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THE PERSIAN WAR,
During the long period of the reign of Constantius the provinces
of the East were afflicted by the calamities of the Persian
war. The irregular incursions of the light troops alter
* natels spread terror and devastation beyond the Tigris and beyond the Euphrates, from the gates of Ctesiphon to those of Antioch; and this active service was performed by the Arabs of the desert, who were divided in their interest and affections, some of their independent chiefs being enlisted in the party of Sapor, whilst others had engaged their doubtful fidelity to the emperor.59 The more grave and important operations of the war were conducted with equal rigour; and the armies of Rome and Persia encountered each other in nine bloody fields, in two of which Constantius himself commanded in person. The event of the day was most commonly Bacile e adverse to the Romans, but in the battle of Singara their na mas imprudent valour had almost achieved a signal and decisive victory. The stationary troops of Singara retired on the approach of Sapor, who passed the Tigris over three bridges, and occupied near the village of Hilleh an advantageous camp, which, by the labour of his numerous pioneers, he surrounded in one day with a deep ditch and a lofty rampart. His formidable host, when it was drawn out in order of battle, covered the banks of the river, the
* Ammianus (sir. 4) gives a lively description of the wandering and predatory He of the Saracens, who stretched from the confines of Assyria to the cataracts of the Nile. It appears from the adventures of Malchus, which Jerom has related in so entertuainz a manner, that the high road between Beræa and Edessa was infested by these rubbers. See Hieronym. tom. i. p. 256.
* We shall take from Eutropius the general idea of the war (x. 10 [61). A Persis enim multa et gravis perpessus, sæpe captis oppidis, obsessis urbibus, cæsis exercitibus, muamque ei contra Sporem prosperum prælium fuit, nisi quod apud Singaram, &c. This honest account is confirmed by the hints of Ammianus, Rufus, and Jerom. The two first orativas of Julian, and the third oration of Libanius, exhibit a more flattering pecture; but the recantation of both those orators after the death of Constantius
hile it restores es to the possession of the truth, degrades their own character and that of the emperor. The commentary of Spanheim on the first oration of Julian is profusely learned. See likewise the judicious observations of Tillemont, Hist, des Empereurs tom. ir. p 6.55.
in Armenia, and the failure before Nisibis, flatterer (whose name is unknown) pubforced Shahpour to submit to terms of lished the Itineraries of Alexander and pasce. Diran and his son were released Trajan, in order to direct the victorious from captivity; but Diran refused to as- Constantius in the footsteps of those great cend the throne, and retired to an ob- conquerors of the East. The former of soure retreat, and his son Arsaces was these has been published for the first time crowned king of Armenia Arsaces pur- by M. Angelo Mai (Milan, 1817, reprinted sued a vacillating policy between the in- at Frankfort, 1818). It adds so little to fluence of Rome and Persia, and the war our knowledge of Alexander's campaigns, necommenced in the year 345. At least that it only excites our regret that it is that was the period of the expedition of not the Itinerary of Trajan, of whose eastern Constantius to the East. See St. Martin, victories we have no distinct record.-M. additions to Le Bean, vol. i. pp. 406, b On the site of Singara, see note. sy, 42, 4.-Abridged from M.
vol, ii, p. 87.-S. * It was during this war that a bold
adjacent heights, and the whole extent of a plain of above twelve miles which separated the two armies. Both were alike impatient to engage, but the barbarians, after a slight resistance, filed in disorder, unable to resist, or desirous to weary, the strength of the heavy legions, who, fainting with heat and thirst, pursued them across the plain, and cut in pieces a line of cavalry clothed in complete armour, which had been posted before the gates of the camp to protect their retreat. Constantius, who was hurried along in the pursuit, attempted, without effect, to restrain the ardour of his troops, by representing to them the dangers of the approaching night, and the certainty of completing their success with the return of day. As they depended much more on their own valour than on the experience or the abilities of their chief, they silenced by their clamours his timid remonstrances, and, rushing with fury to the charge, filled up the ditch, broke down the rampart, and dispersed themselves through the tents to recruit their exhausted strength, and to enjoy the rich harvest of their labours. But the prudent Sapor had watched the moment of victory. His army, of which the greater part, securely posted on the heights, had been spectators of the action, advanced in silence and under the shadow of the night, and his Persian archers, guided by the illumination of the camp, poured a shower of arrows on a disarmed and licentious crowd. The sincerity of history 61 declares that the Romans were vanquished with a dreadful slaughter, and that the flying remnant of the legions was exposed to the most intolerable hardships. Even the tenderness of panegyric, confessing that the glory of the emperor was sullied by the disobedience of his soldiers, chooses to draw a veil over the circumstances of this melancholy retreat. Yet one of those venal orators, so jealous of the fame of Constantius, relates, with amazing coolness, an act of such incredible cruelty, as, in the judgment of posterity, must imprint a far deeper stain on the honour of the Imperial name. The son of Sapor, the heir of his crown, had been made a captive in the Persian camp. The unhappy youth, who might have excited the compassion of the most savage enemy, was scourged, tortured, and publicly executed by the inhuman Romans.62
Whatever advantages might attend the arms of Sapor in the field,
his personer of a decla
61 Acerrimâ nocturna concertatione pugnatum est, nostrorum copiis ingenti strage confossis. Ammian. xvii. 5. See likewise Eutropius, x. 10 , and S. Rufus, c. 27.
62 Libanius, Orat. üü. p. 133, with Julian. Orat. i. p. 24, and Spanheim's Commentary, p. 179.
a The Persian historians, or romancers, The Roman captives were forced to repair do not mention the battle of Singara, but all the ravages they had committed, even make the captive Shahpour escape, defeat, to replanting the smallest trees. Malcolm, and take prisoner, the Roman emperor. i. 85.-M.
though nine repeated victories diffused among the nations the fame Siege of of his valour and conduct, he could not hope to succeed Nisibis. in the execution of his designs while the fortified towns of Mesopotamia, and, above all, the strong and ancient city of Nisibis, remained in the possession of the Romans. In the space of twelve years Nisibis, which, since the time of Lucullus, had been deservedly 1.D. 338, 346, esteemed the bulwark of the East, sustained three memor
0. able sieges against the power of Sapor ; and the disappointed monarch, after urging his attacks above sixty, eighty, and an hundred days, was thrice repulsed with loss and ignominy.63 This large and populous city was situate about two days' journey from the Tigris, in the midst of a pleasant and fertile plain at the foot of Mount Masius. A treble enclosure of brick walls was defended by a deep ditch ;64 and the intrepid resistance of Count Lucilianus and his garrison was seconded by the desperate courage of the people. The citizens of Nisibis were animated by the exhortations of their bishop,65 inured to arms by the presence of danger, and convinced of the intentions of Sapor to plant a Persian colony in their room, and to lead them away into distant and barbarous captivity. The event of the two former sieges elated their confidence and exasperated the haughty spirit of the Great King, who advanced a third time towards Nisibis, at the head of the united forces of Persia and India. The ordinary machines, invented to batter or undermine the walls, were rendered ineffectual by the superior skill of the Romans, and many days had vainly elapsed when Sapor embraced a resolution worthy of an eastern monarch who believed that the elements themselves were subject to his power. At the stated season of the melting of the snows in Armenia, the river Mygdonius, which divides the plain and the city of Nisibis, forms, like the Nile,66 an inundation over the adjacent
63 See Julian. Orat. i. p. 27; Orat. ii. p. 62, &c.; with the Commentary of Spanheim (p. 188-202), who illustrates the circumstances, and ascertains the time of the three sieges of Nisibis. Their dates are likewise examined by Tillemont (Hist. des Empereurs, tom. iv. p. 668, 671, 674). Something is added from Zosimus, l. ii. [c. 8] p. 151, and the Alexandrian Chronicle, p. 290.
64 Sallust. Fragment. Ixxxiv. edit. Brosses, and Plutarch in Lucull. [c. 32] tom, iii. p. 184. Nisibis is now reduced to one hundred and fifty houses; the marshy lands produce rice, and the fertile meadows, as far as Mosul and the Tigris, are covered with the ruins of towns and villages. See Niebuhr, Voyages, tom. ii. p. 300-309.
65 The miracles which Theodoret (1. ii. c. 30) ascribes to St. James, bishop of Edessa, were at least performed in a worthy cause, the defence of his country. He appeared on the walls under the figure of the Roman emperor, and sent an army of gnats to sting the trunks of the elephants, and to discomfit the host of the new Senacherib.
66 Julian. Orat. i. p. 27. Though Niebuhr (tom, ii, p. 307) allows a very considerable swell to the Mygdonius, over which he saw a bridge of twelve arches; it is difficult, however, to understand this parallel of a trifling rivulet with a mighty river. There are many circumstances obscure, and almost unintelligible, in the description of these stupendous waterworks.
country. By the labour of the Persians the course of the river was stopped below the town, and the waters were confined on every side by solid mounds of earth. On this artificial lake a fleet of armed vessels, filled with soldiers, and with engines which discharged stones of five hundred pounds weight, advanced in order of battle, and engaged, almost upon a level, the troops which defended the ramparts." The irresistible force of the waters was alternately fatal to the contending parties, till at length a portion of the walls, unable to sustain the accumulated pressure, gave way at once, and exposed an ample breach of one hundred and fifty feet. The Persians were instantly driven to the assault, and the fate of Nisibis depended on the event of the day. The heavy-armed cavalry, who led the van of a deep column, were embarrassed in the mud, and great numbers were drowned in the unseen holes which had been filled by the rushing waters. The elephants, made furious by their wounds, increased the disorder, and trampled down thousands of the Persian archers. The Great King, who, from an exalted throne, beheld the misfortunes of his arms, sounded, with reluctant indignation, the signal of the retreat, and suspended for some hours the prosecution of the attack. But the vigilant citizens improved the opportunity of the night, and the return of day discovered a new wall of six feet in height rising every moment to fill up the interval of the breach. Notwithstanding the disappointinent of his hopes and the loss of more than twenty thousand men, Sapor still pressed the reduction of Nisibis with an obstinate firmness which could have yielded only to the necessity of defending the eastern provinces of Persia against a formidable invasion of the Massagetæ.67 Alarmed by this intelligence, he hastily relinquished the siege, and marched with rapid diligence from the banks of the Tigris to those of the Oxus. The danger and difficulties of the Scythian war engaged him soon afterwards to conclude, or at least to observe, a truce with the Roman emperor, which was equally grateful to both princes, as Constantius himself, after the deaths of his two brothers, was involved, by the revolutions of the West, in a civil contest which required and seemed to exceed the most vigorous exertion of his undivided strength.
After the partition of the empire three years had scarcely elapsed
67 We are obliged to Zonaras (tom. ii. 1. xiii. (c. 7] p. 11 ) for this invasion of the Massagetæ, which is perfectly consistent with the general series of events, to which we are darkly led by the broken history of Ammianus.
• Macdonald Kinnier observes on these it is difficult to imagine how this work floating batteries, “ As the elevation of the could have been accomplished, even with place is considerably above the level of the the wonderful resources which the king country in its immediate vicinity, and the must have had at his disposal." GeograMygdonius is a very insignificant stream, phical Memoir, p. 262.-M.
before the sons of Constantine seemed impatient to convince
mankind that they were incapable of contenting themand death of selves with the dominions which they were unqualified to A.D. 340, govern. The eldest of those princes soon complained that
he was defrauded of his just proportion of the spoils of their murdered kinsmen; and though he might yield to the superior guilt and merit of Constantius, he exacted from Constans the cession of the African provinces, as an equivalent for the rich countries of Macedonia and Greece which his brother had acquired by the death of Dalmatius. The want of sincerity which Constantine experienced in a tedious and fruitless negotiation exasperated the fierceness of his temper, and he eagerly listened to those favourites who suggested to him that his honour, as well as his interest, was concerned in the prosecution of the quarrel. At the head of a tumultuary band, suited for rapine rather than for conquest, he suddenly broke into the dominions of Constans, by the way of the Julian Alps, and the country round Aquileia felt the first effects of his resentment. The measures of Constans, who then resided in Dacia, were directed with more prudence and ability. On the news of his brother's invasion he detached a select and disciplined body of his Illyrian troops, proposing to follow them in person with the remainder of his forces. But the conduct of his lieutenants soon terminated the unnatural contest. By the artful appearances of flight, Constantine was betrayed into an ambuscade, which had been concealed in a wood, where the rash youth, with a few attendants, was surprised, surrounded, and slain. His body, after it had been found in the obscure stream of the Alsa, obtained the honours of an Imperial sepulchre, but his provinces transferred their allegiance to the conqueror, who, refusing to admit his elder brother Constantius to any share in these new acquisitions, maintained the undisputed possession of more than two-thirds of the Roman empire.68
The fate of Constans himself was delayed about ten years longer, Murder of and the revenge of his brother's death was reserved for the Constans more ignoble hand of a domestic traitor. The pernicious
ruary. tendency of the system introduced by Constantine was displayed in the feeble administration of his sons, who, by their vices and weakness, soon lost the esteem and affections of their people. The pride assumed by Constans from the unmerited success of his arms was rendered more contemptible by his want of abilities and
68 The causes and the events of this civil war are related with much perplexity and contradiction. I have chiefly followed Zonaras and the younger Victor. The monody (ad calcem Eutrop. edit. Havercamp.) pronounced on the death of Constantine might have been very instructive; but prudence and false taste engaged the orator to involve himself in vague declamation.