Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 31.4-6

31.4

And so, with the general Alavivus, they occupied the banks of the Danube, and by messages sent to Valens, they demanded with abject entreaty that they be received, and promising both that they would live peacefully, and that, if the matter pressed, they would give auxiliary. While these things were done in the neighbouring lands, terrible reports poured out that the northern tribes were turning to new misfortunes, and greater than accustomed; through every place which extends out from the Marcomanni Quadi to the Pontus, that a barbarian multitude of displaced nations, driven from their abodes by a sudden force, wandered around the Hister river [the Danube], spreading abroad with their families. This news was received by us with contempt during the very first reports for this reason, because in these regions, wars are not accustomed to be heard of by those living afar except as finished or put to rest. But, when the belief in the happenings was growing, and to this the arrival of foreign envoys added strength, who petitioned with prayer and earnest entreaty that exiled peasants be taken in on this side of the river, the matter was more of joy than of fear, with skilled sycophants exalting in the great fortune of the princeps, which—drawing so many recruits from the furthest lands—offered to him, not expecting  it, that by gathering his own and foreign strength as one he might have an unconquered army, and instead of military reinforcement, which was paid annually throughout the provinces, he could add a great heap up of gold to his treasury. And with this hope, various men were sent who would convey the savage peasants with vehicles. And carefully, the work was done, lest he who would overturn the Roman weal be left behind, or who was weakened by lethal illness. In the same way, with permission from the emperor for the opportunity of crossing the Danube, and to colonize parts of Thrace, when they reached it, they were ferried over, day and night, placed in crowds on ships, and rafts, and hollowed out cavities of trees, and through the river—by far the most difficult of all—and at that time frequently increased by heavy rains, due to the excessive congestion, anyone struggling against the beats of the waters, and many who tried to swim, were swallowed up.

Thus by a confused effort of solicitations, destruction was led to the Roman world. This was soundly neither uncertain nor hidden, that the unpropitious ministers to conveying over the barbarian peasantry, often trying to comprehend their number by calculation, were put to rest, frustrated,

“He who wishes to know this,”

as the most eminent seers recall,

“the same would wish, of the Libyan plain,
to learn how many grains of sand are blown by the zephyr.”

This the ancient accounts would recover, however, telling of the Median battlefront against Greece. This, while they relate the bridges of the Hellespont and, by a certain artificial separation, seeking a sea beneath the lowest foot of mount Athos, and the armies reckoned into troops at Doriscus, with all posterity in agreement that fables have been told. For afterward, innumerable multitudes of tribes, poured around through the provinces, and spreading out in the wide spaces of fields, filled every region and whole mountain chains, and the confidence of the ancient was strengthened by fresh example. And Fritigern was received first, with Alavivus, for whom the emperor established that foodstuffs and fields for ploughing be allotted.

At this time, with the bolts of our border unlocked, and pouring out barbarian hordes of armed men, like the embers of Aetna, when the troublesome points of necessities demanded that certain governors of military business, those most renowned for the fame of the things that were done, just as if some left-hand divinity were choosing, sought as one, they governed over military officers, these stained men, among whom Lupinicus and Maximus were superior, the one a comes throughout Thracia, the other a destructive general, both rivals in temerity. The avidity of these men, lying in wait, was the substance of all misfortunes. For this is said (so that we may omit others wherein the aforementioned men, or certainly others—with the same permitting it—for profligate reasons, transgressed against innocent foreigners going together to that place), this which not even were they judges of their own trial is any mercy able to acquit it, a thing sorrowful and unheard of. When the barbarians, once they were led across, were plagued by a scarcity of food, the most hated generals shamefully considered a commerce, and from all around, as many dogs as their insatiable desire was able to gather, they gave in exchange for each formal sale to slavery, and among these some of the best men were led.

During those days, meanwhile, even Viderichus, the king of the Greuthungi, with Alatheus and Safracis, by whose will he was ruled, and likewise Farnobius, drawing near to the edges of the Hister, so that he might be received with similar civility, beseeched the emperor with swiftly sent envoys. Once these were repudiated, as it seemed to be of service to the common weal, and anxious for what to undertake, Athanaricus departed, terribly frightened of the same, mindful that only a short while ago, when a concord was being established, he had disdained Valens, declaring himself obliged by religious rite lest he tread upon Roman ground at any time, and for this reason, he had compelled the princeps to confirm the peace amidst the river. Fearing that animosity hardening until now, he turned away to Caucalanda, a place inaccessible by the height of its forests and mountains, with all of his men, since the Sarmatians were driven out from there.

31.5

But in truth, the Thervingi, long before permitted to cross over, were even then wandering near the banks, constrained by two-fold impediment, that due to the pernicious dissembling of their leaders, they were not aided suitably for food, and they were held back on purpose, for wicked commercial enterprises of trafficking. Once this was known, they muttered that their support was turned to a treachery of looming evils, and Lupicinus, lest they soon desert him, more swiftly drove them to depart with the soldiers he led.

The Greuthungi, finding this moment opportune, when, with the soldiers occupied elsewhere, they saw that the boats normally travelling to the near side and the far, prohibiting their crossing, were at rest, they crossed over in rafts badly put together, and they placed their camp as far as possible from Fritigern.

But with an inborn skill for foreseeing, defending against disasters yet to come, so that he might both be obedient to imperial orders and be joined to strong kings, going sluggishly, slowly to Marcianopolis, he went by meandering routes. There another thing occurred, more cruel, which lit fearful torches that would burn in communal destruction. When Alavivus and Fritigern were gathered at a banquet, Lupicinis held the barbarian peasantry far off from the walls of the town by soldiery set against them, although they pleaded with constant entreaties to enter due to a united need for food, that they were submissive and of one mind to our sovereignty, when greater strife arose between the inhabitants and the shut out, it came all the way to a need for fighting. The barbarians, violently enraged, when they deemed the necessities to be taken with force, they despoiled a large murdered band of soldiers. The same Lupicinus, informed by a hidden messenger that these things had occurred, while at an extravagant table, lying a long time in noisy entertainments, was weakened by wine and sleep, and conjecturing the outcome of what was to be, he killed all the attendants who stood before the palace, waiting for the generals, for reason of honor and protection. And that crowd that besieged the walls, when this was sorrowfully heard, for the manumission of their detained kings, so it was believed, growing little by little, threatened many and cruel things. And as Fritigern was of readied counsel, fearing lest he be held by the blockade for exchange, with the rest, proclaimed that it be fought with heavy losses, unless he himself was permitted to leave with his allies, to mollify the mass, which believed their generals killed under the pretext of civility, and blazed in tumult. Once this was accomplished, going out with applause and expressions of joy, horses mounted, they flew, with the intent to stir diverse incitements of war. This report, the malignant wet-nurse of rumours, when it spread, the whole nation of the Thervingi was inflamed with a zeal for fighting, and among the many things to be feared and leading the way of the greatest dangers, standards taken up according to custom, and the trumpets heard, singing sorrowfully, the predatory squadrons soon rushed together for pillaging and burning rural estates, and mixing whatever could be found into widespread destruction.

Against these, Lupicinus, once soldiers were assembled with confused haste, by chance more than by plan, proceeding, he stood at the ninth mile-stone from the city, readied for decisive action. And the barbarians, when this was observed, heedless, they broke through the masses of our men, and by dashing bodies set against shields, they pierced those they met with spears, and with bloody fury urging them, and tribunes and a great part of armed men perished, their insignia snatched away, except the ill-starred general, who was intent upon this alone, that when others joined in conflict, he took himself away in flight, and sought the city by swift path, after this, the enemy, dressed in Roman arms, with none to stop them, went along in various ways.

And since the work has come to these parts after a multiplicity, those who will read this, if they should ever be, I beseech that no one inquire of us exactly the deeds or the number of the killed, which can be obtained by no method. For it is sufficient to set out the highest points of affairs, with the truth concealed by no falsehood, since for the unfolding recollection of matters, faithful integrity is ever owed. Those ignorant of ancient matters deny that the public weal was ever covered by such a great darkness of evils, but transfixed by the stupor of recent evils, they are deceived. For if they reflect upon the more senior ages or the recent of what has passed, they will show a tumult of affairs of such kind and such great sorrow often occurred. The Teutons with the Cimbri suddenly inundated Italy from regions hidden by the ocean, but after immense destruction was inflicted upon the Roman weal, they were overcome in the final battles by our most magnificent generals; what our power can do with the summoned wisdom of Mars, eradicated at the root, they learned by direst crisis. Likewise, when Marcus governed the imperium, the madness of dissonant tribes, breathing as one, after the immense demolition of war, after the tribulations of captured and plundered cities, and the punishments taken for the ruin of our ruler, scant regions of our lands remained intact. But soon, after ruinous losses, the weal was restored in full by this grace, that not yet by a life of negligent effeminacy was our sober old age undone, nor by profligate feasts, nor did it gape in shameful acquisitions, but by a unanimous ardor, the highest and the lowest coming together amongst themselves for glorious death on behalf of the common weal, just as if they made haste for a tranquil and placid harbor.

With the Bosporus and the shores of the Propontis broken through by two thousand ships, troops of Scythian tribes crossed over, indeed, they brought forth cruel slaughter to land and sea, but with the greater part of their men lost, they turned away. The Decii emperors, father and son, fell in the fighting with barbarians. The cities of Pamphylia were occupied, many islands laid waste, all Macedonia aflame, long the multitude besieged Thessalonica and in the same way, Cyzica. Anchialos was captured and at the same time, Nicopolis, which the emperor Trajan founded as proof of his victory against the Dacians. After many and savage disasters were introduced and received, Philippopolis was cut down with one hundred thousand men, unless the annals invent it, their throats cut within the walls. Foreign enemies wandered freely through Epirus, and Thessaly, and all Greece, but after Claudius took up the imperium, a glorious general, and when the same was taken before his time by an honorable death, they were driven back by Aurelian, a cruel man and the severest avenger of harms, and for long generations, stilled, they were silent, except afterwards that robber bands occasionally attacked their neighbours, to their own ruin. But now, we shall follow that from which I have turned away.

31.6

When this web of events was spread around by frequent announcements, Sueridus and Colias, nobles of the Goths, received long before with their people, and assigned to govern the winter quarters at Hadrianopolis, considering their own health ranked first before all, with idle spirits, they beheld all that occurred. But when letters of the emperor were suddenly brought through, in which they were ordered to cross over to the Hellespont, they demanded provisions for the road, and to be allotted a delay of two days for themselves, without arrogance. The magister of the city, bearing this dishonorably—for he was enraged by these same men, because his own interests in the suburb had been laid waste—all the lowest peasantry, with the armorers, of whom there was there a plentiful multitude, brought forth, he armed them for the ruin of these men, and with the trumpets ordered to sound the signal if they did not depart more swiftly, as was decreed, he threatened extreme peril to all. Impelled by this evil instead of hope, the Gothi were dispirited, and frightened by an assault of citizens more by excitement than by contemplation, they stood immobile, and afflicted at the last by curse and by outcries, and assailed by the occasional throwing of missiles, they broke into avowed rebellion, and after a great many were killed, whom the assault, so wanton, ensnared, and the remainder were turned back and pierced by a variety of spears, once they were armed with Roman attire from despoiled cadavers, to Fritigern, seen very nearby, they joined themselves as compliant allies, and the closed city, they pressed with besieged hardships. Positioned long in this difficulty, they rushed indiscriminately in every direction, and the conspicuous daring of anyone perished, unsated, and many were lost to arrows and the whirling stones from slings. At that time, Fritigern, considering that the men struggled in vain, with so much destruction, ignorant of besieging, with a sufficient band left behind there, advised them to leave the affair incomplete, reminding them that they had peace with the walls, and persuading them that they might rise against regions rich for despoiling and fertile, without any threat, even now without guardians. The counsel of the king praised, whom they knew would be a powerful ally of their ideas, dispersed through the whole flank of Thrace, they proceeded with caution, with captives and surrendered men showing them villages eminently rich, where it was said an abundance of foodstuffs were to be found, and with this greatly aiding them in addition to the genuine loyalty of the elevated man, that a multitude from the same tribe flowed to them every day, only a little earlier sold as slaves by merchants, with a great many added whom, almost killed by starvation in the first crossing, bartered for scant wine or for the cheapest morsels of bread. To these came not a few skilled in following veins of gold, not being sufficient to be able to bear the serious burdens of taxes, and they were received with the willing agreement of the whole, likewise, they were of great service for showing places unknown to the foreigners, hidden storehouses of fruits, and hiding places for men, and more remote shelters. Nor, with those same men leading the way, was anything left intact except the inaccessible or the out of the way. For without distinction of age or sex, the whole burned with slaughters and with an immensity of fires, and after the very small were dragged from the very suckling of the breast, and killed, the mothers and the widowed were raped—the husbands killed before the eyes of their spouses—and boys both the young and grown were dragged through the cadavers of their parents. And finally, many elderly, crying that they had lived long enough, after they lost their possessions, with their beautiful women, with their hands twisted behind their backs, they were led as exiles from the lamented embers of their familial homes.

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