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The town of Bezabde, defended by three legions, is stormed by Sapor; who repaired it and supplied it with a garrison and provisions; he also makes a vain attack on the fortress of Virta.

After the destruction of the city the king prudently turned aside from Nisibis, doubtless remembering what he had often suffered there, 1 and marched to the right by side roads to Bezabde, which its early founders also called Phaenicha, hoping to gain entrance into the place by force or by winning the defenders with flattering promises. Bezabde was a very strong fortress, placed upon a hill of moderate height which sloped towards the banks of the Tigris, and where it was low and therefore exposed to danger it was fortified with a double wall. For the defence of the place three legions were assigned, the Second Flavian, the Second Armenian, and also the Second Parthian with a great number of bowmen of the Zabdiceni, on whose soil, at that time subject to us, this town was situated.

[2] On his first attack the king himself, with a troop of horsemen gleaming in full armour and [p. 43] himself towering above the rest, rode about the circuit of the camp, and with over-boldness advanced to the very edge of the trenches. But becoming the target of repeated missiles from the ballistae and of arrows, he was protected by a close array of shields placed side by side as in a tortoise-mantlet, and got away unhurt. [3] However, he suppressed his anger for the time being, and sending heralds in the usual manner, courteously urged the besieged, taking regard for their lives and their hope for the future, to put an end to the blockade by a timely surrender, unbar their gates and come forth, presenting themselves as suppliants to the conqueror of the nations. [4] When these heralds dared to come close, the defenders of the walls spared them for the reason that they had brought in close company with them some freeborn men who had been taken prisoner at Singara and were recognised by the garrison. In pity for these men no one hurled a weapon; but to the offer of peace no answer was made.

[5] Then a truce 2 was granted for a whole day and night, but before the beginning of the next day the entire force of the Persians fiercely attacked the rampart, uttering cruel threats and roaring outcries; and when they had boldly advanced close up to the walls, they began to fight with the townsmen, who resisted with great vigour. [6] And for this reason a large number of the Parthians were wounded, because, some carrying scaling ladders, others holding hurdles of osiers before them, they all rushed within range as though blinded; and our men were not unscathed. For clouds of arrows flew thick [p. 45] and fast, and transfixed the defenders as they stood crowded together. After sunset the two parties separated with equal losses, but just before dawn of the following day, while the trumpets sounded on one side and the other, the struggle was renewed with much greater ardour than before, and on either side equally great heaps of dead were to be seen, since both parties fought most obstinately.

[7] But on the following day, which after manifold losses had by common consent been devoted to rest, since great terror encircled the walls and the Persians had no less grounds for fear, the chief priest of the sect of Christians indicated by signs and nods that he wished to go forth; and when a pledge had been given that he would be allowed to return in safety, he came as far as the king's tent. [8] There being given permission to say what he wished, with mild words he advised the Persians to return to their homes, declaring that after the lamentable losses on both sides it was to be feared that perhaps even greater ones might follow. But it was in vain that he persisted in making these and many similar pleas, opposed as they were by the frenzied rage of the king, who roundly swore that he would not leave the place until the fortress had been destroyed. [9] But the bishop incurred the shadow of a suspicion, unfounded in my opinion, though circulated confidently by many, of having told Sapor in a secret conference what parts of the wall to attack, as being slight within and weak. And in the end there seemed to be ground for this, since after his visit the enemy's engines deliberately battered those places which were tottering and insecure from decay, and that too with [p. 47] spiteful exultation, as if those who directed them were acquainted with conditions within.

[10] And though the narrow footpaths yielded difficult access to the walls, and the rams that had been prepared were moved forward with difficulty, since the fear of stones thrown by hand and of arrows kept them off, yet neither the ballistae nor the scorpions ceased, the former to hurl darts, the latter showers of stones and with them blazing wicker baskets, smeared with pitch and bitumen. Because of the constant fall of these as they rolled down the slope, the engines were halted as though held fast by deep roots, and the constant shower of fiery darts and brands set them on fire.

[11] But in spite of all this, and though many fell on both sides, the besiegers were fired with the greater desire to destroy the town, defended though it was by its natural situation and by mighty works, before the winter season, believing that the king's rage could not be quieted until that was done. Therefore neither the great outpouring of blood nor the many mortal wounds that were suffered deterred the survivors from like boldness. [12] But after a long and destructive struggle, they finally exposed themselves to extreme peril, and as the enemy pushed on the rams, huge stones coming thick from the walls, and varied devices for kindling fire, debarred them from going forward. [13] However, one ram, higher than the rest, which was covered with wet bull's hide and therefore less exposed to danger from fire or darts, having gone ahead of all the others, made its way with mighty efforts to the wall. There, digging into the joints of the stones with its huge beak, it [p. 49] weakened a tower and overthrew it. As this fell with a mighty roar, those also who stood upon it were thrown down by its sudden collapse and either dashed to pieces or buried. Thus they perished by varied and unlooked-for forms of death, while the armed hordes of the enemy, finding the ascent safer, rushed into the town.

[14] Then, while the din of the yelling Persians thundered on all sides in the terrified ears of the overmatched townsmen, a hotter fight raged within the walls, as bands of our soldiers and of the enemy struggled hand to hand; and since they were crowded body to body and both sides fought with drawn swords, they spared none who came in their way. [15] Finally the besieged, after long resisting imminent destruction, were at last with great difficulty scattered in all directions by the weight of the huge throng. After that the swords of the infuriated enemy cut down all that they could find, children were torn from their mothers' breasts and the mothers themselves were butchered, and no man recked what he did. Amid such scenes of horror that nation, greedier still for plunder, 3 laden with spoils of every sort, and leading off a great throng of captives, returned in triumph to their tents.

[16] The king, however, filled with arrogant joy, and having long burned with a desire of taking Phaenicha, since it was a very convenient stronghold, did not leave the place until he had firmly repaired the shattered parts of the walls, stored up an immense quantity of supplies, and stationed there an armed force of men distinguished for their high birth and renowned for their military skill. For [p. 51] he feared what actually happened, 4 namely, that the Romans, taking to heart the loss of such a powerful stronghold, would strive with all their might to recover it.

[17] Then, filled with greater confidence and inspired with the hope of accomplishing whatever he might undertake, after capturing some insignificant strongholds, he prepared to attack Virta, a fortress of great antiquity, since it was believed to have been built by Alexander of Macedon; it was situated indeed on the outer frontier of Mesopotamia, but was girt by walls with salient and re-entrant angles and made difficult of access by manifold devices. [18] But after resorting to every artifice, now tempting the defenders with promises, now threatening them with the cruelest punishments, sometimes preparing to build embankments and bringing up siege-engines, after suffering more losses than he inflicted, he at last gave up the vain attempt and departed.

1 Nisibis was besieged three times by the Persians. It was finally ceded to them by Jovian; see xxv. 7, 9-11.

2 Probably, there was a cessation of hostilities, rather than a truce. Ammianus is loose in his use of military terms; see Amer. Jour. of Phil., liii., pp. 21 ff.

3 I.e. than for bloodshed.

4 See 11, 6-25, below.

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