Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae 31.12-13 and 31.16.9

During those same days, Valens, irritated for twin reason—because he learned that the Lentienses were overcome, and because Sebastianus thereafter, writing of the deeds, exaggerated by what he said—he broke camp from Melantiades, hastening so that, by some distinguished deed, he be the equal of the growing son of his brother, whose virtues galled him;1 and he was leading multiple troops neither to be disdained nor sluggish, indeed, a he had also joined great many veterans to them, among whom some were especially honorable and Trajanus was again girded,2 who was a little earlier the master of arms. And since it was known by anxious exploration that the enemies intended to close the route with strong guards, through which the provision of necessities was carried, he was suitably placed by this endeavor for keeping fast the advantage of the narrows, which were near, with infantry archers and a band of cavalry quickly sent. On almost the third day, when the barbarians arrived at an easy pace, and—fearing a disruption—though out of the way paths, separated from the city by fifteen thousand paces, they sought a post at Nice, when by some unknown error, though his skirmishers confirmed it, that the whole part of the multitude which they saw were ten thousand in number, and the emperor, overthrown by a certain heated arrogance, hurried to rush upon the same. Thus, proceeding with the troop in squared formation, he came near the suburb of Hadrianopolis, where, with the rampart strengthened by a palisade and a ditch, impatiently awaiting Gratian, he received Richomeres, the comes of the domestic troops, sent ahead by that same emperor3 with letters indicating that he himself was also soon to come. The plea of these, in form, was that he should stand at ready for a short time, for a comrade in the dangers, and not thoughtlessly entrust himself alone to steep perils, and with various powers invited to counsel, he deliberated upon what was to be done. And with Sebastianus as the author, some urged him to battle on the spot, whereas the master of cavalry, Victor by name, a Sarmatian, careful and cautious, and with many thinking in the same way, proposed that he await the ally of the emperor, so that when the increase of the Galatian army was received, the inflamed barbarian tumult might be easily crushed. The deadly purpose of the princeps, however, won out, and the flattering opinion of certain royals, who persuaded him—so that Gratian would not become partner of the accomplished victory, all but won (or so they thought)—to make haste in the quickest way.

And while the necessities were being prepared for decisive battle, a presbyter of the Christian rite, as they call themselves—an envoy sent from Fritigern—with other lessers came to the camp of the princeps, and kindly received, he offered a writ from that same leader openly petitioning that, for him and his own, whom—exiled from their paternal hearths—the rapid sallies of savage tribes had driven out, Thrace alone be yielded for dwelling in, with all its cattle and fruits, promising, once this was obtained, eternal peace. Besides that, this same Christian, as knowing of and faithful to secrets, brought another, secret letter of that same king, who—far too skilled in cunning and in various means of deceiving—led Valens to believe, as if he were soon to be a friend and ally, that it was not possible for him to soothe the savagery of his public in any way, nor to draw them to agreements that would be profitable to the Roman state, unless forthwith he were to demonstrate to the same that an armed force was nigh, and once fear of the name of the emperor was spread, he would call them back from pernicious ardor for fighting. And these envoys departed, frustrated, held as untrustworthy.

But when dawn of day arose, which the number from the annal shows was the fifth before the Ides of August, by hasty signals they set out, with the baggage and luggage trains near the walls of Hadrianopolis, stationed with the suitable protection of the legions. For the storehouses and the rest of the marks of the imperial fortune,4 with the prefect and the aids in council, were enclosed by the circuit of the walls. And so, once the broken lengths of the roads were traversed, when the hot day was proceeding to noon, on the eighth hour, the chariots of the enemy were seen, which—arrayed in the form of a turned roundness, were confirmed by the report of spies. And so, as is custom, while the barbarian peasantry ululated a wild and sorrowful sound, the Roman generals composed a battle-line, and with the first flank of cavalry positioned ahead, to the right, the greater part of the infantry laid in wait. The left flank of the cavalry, however, with many scattered by the journey to that place, assembled with utmost difficulty, rushed with hurried pace. And while the same flank spread out, with nothing to that point causing confusion, by arms ringing with a horrifying clash, and by the threatening strike of shields, the barbarians were terrified, since a part of their forces, busy far off with Alatheus and Safrax and summoned, had not yet arrived, wretchedly [they sent] envoys for pleading a peace. The emperor despised the cheapness of these men, and so that they could be put to firm covenant, demanded suitable chieftains be sent, but these were purposefully delayed, so that their cavalry might return to them during deceitful armistice, whom they hoped would soon be near, and that the soldier, heated in the summer boil, with dry throats would whither, while the breadth of the plains blazed with fires, which the enemy burned, with fire-starters and dry fuel set to them, so that this very thing would be so. To this evil, another was added with deadly consequence, that grave famine crucified men and beasts.

Meanwhile, Fritigern—skilful interpreter of the future, and fearing two-edged Mars, even while on his own initiative he sent a single herald with a flag of truce from the peasantry, seeking certain noble and picked men to be sent to him the next day as hostages, he himself fearless, intending to bring minimi litare and necessities.5 Once the proposal of the feared general was lauded and approved, the tribune Equitius, who had the care and confidence of the palace, being related to Valens, was speedily assigned to go, with the assent of the whole, in place of a pledge. When this man resisted, because he had once been captured by the enemy and had escaped from Dibaltus, and he feared their irrational motives, Richomeres came forward of his own free will, and he gladly promised to go, and he thought that this was a fine deed, and meet for a brave man. And now, he proceeded with the signs of worthiness and of natal … When he reached inimically for the rampart of the Sagittarii and the Scutarii, whom a certain Bacarius Hiberus ruled at that time, and Cassio, marching so eagerly in burning assault—and already joined to their enemies, that they rush forth untimely, that by sluggish retreat, they defiled commencement of war. And by this impediment of inopportune attempt, the alacrity of Richomeres was broken, never permitted to go, and the cavalry of the Goths with Alatheus and Safrax, returned with a mixed band of Halani, like lightning struck near a high mountain, whomever by quick sally they were able meet in close combat, they put in disarray with rapid slaughter.

And since arms were shaken from every side, and spears, and Bellona blew sorrowful signals for Roman disasters, raging more monstrously than customary, our men resisted, rushing, with many crying out among them, and the battle—increasing in the custom of fire—frightened the spirits of the soldiers, some pierced by the spun blows of javelins and arrows. And then, the battle lines collided in the manner of beaked ships, and shoving them in turn, they were brought forth by repelling motion, in the appearance of waves. And because the left flank reached right up to the wagons themselves, intending to proceed past, if any brought assistance, it was deserted by the remaining cavalry, with the hostile multitude pressing, and like the fall of a great rampart, it was pushed down and cast out. The infantry stood unprotected, with groups so packed that scarcely anyone was able to thrust his blade or draw back his hand. Due to the blocking sands, no longer was heaven able to lie exposed for seeing, echoing with horrified cries. For this reason, spears from all sides, brandishing death, fell firm and injurious, because they could neither be foreseen nor guarded against. But there the barbarians, poured out in endless troops, pounded beasts and men, nor was it possible, with ranks crammed, for space to be made anywhere to retreat, and the densely packed crowd removed opportunity to get out, and our men, with extreme scorn for falling, meeting them with swords drawn, cut them down, and with reciprocal blows of axes, helmets and breastplates were shattered. And the barbarian may be seen, lofty with ferocity, cheeks drawn together in a hiss, knee cut through, or right arm sliced by iron, or side pierced, and even at the very borders of death, threateningly bearing round his savage eyes, to the mutual ruin of battling men; bodies prostrate on the earth, fields were filled with the slain, and groans of the dying, from the deep wounds of those run through, these were heard with enormous fear. In this tumult of confused affair, so very great, the infantry exhausted by labor and perils, then finally neither their strength nor their minds were equal to their intent, and with so many spears shattered from constant battering, content with unsheathed swords, they dove into the crowded turmoil of the enemy, unmindful of their own well-being, seeing all around that refuge of escaping was deprived from all. And because the earth, covered with streams of blood, overturned slippery steps, they tried in every way to expend their life not unavenged, opposed with such great strength of spirit to those pressing upon them that some even perished on our own spears. And finally, the black visage of blood confounding everything, and wherever the eyes should turn a heaped mound of the slain, lifeless bodies were trod underfoot without parsimony. And the sun, elevated high, Leo traversed, crossing to the dwelling of celestial Virgo, the Romans, weakened more by fast and worn out from thirst, burned also with the oppressing burdens of their arms. At last, with the weight of the barbarians bent upon them, the battle-line of our men fell back, for they had solace in the hindmost of evils, in disorderly fashion, to where each was able, they turned on their feet.

And while everyone, scattered, went along unknown paths, the emperor, enveloped in fearful dread, and climbing little by little over piles of corpses, fled to the Lancearii and the Mattiarii; who, while the hostile multitude was born, stood their ground, unshaken by pierced bodies. And when he was seen, Trajanus called out that all hope was lost, unless the princeps, deserted by his shield-bearers, were covered by extraordinary aid. And when this was heard, a comes named Victor, speedily making haste to assemble a body-guard for the emperor—the Batavi, located in reserve, not far off, but when he was able to find no one, he departed, marching back. In the same way, Richomeres removed himself from danger, and Saturninus.

And so, the barbarians, with fury alight in their eyes, followed our men, already sluggish from the heated flow of their veins; some of whom fell to unknown strikers, a few overwhelmed by the weight alone of those driving them, and others were cut down by the strike of their own men; for neither, often resisting, was anything yielded, nor did any have mercy upon them yielding. In addition, many, falling half-dead, barricaded the routes, not bearing the torments of their wounds, and with these, the prostrate mounds of horses filled the fields with cadavers. The night, shining with no lunar splendor, ransomed these never reparable harms, which came at great cost to Roman affairs.

And in the first fog of shadows, the emperor, among common soldiers, so it is given to believe—for neither has anyone affirmed that they saw nor were near—, wounded he fell to pernicious arrow, and soon, his spirit consumed, he passed away, and he was not ever thereafter found. For since a few of the enemy, for the sake of despoiling the dead, were long busied at that place, none of those put to flight, nor of those nearby dared approach that place. By similar misfortune, we have heard that Caesar Decius, contending bitterly with barbarians, thrown down by a fall from his horse, which—maddened—he had not power to restrain, and cast away in a bog, was not able to come out or to be found. Others say that Valens had not immediately breathed his last, but with a few bodyguards and eunuchs, he was carried back to a rustic cottage, ingeniously defended on the second story, while he was cared for by unskilled hands, surrounded by hostile men ignorant of who he was, he was delivered from the shame of captivity. For when they tried to break through the barred doors, those who followed were assaulted with arrows from a balcony of the house, and so that the opportunity for laying waste not be lost through unavoidable delays, once bundles of straw and wood were heaped up, and a flame set to it, they roasted the building with the men. From one of the bodyguards, who fell through a window and was captured by the barbarians, the fact was related, and it afflicted them with grief, cheated of great glory, because they did not capture the leader of the Roman state alive. He himself, a young man, returned from hiding to our lands, related that these things had fallen out in this way. By similar misfortune, once the Hispanii recovered, we disclose that the other Scipio, in the burned tower to which he had taken refuge, was consumed by enemy fire. Nevertheless, this was resolved, that neither Scipio nor Valens obtained sepulchres, which is an honor of the highest extreme.

In this manifold disaster of illustrious men, the death of Trajanus stood out, and of Sebastianus, with whom thirty five tribunes without office met their end, and leaders of numerous men, and Valerian and Equitius, one of whom had care of the stables, the other of the palace. Among these, Potentius fell, the tribune of the Promotorum, in the youthful flower of his life, and for this good he was esteemed, for the merits of his father Ursicinus, a certain master of arms, and commendable for his own. And scarcely a third part of the army stood … in the annals, except for the fight at Cannae, such great things done are read with respect to slaughter,6 albeit at various times, the Romans—with Fortune blowing contrary—deceived by stratagems, yielded for a time to the iniquities of wars, and they lamented the many contests with a celebrated dirge of the Greeks.

These things, as a former soldier and a Greek, beginning from the principate of Caesar Nerva up to the death of Valens, I have set forth, to the measure of my power, a work professing truth, never knowingly, so I judge, have I dared by silence to corrupt it, or by mendacity. May stronger men write the rest in their prime, flourishing with learning. Those approaching it, if it pleases, I advise them to forge their tongues in the ancestral style.

1. His nephew is Gratian, the emperor of the western empire. Gratian is marching to meet Valens, and on the way has come upon the Lentienses and defeated them in battle, winning personal glory for himself.

2. That is to say, he was recalled into service from retirement.

3. Surely there are more graceful ways to construct this information. “That same emperor” being Gratian.

4. That is to say, the imperial insignia. In 2006, the imperial insignia of emperor Maxentius were found in a basement in Rome, the first such discovery of its kind. They were stored there for safe-keeping while he fought Constantine I.

5. There are problems with the manuscript here, so I’ve left some of the Latin untranslated.

6. There is a lacuna in the manuscript. Almost surely the text is intended to read that a slaughter so great is found nowhere in the annals.

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