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The emperor, after passing by some fortresses and towns and burning others, that had been abandoned, receives the surrender of Pirisabora and destroys it by fire.

After these successful operations we reached a fortress called Thilutha, situated in the middle of the river, a place rising in a lofty peak and fortified by nature's power as if by the hand of man. Since the difficulty and the height of the place made it impregnable, an attempt was made with friendly words (as was fitting) to induce the inhabitants to surrender; but they insisted that such defection then would be untimely. But they went so far as to reply, that as soon as the Romans by further advance had got possession of the interior, they also would go over to the victors, as appendages of the kingdom. [2] After this, as our ships went by under [p. 411] their very walls, they looked on in respectful silence without making any move. After passing this place we came to another fortress, Achaiachala by name, also protected by the encircling river, and difficult of ascent; there too we received a similar refusal and went on. The next day another castle, which because of the weakness of its walls had been abandoned, was burned in passing. [3] Then during the following two days we covered 200 stadia and arrived at a place called Baraxmalcha. From there we crossed the river and entered the city of Diacira, 1 seven miles distant. This place was without inhabitants, but rich in grain and fine white salt; there we saw a temple, standing on a lofty citadel. After burning the city, and killing a few women whom we found, we passed over a spring bubbling with bitumen and took possession of the town of Ozogardana, which the inhabitants had likewise deserted through fear of the approaching army. Here a tribunal of the emperor Trajan was to be seen. 2 [4] After burning this city also, and taking two days' rest, towards the end of the night which followed the second day, the Surena, 3 who among the Persians has won the highest rank after the king, and the Malechus, 4 Podosaces by name, phylarch of the Assanitic Saracens, a notorious brigand, who with every kind of cruelty had long raided our territories, 5 laid an ambuscade for Ormizda, who, as they had learned (one knew not from what source), was [p. 413] on the point of setting out to reconnoitre. But their attempt failed, because the river at that point is narrow and very deep, and hence could not be forded. [5] At daybreak the enemy were already in sight, and we then saw them for the first time in their gleaming helmets and bristling with stiff coats of mail; but our soldiers rushed to battle at quick step, and fell upon them most valiantly. And although the bows were bent with strong hand and the flashing gleam of steel added to the fear of the Romans, yet anger whetted their valour, and covered with a close array of shields they pressed the enemy so hard that they could not use their bows. [6] Inspired by these first-fruits of victory, our soldiers came to the village of Macepracta, where the half-destroyed traces of walls 6 were seen; these in early times had a wide extent, it was said, and protected Assyria from hostile inroads. [7] Here a part of the river is drawn off by large canals which take the water into the interior parts of Babylonia, for the use of the fields and the neighbouring cities; another part, Naarmalcha 7 by name, which being interpreted means “the kings' river,” flows past Ctesiphon. Where it begins, a tower of considerable height rises, like the Pharos. 8 Over this arm of the river all the infantry crossed on carefully constructed bridges. [8] But the cavalry with the pack-animals swam across in full armour where a bend in the river made it less deep and rapid; some of them were carried off by the current and drowned, others were [p. 415] assailed by the enemy with a sudden shower of arrows; but a troop of auxiliaries, very lightly equipped for running, sallied forth, followed hard on the backs of the flying foe, and like so many birds of prey, struck them down.

[9] When this undertaking also had been accomplished with glory, we came to the large and populous city of Pirisabora, surrounded on all sides by the river. The emperor, after riding up and inspecting the walls and the situation, began the siege with all caution, as if he wished by mere terror to take from the townsmen the desire for defence. But after they had been tried by many conferences, and not one could be moved either by promises or by threats, the siege was begun. The walls were surrounded by a triple line of armed men, and from dawn until nightfall they fought with missiles. [10] Then the defenders, who were strong and full of courage, spread over the ramparts everywhere loose strips of haircloth to check the force of the missiles, and themselves protected by shields firmly woven of osier and covered with thick layers of rawhide, resisted most resolutely. They looked as if they were entirely of iron; for the plates exactly fitted the various parts of their bodies and fully protecting them, covered them from head to foot. [11] And again and again they earnestly demanded an interview with Ormizda, as a fellow countryman and of royal rank, but when he came near they assailed him with insults and abuse, as a traitor and a deserter. This tedious raillery used up the greater part of the day, but in the first stillness of night many kinds of siege-engines were brought to bear and [p. 417] the deep trenches began to be filled up. [12] When the defenders, who were watching intently, made this out by the still uncertain light, and besides, that a mighty blow of the ram had breached a corner tower, they abandoned the double walls of the city and took possession of the citadel connected with them, which stood on a precipitous plateau at the top of a rough mountain. The middle of this mountain rose to a lofty height, and its rounded circuit had the form of an Argolic shield, 9 except that on the north side, where its roundness was broken, cliffs which descended into the current of the Euphrates still more strongly protected it. On this stronghold, battlements of walls rose high, and were built of bitumen and baked brick, a kind of structure (as is well known) than which nothing is safer. [13] And now the soldiers with greater confidence rushed through the city, seeing it deserted, and fought fiercely with the inhabitants, who from the citadel showered upon them missiles of many kinds. For although those same defenders were hard pressed by our catapults and ballistae, they in turn set up on the height strongly stretched bows, whose wide curves extending on both sides were bent so pliably that when the strings were let go by the fingers, the iron- tipped arrows which they sent forth in violent thrusts crashed into the bodies exposed to them and transfixed them with deadly effect. [14] Nevertheless both armies fought with clouds of stones thrown by hand; neither side gave way, but the hot fight continued with great determination from dawn until nightfall, and ended indecisively. Then, on the following day, they continued the [p. 419] battle most fiercely, many fell on both sides, and their equal strength held the victory in balance. Whereupon the emperor, hastening to try every lucky throw amid the mutual slaughter, surrounded by a band in wedge-formation, and protected from the fall of arrows by shields held closely together, in swift assault with a company of vigorous warriors, came near the enemy's gate, which was heavily overlaid with iron. [15] And although he and those who shared in his peril were assailed with rocks, bullets from slings, and other missiles, nevertheless he often cheered on his men as they tried to break in the leaves of the folding gates, in order to affect an entrance, and he did not withdraw until he saw that he must soon be overwhelmed by the volleys that were being hurled down upon him. [16] After all, he got back with all his men; a few were slightly wounded, he himself was unhurt, but bore a blush of shame upon his face. For he had read that Scipio Aemilianus, accompanied by the historian Polybius 10 of Megalopolis in Arcadia and thirty soldiers, had undermined a gate of Carthage in a like attack. But the admitted credibility of the writers of old upholds the recent exploit. 11 [17] For Aemilianus had come close up to the gate, and it was protected by an arch of masonry, under which he was safely hidden while the enemy were trying to lift off the masses of stone 12 ; and he broke into the city when it was stripped of its defenders. But Julian attacked an exposed place, and was forced to retreat only when the face of heaven was darkened by fragments of mountains and other missiles showered upon him; and then with difficulty.

[p. 421] [18] These actions went on in haste and confusion, and since it was evident that the construction of mantlet-sheds and mounds was greatly interfered with by other pressing matters, Julian gave orders that the engine called helepolis 13 should quickly be built, by the use of which, as I have said above, King Demetrius overcame many cities and won the name of Poliorcetes. 14 [19] To this huge mass, which would rise above the battlements of the lofty towers, the defenders turned an attentive eye, and at the same time considering the resolution of the besiegers, they suddenly fell to their prayers, and standing on the towers and battlements, and with outstretched hands imploring the protection of the Romans, they craved pardon and life. [20] And when they saw that the works were discontinued, and that those who were constructing them were attempting nothing further, which was a sure sign of peace, they asked that an opportunity be given them of conferring with Ormizda. [21] When this was granted, and Mamersides, commander of the garrison, was let down on a rope and taken to the emperor, he obtained (as he besought) a sure promise of life and impunity for himself and his followers, and was allowed to return. When he reported what he had accomplished, all the people of both sexes, since everything that they desired had been accepted, made peace with trustworthy religious rites. Then the gates were thrown open and they came out, shouting that a potent protecting angel had appeared to them in the person of a Caesar great and merciful. [22] The prisoners numbered only 2500; for the rest of the population, in anticipation of a siege, had [p. 423] crossed the river in small boats and made off. In this citadel there was found a great abundance of arms and provisions; of these the victors took what they needed and burned the rest along with the place itself.

1 In Ptolemy, Idikara; to-day, Hit; known to Hdt. (i. 179).

2 Perhaps a memorial to the dead emperor (cf. Tac., Ann. ii. 83, where the meaning is uncertain); here perhaps the reference is to a structure built by Trajan while alive.

3 An official title, something like grand vizier.

4 Also an official title; the Saracens were divided into twelve phylae, or tribes, each presided over by a phylarch, or malechus; an emir.

5 For limites, in this sense, see xxiii. 6, 55, above.

6 Xenophon saw these walls, which enclose a canal (Anab. i. 7, 16 f.).

7 Cf. xxiii. 6, 25.

8 That is, it is a lighthouse; the Pharos at Alexandria (see xxii. 16, 9) became a general term for such structures.

9 This was round and of large size.

10 This is not mentioned in Polybius, or elsewhere.

11 That is, Julian's exploit, incredible as it may seem, is vouched for by one equally incredible; in fact, as he goes on to say, Julian's was greater and more difficult.

12 The projecting arch above the gate.

13 City-taker, described in xxiii. 4, 10-13.

14 “Besieger of cities.”

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load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ARA´BIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), MACEPHRACTA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), THILUTHA
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