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Julianus Augustus with his whole army crosses the river Abora at Cercusium on a bridge of boats. He addresses his troops.

After having received the auxiliaries of the Saracens, which they offered him with great willingness, the emperor marched at quick step to Cercusium, a very safe and skilfully built fortress, [p. 335] whose walls are washed by the Abora and Euphrates rivers, which form a kind of island, and entered it at the beginning of the month of April. [2] This place, which was formerly small and exposed to danger, Diocletian, alarmed by a recent experience, 1 encircled with walls and lofty towers, at the time when he was arranging the inner lines of defence on the very frontiers of the barbarians, in order to prevent the Persians from overrunning Syria, as had happened a few years before with great damage to the provinces. [3] For once upon a time at Antioch, amid deep silence, 2 an actor of mimes, who with his wife had been presented in stage-plays, was presenting some scenes from everyday life. And while all the people were amazed at the charm of the performance, the wife suddenly cried: “Is it a dream, or are the Persians here?” Whereupon all the people turned their heads about and then fled in all directions, to avoid the arrows that were showered upon them from the citadel. Thus the city was set on fire, and many people who were carelessly wandering about, as in time of peace, were butchered; neighbouring places were burned and devastated, and the enemy, laden with plunder, returned home without the loss of a single man. Mareades, who had inconsiderately brought the Persians there to the destruction of his own people, was burned alive. This took place in the time of Gallienus. 3

[4] But while Julian was lingering at Cercusium, to the end that his army with all its followers might cross the Abora on a bridge of boats, he received a sorrowful letter from Sallustius, prefect of Gaul, [p. 337] begging that the campaign against the Parthians might be put off, and that Julian should not thus prematurely, without having yet prayed for the protection of the gods, expose himself to inevitable destruction. [5] But the emperor, disregarding his cautious counsellor, pushed confidently on, since no human power or virtue has ever been great enough to turn aside what the decrees of fate had ordained. Immediately upon crossing the bridge he ordered it to be destroyed, so that no soldier in his own army might entertain hope of a return. [6] Here also, with like fatality, an unfavourable omen appeared: the outstretched corpse of a certain attendant slain by the hand of an executioner, whom the resident prefect 4 Salutius had condemned to death because, after promising to supply additional provisions within a designated time, he had been prevented by an accident from keeping his word. But on the day after the wretched man had been executed another fleet arrived, as he had promised, bringing an abundance of supplies.

[7] Setting out from there we came to a place called Zaitha, which means “Olive tree.” Here we saw, conspicuous from afar, the tomb of the Emperor Gordianus, 5 of whose deeds from early childhood, his successful campaigns, and his treacherous murder we have spoken at the appropriate time. 6 [8] When Julian had there, in accordance with his native piety, made offerings to the deified emperor, and was on his way to Dura (a deserted town), he saw a troop of soldiers in the distance and halted. And while he was in doubt what they were bringing, they presented him with a lion of huge size, which [p. 339] had attacked their line and had been slain by a shower of arrows. Elated by this omen, as if he now had surer hope of a successful outcome, the emperor pushed on with proud confidence, but since the breeze of fortune is uncertain, the result turned out otherwise; for the death of a king was foretold, but of which king was uncertain. [9] And, in fact, we read of other ambiguous oracles, the meaning of which only the final results determined: as, for example, the truth of the Delphic prediction which declared that Croesus, after crossing the river Halys, would overthrow a mighty kingdom; 7 and another which in veiled language designated the sea as the place for the Athenians to fight against the Medes; 8 and a later one than these, which was in fact true, but none the less ambiguous:

Aeacus' son, I say, the Roman people can conquer. 9

[10] However, the Etruscan soothsayers, who accompanied the other adepts in interpreting prodigies, since they were not believed when they often tried to prevent this campaign, now brought out their books on war, and showed that this sign was adverse and prohibitory to a prince invading another's territory, even though he was in the right. [11] But they were spurned by the opposition of the philosophers, whose authority was then highly valued, but who were sometimes in error and very persistent in matters with which they had little acquaintance. They, indeed, advanced as a specious argument for establishing belief in their knowledge, [p. 341] that when the former Caesar Maximianus was already on the point of engaging with Narseus, king of the Persians, in the same way a lion and a huge boar that had been killed were brought to him, and that he came back safely after conquering the enemy. And there was no idea at all that such a portent threatened destruction to the invader of another's territory, although Narseus had first seized Armenia, which was subject to Roman jurisdiction. [12] Likewise, on the following day, which was the seventh of April, as the sun was already sloping towards its setting, starting with a little cloud thick darkness suddenly filled the air and daylight was removed; and after much menacing thunder and lightning a soldier named Jovian, with two horses which he was bringing back after watering them at the river, was struck dead by a bolt from the sky. [13] Upon seeing this, Julian again called in the interpreters of omens, and on being questioned they declared emphatically that this sign also forbade the expedition, pointing out that the thunderbolt was of the advisory kind; 10 for so those are called which either recommend or dissuade any act. And so much the more was it necessary to guard against this one. because it killed a soldier of lofty name 11 as well as war-horses, and because places which were struck in that manner—so the books on lightning 12 declare— must neither be looked upon nor trodden. [14] The philosophers, on the other hand, maintained that the brilliance of the sacred fire which suddenly appeared signified nothing at all, but was merely the course of a stronger mass of air sent downward from the aether by some force; or if it did give any sign, it foretold [p. 343] an increase in renown for the emperor, as he was beginning a glorious enterprise, since it is well known that flames by their very nature mount on high without opposition.

[15] So when the bridge had been broken down (as was said before) and all had crossed, the emperor thought that the most urgent of all his duties was to address the soldiers, who were advancing confidently through trust in themselves and their leader. Therefore, when the signal had been given with the trumpets, and all the centuries, cohorts and maniples had come together, he took his place upon a mound of earth, surrounded by a ring of high officials, and with calm countenance and favoured with the unanimous devotion of all, spoke as follows:

[16] “Seeing the great vigour and eagerness that animate you, my valiant soldiers, I have resolved to address you, in order to explain in full detail that this is not the first time—as some evil-minded men mutter—that the Romans have invaded the Persian kingdom. For not to mention Lucullus and Pompey, who, passing through the Albani and the Massagetae, whom we now call the Alani, broke into this nation also and came to the Caspian Sea, we know that Ventidius, 13 the lieutenant-general of Antony, inflicted innumerable sanguinary defeats in this region. [17] But to leave ancient times, I will disclose what recent history has transmitted to us. Trajan, Verus, and Severus returned from here victorious and adorned with trophies, 14 and the [p. 345] younger Gordianus, 15 whose monument we just now looked upon with reverence, would have come back with equal glory, after vanquishing the Persian king and putting him to flight at Resaina, 16 had he not been struck down by an impious wound inflicted by the faction of Philippus, the praetorian prefect, and a few wicked accomplices, in the very place where he now lies buried. But his shade did not long wander unavenged, for as if their deeds were weighed in the scales of Justice, all who had conspired against him perished by agonising deaths. 17 [18] Those emperors, indeed, their own desire, inclined as they were to lofty enterprises, drove to undertake noteworthy exploits, but we are urged on to our present purpose by the pitiful fate of recently captured cities, by the unavenged shades of armies destroyed, by the great disasters that have been suffered, and by the loss of many a camp. For everybody's desires are one with ours to make good the past and give strength to our country by making this side of her domain safe, and thus leave to future generations material for singing our praises. [19] Everywhere shall I, with the help of the eternal deity, be by your side, as emperor, as leader, and as fellow horseman, 18 and (as I think) under favourable auspices. But if fickle fortune should overthrow me in any battle, I shall be content with having sacrificed myself for the Roman world, after the [p. 347] example of the Curtii 19 and Mucii 20 of old and the noble family of the Decii. 21 We must wipe out a most mischievous nation, on whose sword-blades the blood of our kinsmen is not yet dry. [20] Our forefathers spent many ages in eradicating whatever caused them trouble. Carthage was conquered in a long and difficult war, but our distinguished leader 22 feared that she might survive the victory. Scipio utterly destroyed Numantia, 23 after undergoing many vicissitudes in its siege. Rome laid Fidenae 24 low, in order that no rivals of her power might grow up, and for that same reason crushed Falerii and Veil; 25 and even trustworthy ancient histories would have difficulty in convincing us that those cities were ever powerful. 26 [21] This I have set forth from my knowledge of ancient records; it remains for each of you, putting aside the desire for plunder, which has often tempted the Roman soldier, to keep with the army on its march, and when battle must be joined, to follow each his own standard, remembering that if anyone falls behind, he will be left hamstrung. 27 For I fear nothing, save the craft and treachery of the over-cunning enemy. [22] Finally, I promise one and all that when, after this, affairs [p. 349] shall be brought to a successful conclusion, waiving all prior rights of princes, who by reason of their full powers think that whatever they have said or resolved is just, I will give to anyone who demands it an account of what has been rightly or wrongly undertaken. [23] Therefore rouse, I pray you, at once rouse your courage, both in the anticipation of great success, since you will undergo whatever difficulty arises on equal terms with me, and with the conviction that victory must always attend the just cause.”

[24] After the speech had been brought to this most welcome conclusion, the warriors, exulting in the fame of their leader, and still more greatly fired with the hope of success, lifted their shields on high and cried that nothing would be dangerous or difficult under a leader who imposed more toil upon himself than on the common soldiers. [25] In particular, the Gallic troops showed this feeling by joyful shouts, remembering how often under his command, and as he ran about from company to company, they had seen some nations overcome and others reduced to entreaties.

1 Detailed in § 3.

2 Or perhaps, “in a time of profound peace.”

3 260-268; according to others, it was in the time of his father Valerian.

4 See xiv. 1, 10, note.

5 Zosimus, iii. 14, locates the tomb at Dura: see below, ch. 8.

6 In one of the lost books.

7 This oracle is often quoted; see Hdt. i. 53, where the envoys announced to Croesus: ἢν στρατεύηται ἐπὶ πέρσας, μεγάλην ἀρχήν μιν καταλύσειν: Cic., Div. ii. 56, 115, Croesus Halyn penetrants magnam pervertet opum vim.

8 The oracle bade the Greeks defend themselves with wooden walls. In general, see Cic., Div. ii. 26, 56.

9 Cf. Ennius, Ann. 174, Remains of Old Latin, L.C.L., i.

10 On this kind of thunderbolt see Seneca, Nat. Quaest. ii. 39, 1 ff.

11 Since Jovianus is connected with Jupiter.

12 These prescribed the rites and taboos connected with thunderbolts. The expression libri fulgurales seems to occur only here and in Cic., Div. i. 33, 72, where we have haruspicini et fulgurales et rituales libri.

13 See Plut., Ant. 33, 4; 34, 1; Val. Max. vi. 9, 9.

14 Tropaeati seems to be a word coined by Ammianus.

15 Emperor from 238-244; see Index I., vol. i., s.v. Gordiani. In 242 he made a campaign against the Per- sians, at first with success; but his troops, incited by Philippus, mutinied and put him to death.

16 A town of Osdroëne.

17 Cf. Capit., Gordian. 33, and Suet., Jul. 89, of the as- sassins of Julius Caesar.

18 antesignanus et conturmalis seems to imply playing the part now of a leader of the infantry and now of the cavalry.

19 Cf. Livy, vii. 6, 1 ff.

20 Cf. Livy, ii. 12.

21 See xvi. 10, 3.

22 Scipio Aemilianus; cf. Seneca, Dial. xi. 14, 5, quid referam Aemilianum Scipionem . . . vir in hoc natus, ne urbi Romanae aut Scipio deesset aut Carthago superesset.

23 Cf. Florus, i. 24, 18. The siege lasted, with interruptions, for thirteen years.

24 Cf. Livy, iv. 17 ff.

25 Cf. Livy, v. 25-27.

26 Cf. Flor. i. 6, 11, laborat annalium fides, ut Veios fuisse credamus, “Our trust in our annals has a difficult task to make us believe that Veii ever existed.” Florus, L.C.L., p. 41.

27 In this way the Persians disabled prisoners for whom they had no use; cf. xix. 6, 2; xxxi. 7, 13; so also the Romans, xvii. 13, 10; xxv. 3, 5.

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load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1940)
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load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
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  • Cross-references to this page (8):
    • Harper's, Bidental
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), BIDENTAL
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ANTIOCHEIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ARA´BIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), BABYLO´NIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CHABO´RAS
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), DURA
    • Smith's Bio, Valeria'nus
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