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The ancient city of Amid or Amida, 55 which sometimes
assumes the provincial appellation of Diarbekir, 56 is
advantageously situate in a fertile plain, watered by the natural
and artificial channels of the Tigris, of which the least
inconsiderable stream bends in a semicircular form round the
eastern part of the city. The emperor Constantius had recently
conferred on Amida the honor of his own name, and the additional
fortifications of strong walls and lofty towers. It was provided
with an arsenal of military engines, and the ordinary garrison
had been reenforced to the amount of seven legions, when the
place was invested by the arms of Sapor. 57 His first and most
sanguine hopes depended on the success of a general assault. To
the several nations which followed his standard, their respective
posts were assigned; the south to the Vertae; the north to the
Albanians; the east to the Chionites, inflamed with grief and
indignation; the west to the Segestans, the bravest of his
warriors, who covered their front with a formidable line of
Indian elephants. 58
The Persians, on every side, supported
their efforts, and animated their courage; and the monarch
himself, careless of his rank and safety, displayed, in the
prosecution of the siege, the ardor of a youthful soldier. After
an obstinate combat, the Barbarians were repulsed; they
incessantly returned to the charge; they were again driven back
with a dreadful slaughter, and two rebel legions of Gauls, who
had been banished into the East, signalized their undisciplined
courage by a nocturnal sally into the heart of the Persian camp.
In one of the fiercest of these repeated assaults, Amida was
betrayed by the treachery of a deserter, who indicated to the
Barbarians a secret and neglected staircase, scooped out of the
rock that hangs over the stream of the Tigris. Seventy chosen
archers of the royal guard ascended in silence to the third story
of a lofty tower, which commanded the precipice; they elevated on
high the Persian banner, the signal of confidence to the
assailants, and of dismay to the besieged; and if this devoted
band could have maintained their post a few minutes longer, the
reduction of the place might have been purchased by the sacrifice
of their lives. After Sapor had tried, without success, the
efficacy of force and of stratagem, he had recourse to the slower
but more certain operations of a regular siege, in the conduct of
which he was instructed by the skill of the Roman deserters. The
trenches were opened at a convenient distance, and the troops
destined for that service advanced under the portable cover of
strong hurdles, to fill up the ditch, and undermine the
foundations of the walls. Wooden towers were at the same time
constructed, and moved forwards on wheels, till the soldiers, who
were provided with every species of missile weapons, could engage
almost on level ground with the troops who defended the rampart.
Every mode of resistance which art could suggest, or courage
could execute, was employed in the defence of Amida, and the
works of Sapor were more than once destroyed by the fire of the
Romans. But the resources of a besieged city may be exhausted.
The Persians repaired their losses, and pushed their approaches;
a large preach was made by the battering-ram, and the strength of
the garrison, wasted by the sword and by disease, yielded to the
fury of the assault. The soldiers, the citizens, their wives,
their children, all who had not time to escape through the
opposite gate, were involved by the conquerors in a promiscuous
Footnote 55: For the description of Amida, see D'Herbelot,
Bebliotheque Orientale, p. Bibliotheque Orientale, p. 108.
Histoire de Timur Bec, par Cherefeddin Ali, l. iii. c. 41. Ahmed
Arabsiades, tom. i. p. 331, c. 43. Voyages de Tavernier, tom. i.
p. 301. Voyages d'Otter, tom. ii. p. 273, and Voyages de
Niebuhr, tom. ii. p. 324-328. The last of these travellers, a
learned and accurate Dane, has given a plan of Amida, which
illustrates the operations of the siege.
Footnote 56: Diarbekir, which is styled Amid, or Kara Amid, in
the public writings of the Turks, contains above 16,000 houses,
and is the residence of a pacha with three tails. The epithet of
Kara is derived from the blackness of the stone which composes
the strong and ancient wall of Amida.
Footnote *: In my Mem. Hist. sur l'Armenie, l. i. p. 166, 173, I
conceive that I have proved this city, still called, by the
Armenians, Dirkranagerd, the city of Tigranes, to be the same
with the famous Tigranocerta, of which the situation was unknown.
St. Martin, i. 432. On the siege of Amida, see St. Martin's
Notes, ii. 290. Faustus of Byzantium, nearly a contemporary,
(Armenian,) states that the Persians, on becoming masters of it,
destroyed 40,000 houses though Ammianus describes the city as of
no great extent, (civitatis ambitum non nimium amplae.) Besides
the ordinary population, and those who took refuge from the
country, it contained 20,000 soldiers. St. Martin, ii. 290.
This interpretation is extremely doubtful. Wagner (note on
Ammianus) considers the whole population to amount only to - M.
Footnote 57: The operations of the siege of Amida are very
minutely described by Ammianus, (xix. 1-9,) who acted an
honorable part in the defence, and escaped with difficulty when
the city was stormed by the Persians.
Footnote 58: Of these four nations, the Albanians are too well
known to require any description. The Segestans Sacastene. St.
Martin. inhabited a large and level country, which still
preserves their name, to the south of Khorasan, and the west of
Hindostan. (See Geographia Nubiensis. p. 133, and D'Herbelot,
Biblitheque Orientale, p. 797.) Notwithstanding the boasted
victory of Bahram, (vol. i. p. 410,) the Segestans, above
fourscore years afterwards, appear as an independent nation, the
ally of Persia. We are ignorant of the situation of the Vertae
and Chionites, but I am inclined to place them (at least the
latter) towards the confines of India and Scythia. See Ammian.
Footnote *: Klaproth considers the real Albanians the same with
the ancient Alani, and quotes a passage of the emperor Julian in
support of his opinion. They are the Ossetae, now inhabiting part
of Caucasus. Tableaux Hist. de l'Asie, p. 179, 180. - M.
The Vertae are still unknown. It is possible that the
Chionites are the same as the Huns. These people were already
known; and we find from Armenian authors that they were making,
at this period, incursions into Asia. They were often at war
with the Persians. The name was perhaps pronounced differently
in the East and in the West, and this prevents us from
recognizing it. St. Martin, ii. 177. - M.
But the ruin of Amida was the safety of the Roman provinces.
As soon as the first transports of victory had subsided, Sapor
was at leisure to reflect, that to chastise a disobedient city,
he had lost the flower of his troops, and the most favorable
season for conquest. 59 Thirty thousand of his veterans had
fallen under the walls of Amida, during the continuance of a
siege, which lasted seventy-three days; and the disappointed
monarch returned to his capital with affected triumph and secret
mortification. It is more than probable, that the inconstancy of
his Barbarian allies was tempted to relinquish a war in which
they had encountered such unexpected difficulties; and that the
aged king of the Chionites, satiated with revenge, turned away
with horror from a scene of action where he had been deprived of
the hope of his family and nation.
The strength as well as the
spirit of the army with which Sapor took the field in the ensuing
spring was no longer equal to the unbounded views of his
ambition. Instead of aspiring to the conquest of the East, he
was obliged to content himself with the reduction of two
fortified cities of Mesopotamia, Singara and Bezabde; 60 the one
situate in the midst of a sandy desert, the other in a small
peninsula, surrounded almost on every side by the deep and rapid
stream of the Tigris. Five Roman legions, of the diminutive size
to which they had been reduced in the age of Constantine, were
made prisoners, and sent into remote captivity on the extreme
confines of Persia. After dismantling the walls of Singara, the
conqueror abandoned that solitary and sequestered place; but he
carefully restored the fortifications of Bezabde, and fixed in
that important post a garrison or colony of veterans; amply
supplied with every means of defence, and animated by high
sentiments of honor and fidelity. Towards the close of the
campaign, the arms of Sapor incurred some disgrace by an
unsuccessful enterprise against Virtha, or Tecrit, a strong, or,
as it was universally esteemed till the age of Tamerlane, an
impregnable fortress of the independent Arabs. 61
Footnote 59: Ammianus has marked the chronology of this year by
three signs, which do not perfectly coincide with each other, or
with the series of the history. 1 The corn was ripe when Sapor
invaded Mesopotamia; "Cum jam stipula flaveate turgerent;" a
circumstance, which, in the latitude of Aleppo, would naturally
refer us to the month of April or May. See Harmer's Observations
on Scripture vol. i. p. 41. Shaw's Travels, p. 335, edit 4to.
2. The progress of Sapor was checked by the overflowing of the
Euphrates, which generally happens in July and August. Plin.
Hist. Nat. v. 21. Viaggi di Pietro della Valle, tom. i. p. 696.
3. When Sapor had taken Amida, after a siege of seventy-three
days, the autumn was far advanced. "Autumno praecipiti
haedorumque improbo sidere exorto." To reconcile these apparent
contradictions, we must allow for some delay in the Persian king,
some inaccuracy in the historian, and some disorder in the
Footnote 60: The account of these sieges is given by Ammianus,
xx. 6, 7.
Footnote *: The Christian bishop of Bezabde went to the camp of
the king of Persia, to persuade him to check the waste of human
blood Amm. Mare xx. 7. - M.
Footnote 61: For the identity of Virtha and Tecrit, see
D'Anville, Geographie. For the siege of that castle by Timur Bec
or Tamerlane, see Cherefeddin, l. iii. c. 33. The Persian
biographer exaggerates the merit and difficulty of this exploit,
which delivered the caravans of Bagdad from a formidable gang of
Footnote *: St. Martin doubts whether it lay so much to the
south. "The word Girtha means in Syriac a castle or fortress, and
might be applied to many places."
The defence of the East against the arms of Sapor required
and would have exercised, the abilities of the most consummate
general ; and it seemed fortunate for the state, that it was the
actual province of the brave Ursicinus, who alone deserved the
confidence of the soldiers and people. In the hour of danger, 62
Ursicinus was removed from his station by the intrigues of the
eunuchs; and the military command of the East was bestowed, by
the same influence, on Sabinian, a wealthy and subtle veteran,
who had attained the infirmities, without acquiring the
experience, of age. By a second order, which issued from the same
jealous and inconstant councils, Ursicinus was again despatched
to the frontier of Mesopotamia, and condemned to sustain the
labors of a war, the honors of which had been transferred to his
unworthy rival. Sabinian fixed his indolent station under the
walls of Edessa; and while he amused himself with the idle parade
of military exercise, and moved to the sound of flutes in the
Pyrrhic dance, the public defence was abandoned to the boldness
and diligence of the former general of the East. But whenever
Ursicinus recommended any vigorous plan of operations; when he
proposed, at the head of a light and active army, to wheel round
the foot of the mountains, to intercept the convoys of the enemy,
to harass the wide extent of the Persian lines, and to relieve
the distress of Amida; the timid and envious commander alleged,
that he was restrained by his positive orders from endangering
the safety of the troops.
Amida was at length taken; its bravest
defenders, who had escaped the sword of the Barbarians, died in
the Roman camp by the hand of the executioner: and Ursicinus
himself, after supporting the disgrace of a partial inquiry, was
punished for the misconduct of Sabinian by the loss of his
military rank. But Constantius soon experienced the truth of the
prediction which honest indignation had extorted from his injured
lieutenant, that as long as such maxims of government were
suffered to prevail, the emperor himself would find it is no easy
task to defend his eastern dominions from the invasion of a
foreign enemy. When he had subdued or pacified the Barbarians of
the Danube, Constantius proceeded by slow marches into the East;
and after he had wept over the smoking ruins of Amida, he formed,
with a powerful army, the siege of Becabde. The walls were
shaken by the reiterated efforts of the most enormous of the
battering-rams; the town was reduced to the last extremity; but
it was still defended by the patient and intrepid valor of the
garrison, till the approach of the rainy season obliged the
emperor to raise the siege, and ingloriously to retreat into his
winter quarters at Antioch. 63 The pride of Constantius, and the
ingenuity of his courtiers, were at a loss to discover any
materials for panegyric in the events of the Persian war; while
the glory of his cousin Julian, to whose military command he had
intrusted the provinces of Gaul, was proclaimed to the world in
the simple and concise narrative of his exploits.
Footnote 62: Ammianus (xviii. 5, 6, xix. 3, xx. 2) represents
the merit and disgrace of Ursicinus with that faithful attention
which a soldier owed to his general. Some partiality may be
suspected, yet the whole account is consistent and probable.
Footnote 63: Ammian. xx. 11. Omisso vano incepto, hiematurus
Antiochiae redit in Syriam aerumnosam, perpessus et ulcerum sed
et atrocia, diuque deflenda. It is thus that James Gronovius has
restored an obscure passage; and he thinks that this correction
alone would have deserved a new edition of his author: whose
sense may now be darkly perceived. I expected some additional
light from the recent labors of the learned Ernestus. (Lipsiae,
Note: The late editor (Wagner) has nothing better to
suggest, and le menta with Gibbon, the silence of Ernesti. - M.
In the blind fury of civil discord, Constantius had
abandoned to the Barbarians of Germany the countries of Gaul,
which still acknowledged the authority of his rival. A numerous
swarm of Franks and Alemanni were invited to cross the Rhine by
presents and promises, by the hopes of spoil, and by a perpetual
grant of all the territories which they should be able to subdue.
64 But the emperor, who for a temporary service had thus
imprudently provoked the rapacious spirit of the Barbarians, soon
discovered and lamented the difficulty of dismissing these
formidable allies, after they had tasted the richness of the
Roman soil. Regardless of the nice distinction of loyalty and
rebellion, these undisciplined robbers treated as their natural
enemies all the subjects of the empire, who possessed any
property which they were desirous of acquiring Forty-five
flourishing cities, Tongres, Cologne, Treves, Worms, Spires,
Strasbourg, &c., besides a far greater number of towns and
villages, were pillaged, and for the most part reduced to ashes.
The Barbarians of Germany, still faithful to the maxims of their
ancestors, abhorred the confinement of walls, to which they
applied the odious names of prisons and sepulchre; and fixing
their independent habitations on the banks of rivers, the Rhine,
the Moselle, and the Meuse, they secured themselves against the
danger of a surprise, by a rude and hasty fortification of large
trees, which were felled and thrown across the roads. The
Alemanni were established in the modern countries of Alsace and
Lorraine; the Franks occupied the island of the Batavians,
together with an extensive district of Brabant, which was then
known by the appellation of Toxandria, 65 and may deserve to be
considered as the original seat of their Gallic monarchy. 66
From the sources, to the mouth, of the Rhine, the conquests of
the Germans extended above forty miles to the west of that river,
over a country peopled by colonies of their own name and nation:
and the scene of their devastations was three times more
extensive than that of their conquests. At a still greater
distance the open towns of Gaul were deserted, and the
inhabitants of the fortified cities, who trusted to their
strength and vigilance, were obliged to content themselves with
such supplies of corn as they could raise on the vacant land
within the enclosure of their walls. The diminished legions,
destitute of pay and provisions, of arms and discipline, trembled
at the approach, and even at the name, of the Barbarians.
Footnote 64: The ravages of the Germans, and the distress of
Gaul, may be collected from Julian himself. Orat. ad S. P. Q.
Athen. p. 277. Ammian. xv. ll. Libanius, Orat. x. Zosimus, l.
iii. p. 140. Sozomen, l. iii. c. l. (Mamertin. Grat. Art. c.
Footnote 65: Ammianus, xvi. 8. This name seems to be derived
from the Toxandri of Pliny, and very frequently occurs in the
histories of the middle age. Toxandria was a country of woods
and morasses, which extended from the neighborhood of Tongres to
the conflux of the Vahal and the Rhine. See Valesius, Notit.
Galliar. p. 558.
Footnote 66: The paradox of P. Daniel, that the Franks never
obtained any permanent settlement on this side of the Rhine
before the time of Clovis, is refuted with much learning and good
sense by M. Biet, who has proved by a chain of evidence, their
uninterrupted possession of Toxandria, one hundred and thirty
years before the accession of Clovis. The Dissertation of M.
Biet was crowned by the Academy of Soissons, in the year 1736,
and seems to have been justly preferred to the discourse of his
more celebrated competitor, the Abbe le Boeuf, an antiquarian,
whose name was happily expressive of his talents.
Under these melancholy circumstances, an unexperienced youth
was appointed to save and to govern the provinces of Gaul, or
rather, as he expressed it himself, to exhibit the vain image of
Imperial greatness. The retired scholastic education of Julian,
in which he had been more conversant with books than with arms,
with the dead than with the living, left him in profound
ignorance of the practical arts of war and government; and when
he awkwardly repeated some military exercise which it was
necessary for him to learn, he exclaimed with a sigh, "O Plato,
Plato, what a task for a philosopher!" Yet even this speculative
philosophy, which men of business are too apt to despise, had
filled the mind of Julian with the noblest precepts and the most
shining examples; had animated him with the love of virtue, the
desire of fame, and the contempt of death. The habits of
temperance recommended in the schools, are still more essential
in the severe discipline of a camp.
The simple wants of nature
regulated the measure of his food and sleep. Rejecting with
disdain the delicacies provided for his table, he satisfied his
appetite with the coarse and common fare which was allotted to
the meanest soldiers. During the rigor of a Gallic winter, he
never suffered a fire in his bed-chamber; and after a short and
interrupted slumber, he frequently rose in the middle of the
night from a carpet spread on the floor, to despatch any urgent
business, to visit his rounds, or to steal a few moments for the
prosecution of his favourite studies. 67 The precepts of
eloquence, which he had hitherto practised on fancied topics of
declamation, were more usefully applied to excite or to assuage
the passions of an armed multitude: and although Julian, from his
early habits of conversation and literature, was more familiarly
acquainted with the beauties of the Greek language, he had
attained a competent knowledge of the Latin tongue. 68
Julian was not originally designed for the character of a
legislator, or a judge, it is probable that the civil
jurisprudence of the Romans had not engaged any considerable
share of his attention: but he derived from his philosophic
studies an inflexible regard for justice, tempered by a
disposition to clemency; the knowledge of the general principles
of equity and evidence, and the faculty of patiently
investigating the most intricate and tedious questions which
could be proposed for his discussion. The measures of policy,
and the operations of war, must submit to the various accidents
of circumstance and character, and the unpractised student will
often be perplexed in the application of the most perfect theory.
But in the acquisition of this important science, Julian was
assisted by the active vigor of his own genius, as well as by the
wisdom and experience of Sallust, and officer of rank, who soon
conceived a sincere attachment for a prince so worthy of his
friendship; and whose incorruptible integrity was adorned by the
talent of insinuating the harshest truths without wounding the
delicacy of a royal ear. 69
Footnote 67: The private life of Julian in Gaul, and the severe
discipline which he embraced, are displayed by Ammianus, (xvi.
5,) who professes to praise, and by Julian himself, who affects
to ridicule, (Misopogon, p. 340,) a conduct, which, in a prince
of the house of Constantine, might justly excite the surprise of
Footnote 68: Aderat Latine quoque disserenti sufficiens sermo.
Ammianus xvi. 5. But Julian, educated in the schools of Greece,
always considered the language of the Romans as a foreign and
popular dialect which he might use on necessary occasions.
Footnote 69: We are ignorant of the actual office of this
excellent minister, whom Julian afterwards created praefect of
Gaul. Sallust was speedly recalled by the jealousy of the
emperor; and we may still read a sensible but pedantic discourse,
(p. 240-252,) in which Julian deplores the loss of so valuable a
friend, to whom he acknowledges himself indebted for his
reputation. See La Bleterie, Preface a la Vie de lovien, p. 20.
Immediately after Julian had received the purple at Milan,
he was sent into Gaul with a feeble retinue of three hundred and
sixty soldiers. At Vienna, where he passed a painful and anxious
winter in the hands of those ministers to whom Constantius had
intrusted the direction of his conduct, the Caesar was informed
of the siege and deliverance of Autun. That large and ancient
city, protected only by a ruined wall and pusillanimous garrison,
was saved by the generous resolution of a few veterans, who
resumed their arms for the defence of their country. In his
march from Autun, through the heart of the Gallic provinces,
Julian embraced with ardor the earliest opportunity of
signalizing his courage. At the head of a small body of archers
and heavy cavalry, he preferred the shorter but the more
dangerous of two roads; * and sometimes eluding, and sometimes
resisting, the attacks of the Barbarians, who were masters of the
field, he arrived with honor and safety at the camp near Rheims,
where the Roman troops had been ordered to assemble.
of their young prince revived the drooping spirits of the
soldiers, and they marched from Rheims in search of the enemy,
with a confidence which had almost proved fatal to them. The
Alemanni, familiarized to the knowledge of the country, secretly
collected their scattered forces, and seizing the opportunity of
a dark and rainy day, poured with unexpected fury on the
rear-guard of the Romans. Before the inevitable disorder could be
remedied, two legions were destroyed; and Julian was taught by
experience that caution and vigilance are the most important
lessons of the art of war.
In a second and more successful
action, * he recovered and established his military fame; but as
the agility of the Barbarians saved them from the pursuit, his
victory was neither bloody nor decisive. He advanced, however,
to the banks of the Rhine, surveyed the ruins of Cologne,
convinced himself of the difficulties of the war, and retreated
on the approach of winter, discontented with the court, with his
army, and with his own success. 70 The power of the enemy was
yet unbroken; and the Caesar had no sooner separated his troops,
and fixed his own quarters at Sens, in the centre of Gaul, than
he was surrounded and besieged, by a numerous host of Germans.
Reduced, in this extremity, to the resources of his own mind, he
displayed a prudent intrepidity, which compensated for all the
deficiencies of the place and garrison; and the Barbarians, at
the end of thirty days, were obliged to retire with disappointed
Footnote *: Aliis per Arbor - quibusdam per Sedelaucum et Coram
in debere firrantibus. Amm. Marc. xvi. 2. I do not know what
place can be meant by the mutilated name Arbor. Sedelanus is
Saulieu, a small town of the department of the Cote d'Or, six
leagues from Autun. Cora answers to the village of Cure, on the
river of the same name, between Autun and Nevera 4; Martin, ii.
162. - M.
Note: At Brocomages, Brumat, near Strasburgh. St. Martin,
ii. 184. - M.
Footnote 70: Ammianus (xvi. 2, 3) appears much better satisfied
with the success of his first campaign than Julian himself; who
very fairly owns that he did nothing of consequence, and that he
fled before the enemy.
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To cite original text:
Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (NY : Knopf, 1993), v. 2, pp. 225 - 235 .