The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite is a Syriac text written, in all probability, by an inhabitant of Edessa almost immediately after the end of the war between the Byzantine Empire and Persia in 502-506 AD. Joshua’s account of this war is regarded as the most detailed and vivid description of any of the surviving sources. In the following section, Pseudo-Joshua relates how the city of Amida (also called Amid) was captured by the Persian King Kawad, followed by a second siege of Byzantine forces that forced Kawad to leave the city.
Kawad, the king of the Persians, came from the north on the fifth of October, on a Saturday, and encamped against the city of Amida, which is beside us in Mesopotamia, he and his whole army. When Anastasius, the Greek emperor, heard that Kawad had collected his forces, he was unwilling to meet him in battle, that blood might not be shed on both sides; but he sent him money by the hand of Rufinus, to whom he gave orders that, if Kawad was on the frontier and had not yet crossed over the Greek territory, he should give him the money and send him away. But when Rufinus came to Caesarea of Cappadocia, and beard that Kawad had laid waste Agel and Suph and Armenia and the Arabs, he left the money at Caesarea, and went to him, and told him that he should recross the border and take the money. He however would not, but seized Rufinus and ordered him to be kept under guard. He fought against Amida, he and his whole army, with every manner of warfare, by night and by day, and built against it a mound but the people of Amida built and added to the height of the wall. When the mound was raised high, the Persians applied the battering-ram; and after they had struck the wall violently, the part newly built became loosened, because it had not yet settled, and fell. But the Amidenes dug a hole in the wall under the mule, and secretly drew away inside the city the earth which was heaped up to form it, propping it up with beams as they worked; and so the mule collapsed and fell.
When Kawad found that he was not a match for the city, he sent Na‘man, the king of the Arabs (of al-Hirah), with his whole force, to go southwards to the district of Harran. Some of the Persian troops advanced as far as the city of Constantina or Tella, and were plundering and harrying and laying waste the whole country. On the 19th of November Olympius, the dux of Tella, and Eugenius, the dux of Melitene (who had come down at that time), went forth, they and their troops, and destroyed the Persians whom they found in the villages around Tella. And when they had turned to go back to the city, some one told them that there were five hundred men in a ravine not very far from them. They were ready to go against them, but the Greek troops that were with them had dispersed themselves to strip the slain; and because it was night, Olympius gave orders to light a fire on the top of an eminence and to blow trumpets, that those who were scattered might rejoin them. But the Persian generals, who were encamped at the village of Tell Besbmai, when they saw the light of the fire and beard the sound of the trumpets, armed all their force and came against them. When the Greek cavalry saw that the Persians were too many for them, they turned (their backs); but the infantry were unable to escape and were constrained to fight. So they came together and drew up in battle array, forming what is called the chelone or tortoise, and fought for a long time. But as the army of the Persians was too many for them, and there were added to these the Huns and Arabs, their ranks were broken, and they were thrown into disorder, and mixed up among the cavalry, and trampled and crushed under the hoofs of the horses of the Arabs. So many of the Greeks were killed, and the rest were made prisoners.
On the 26th of this month Na`man came from the south and entered the territory of the Harranites, and laid waste and plundered and took captive the people and cattle and property of the whole territory of Harrin. He came also as far as Edessa, harrying and plundering and taking captive all the villages. The number of persons whom he led away into captivity was 18,500, besides those who were killed, and besides the cattle and property and spoil of all kinds. The reason that all these people were found in the villages was its being the time of the vintage, for not only did the villagers go out to the vintage, but also many of the Harranites and Edessenes went out, and were taken prisoners. Because of these things Edessa was closed and guarded, and ditches were dug, and the wall was repaired; and the gates of the city were stopped up with blocks of stone, because they were decayed. They were going to put new ones, and to make bolts for the sluices of the river, lest any one should enter thereby; but they could not find iron enough for the work, and an order was issued that every house in Edessa should furnish ten pounds of iron. When this was done, the work was finished. When Eugenius saw that he could not meet all the Persians (in battle), he took what troops were left him, and went against the garrison which they had at Theodosiupolis, and destroyed those who were in it, and retook the town.
Kawad was still fighting against Amida, and striving and labouring to set up again the mule that had fallen in. He ordered the Persians to fill it up with stones and beams, and to bring cloths of hair and wool and linen, and make them into bags or sacks, and fill them with earth, and pile them up on the mule which they bad made, so that it might be raised quickly against the wall. Then the Amidenes constructed a machine which the Persians named “the Crusher”, because it thwarted all their labour and destroyed themselves. For the Amidenes cast with this engine huge stones, each of which weighed more than three hundred pounds; and so the cotton awning under which the Persians concealed themselves was rent in pieces, and those who were standing beneath it were crushed. The battering ram too was broken by the constant shower of stones which were cast without cessation; for the Amidenes were not able to damage the Persians so much in any other way as by means of large stones, because of the cotton awning which was folded many times over (the mound). Upon this the Persians used to pour water, and it could neither be damaged by arrows on account of its thickness, nor by fire because it was damp. But these large stones that were hurled from “the Crusher” destroyed both awning and men and weapons. In this way the Persians were discomfited, and gave up working at the mule; and took counsel to return to their own country, because, during the three months that they had sat before it, 50,000 of them had perished in the battles that were fought daily both by night and day. But the Amidenes became over–confident in their victory, and fell into careless ways, and did not guard the wall with the same diligence as before. On the 10th of the month of January the guardians of the wall drank a great deal of wine because of the cold, and when it was night, they fell asleep and were sunk in a heavy slumber; and some of them quitted their posts, because it was raining, and went down to seek shelter in their houses. Whether then through this remissness, as we think, or by an act of treachery, as people said, or as a chastisement from God, the Persians got possession of the walls of Amida by means of a ladder, without the gates being opened or the wall breached. They laid waste the city, and sacked all the property in it, and trampled the Eucharist under foot, and mocked at its service, and stripped bare its churches, and led its inhabitants into captivity, except the old and the maimed and those who hid themselves. They left there a garrison of three thousand men, and all (the rest) of them went down to the mountains of Shigar. That the Persians who remained might not be annoyed by the smell of the dead bodies of the Amidenes, they carried them out and piled them up in two heaps outside of the north gate. The number of those who were carried out by the north gate was more than 80,000; besides those whom they led forth alive and stoned outside of the city, and those whom they stabbed on the top of the mule that they had constructed, and those who were thrown into the Tigris, and those who died by all sorts of deaths, regarding which we are finable to speak.
Then Kawad let Rufinus go, that he might go and tell the emperor what had been done; and he was speaking of these atrocities everywhere, and by these reports the cities to the east of the Euphrates were alarmed, and (their inhabitants) made ready to flee to the west. The honoured Jacob, the periodeutes, who has composed many homilies on passages of the Scriptures, and written various poems and hymns regarding the time of the locusts, was not neglectful at this time too of his duty, but wrote letters of admonition to all the cities, bidding them trust in the Divine deliverance, and exhorting them not to flee. The emperor Anastasius too, when he heard this, sent a large army of Greek soldiers to winter in the cities and garrison them. All the booty that he had taken, and the captives that he had carried off, were not, however, enough for Kawad, nor was he sated with the great quantity of blood that he had shed; but he (again) sent ambassadors to the emperor, saying, “Send me the money or accept war.” This was in the month of April. The emperor, however, did not send the money, but made preparations to avenge himself and to exact satisfaction for those who had perished. In the month of May he sent against him three generals, Areobindus, Patricius, and Hypatius, and many officers with them. Areobindus went down and encamped on the border by Dara and `Ammudin, towards the city of Nisibis; he had with him 12,000 men. Patricius and Hypatius encamped against Amida, to drive out thence the Persian garrison; they had with them 40,000 men. There came down too at this time the hyparch Appion, and dwelt at Edessa, to look after the provisioning of the Greek troops that were with them. As the bakers were not able to make bread enough, he ordered that wheat should be supplied to all the houses of Edessa and that they should make soldiers’ bread 11 at their own cost. The Edessenes turned out at the first baking 630,000 modii.
When Kawad saw that those who were with Areobindus were few in number, he sent against them the troops that be had with him in Shigar, (namely) 20,000 Persians; but Areobindus routed them once and again, until they were driven to the gate of Nisibis, and many of the fugitives were suffocated at the gate as they were pressing to get in. In the month of July the Huns and Arabs joined the Persians to come against him, with Constantine at their head. When he learned this from spies, he sent Calliopius the Aleppine to Patricius and Hypatius, saying, “Come to me and help me, because a large army is about to come against me.” They, however, did not listen to him, but stayed where they were beside Amida. When the Persians came against the army of Areobindus, he could not contend with them, but left his camp, and made his escape to Tella and Edessa; and all their baggage was plundered and carried off.
The troops of Patricius and Hypatius were meanwhile constructing three towers of wood; wherewith to scale the walls of Amida. But when they had finished building the towers at a great expense, and they were girded with iron so as not to be harmed by anything, then they found out what had happened on the frontier, and they burned the towers, and departed thence, and went after the Persians but did not overtake them. One of the officers, whose name was Pharazman, and another named Theodore, sent by stratagem a flock of sheep to pass by Amida, while they and their troops lay in ambush. When the Persians saw the sheep from within Amida, about four hundred chosen men of them sallied forth to carry them off; but the Greeks who were lying in ambush arose and destroyed them, and took their leader alive. He promised them that he would give up Amida to them, and for this reason Patricius and Hypatius returned thither; but when that general was unable to fulfill his promise, because those in the city would not be persuaded by him, the generals ordered him to be impaled.
On the 25th of December there came an edict from the emperor that the tax should be remitted to all Mesopotamia. The Persians who were in Amida, when they saw that the Greek army had gone away from them, opened the gates of the city of Amida, and went forth and entered where they pleased, and sold to the merchants copper and iron and lead and old clothes and whatever was to be had in the city, and even set up a warehouse in it. When Patricius heard this, he set out from Melitene, where he was wintering, and came and laid siege to Amida. All the merchants whom he found carrying down thither grain and oil, and those too who were buying things from there, he slew. He found also the Persians who were sent by Kawad to convey thither arms and grain and cattle, and destroyed them, and took all that was with them. When Kawad learned this, he sent against him a general to take vengeance on him. When they came near one another to fight, the Greeks, because of the fear inspired by their former defeat, counselled Patricius to flee, and he hearkened to this. In their haste, not knowing whither they were going, they came upon the river Kallath; and because it was winter and there was a great flood in it, they were not able to cross it, but every one of them who hastened to cross was drowned in the river with his horse. When Patricius saw this, be exhorted the Greeks, saying: “O men of Greece, let us not put to shame our race and our profession, and flee from our enemies, but let us turn against them, and perhaps we may be a match for them. And if they be too strong for us, it is better to die by the edge of the sword with a good name for valour than to perish like cowards by drowning.” Then the Greeks listened to his advice, being constrained by the river; and they turned against the Persians with fury and destroyed them, and took their generals alive. Thereafter they again encamped against Amida, and Patricius sent and collected unto him artisans from other cities and many of the villagers, and bade them dig in the ground and make a mine beneath the wall, that it might be weakened and fall.
In the month of March, when the rest of the Greeks were assembling to go down with the magister, a certain sign was given them from God, that they might be encouraged and be confident of victory. We were informed of this in writing by the people of the church of Zeugma. That it may not be thought that I say anything on my own authority, or that I have harkened to and believed a false rumour, I quote the very words of the letter that came to us, which are as follows:
“Hearken now to a marvel and a glorious sight, such as hath never been, because this concerns us and you and all the Greeks. For it is a wondrous thing, which it is hard for the understanding of men to believe. But we have seen it with our eyes, and touched it (with our hands), and read it with our lips. Ye ought therefore to believe it without any scruple. On the 19th of March, a Friday, which is the day that our Saviour was slain, a goose laid an egg in the village of Agar in the district of Zeugma, and thereon were written Greek letters, fair and legible, which formed as it were the body of the egg and were raised to the sight and touch, like the letters which monks trace on the eucharistic cups, so that even the blind could feel their shape. They were thus. A cross was traced on the side of the egg, and going completely round the egg, from it until it came to it again, was written THE GREEKS. And again there was traced another cross, and [going round the egg,] from it until it came to it again, was written SHALL CONQUER. The crosses were traced one above the other, and the words were written one above the other. There was none that saw this marvel, Christian or Jew, who restrained his mouth from uttering praise. But as for the letters which the right hand of God traced in the ovary (of the bird), we do not dare to imitate them, for they are very beautiful. Whosoever therefore hears it, let him believe it without hesitation.” These are the words of the letter of the Zeugmatites. As for the egg, those in whose village it was laid gave it to Areobindus.
The Greeks collected a large army, and went down and encamped beside the city of Ras-`ain, while Kawad despatched about 10,000 men to go against Patricius. They took up their quarters in Nisibis, that they might rest there, and they stint their cattle to pasture in the hills of Shigar. When the Magister heard this, he sent Timostratus, the dux of Callinicus, with 6000 cavalry, and he went and fell upon those who were tending the horses and destroyed them, and carried off the horses and sheep and much booty, and returned to the Greek army at Ras-`ain. Then they all set out in a body, and went and encamped against the city of Amida beside Patricius.
As soon as Patricius had got under the wall of Amida by means of the mine which he had dug, he propped it up with beams and set fire to them, whereby the outer face of the wall was loosened and fell down, but the inner part remained standing. He then thought of digging on by that mine and entering the city. When they had carried the excavation through, and the Greeks had begun to ascend, a woman of Amida saw them and cried out suddenly for joy, “The Greeks are entering the city!” The Persians heard her, and ran at the first who came up and stabbed him. After him there came up a Goth, whose name was Ald, who had been made tribune at Harran, and he stabbed three of those Persians. Not another one of the Greeks came up after him, because the Persians had perceived them. When Ald saw that no one was coming up, he became afraid and turned back; but he thought that he would take down with him the dead body of the Greek who had fallen, that the Persians might not insult it. As he was dragging away the dead body and going down into the mouth of the mine, the Persians smote him too and wounded him; and they directed thither the water from a large well that was near to it, and drowned four of the mail-clad Greeks who were about to come up. The rest fled and escaped thence. The Persians collected stones from within the city and blocked up the mine, and piled up a great quantity of earth over it, and all of them kept watch carefully round it, lest it should be excavated at some other spot. They dug ditches within along the whole wall all round, and filled them with water, so that, if the Greeks should make another mine, the water might trickle into it, and it so become known. When Patricius heard this from a deserter who had come down to him, he gave up constructing mines.
One day, when the whole Greek army was still and quiet, fighting was stirred up on this wise. A boy was feeding the camels and asses; and an ass, as it grazed, walked gradually close up to the wall. The boy was afraid to go in and fetch it; and one of the Persians, when he saw it, descended by a rope from the wall, and was going to cut it in pieces and carry it up to be food for them, for there was no meat at all inside the city. But one of the Greek soldiers, a Galilaean by race, drew his sword, and took his shield in his left hand, and ran at the Persian to kill him. As he bad come close up to the wall, those who were standing on the wall threw down a large stone and crushed the Galilaean; and the Persian began to ascend to his place by the rope. When he had got halfway up the wall, one of the Greek officers drew nigh, with two shield-bearers walking before him, and shot an arrow from between them, and struck the Persian, and laid him beside the Galilaean. A shout went up from both sides, and because of this they became excited and rose up to fight. All the Greek troops surrounded the city in a dense mass, and there fell of them forty men, while one hundred and fifty were wounded. Of the Persians who were on the wall only nine were seen to be killed, and a few were wounded; for it was difficult to fight with them, the more so as they were on the top of the wall, because they had made for themselves small houses all along the wall, and they were standing within them and fighting, and could not be seen by those who were without.
The Magister and the generals then thought that it was not fitting for them to fight with them, because victory did not depend for the Greeks upon the slaying of these, seeing that they had to carry on war against the whole of the Persians; and if Kawad were to be defeated, these would have to surrender or to perish in their prison. Therefore they gave orders that no one should fight with them, lest by reason of those who were slain or wounded among the Greeks, a great part of the army should disperse out of fear.
As Kawad, when he took Amida, had gone into its public bath and experienced the benefit of bathing, he gave orders, as soon as he went down to his own country, that baths should be built in all the towns of the Persian territory. `Adid the Arab, who was under the rule of the Persians, surrendered with all his troops and became subject to the Greeks. Again, in the month of July, the Greeks fought with the Persians who were in Amida, and Gainas, the dux of Arabia, smote many of them with arrows. When the day became hot, his armour got too warm for him, and he loosened the belt of his mail a little; whereupon they shot from Amida arrows from the ballistae, and smote him, and he died. When the Magister saw that he suffered harm by sitting before Amida, be took his army and went down to the Persian territory, leaving Patricius at Amida. Areobindus too took his army and entered Persian Armenia; and they destroyed of the Armenians and Persians 10,000 men, and took captive 30,000 women and children, and plundered and burned many villages. When they came back to return to Amida; they brought 120,000 sheep and oxen and horses. As they were passing by Nisibis, the Greeks lay in ambush, and the few whose charge it was drove them past the city. When a certain general who was there saw that they were few in number, he armed his troops and sallied forth to take them from them. They pretended to flee, and the Persians took courage and pursued them. When they had gone a long way from their supports, the Greeks arose from the ambush and destroyed them, and not one of them escaped. They were about 7000 men. Mushlek the Armenian, who was under the Persians, surrendered with his whole force and became subject to the Greeks.
The survivors who were left in Amida from the population, and those who had escaped the sword, were in sore trouble and distress from famine. The Persians were afraid of them lest they should give up the city to the Greeks; and they bound all the men that were there, and threw them into the amphitheatre, and there they perished of hunger and of endless bonds. But to the women they gave part of their food, because they used them to satisfy their lust, and because they had need of them to grind and bake for them. When however, food became scarce, they neglected them, and left them without sustenance. For none of them received more than one handful of barley daily during this year; whilst of meat, or wine, or any other article of food, they had absolutely none at all. And because they were very much afraid of the Greeks, they never stirred from their posts, but made for themselves small furnaces upon the wall, and brought up handmills, and ground that handful of barley where they were, and baked and ate it. They also brought up large kneading-troughs, and placed them between the battle–ments, and filled them with earth, and sowed in them vegetables, and whatever grew in them they ate.
In narrating what the women of the place did, I may perhaps not be believed by those who come after us, (but) at the present day there is no one of those who care to learn things that has not heard all that was done, even though he be at a great distance from us. Many women then met and conspired together, and used to go forth by stealth into the streets of the city in the evening or morning; and whomsoever they met, woman or child or man, for whom they were a match, they used to carry him by force into a house and kill and eat him, either boiled or roasted. When this was betrayed by the smell of the roasting, and the thing became known to the general who was there (in command), he made an example of many of them and put them to death; and told the rest with threats that they should not do this again nor kill any one. He gave them leave however to eat those that were dead, and this they did openly, eating the flesh of dead men; and the rest of them were picking up shoes and old soles and other nasty things from the streets and courtyards, and eating them. To the Greek troops however nothing was lacking, but everything was supplied to them in its season, and came down with great care by the order of the emperor. Indeed the things that were sold in their camps were more abundant than in the cities whether meat or drink or shoes or clothing. All the cities were baking soldiers’ bread by their bakers, and sending it to them, especially the Edessenes; for the citizens baked in their houses this year too, by order of Calliopius the hyparch, 630,000 modii, besides what the villagers baked throughout the whole district, and the bakers, both strangers and natives.
The Greek generals who were encamped by Amida were going down on forays into the Persian territory, plundering and taking captive and destroying, and the Persians migrated before them, and crossed the Tigris. They found there the Persian cavalry, who were gathered together to come against the Greeks, and so they took heart against them, and halted on the farther bank of the Tigris. The Greeks crossed after them, and destroyed all the Persian cavalry, who were about 10,000 men, and plundered the property of all the fugitives. They burned many villages, and killed every male that was in them from twelve years old and older, but the women and children they took prisoners. For the Magister had thus commanded all the generals, that if any one of the Greeks was found saving a male from twelve years old and upwards, he should be put to death in his stead; and whatsoever village they entered, that they should not leave a single house standing in it. For this reason be set apart some stalwart men of the Greeks, and many villagers that accompanied them as they went down; and after the roofs were burned and the fire was gone out, they used to pull down the walls too. They also cut down and destroyed the vines and olives and all the trees. The Greek Arabs too crossed the Tigris in front of them, and plundered and took captive and destroyed all that they found in the Persian territory. As I know you study everything with great care, your holiness must be well aware of this, that to the Arabs on both sides this war was a source of much profit, and they wrought their will upon both kingdoms.
When Kawad saw that the Greeks were ravaging the country, and that there was no one to oppose them, he wished to go and meet them. For this reason he sent an Astabid to the Magister to speak of peace, having with him an army of about 20,000 men. He sent all the men of note whom he had led captive from Amida, and Peter, whom he had brought from Ashparin, and Basil, whom he had taken from Edessa as a hostage. He sent also the dead body of the dux Olympius, who had gone down to him on an embassy and died, sealed up in a coffin, to show that he had not died by any other than a natural death, whereof his servants and those who came down with him were witnesses. The Magister received them, and sent them to Edessa, with the exception of the governor of Amida and the count Peter; for he was very angry and provoked, and wanted to put them to death, saying that by their remissness the places which they guarded had been betrayed, and the Persians them–selves testified that the wall of Amida was impregnable. The Astabid was begging and imploring of him to give him the Persians who were shut up in Amida in place of those whom he had brought to him; because, though they were holding out from fear, yet they were in great distress through hunger. But the Magister said, ” Do not mention the subject of these to me, because they are shut up in our city, and they are our slaves.” The Astabid says to him, “Well then, allow me to send them food, for it is unseemly for thee that thy slaves should die of hunger; for whenever thou pleasest, it is easy for thee to kill them.” He says to him, “Send it.” The Astabid says, “Do thou swear unto me, and all thy generals and officers that are with thee, that no one shall kill those whom I send.” They all took the oath, save the dux Nonnosus, who did not take the oath, for the Magister had left him behind on purpose, so that, if there should be any oath taken, he might not be bound by it. The Astabid therefore sent three hundred camels laden with sacks of bread, in the middle of which were placed arrows. Nonnosus fell upon them and took them from them, and slew those who were with them. When the Astabid complained of this, and asked the Magister to punish the man who had done it, the Magister said to him, ” I cannot find out who has done this, because of the great size of the army that is with me; but if thou knowest who it is, and hast strength to take vengeance on him, I will not hinder thee.” The Astabid however was afraid to do this, and kept asking for peace.
When many days had passed after his asking (for peace), great cold set in, with much snow and ice, and the Greeks left their camps, one by one. Each man carried off what booty he had got, and set out to convey it to his own place. Those who remained and did not go to their homes, went into Tella and Ras-`ain and Edessa, to shelter themselves from the cold. When the Astabid saw that the Greeks had become remiss and could not withstand the cold, he sent word to the Magister, saying, “Either make peace, and let the Persians go forth from Amida, or accept war.” The Magister commanded the count Justin to reassemble the army, but he was unable. When he saw that the greater part of the Greeks were dispersed and had left him, he made peace and let the Persians come out from Amida on these terms, that, if the peace which they had concluded pleased the two soverains (Anastasius and Kawad), and they set their seal to what they had done, (it should stand); but if not, the war should go on between them. When the Greek emperor learned these things, he gave orders that a public magazine should be established in every city, but especially at Amida, with the view of putting an end to hostility and drawing closer the bonds of peace. He also sent gifts and presents to Kawad by the hand of a man named Leon, and a service for his table, all the pieces of which were of gold.
How much the Edessenes suffered, who conveyed grain down to Amida, no man knows but those who were actually engaged in the work; for the greater part of them died on the journey, themselves and their baggage animals.
This translation is from The Chronicle of Joshua the Stylite, ed. William Wright (Cambridge, 1882). An improved translation can be found in The Chronicle of Pseudo-Joshua the Stylite, eds. Frank R. Trombley and John W. Watt (Liverpool University Press, 2000).