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Book XVII

This webpage reproduces a section of
The Roman History

of
Ammianus Marcellinus

published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book XIX

(Vol. I) Ammianus Marcellinus
Roman Antiquities

p471 Book XIX

1 1 Sapor, while urging the people of Amida to surrender, is attacked by the garrison with arrows and spears. While King Grumbates attempts the same thing, his son is slain.

1 The king, rejoicing in the wretched imprisonment of our men that had come to pass, and anticipating like successes, set forth from there, and slowly advancing, came to Amida on the third day. 2 And when the first gleam of dawn appeared, everything so far as the eye could reach shone with glittering arms, and mail-clad cavalry filled hill and dale. 3 The king himself, mounted upon a charger and overtopping the others, rode before the whole army, wearing in place of a diadem a golden image of a ram's head set with precious stones, distinguished too by a great retinue of men of the highest rank and of various nations. But it was clear that he would merely try the effect of a conference on the defenders of the walls, since by the advice of Antoninus he was in haste to go elsewhere. 4 However, the power of heaven, in order to compress the miseries of the whole Roman Empire within the confines of a single region, had driven the king to an enormous degree of self-confidence, and to the belief that all the besieged would be paralysed with fear at the mere sight of him, and would resort to suppliant prayers. 5 So he rode up to the gates attended by his royal escort, and while with too great assurance he came so near that even his features could clearly be recognised, because of his p473conspicuous adornment he became the target of arrows and other missiles, and would have fallen, had not the dust hidden him from the sight of his assailants, so that after a part of his garment was torn by the stroke of a lance he escaped, to cause the death of thousands at a later time. 6 In consequence of this attack he raged as if against sacrilegious violators of a temple, and declaring that the lord of so many kings and nations had been outraged, he pushed on with great effort every preparation for destroying the city; but when his most distinguished generals begged that he would not under stress of anger abandon his glorious enterprises,1 he was appeased by their soothing plea and decided that on the following day the defenders should again be warned to surrender.

7 And so, at the first dawn of day, Grumbates, king of the Chionitae, wishing to render courageous service to his lord, boldly advanced to the walls with a band of active attendants; but a skilful observer caught sight of him as soon as he chanced to come within range of his weapon, and discharging a ballista, pierced both cuirass and breast of Grumbates' son, a youth just come to manhood, who was riding at his father's side and was conspicuous among his companions for his height and his handsome person. 8 Upon his fall all his countrymen scattered in flight, but presently returned in well-founded fear that his body might be carried off, and with harsh outcries roused numerous tribes to arms; and on their onset weapons flew from both sides like hail and a fierce fight ensued. 9 After a murderous contest, protracted to the very end of p475the day, at nightfall the body, which had with difficulty been protected amid heaps of slain and streams of blood, was dragged off under cover of darkness, as once upon a time before Troy his companions contended in a fierce struggle over the lifeless comrade2 of the Thessalian leader. 10 By this death the palace was saddened, and all the nobles, as well as the father, were stunned by the sudden calamity; accordingly a truce was declared and the young man, honoured for his high birth and beloved, was mourned after the fashion of his own nation. Accordingly he was carried out, armed in his usual manner, and placed upon a large and lofty platform, and about him were spread ten couches bearing figures of dead men, so carefully made ready that the images were like bodies already in the tomb. For the space of seven days all men by communities and companies3 feasted (lamenting the young prince) with dances and the singing of certain sorrowful dirges. 11 The women for their part, woefully beating their breasts and weeping after their wonted manner, loudly bewailed the hope of their nation cut off in the bloom of youth, just as the priestesses of Venus are often seen to weep at the annual festival of Adonis, which, as the mystic lore of religion tells us, is a kind of symbol of the ripened grain.a

2 1 Amida is besieged and assaulted twice within two days by the Persians.

1 After the body had been burned and the ashes collected and placed in a silver urn, since the father p477had decided that they should be taken to his native land to be consigned to the earth, they debated what it was best to do; and it was resolved to propitiate the spirit of the slain youth by burning4 and destroying the city; for Grumbates would not allow them to go farther while the shade of his only son was unavenged. 2 Accordingly, after two days had been given to rest, a large force was sent to devastate the rich, cultivated fields, which were unprotected as in time of peace; then the city was begirt by a fivefold line of shields, and on the morning of the third day gleaming bands of horsemen filled all places which the eye could reach, and the ranks, advancing at a quiet pace, took the places assigned them by lot. 3 The Persians beset the whole circuit of the walls. The part which faced the east fell to the lot of the Chionitae, the place where the youth so fatal to us was slain, whose shade was destined to be appeased by the destruction of the city. The Gelani were assigned to the southern side, the Albani guarded the quarter to the north, and to the western gate were opposed the Segestani, the bravest warriors of all. With them, making a lofty show, slowly marched the lines of elephants, frightful with their wrinkled bodies and loaded with armed men, a hideous spectacle, dreadful beyond every form of horror, as I have often declared.

4 Beholding such innumerable peoples, long got together to set fire to the Roman world and bent upon our destruction, we despaired of any hope of safety and henceforth strove to end our lives gloriously, which was now our sole desire. 5 And so from sunrise until the day's end the battle lines stood fast, p479as though rooted in the same spot; no sound was heard, no neighing of horses; and they withdrew in the same order in which they had come, and then refreshed with food and sleep, when only a small part of the night remained, led by the trumpeters' blast they surrounded the city with the same awful ring, as if it were soon to fall. 6 And hardly had Grumbates hurled a bloodstained spear, following the usage of his country and the custom of our fetial priest, than the army with clashing weapons flew to the walls, and at once the lamentable tempest of war grew fiercer, the cavalry advancing at full speed as they hurried to the fight with general eagerness, while our men resisted with courage and determination.

7 Then heads were shattered, as masses of stone, hurled from the scorpions, crushed many of the enemy; others were pierced by arrows, some were struck down by spears and the ground strewn with their bodies, while others that were only wounded retreated in headlong flight to their companions. 8 No less was the grief and no fewer the deaths in the city, whence a thick cloud of arrows in compact mass darkened the air, while the artillery which the Persians had acquired from the plunder of Singara inflicted still more wounds. 9 For the defenders, recovering their strength and returning in relays to the contest they had abandoned, when wounded in their great ardour for defence fell with destructive results; or if only mangled, they overturned in their writhing those who stood next to them, or at any rate, so long as they remained alive kept calling for those who had the skill to pull p481out the arrows implanted in their bodies. 10 Thus slaughter was piled upon slaughter and prolonged to the very end of the day, nor was it lessened even by the darkness of evening, with such great determination did both sides fight. 11 And so the night watches were passed under the burden of arms, while the hills re-echoed from the shouts rising from both sides, as our men praised the power of Constantius Caesar as lord of the world and the universe, and the Persians called Sapor "saansaan" and "pirosen," which being interpreted is "king of kings" and "victor in wars."

12 And before the dawn of the fifth day the signal was given on the trumpets and the countless forces were aroused anew from all sides to battles of equal heat, rushing to the strife like birds of prey; and the plains and dales as far and as wide as the eye could reach revealed nothing save the flashing arms of savage nations. 13 Presently a shout was raised and all rushed blindly forward, a vast shower of weapons flew from the walls, and as might be supposed, not one that fell among that dense throng of men was discharged in vain. For since so many ills hedged us about, we burned, not with the desire of saving our lives, but, as I have said, of dying bravely; and from the beginning of the day until the light was dim we fought with more fury than discretion, without a turn of the battle to either side. For the shouts of those who would terrify and of those who feared constantly rang out, and such was the heat of battle that scarcely anyone could stand his ground without a wound. 14 At length night put an end to the bloodshed and satiety p483of woes had brought both sides a longer rest from fighting; for even when time for rest was given us, constant toil and sleeplessness sapped the little strength that remained, and we were terrified by the blood and the pale faces of the dying, to whom not even the last consolation of burial could be given because of the confined space; for within the limits of a city that was none too large there were shut seven legions, a promiscuous throng of strangers and citizens of both sexes, and a few other soldiers, to the number of 120,000 in all. 15 Therefore each cured his wounds according to his ability or the supply of helpers; some, who were severely hurt, gave up the ghost slowly from loss of blood; others, pierced through by arrows, after vain attempts to relieve them, breathed out their lives, and were cast out when death came; others, whose limbs were gashed everywhere, the physicians forbade to be treated, lest their sufferings should be increased by useless infliction of pain; still others plucked out the arrows and through this doubtful remedy endured torments worse than death.

3 1 Ursicinus vainly attempts to surprise the besiegers by night, being opposed by Sabinianus, commander of the infantry.

1 While the fight was going on at Amida with such determination on both sides, Ursicinus, grieving because he was dependent upon the will of another, who was then of greater authority in the command of the soldiers, frequently admonished Sabinianus, who was still clinging to his graves,5 that, getting p485together all his skirmishers, he should hasten by secret paths along the foot of the mountains, so that with the help of these light-armed troops6 (if fortune was at all favourable) he might surprise the pickets and attack the night-watches of the enemy, who had surrounded the walls in wide extent, or by repeated assaults distract the attention of those who were stoutly persisting in the siege. 2 These proposals Sabinianus opposed as dangerous, publicly offering as a pretext letters of the emperor, which expressly directed that whatever could be done should be effected without injury to the soldiers anywhere, but secretly in his inmost heart keeping in mind that he had often been instructed at court to cut off from his predecessor, because of his burning desire for glory, every means of gaining honour, even though it promised to turn out to the advantage of the state. 3 Such great haste was made, even though attended with the destruction of the provinces, that this valiant warrior should not receive mention as author of, or participant in, any noteworthy action. Therefore, alarmed by this unhappy situation, Ursicinus often sent us scouts, although because of the strict guard no one could easily enter the town, and attempted many helpful things; but he obviously could accomplish nothing, being like a lion of huge size and terrible fierceness which did not dare to go to save from danger his whelps that were caught in a net, because he had been robbed of his claws and teeth.

p487 4 1 A plague which broke out in Amida is ended within ten days by a light rain. Remarks on the causes and varieties of plagues.

1 But within the city, where the quantity of corpses scattered through the streets was too great to admit of burial, a plague was added to so many ills, fostered by the contagious infection of maggot-infested bodies, the steaming heat, and the weakness of the populace from various causes. The origin of diseases of this kind I shall briefly set forth.

2 Philosophers and eminent physicians have told us that an excess of cold or heat, or of moisture or dryness, produces plagues. Hence those who dwell in marshy or damp places suffer from coughs, from affections of the eyes, and from similar complaints; on the other hand, the inhabitants of hot climates dry up with the heat of fever. But by as much as the substance of fire is fiercer and more effective than the other elements, by so much is drought the swifter to kill. 3 Therefore when Greece was toiling in a ten years' war in order that a foreigner7 might not evade the penalty for separating a royal pair, a scourge of this kind raged and many men perished by the darts of Apollo,8 who is regarded as the sun. 4 And, as Thucydides shows,9 that calamity which, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war, harassed the Athenians with a grievous kind of sickness, gradually crept p489all the way from the torrid region of Africa and layº hold upon Attica. 5 Others believe that when the air, as often happens, and the waters are polluted by the stench of corpses or the like, the greater part of their healthfulness is spoiled, or at any rate that a sudden change of air causes minor ailments. 6 Some also assert that when the air is made heavy by grosser exhalations from the earth, it checks the secretions that should be expelled from the body, and is fatal to some; and it is for that reason, as we know on the authority of Homer10 as well as from many later experiences, that when such a pestilence has appeared, the other animals besides man, which constantly look downward, are the first to perish. 7 Now the first kind of plague is called endemic, and causes those who live in places that are too dry to be cut off by frequent fevers. The second is epidemic, which breaks out at certain seasons of the year, dimming the sight of the eyes and causing a dangerous flow of moisture. The third is loemodes,11 which is also periodic, but deadly from its winged speed.

8 After we had been exhausted by this destructive plague and a few had succumbed to the excessive heat and still more from the crowded conditions, at last on the night following the tenth day the thick and gross exhalations were dispelled by light showers, and sound health of body was regained.

p491 5 1 Amida is attacked on one side about the walls, and on the other, under the lead of a deserter, by underground passages.

1 But meanwhile the restless Persian was surrounding the city with sheds and mantlets, and mounds began to be raised and towers were constructed; these last were lofty, with ironclad fronts, and on the top of each a ballista was placed, for the purpose of driving the defenders from the ramparts; yet not even for a moment did the skirmishing by the slingers and archers slacken. 2 There were with us two Magnentian legions, recently brought from Gaul (as I have said)12 and composed of brave, active men, experienced in battle in the open field, but to the sort of warfare to which we were constrained they were not merely unsuited, but actually a great hindrance; for whereas they were of no help with the artillery or in the construction of fortifications, they would sometimes make reckless sallies and after fighting with the greatest confidence return with diminished numbers, accomplishing just as much as would the pouring of a single handful of water (as the saying is) upon a general conflagration. 3 Finally, when the gates were very carefully barred, and their officers forbade them to go forth, they gnashed their teeth like wild beasts. But in the days that followed (as I shall show) their efficiency was conspicuous. 4 In a remote part of the walls on the southern side, which looks down on the river Tigris, there was a tower rising to a lofty height, beneath which yawned rocks so precipitous that one could not look down without p493shuddering dizziness. From these rocks subterranean arches had been hollowed out, and skilfully made steps led through the roots of the mountain as far as the plateau on which the city stood, in order that water might be brought secretly from the channel of the river, a device which I have seen in all the fortifications in those regions which border on streams. 5 Through these dark passages, left unguarded because of their steepness, led by a deserter in the city who had gone over to the opposite side, seventy Persian bowmen from the king's bodyguard who excelled in skill and bravery, protected by the silence of the remote spot, suddenly one by one in the middle of the night mounted to the third story of the tower and there concealed themselves; in the morning they displayed a cloak of red hue, which was the signal for beginning battle, and when they saw the city surrounded on all sides with the floods of their forces, emptying their quivers, and throwing them at their feet, with a conflagration of shouts and yells they sent their shafts in all directions with the utmost skill. And presently all the Persian forces in dense array attacked the city with far greater fury than before. 6 We were perplexed and uncertain where first to offer resistance, whether to those who stood above us or to the throng mounting on scaling-ladders and already laying hold of the very battlements; so the work was divided among us and five of the lighter ballistae were moved and placed over against the tower, rapidly pouring forth wooden shafts, which sometimes pierced even two men at a time. Some of the enemy fell, severely wounded; others, through p495fear of the clanging engines, leaped off headlong and were dashed to pieces. 7 This being so quickly accomplished and the engines restored to their usual places, with a little greater confidence all ran together to defend the walls. 8 And since the wicked deed of the deserter increased the soldiers' wrath, as if they were entering a level ground in a sham fight they used such strength of arm as they hurled their various weapons, that as the day inclined towards noon the enemy were scattered in bitter defeat, and lamenting the death of many of their number, retreated to their tents through fear of wounds.

6 1 A sally of the Gallic legions, destructive to the Persians.

1 Fortune thus breathed upon us some hope of safety, since a day had passed without harm to us and with disaster to the enemy; so the remainder of that day was devoted to rest, for refreshing our bodies. But at the arrival of the following dawn we saw from the citadel a countless throng which after the capture of the fortress of Ziata was being taken to the enemy's camp; for in that stronghold, which was both capacious and well fortified (it has a circuit of ten stadia) a multitude of people of all sorts had taken refuge. 2 For other fortifications also were seized and burned during those same days, and from them many thousands of men had been dragged, and were following into slavery, among them many feeble old men, and women already advanced in years, who, when they gave out for various reasons, discouraged by the long march and p497abandoning the desire to live, were left behind with their calves or hams cut out.

3 The Gallic soldiers, seeing these throngs of wretches, with a reasonable, but untimely, impulse demanded that the opportunity be given them of encountering the enemy, threatening death to the tribunes who forbade them, and to the higher officers, if they in their turn prevented them. 4 And just as ravening beasts in cages, roused to greater fierceness by the odour of carrion, in hope of getting out dash against the revolving bars,13 so did they hew with swords at the gates, which (as I said above) were locked, being exceedingly anxious lest, if the city should be destroyed, they also might perish without any glorious action, or if it were saved from peril, they should be said to have done nothing worth while, as Gallic greatness of heart demanded; and yet before this they had made frequent sallies and attempted to interfere with the builders of mounds, had killed some, and had suffered the like themselves.

5 We, at our wit's end and in doubt what opposition ought to be made to the raging Gauls, at last chose this course as the best, to which they reluctantly consented: that since they could no longer be restrained, they would wait for a while and then be allowed to attack the enemy's outposts, which were stationed not much farther than a bowshot away, with the understanding that if they broke through them, they might keep right on. For it was apparent that, if their request were granted, they would deal immense slaughter. 6 While preparations for this were going on, the walls were being vigorously defended by various kinds of effort: by toil and p499watchfulness and by placing engines so as to scatter stones and darts in all directions. However, two lofty mounds were constructed by a troop of Persian infantry, and the storming of the city was being prepared with slowly built siege-works; and in opposition to these troops our soldiers also with extreme care were rearing earthworks of great height, equal in elevation to those of the enemy and capable of supporting the greatest possible weight of fighting men.

7 Meanwhile the Gauls, impatient of delay, armed with axes and swords rushed out through an opened postern gate, taking advantage of a gloomy, moonless night and praying for the protection of heaven, that it might propitiously and willingly aid them. And holding their very breath when they had come near the enemy, they rushed violently upon them in close order, and having slain some of the outposts, they butchered the outer guards of the camp in their sleep (since they feared nothing of the kind), and secretly thought of a surprise attack even on the king's quarters, if a favourable fortune smiled on them. 8 But the sound of their cautious advance, slight though it was, and the groans of the dying were heard, and many of the enemy were roused from sleep and sprang up, while each for himself raised the call to arms. Our soldiers stood rooted to the spot, not daring to advance farther; for it no longer seemed prudent, when those against whom the surprise was directed were aroused, to rush into open danger, since now throngs of raging Persians were coming to battle from every side, fired with fury. 9 But the Gauls faced them, relying on p501their strength of body and keeping their courage unshaken as long as they could, cut down their opponents with the sword, while a part of their own number were slain or wounded by the cloud of arrows flying from every side. But when they saw that the whole weight of peril and all the troops of the enemy were turned against one spot, although not one of them turned his back, they made haste to get away; and as if retreating to music, they were gradually forced out beyond the rampart, and being now unable to withstand the bands of foemen rushing upon them in close order, and excited by the blare of trumpets from the camp, they withdrew. 10 And while many clarions sounded from the city, the gates were thrown open to admit our men, if they could succeed in getting so far, and the hurling-engines roared constantly, but without discharging any missiles, in order that since those in command of the outposts, after the death of their comrades were unaware of what was going on behind them, the men stationed before the walls of the city might abandon their unsafe position, and the brave men might be admitted through the gate without harm.14 11 By this device the Gauls entered the gate about daybreak in diminished numbers, a part severely others slightly wounded (the losses of that night were four hundred); and if a mightier fate had not prevented, they would have slain, not Rhesus nor the Thracians encamped before the walls of Troy,15 but the king of the Persians in his own tent, protected by a hundred thousand armed men. 12 In honour of their officers, as leaders in these brave deeds, after the destruction p503of the city the emperor ordered statues in full armour to be made and set up in a frequented spot in Edessa, and they are preserved intact to the present time.

13 When on the following day the slaughter was revealed, and among the corpses of the slain there were found grandees and satraps, and dissonant cries and tears bore witness to the disasters in that place, everywhere mourning was heard and the indignation of the kings at the thought that the Romans had forced their way in through the guards posted before the walls. And as because of this event a truce of three days was granted by common consent, we also gained time to take breath.

7 1 Towers and other siege-works are brought up to the walls of the city; they are set on fire by the Romans.

1 Then the enemy, horrified and maddened by the unexpected mishap, set aside all delay, and since force was having little effect, now planned to decide the contest by siege-works; and all of them, fired with the greatest eagerness for battle, now hastened to meet a glorious death or with the downfall of the city to make offering to the spirits of the slain.

2 And now through the zeal of all the preparations were completed, and as the morning star shone forth various kinds of siege-works were brought up, along with ironclad towers, on the high tops of which ballistae were placed, and drove off the defenders who were busy lower down. 3 And day was now dawning, when mail-clad soldiers underspread the entire heaven, and the dense forces moved forward, not as before in disorder, but led by the p505slow notes of the trumpets and with no one running forward, protected too by pent-houses and holding before them wicker hurdles. 4 But when their approach brought them within bowshot, though holding their shields before them the Persian infantry found it hard to avoid the arrows shot from the walls by the artillery, and took open order, and almost no kind of dart failed to find its mark; even the mail-clad horsemen were checked and gave ground, and thus increased the courage of our men. 5 However, because the enemy's ballistae, mounted as they were upon iron-clad towers, were effective from their higher place against those lower down, on account of their different position they had a different result and caused terrible carnage on our side; and when evening was already coming on and both sides rested, the greater part of the night was spent in trying to devise a remedy for this awful slaughter.

6 And at last, after turning over many plans, we resolved upon a plan which speedy action made the safer, namely, to oppose four scorpions16 to those same ballistae; but while they were being moved exactly opposite and cautiously put in place (an act calling for the greatest skill) the most sorrowful of days dawned upon us, showing as it did formidable bands of Persians along with troops of elephants, than whose noise and huge bodies the human mind can conceive nothing more terrible. 7 And while we were hard pressed on every side by the weight of armed men, siege-works, and monsters, round stones hurled at intervals from the battlements by the iron arms of our scorpions shattered p507the joints of the towers, and threw down the ballistae and those who worked them in such headlong fashion, that some perished17 without injury from wounds, others were crushed to death by the great weight of debris. The elephants, too, were driven back with great violence, for they were surrounded by firebrands thrown at them from every side, and as soon as these touched their bodies, they turned tail and their drivers were unable to control them. But though after that the siege-works were burned up, there was no cessation from strife. 8 For even the king of the Persians himself, who is never compelled to take part in battles, aroused by these storms of ill-fortune, rushed into the thick of the fight like a common soldier (a new thing, never before heard of) and because he was more conspicuous even to those who looked on from a distance because of the throng of his body-guard, he was the mark of many a missile; and when many of his attendants had been slain he withdrew, interchanging the tasks of his tractable forces, and at the end of the day, though terrified by the grim spectacle neither of the dead nor of the wounded he at last allowed a brief time to be given to rest.

8 1 Amida is attacked by the Persians over lofty mounds close to the walls, and is stormed. Marcellinus after the capture of the city escapes by night and flees to Antioch.

1 But night put an end to the conflict; and having taken a nap during the brief period of rest, p509the king, as soon as dawn appeared, boiling with wrath and resentment and closing his eyes to all right, aroused the barbarians against us, to win what he hoped for; and when the siege-works had been burned (as I have shown) they attempted battle over high mounds close to the walls, whereupon our men erected heaps of earth on the inside as well as they could with all their efforts, and under difficulties resisted with equal vigour.

2 For a long time the sanguinary battle remained undecided, and not a man anywhere through fear of death gave up his ardour for defence; and the contest had reached a point when the fate of both parties was governed by some unavoidable hap, when that mound of ours, the result of long toil, fell forward as if shattered by an earthquake. Thus the gulf which yawned between the wall and the heap built outside was made a level plain, as if by a causeway or a bridge built across it, and opened to the enemy a passage blocked by no obstacles, while the greater part of the soldiers that were thrown down ceased fighting, being either crushed or worn out. 3 Nevertheless others rushed to the spot from all sides, to avert so sudden a danger; but in their desire for haste they impeded one another, while the boldness of the enemy was increased by their very success. 4 Accordingly, by the king's command all the warriors were summoned and there was hand-to‑hand contest with drawn swords; blood streamed on all sides from the vast carnage; the trenches were blocked with bodies and so a broader path was furnished. And now the city was filled with the eager rush of the enemy's forces, p511and since all hope of defence or of flight was cut off, armed and unarmed alike without distinction of sex were slaughtered like so many cattle.

5 Therefore when the darkness of evening was coming on and a large number of our soldiers, although adverse fortune still struggled against them, were joined in battle and thus kept busy, I hid with two others in a secluded part of the city, and under cover of a dark night made my escape through a postern gate at which no guard was kept; and, aided by my familiarity with desert places and by the speed of my companions, I at length reached the tenth milestone. 6 At the post-house there we got a little rest, and when we were making ready to go farther and I was already unequal to the excessive walking, to which as a gentleman I was unused, I met a terrible sight, which however furnished me a most timely relief, worn out as I was by extreme weariness. 7 A groom, mounted on a runaway horse without saddle or bit, in order not to fall off had tied the rein by which, in the usual manner, the horse was guided, tightly to his left hand; and afterwards, being thrown off and unable to loose the knot, he was torn limb from limb as he was dragged through desert places and woods, while the animal, exhausted by running, was held back by the weight of the dead body; so I caught it and making timely use of the service of its back, with those same companions I with difficulty reached some springs of sulphurous water, naturally hot. 8 And since the heat had caused us parching thirst, for a long time we went slowly about look for water. And we fortunately found a deep well, p513but it was neither possible to go down into it because of its depth, nor were there ropes at hand; so taught by extreme need, we cut the linen garments in which we were clad18 into long strips and from them made a great rope. To the extreme end of this we tied the cap which one of us wore under his helmet, and when this was let down by the rope and sucked up the water after the manner of a sponge, it readily quenched the thirst by which we were tormented. 9 From there we quickly made our way to the Euphrates river, planning to cross to the farther bank by a boat which long continued custom had kept in that vicinity for the transport of men and animals. 10 But lo! we saw afar off a scattered band of Romans with cavalry standards, pursued by a great force of Persians; and we could not understand how they appeared so suddenly behind us as we went along. 11 Judging from this instance, we believe that the famous "sons of earth" did not come forth from the bosom of the land, but were born with extraordinary swiftness — those so‑called sparti,19 who, because they were seen unexpectedly in sundry places, were thought to have sprung from the earth, since antiquity gave the matter a fabulous origin. 12 Alarmed by this danger, since now all hope of life depended upon speed, through thickets and woods we made for the higher mountains, and came from there to the town of Melitina in lesser Armenia, where we p515presently found and accompanied an officer, who was just on the point of leaving; and so we returned unexpectedly to Antioch.

9 1 At Amida some of the Roman leaders are executed, others imprisoned. Craugasius of Nisibis, through longing for his captive wife, deserts to the Persians.

1 But the Persians, since the rapidly approaching end of autumn and the rising of the unfavourable constellation of the Kids20 prevented them from marching farther inland, were thinking of returning to their own country with their prisoners and their booty. 2 But in the midst of the slaughter and pillage of the destroyed city Count Aelianus and the tribunes, by whose efficient service the walls had been so long defended and the losses of the Persians increased, were shamefully gibbeted; Jacobus and Caesius, paymasters of the commander of the cavalry, and other officers of the bodyguard, were led off with their hands bound behind their backs; and those who had come from across the Tigris21 were hunted down with extreme care and butchered to a man, highest and lowest without distinction.

3 But the wife of Craugasius, who retained her chastity inviolate and was honoured as a woman of rank, grieved that she was likely to see another part of the world without her husband, although from present indications she had reason to hope for a loftier fortune. 4 Therefore, looking out for her own interests and foreseeing long beforehand what would happen, she was tormented by twofold p517anxiety, dreading both separation from her husband and marriage with another. Accordingly, she secretly sent a slave of hers, who was of tried fidelity and acquainted with the regions of Mesopotamia, to go over Mount Izala between the strongholds of Maride and Lorne to Nisibis, and take a message to her husband and certain tokens of their more private life, begging him that on hearing what had happened he should come to live happily with her. 5 When this had been arranged, the messenger, being lightly equipped, made his way with quick pace through forest paths and thickets and entered Nisibis. There giving out that he had seen his mistress nowhere, that she was perhaps slain, and that he himself, taking advantage of an opportunity to escape, had fled from the enemy's camp, he was accordingly disregarded as of no consequence. Thereupon he told Craugasius and then, after receiving assurance that if it could safely be done he would gladly follow his wife, the messenger departed, bearing to the woman the desired news. She on hearing it begged the king through his general Tamsapor that, if the opportunity offered before he left the Roman territory, he would graciously give orders that her husband be received under his protection.

6 The sudden departure, contrary to every one's expectation, of the stranger, who had returned by the right of postliminium22 and immediately vanished without anyone's knowledge, aroused the suspicions of the general Cassianus and the other important officials in Nisibis, who assailed Craugasius with dire threats, loudly insisting that the man had p519neither come nor gone without his wish. 7 He, then, fearing a charge of treason and greatly troubled lest through the coming of the deserter it should become known that his wife was alive and treated with great respect, as a blind sought marriage with another, a maiden of high rank, and, under pretence of preparing what was needed for the wedding-banquet, went to a country house of his eight miles distant from the city; then, at full gallop he fled to a band of Persian pillagers that he had learned to be approaching. He was received with open arms, being recognized from the story that he told, and five days later was brought to Tamsapor, and by him taken to the king. And after recovering his property and all his kindred, as well as his wife, whom he had lost after a few months, he held the second place after Antoninus, but was, as the eminent poet says, "next by a long interval."23 8 For Antoninus, aided by his talent and his long experience of the world, had available plans at hand for all his enterprises, while Craugasius was by nature most simple, yet of an equally celebrated reputation. And these things happened not long afterward.24

9 But the king, although making a show of ease of mind in his expression, and to all appearance seeming to exult in the destruction of the city, yet in the depths of his heart was greatly troubled, recalling that in unfortunate sieges he had often suffered sad losses, and had sacrificed far more men himself than he had taken alive of ours, or at any rate had killed in the various battles, as happened several times at Nisibis and at Singara; and in the p521same way, when he had invested Amida for seventy-three days with a great force of armed men, he lost 30,000 warriors, as was reckoned a little later by Discenes, a tribune and secretary, the more readily for this difference: that the corpses of our men soon after they are slain fall apart and waste away, to such a degree that the face of no dead man is recognisable after four days, but the bodies of the slain Persians dry up like tree-trunks, without their limbs wasting or becoming moist with corruption — a fact due to their more frugal life and the dry heat of their native country.

10 1 The Roman commons rebel, fearing a scarcity of grain.

1 While these storms were swiftly passing one after the other in the extreme East, the eternal city was fearing the disaster of a coming shortage of grain, and from time to time Tertullus, who was prefect25 at the time, was assailed by the violent threats of the commons, as they anticipated famine, the worst of all ills; and this was utterly unreasonable, since it was no fault of his that food was not brought at the proper time in the ships, which unusually rough weather at sea and adverse gales of wind drove to the nearest harbours, and by the greatness of the danger kept them from entering the Porta of Augustus.26 2 Therefore that same prefect, since he had often been disquieted by uprisings, and the common people, in fear of imminent p523destruction, were now raging still more cruelly, being shut off from all hope of saving his life, as he thought, held out his little sons to the wildly riotous populace, who had however been wont to take a sensible view of such accidents, and said with tears: 3 "Behold your fellow citizens, who with you (but may the gods of heaven avert the omen!) will endure the same fate, unless a happier fortune shine upon us. If therefore you think that by the destruction of these no heavy calamity can befall you, here they are in your power." Through pity at this sight the mob, of their own nature inclined to mercy, was appeased and held its peace, awaiting with patience the fortune that should come. 4 And presently by the will of the divine power that gave increase to Rome from its cradle and promised that it should last forever, while Tertullus was sacrificing in the temple of Castor and Pollux at Ostia, a calm smoothed the sea, the wind changed to a gentle southern breeze, and the ships entered the harbour under full sail and again crammed the storehouses with grain.

11 The Limigantes of Sarmatia deceive the emperor by a pretended request for peace and attack him; but they are repulsed with great slaughter.

1 In the midst of such troubles Constantius, who was still enjoying his winter rest at Sirmium, was disturbed by fearful and serious news, informing him of what he then greatly dreaded, namely, that the Sarmatian Limigantes, who (as we have already pointed out)27 had driven their masters from their ancestral abodes, having gradually abandoned the p525places which for the public good had been assigned them the year before for fear that they (as they are inconstant) might attempt some wrongful act, had seized upon the regions bordering upon their frontiers, were ranging freely in their native fashion, and unless they were driven back would cause general confusion.

2 The emperor, believing that these outrages would soon be pushed to greater heights if the matter were postponed, assembled from every quarter a great number of soldiers most eager for war and took the field before spring had yet fully come; he was the more eager for action from two considerations: first, because an army glutted with the rich booty of the past summer, by the hope of similar booty would be confidently encouraged to achieve successful enterprises, and because under Anatolius,28 who at that time was prefect of Illyricum, all necessary supplies had been brought together even ahead of time and were still coming in without trouble to anyone. 3 For never under the management of any other prefect up to the present time, as was generally agreed, had the northern provinces so abounded in all blessings, since by his kindly and skilful correction of abuses they were relieved of the great cost of the courier-service, which had closed homes without number, and there was considerable hope of freedom from the income tax. The dwellers in those parts might have lived thereafter happy and untroubled without grounds for complaint, had not later the most hated forms of taxation that could be imagined, criminally amplified by both tax-payers and tax-collectors, since the p527latter hoped to gain the protection of the governors in their efforts and the former hoped for safety if all were impoverished, resulted finally in proscriptions and the suicide of the wretched victims.

4 Well, then, the emperor (as I have said), in order to improve the pressing situation, set out with splendid equipment and came to Valeria, once a part of Pannonia, but made into a province and named in honour of Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian. There, with his army encamped along the banks of the river Hister,29 he watched the savages, who before his coming, under pretext of friendship but really intending secretly to devastate the country, were planning to enter Pannonia in the dead of winter, when the snows are not yet melted by the warmth of spring and so the river can be crossed everywhere, and when our soldiers would with difficulty, because of the frosts, endure life in the open.

5 Then having quickly sent two tribunes to the Limigantes, each with an interpreter, by courteous questioning he tried to find out why they had left their homes after the treaty of peace which had been granted to them at their own request, and were thus roaming at large and disturbing the frontiers, notwithstanding orders to the contrary. 6 They gave some frivolous and unsatisfactory excuses, since fear forced them to lie, and begged for pardon, entreating the emperor to forget his anger and allow them to cross the river and come to him, in order to inform him of the difficulties that they were suffering. They were ready to take up far distant lands, but within the compass of the Roman world, p529if he would allow them, in order that wrapped in lasting repose and worshipping Quiet (as a saving goddess), they might submit to the burdens and the name of tributaries.

7 When this was known after the return of the tribunes, the emperor, exulting in the accomplishment without any toil of a task which he thought insuperable, admitted them all, being inflamed with the desire for greater gain, which his crew of flatterers increased by constantly dinning it into his ears that now that foreign troubles were quieted, and peace made everywhere, he would gain more child-producing subjects and be able to muster a strong force of recruits; for the provincials are glad to contribute gold to save their bodies,30 a hope which has more than once proved disastrous to the Roman state.31 8 Accordingly, having placed a rampart near Acimincum32 and erected a high mound in the manner of a tribunal, ships carrying some light-armed legionaries were ordered to patrol the channel of the river near the banks, with one Innocentius, a field-measurer, who had recommended the plan, in order that, if they should see the savages beginning disorder, they might attack them in the rear, when their attention was turned elsewhere. 9 But although the Limigantes knew that these plans were being hastened, yet they stood with bared heads, as if composing nothing save entreaties, p531but meditating deep in their hearts quite other things than their attitude and their words suggested.

10 And when the emperor was seen on the high tribunal and was already preparing to deliver a most mild address, intending to speak to them as future obedient subjects, one of their number, struck with savage madness, hurling his shoe at the tribunal, shouted "Marha, marha" (which is their warcry), and the rude crowd following him suddenly raised a barbarian banner and with savage howls rushed upon the emperor himself. 11 He, looking down from his high place and seeing everything filled with a mob running about with missiles, and death already imminent from their drawn swords and javelins, in the midst as he was of the enemy and of his own men, and with nothing to indicate whether he was a general or a common soldier, since there was no time for hesitation or delay mounted a swift horse and galloped off at full speed. 12 However, a few of his attendants, while they were trying to keep off the savages, who poured upon them like a stream of fire, were either wounded to death or trampled down by the mere weight of those who rushed over them; and the royal seat with its golden cushion was seized without resistance.

13 But when presently it was heard that the emperor had all but been drawn into extreme peril and was not yet on safe ground, the soldiers considered it their first duty to aid him (for they thought him not yet free from danger of death); so, with greater confidence because of their contempt of the enemy, although the attack was so p533sudden that they were only partly armed, with a loud battlecry they plunged into the bands of the savages, who were regardless of their lives. 14 And so eagerly did our forces rush forth in their desire to wipe out the disgrace by valour, at the same time venting their wrath on the treacherous foe, that they butchered everything in their way, trampling under foot without mercy the living, as well as those dying or dead; and before their hands were sated with slaughter of the savages, the dead lay piled in heaps. 15 For the rebels were completely overthrown, some being slain, others fleeing in terror in all directions; and a part of them, who hoped to save their lives by vain entreaties, were cut down by repeated strokes. And after all had been killed and the trumpets were sounding the recall, some of our men also, though few, were found among the dead, either trampled under foot in the fierce attack or, when they resisted the fury of the enemy and exposed their unprotected sides, destroyed by the fatal course of destiny. 16 But conspicuous above the rest was the death of Cella, tribune of the Targeteers, who at the beginning of the fight was first to rush into the thick of the Sarmatian forces.

17 After this cruel carnage Constantius, having made such arrangements for the safety of the frontiers as considerations of urgency recommended, returned to Sirmium after taking vengeance on a treacherous foe. Then, having quickly attended to what the pressing necessities of the time required, he set out from there and went to Constantinople, in order that being now nearer the Orient he might remedy the disgrace he had suffered at Amida, p535and by supplying the army there with reinforcements might with an equally strong force check the inroads of the Persian king; for it was clear that the latter (unless the will of heaven and the supreme efforts of many men repelled him) would leave Mesopotamia behind and seek a wider field for his arms.

12 1 Many are tried and condemned for high treason.

1 Yet in the midst of these anxieties, as if it were prescribed by some ancient custom, in place of civil wars the trumpets sounded for alleged cases of high treason; and to investigate and punish these there was sent that notorious state-secretary Paulus, often called Tartareus.33 He was skilled in the work of bloodshed, and just as a trainer of gladiators seeks profit and emolument from the traffic in funerals34 and festivals, so did he from the rack or the executioner. 2 Therefore, as his determination to do harm was fixed and obstinate, he did not refrain from secret fraud, devising fatal charges against innocent persons, provided only he might continue his pernicious traffic.

3 Moreover, a slight and trivial occasion gave opportunity to extend his inquisitions indefinitely. There is a town called Abydum, situated in the remotest part of the Thebaïs;35 here the oracle of a god called in that place Besa in days of old revealed the future and was wont to be honoured in p537the ancient ceremonials of the adjacent regions. 4 And since some in person, a part through others, by sending a written list of their desires,36 inquired the will of the deities after definitely stating their requests, the papers or parchments containing their petitions sometimes remained in the shrine even after the replies had been given. 5 Some of these were with malicious intent sent to the emperor who (being very narrow-minded), although deaf to other serious matters, on this point was softer than an earlobe,37 as the proverb has it; and being suspicious and petty, he grew furiously angry. At once he admonished Paulus to proceed quickly to the Orient, conferring on him, as a leader renowned for his experience, the power of conducting trials according to his good pleasure. 6 A commission was also given to Modestus (at that very time count in the Orient) a man fitted for these and similar affairs. For Hermogenes of Pontus, at that time praetorian prefect, was rejected as being of too mild a temper.

7 Off went Paulus (as he was ordered) in panting haste and teeming with deadly fury, and since free rein was given to general calumny, men were brought in from almost the whole world, noble and obscure alike; and some of them were bowed down with the weight of chains, others wasted away from the agony of imprisonment. 8 As the theatre of torture and death Scythopolis was chosen, a city of Palestine which for two reasons seemed more suitable than any other: because it is more secluded, and because it is midway between Antioch and Alexandria, p539from which cities the greater number were brought to meet charges.

9 Among the first, then, to be summoned was Simplicius, son of Philippus, a former prefect and consul, who was indicted for the reason that he had (as was said) inquired about gaining imperial power; and by a note38 of the emperor, who in such cases never condoned a fault or an error because of loyal service, he was ordered to be tortured but, protected by some fate, he was banished to a stated place,39 but with a whole skin. 10 Then Parnasius (ex-prefect of Egypt), a man of simple character, was brought into such peril that he was tried for his life, but he likewise was sent into exile; he had often been heard to say long before this, that when, for the purpose of gaining a certain office, he left Patrae, a town of Achaia where he was born and had his home, he had dreamt that many shadowy figures in tragic garb escorted him. 11 Later Andronicus, known for his liberal studies and the fame of his poems, was haled into court; but since he had a clear conscience, was under no suspicion, and most confidently asserted his innocence, he was acquitted. 12 Also Demetrius, surnamed Cythras, a philosopher of advanced years, it is true, but hardy of body and mind, being charged with offering sacrifice40 several times, could not deny it; p541he declared, however, that he had done so from early youth for the purpose of propitiating the deity, not of trying to reach a higher station by his investigations; for he did not know of anyone who had such aspirations. Therefore, after being long kept upon the rack, supported by his firm confidence he fearlessly made the same plea without variation; whereupon he was allowed to go without further harm to his native city of Alexandria.

13 These and a few others a just fate in alliance with truth saved from imminent danger. But as these charges made their way further by entangling snares extended endlessly, some died from the mangling of their bodies, others were condemned to further punishment and had their goods seized, while Paulus was the prompter of these scenes of cruelty, supplying as if from a storehouse many kinds of deception and cruelty; and on his nod (I might almost say) depended the life of all who walk the earth. 14 For if anyone wore on his neck an amulet against the quartan ague or any other complaint, or was accused by the testimony of the evil-disposed of passing by a grave in the evening, on the ground that he was a dealer in poisons, or a gatherer of the horrors of tombs and the vain illusions of the ghosts that walk there, he was condemned to capital punishment and so perished. 15 In fact, the matter was handled exactly as if many men had importuned Claros,41 the oaks of Dodona,42 and the once famous oracles of Delphi with regard p543to the death of the emperor. 16 Therefore the palace band of courtiers, ingeniously fabricating shameful devices of flattery, declared that he would be immune to ordinary ills, loudly exclaiming that his destiny had appeared at all times powerful and effective in destroying those who made attempts against him.

17 And that into such doings strict investigation was made no man of good sense will find fault. For we do not deny that the safety of a lawful prince, the protector and defender of good men, on whom depends the safety of others, ought to be safeguarded by the united diligence of all men; and in order to uphold him the more strongly when his violated majesty is defended, the Cornelian laws43 exempted no one of whatever estate from examination by torture, even with the shedding of blood.44 18 But it is not seemly for a prince to rejoice beyond measure in such sorrowful events, lest his subjects should seem to be ruled by despotism rather than by lawful power. And the example of Tully ought to be followed, who, when it was in his power to spare or to harm, as he himself tells us,45 sought excuses for pardoning rather than opportunities for punishing; and that is the province of a mild and considerate official.

19 At that same time in Daphne, that charming and magnificent suburb of Antioch, a portent was born, horrible to see and to report: an infant, p545namely, with two heads, two sets of teeth, a beard, four eyes and two very small ears; and this misshapen birth foretold that the state was turning into a deformed condition. 20 Portents of this kind often see the light, as indications of the outcome of various affairs; but as they are not expiated by public rites, as they were in the time of our forefathers, they pass by unheard of and unknown.

13 1 Count Lauricius checks the raids of the Isaurians.

1 In these days the Isaurians, who had long been quiet after the acts of which an account is given above46 and the attempted siege of the city of Seleucia, gradually coming to life again just as snakes are wont to dart forth from their hovels in the spring time, sallying forth from their rocky and inaccessible mountain fastnesses, and massed together in dense bands, were harrying their neighbours with thefts and brigandage, eluding the frontier-defences of our soldiers by their skill as mountaineers and from experience easily running over rocks and through thickets. 2 In order to quiet them by force or by reason, Lauricius was sent as governor with the added rank of count; being a man skilled in statesmanship, he corrected many evils by threats rather than by actual severity, so that for a long time, while he governed the province, nothing occurred which was thought deserving of punishment.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Which would be delayed by the siege of Amida.

2 Patroclus, comrade of Achilles.

3 That is, those that were associated by their living quarters or their places in the ranks.

4 That is, the burned city should take the place of the bustum where the body was burned; see A.J.P. LIV pp362 ff.

5 See XVIII.7.7.

6 For this meaning of armorum see XVII.10.6, note; also XVI.12.7.

7 Paris, the cause of the Trojan War.

8 See Iliad, I.9 ff. and 43 ff. Apollo was angry because the request of his priest was denied. Ammianus rationalizes the myth, attributing the pestilence to the heat of the sun, and likening its rays to the arrows of the god.

9 Cf. Thuc. II.4.7.

10 Iliad, I.50, οὐρῆας μὲν πρῶτον ἐπῴχετο καὶ κύνας ἀργούς.

11 Pestilential.

12 Cf. XVIII.9.3.

13 The wild beasts for the arena were kept in cages of iron lattice work, at the top of which was a bar that turned when struck by their claws and threw them back to the floor of the cage.

14 Text and exact meaning are uncertain.

15 Iliad, X.435 ff.; Virgil, Aen., I.469 ff.

16 The scorpion was an engine for hurling stones, also called onager, "wild ass." It is described in XXIII.4.4 ff.

17 That is, by the fall from the high towers.

18 Damsté, reading tegebatur, thinks that the groom's clothing is meant. But he seems to have been left some distance behind, and it is doubtful whether his garments were in a condition to use. Clark adds lectulus, but where they would find a couch is not clear.

19 Σπαρτοί (from σπείρω, "sow") was a name applied to the Thebans, because of the fable of the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus. The Athenians, who claimed to be earthborn, were called αὐτόχθονες.

20 Three stars in the constellation Auriga; they rise at the beginning of October and bring stormy weather; cf. Horace, Odes, III.1.28.

Thayer's Note: For these astronomical Kids, R. H. Allen's Star Names is exhaustive: Auriga, passim.

21 I.e. Persian deserters.

22 Postliminium is literally "a return behind the threshold"; i.e. a complete return home with restoration of one's former rank, privileges, and condition. The slave seems to have been captured by the Persians with his mistress, and pretended to have escaped from the enemy. On his return to Nisibis, he again became the slave of Craugasius.

Thayer's Note: Comprehensive details are provided by the article Postliminium of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

23 Cf. Virgil, Aen. V.320.

24 That is, not long after the fall of Amida.

25 Prefect of the City.

26 The hexagonal basin at Ostia built by Trajan; also called Portus urbis, or simply Portus.

Thayer's Note: Portus is at some distance from Ostia, and is thought of today as a different place altogether.

27 XVII.12.18.

28 He was a Syrian from Berytus, who came to Rome and filled all the grades of rank up to the prefecture. He was noted for his energy, his eloquence, and his high character.

29 The Danube; usually its lower course, but used also of the whole river.

30 I.e. they would rather contribute money than personal service or recruits.

31 It was in fact this hope that led the Romans to allow the Goths to cross the Danube, and thus brought on the defeat at Adrianople in 378; see XXXI.4.4, pro militari supplemento quod provinciatim annuum pendebatur, thesauris accederet auri cumulus magnus.

32 A city of Pannonia.

33 "The Diabolical," from Tartarus. He is called Catena in XIV.5.8 and XV.3.4.

34 Gladiatorial shows were given at the funerals of distinguished Romans, as well as at festivals.

35 A nome, or province, of Egypt.

36 So also at the temple of Jupiter at Baalbek.

37 Cf. Cic., Q.F. II.154, me . . . fore auricula infima scito molliorem; Catull. 25.2 (mollior) imula auricilla.

38 On elogium, see p31, note 3.

39 According to Marcianus, Digest, XLVIII.22.5, there were three kinds of exile: exclusion from certain places specifically named (liberum exsilium); confinement to a designated place (lata fuga); banishment to an island (insulae vinculum).

40 To Besa.

41 A city of Ionia near Colophon, the seat of a famous oracle of Apollo.

42 A city of Epirus, in the country of the Molossians, where there was in an oak grove a celebrated temple and oracle of Zeus.

43 On the Cornelian Laws (Lex Cornelia maiestatis), see Cicero in Pisonem, 21. They were emended and enlarged by Julius Caesar as the Lex Iulia maiestatis.

Thayer's Note: For details, see the article Majestas of Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

44 See Cod. Theod. IX, Tit. 35, in maiestatis crimine omnibus aequa est condicio.

45 A fragment of Cicero preserved only by Ammianus: perhaps from the Oratio Metellina (Cic., ad Att. 1.13.5).

46 See XIV.2.1 ff.


Thayer's Note:

a The reference is to the Adonia.


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