downfall of the city to make offering to the spirits of the slain.

And now through the zeal of all the preparations were completed, and as the morning star shone forth various kinds of siege works were brought up, along with ironclad towers, on the high tops of which ballistae were placed, and drove off the defenders who were busy lower down. And day was now dawning, when mail-clad siege works veiled almost the entire sky, and the dense forces moved forward, not as before in disorder, but led by the slow notes of the trumpets and with no one running forward, protected too by penthouses and holding before them wicker hurdles. But when their approach brought them within bowshot, though holding their shields before them the Persian infantry found it hard to avoid the arrows shot from the walls by the artillery, and took open order and since almost no kind of dart failed to find its mark, even the mail-clad horsemen were checked and gave ground, and thus increased the courage of our men. However, because the enemy’s ballistae, mounted as they were upon iron-clad towers, were effective frown their higher place against those lower down, on account of their different position they had a different result and caused terrible carnage on our side; and when evening was already coming on and both sides rested, the greater part of the night was spent in trying to devise a remedy for this awful slaughter.

And at last, after turning over many plans, we resolved upon a plan which speedy action made the safer, namely, to oppose four scorpions to those same ballistae; but while they were being moved from their position and cautiously put in place (an act calling for the greatest skill) the most sorrowful of days dawned upon us, showing as it did formidable bands of Persians along with troops of elephants, than whose noise and huge bodies the human mind can conceive nothing more terrible. And while we were hard pressed on every side by weight of arms, siege works, and monsters, round stones hurled at intervals from the battlements by the iron arms of our scorpions shattered the joints of the towers, and threw down the ballistae and, those who worked them in such headlong fashion, that some perished without injury from wounds, others were crushed to death by the great weight of debris. The elephants, too, were driven back with great violence, for they were surrounded by firebrands thrown at them from every side, and as soon as these touched their bodies, they turned tail and their drivers were unable to control them. But though after that the siege works were burned up, there was no cessation from strife. For even the king of the Persians himself, who is never compelled to take part in battles, aroused by these storms of ill-fortune, rushed into the thick of the fight like a common soldier (a new thing, never before heard of) and because he was more conspicuous to those who looked on from a distance than the throng of his bodyguard, he was the mark of many a missile; and when many of his attendants bad been slain, he withdrew passing from one part to another of the troops under his command, and at the end of the day, though terrified by the grim spectacle neither of the dead nor of the wounded, he at last allowed a brief time to be given to rest.

Chapter 8: Amida is attacked by the Persians over lofty mounds close to the walls, and is stormed. Marcellinus after the capture o f the city escapes by night and flees to Antioch.

But night put an end to the conflict; and having taken a nap during the brief period of rest, the king, as soon as dawn appeared, boiling with wrath and resentment and closing his eyes to all right, aroused the barbarians against us, to win what he hoped for; and when the siege‑works had been burned (as I have shown) they attempted battle over high mounds close to the walls, whereupon our men erected heaps of earth on the inside as well as they could with all their efforts, and under difficulties resisted with equal vigour.

For a long time the sanguinary battle remained undecided, and not a man anywhere through fear of death gave up his ardour for defence; and the contest had reached a point when the fate of both parties was governed by some unavoidable hap, when that mound of ours, the result of long toil, fell forward as if shattered by an earthquake. Thus the gulf which yawned between the wall and the heap built up outside was made a level plain, as if by a causeway or a bridge built across it, and opened to the enemy a passage blocked by no ob–stacles, while the greater part of the soldiers that were thrown down ceased fighting, being either crushed or worn out. Nevertheless others rushed to the spot from all sides, to avert so sudden a danger; but in their desire for haste they impeded one another, while the boldness of the enemy was increased by their very success. Accordingly, by the king’s command all the warriors were summoned and there was a hand-to-hand contest with drawn swords; blood streamed on all sides from the vast carnage; the trenches were blocked with bodies and so a broader path was furnished. And now the city was filled with the eager rush of the enemy’s forces, and since all hope of defence or of flight was cut off, armed and unarmed alike without distinction of sex were slaughtered like so many cattle.

Therefore when the darkness of evening was coming on and a large number of our soldiers, although adverse fortune still struggled against them, were joined in battle and thus kept busy, I hid with two others in a secluded part of the city, and under cover of a dark night made my escape through a postern gate at which no guard was kept; and, aided by my familiarity with desert places and by the speed of my companions, I at length reached the tenth milestone. At the post-house there we got a little rest, and when we were making ready to go farther and I was already unequal to the excessive walking; to which as a gentleman I was unused, I met a terrible sight, which however furnished me a most timely relief, worn out as I was by extreme weariness. A groom, mounted on a runaway horse without saddle or bit, in order not to fall of had tied the rein by which, in the usual manner, the horse was guided, tightly to his left hand; and afterwards, being thrown off and unable to loose the knot, he eras torn limb from limb as he was dragged through desert places and woods, while the animal, exhausted by running, was held back by the weight of the dead body; so I caught it and making timely use of the service of its back, with those same companions I with difficulty reached some springs of sulphurous water, naturally hot. And since the heat had caused us parching thirst, for a long time we went slowly about looking for water. And we fortunately found a deep well, but it was neither possible to go down into it because of its depth, nor were there ropes at hand; so taught by extreme need, we cut the linen garments in which we were clad 1 into long strips and from them made a great rope. To the extreme end of this we tied the cap which one of us wore under his helmet, and when this was let down by the rope and sucked up the water after the manner of a sponge, it readily quenched the thirst by which we were tormented. From there we quickly made our way to the Euphrates river, planning to cross to the farther bank by a boat which long continued custom had kept in that vicinity for the transport of men and animals. But Lo! we saw afar off a scattered band of Romans with cavalry standards, pursued by a great force of Persians; and we could not understand how they appeared so suddenly behind us as we went along. Judging from this instance, we believe that the famous “sons of earth” did not come forth from the bosom of the land, but were born with extraordinary swiftness – those so-called sparti, who, because they were seen unexpectedly in sundry places, were thought to have sprung from the earth, since antiquity gave the matter a fabulous origin. Alarmed by this danger, since now all hope of life depended upon speed through thickets and woods, we made for the higher mountains, and came from there to the town of Melitina in lesser Armenia, where we presently found and accompanied an officer, who was just on the point of leaving; and so we returned unexpectedly to Antioch.

From Ammianus Marcellinus, translated by John Rolfe (London, 1935)

This entry was posted in Primary Sources and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.