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After killing 2500 Persians with the loss of barely seventy of his own men, Julian presents many of his soldiers with crowns in the presence of the assembled army.

Then we came to an artificial river, by name Naarmalcha, meaning “the kings' river,” 1 which at that time was dried up. Here in days gone by Trajan, and after him Severus, had with immense effort caused the accumulated earth to be dug out, and had made a great canal, in order to let in the water from the Euphrates and give boats and ships access to the Tigris. 2 [2] It seemed to Julian in all respects safest to clean out that same canal, which formerly the Persians, when in fear of a similar invasion, had blocked with a huge dam of stones. As soon as the canal was cleared, the dams were swept away by the great flow of water, and the fleet in safety covered thirty stadia and was carried into the channel of the Tigris. Thereupon bridges were at once made, and the army crossed and pushed on towards Coche. [3] Then, so that a timely rest might follow the wearisome toil, we encamped in a rich territory, abounding in orchards, vineyards, and green cypress groves. In its midst is a pleasant and shady dwelling, displaying in every part of the house, after the custom of that nation, paintings representing the king killing wild beasts in various kinds of hunting; for nothing in their country is painted or sculptured except slaughter in divers forms and scenes of war.

[p. 459] [4] Since thus far everything had resulted as he desired, the Augustus now with greater confidence strode on to meet all dangers, hoping for so much from a fortune which had never failed him that he often dared many enterprises bordering upon rashness. He unloaded the stronger ships of those which carried provisions and artillery, and manned them each with eight hundred armed soldiers; then keeping by him the stronger part of the fleet, which he had formed into three divisions, in the first quiet of night he sent one part under Count Victor with orders speedily to cross the river and take possession of the enemy's side of the stream. [5] His generals in great alarm with unanimous entreaties tried to prevent him from taking this step, but could not shake the emperor's determination. The flag was raised according to his orders, and five ships immediately vanished from sight. But no sooner had they reached the opposite bank than they were assailed so persistently with firebrands and every kind of inflammable material, that ships and soldiers would have been consumed, had not the emperor, carried away by the keen vigour of his spirit, cried out that our soldiers had, as directed, raised the signal that they were already in possession of the shore, and ordered the entire fleet to hasten to the spot with all the speed of their oars. [6] The result was that the ships were saved uninjured, and the surviving soldiers, although assailed from above with stones and every kind of missiles, after a fierce struggle scaled the high, precipitous banks and held their position unyieldingly. [7] History acclaims Sertorius 3 for swimming across the Rhone with arms [p. 461] and cuirass; but on this occasion 4 some panic-stricken soldiers, fearing to remain behind after the signal had been given, lying on their shields, which are broad and curved, and clinging fast to them, though they showed little skill in guiding them, kept up with the swift ships across the eddying stream. [8] The Persians opposed to us serried bands of mail-clad horsemen in such close order that the gleam of moving bodies covered with closely fitting plates of iron dazzled the eyes of those who looked upon them, while the whole throng of horses was protected by coverings of leather. The calvalry was backed up by companies of infantry, who, protected by oblong, curved shields covered with wickerwork and raw hides, advanced in very close order. Behind these were elephants, looking like walking hills, and, by the movements of their enormous bodies, they threatened destruction to all who came near them, dreaded as they were from past experience. [9] Hereupon the emperor, following Homeric tactics, 5 filled the space between the lines with the weakest of the infantry, fearing that if they formed part of the van and shamefully gave way, they might carry off the rest with them; or if they were posted in the rear behind the centuries, they might run off at will with no one to check them. He himself with the light-armed auxiliaries hastened now to the front, and now to the rear. [10] So, when both sides were near enough to look each other in the face, the Romans, gleaming [p. 463] in their crested helmets and swinging their shields as if to the rhythm of the anapaestic foot, 6 advanced slowly; and the light-armed skirmishers opened the battle by hurling their javelins, while the earth everywhere was turned to dust and swept away in a swift whirlwind. [11] And when the battle-cry was raised in the usual manner by both sides and the trumpets' blare increased the ardour of the men, here and there they fought hand-to-hand with spears and drawn swords; and the soldiers were freer from the danger of the arrows the more quickly they forced their way into the enemy's ranks. Meanwhile Julian was busily engaged in giving support to those who gave way and in spurring on the laggards, playing the part both of a valiant fellow-soldier and of a commander. [12] Finally, the first battle-line of the Persians began to waver, and at first slowly, then at quick step, turned back and made for the neighbouring city with their armour well heated up. 7 Our soldiers pursued them, wearied though they also were after fighting on the scorching plains from sunrise to the end of the day, and following close at their heels and hacking at their legs and backs, drove the whole force with Pigranes, the Surena, and Narseus, their most distinguished generals, in headlong flight to the very walls of Ctesiphon. [13] And they would have pressed in through the gates of the city, mingled with the throng of fugitives, had not the general called Victor, who had himself received a flesh-wound in the shoulder from an arrow, raising his hand and [p. 465] shouting, restrained them; for he feared that the excited soldiers, if they rashly entered the circuit of the walls and could find no way out, might be overcome by weight of numbers.

[14] Let the poets of old sing of Hector's battles and extol the valour of the Thessalian leader; 8 let long ages tell of Sophanes, Aminias, Callimachus, Cynaegirus, 9 those glorious high lights of the Medic wars: but not less distinguished was the valour of some of our soldiers on that day, as is shown by the admission of all men.

[15] After their fear was past, trampling on the overthrown bodies of their foes, our soldiers, still dripping with blood righteously shed, gathered at their emperor's tent, rendering him praise and thanks because he had won so glorious a victory, everywhere without recognition whether he was leader or soldier, and considering the welfare of others rather than his own. For as many as 2500 Persians had been slain, with the loss of only seventy of our men. 10 [16] Julian addressed many of them by name, whose heroic deeds performed with unshaken courage he himself had witnessed, and rewarded them with naval, civic, and camp crowns. 11

[17] Fully convinced that similar successes would follow these, he prepared to offer many victims to Mars the Avenger; but of ten fine bulls that were brought for this purpose nine, even before they were brought to the altar, of their own accord sank in sadness to the ground; but the tenth broke his bonds [p. 467] and escaped, and after he had been with difficulty brought back and sacrificed, showed ominous signs. Upon seeing these, Julian in deep indignation cried out, and called Jove to witness, that he would make no more offerings to Mars; and he did not sacrifice again, since he was carried off by a speedy death.

1 Cf. xxiii. 6, 25; xxiv. 2, 7; 6, 1.

2 A canal from the Euphrates to the Tigris was made by the earliest Assyrian kings (Hdt. i. 193), and a branch of it was carried to Seleucia by Seleucus Nikator, the founder of that city. According to Cassius Dio., lxviii. 28, Trajan's attempt was not successful because the bed of the Euphrates was then much higher.

3 See Plut. Sert. 3, 1.

4 That is, in crossing the Tigris. Büchele takes it to refer to Sertorius, but in that case there is no contrast.

5 Iliad, iv. 297 ff.

6 This was especially the Spartan method of advance; see Gell. i. 11, 1-5; Cic. Tusc. iii. 2.37; Val. Max. ii. 6, 2.

7 Or, in hot haste armiess metonymice pro armatis), T.L.L.

8 Achilles.

9 On these heroes see respectively Hdt. ix. 74, 75; viii. 93; vi. 114; Justin. ii. 9, 16 ff.; Val. Max. iii. 2, 22.

10 Zosimus, iii. 25, says that 2500 Persians were killed and not more than seventy-five Romans.

11 See Gell. v. 6.

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load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), BABYLO´NIA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), CTESIPHON
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