[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Clicca hic ad Latinam paginam legendam.]
[Link ad una pagina in Italiano]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]
[image ALT: a blank space]

This webpage reproduces Book I of
On the Consulship of Stilicho


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

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!


[image ALT: link to next section]

 p365  Claudian, On Stilicho's Consulship (A.D. 400)



[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Ceaseless are the blessings the gods shower with full bounty upon Rome, crowning success with new successes. Scarce had the happy songs of marriage ceased to echo in the palace when the defeat of Gildo brought material for a hymn of triumph. Hard upon the garlands of passionate love followed the crown of laurel, so that the emperor won alike the name of husband and the fame of conqueror. After the war in Africa eastern sedition waned; the Orient once more was laid low and, guarded by the consul Stilicho the axes rose in triumph. In due order are vows fulfilled. Should I hope to roll into one poem all my lofty themes, more easily should I pile Pelion on frozen Ossa. Were I silent anent a part, what I leave unsung will prove the greater. Am I to recall his deeds of old and earliest manhood? His present deeds lure away my mind. Am I to tell of his justice? His military glory outshines it. Shall I mention his prowess in war? He has done more in peace. Shall I relate how Latium flourishes, how Africa has returned to her allegiance and service, how Spain knows no more  p367 the Moor as her neighbour, how Gaul has now nought to fear from a disarmed Germany?​a Or shall I sing of wintry Thrace and those fierce struggles whereof Hebrus was witness? Limitless is the expanse that opens before me and even on the slopes of Helicon this weight of praise retards my muse's chariot.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] For truly since man inhabited this globe never has one mortal been granted all earth's blessings without alloy. This man's face is fair but his character is evil; another has a beauteous soul but an ugly body. One is renowned in war but makes peace hideous with his vices. This man is happy in his public but unhappy in his private life. Each takes a part; each owes his fame to some one gift, to bodily beauty, to martial prowess, to strength, to uprightness of life, to knowledge of law, to his offspring and a virtuous wife. To all men else blessings come scattered, to thee they flow commingled, and gifts that separately make happy are all together thine.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I will not unfold the tale of thy sire's​1 warlike deeds. Had he done nothing of note, had he in loyalty to Valens never led to battle those yellow-haired companies, yet to be the father of Stilicho would have spread abroad his fame. Ever from thy cradle did thy soul aspire, and in the tender years of childhood shone forth the signs of loftier estate. Lofty in spirit and eager, nothing paltry didst thou essay; never didst thou haunt any rich man's doorstep; thy speech was such as to befit thy future dignities. A mark wert thou even then for all eyes, even then an object of reverence; the fiery brightness of thy noble countenance, the very mould  p369 of thy limbs, greater even than poets feign of demi-gods, marked thee out for a leader of men. Whithersoever thy proud form went in the city thou didst see men rise and give place to thee; yet thou wast then but a soldier. The silent suffrage of the people had already offered thee all the honours the court was soon to owe.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Scarce hadst thou reached man's estate when thou wast sent to negotiate peace with Assyria;​2 to make a treaty with so great a people was the charge entrusted to thy youth. Crossing the Tigris and the deep Euphrates thou cam'st to Babylon. The grave lords of Parthia looked at thee in amaze and the quiver-bearing mob burned with desire to behold, while the daughters of Persia gazing on their beauteous guest sighed out their hidden love. The peace is sworn at altars sweet with the fragrance of incense and the harvests of Saba. Fire is brought forth from the innermost sanctuary and the Magi sacrifice heifers according to the Chaldean ritual. The king himself dips the jewelled bowl of sacrifice and swears by the mysteries of Bel and by Mithras who guides the errant stars of heaven. Whenever they made thee sharer of their hunting, whose sword struck down the lion in close combat before that of Stilicho, whose arrow pierced the striped tiger afar before thine? When thou didst guide the easy rein the Mede gave way to thee, and the Parthian marvelled at the bow thou didst discharge in flight.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Meanwhile a maiden of years full ripe for marriage troubled a father's heart, and the emperor doubted whom to select as her husband and as future ruler of the world; right anxiously did he search east and west for a son-in‑law worthy of being wedded  p371 to Serena. Merit alone had to decide; through camps, through cities, through nations roamed his poised and hesitating thoughts. But thou wast chosen, thus in the opinion and judgement of him who selected thee surpassing all the candidates of the whole world and becoming a son-in‑law in the imperial family where thou wast shortly to become a father-in‑law. The marriage-bed was ablaze with flashing gold and regal purple. The maiden steps forth accompanied by her parents clad in scarlet. On one side stood her sire, famed for his triumphs, on the other was the queen, fulfilling a mother's loving office and ordering the bridal veil beneath a weight of jewels. Then, so men say, the horses of the sun and the stars of heaven danced for joy, pools of honey and rivers of milk welled forth from the earth. Bosporus decked his banks with vernal flowers, and Europe, entwined with rose garlands, uplifted the torches in rivalry with Asia.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Happy our emperor in his choice; he judges and the world agrees; he is the first to value what we all see. Ay, for he has allied to his children and to his palace one who never preferred ease to war nor the pleasures of peace to danger, nor yet his life to his honour. Who but he could have driven back the savage Visigoths to their wagons or overwhelmed in one huge slaughter the Bastarnae puffed up with the slaying of Promotus?​3 Aeneas avenged the slaughter of Pallas with the death of Turnus, Hector, dragged behind the chariot-wheels, was to wrathful Achilles either revenge or gain; thou dost not carry off in mad chariot dead bodies for ransom nor plot idle savagery against a single corpse; thou slayest at thy friend's tomb whole  p373 squadrons of horse, companies of foot, and hordes of enemies. To his ghost a whole nation is offered up. Neither Vulcan's fabulous shield nor such armour as that of which poets sing the forging assisted thine efforts. Single-handed thou didst succeed in penning within the narrow confines of a single valley the vast army of barbarians that were long since ravaging the land of Thrace. For thee the fearful shriek of the onrushing Alan had no terrors nor the fierceness of the nomad Hun nor the scimitar of the Geloni, nor the Getae's bow or Sarmatian's club. These nations would have been destroyed root and branch had not a traitor by a perfidious trick abused the emperor's ear and caused him to withhold his hand; hence the sheathing of the sword, the raising of the siege, and the granting of a treaty to the prisoners.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] He was always with the army, seldom in Rome, and then only when the young emperor's anxious love summoned him thither. Scarce had he greeted the gods of his home, scarce seen his wife when, still stained with the blood of his enemies, he hastened back to the battle. He did not stay to catch at least a kiss from Eucherius through his vizor; the anxieties of a general o'ercame a father's yearning and a husband's love. How often has he bivouacked through the Thracian winter and endured beneath the open sky the blasts that slow Boötes sends from mount Riphaeus. When others, huddled over the fire, could scarce brook the cold, he would ride his horse across the frozen Danube and climb Athos deep in snow, his helmet on his head, thrusting aside the frozen branches of the ice-laden trees with his far gleaming targe. Now he pitched his tent by the shores of Cimmerian Pontus, now  p375 misty Rhodope afforded him a winter's bed. I call you to witness, cold valleys of Haemus, that Stilicho has often filled with bloody slaughter; and you, rivers of Thrace, your waters turned to blood; say, ye Bisaltae, or you whose oxen plough Pangaeus' slopes, how many a rotting helm has not your share shattered neath the soil, how oft have not your mattocks rung against the giant bones of slaughtered kings.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Fain would I embrace each separate one; but thine exploits press on in too close array, and I am overwhelmed by the pursuing flood of glorious deeds. When Theodosius had warred against, and slain, the tyrant​4 he ascended into heaven, leaving the governance of the world to thee. With a strength equal to his thou dost bear up the tottering structure of the empire that threatens each moment to collapse. Thus, when once Hercules upheld the world, the universal frame hung more surely poised, the Standard-bearer did not reel with tottering stars, and old Atlas, relieved for a moment of the eternal load, was confounded as he gazed upon his own burden.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Barbary was quiet, no revolution troubled the empire's peace and though so great a prince was dead the world knew not that the reins had passed into another's hands. No company in the two armies​5 dared aught as though set loose from control. Yet surely never had such diversities of language and arms met together to form one united people. Theodosius had unified the whole East beneath his rule. Here were mingled Colchian and Iberian, mitred Arab, beautifully coifed Armenian; here the Sacian had pitched his painted tent, the Mede his  p377 stained tent, the dusky Indian his embroidered tent: here were the tall company of warriors from the Rhone and the warlike children of Ocean. Stilicho and Stilicho alone commanded all the nations looked on by the rising and the setting sun. Amid this company so diverse in blood and speech such peace reigned beneath thy rule, so did fear of justice secure right, that not a single vineyard was robbed, nor did a single field cheat the husbandman of its plundered crop; rage incited to no violence, passion to no deeds of shame; the peaceful sword was obedient to law. Of a truth their leaders' pattern passes to the crowd, and the soldier follows not only the standards but also the example of his general.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Whithersoever thou didst lead thy victorious eagles there rivers grew dry, drunk up by so many thousands of men. Didst thou march towards Illyria, plain and mountain were hidden; didst thou give the signal to thy fleet, the Ionian main was lost beneath thy ships. Cloud-girt Ceraunia, the storms that dash the waves in foam on Leucas' promontory — these could not affright any. Shouldst thou bid them explore some frozen sea, thy untroubled soldiers would shatter the congealed waters with countervailing oar; had they to seek the deserts of the south, to search out the sources of the Nile, their sails would penetrate into Ethiopia's midmost heat.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thee mindful Eurotas, thee Lycaeus' rustic muse, thee Maenalus celebrates in pastoral song, and therewith the woods of Parthenius, where, thanks to thy victorious arms, weary Greece has raised once more her head from amid the flames. Then did Ladon, river of Arcadia, stay his course amid the countless bodies,  p379 and Alphaeus, choked with heaps of slaughtered Getae, won his way more slowly to his Sicilian love.6

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Do we wonder that the foe so swiftly yields in battle when they fall before the sole terror of his name? We did not declare war on the Franks; yet they were overthrown. We did not crush in battle the Suebi on whom we now impose our laws. Who could believe it? Fierce Germany was our slave or ever the trumpets rang out. Where are now thy wars, Drusus, or thine, Trajan? All that your hands wrought after doubtful conflict that Stilicho did as he passed along, and o'ercame the Rhine in as many days as you could do in years; you conquered with the sword, he with a word; you with an army; he single-handed. Descending from the river's source to where it splits in twain and to the marshes that connect its mouths he flashed his lightning way. The speed of the general outstripped the river's swift course, grew as grew Rhine's waters. Chieftains whose names were once so well known, flaxen-haired warrior-kings whom neither gifts nor prayers could win over to obedience to Rome's emperors, hasten at his command and fear to offend by dull delay. Crossing the river in boats they meet him wheresoever he will. The fame of his justice did not play them false: they found him merci­ful, they found him trustworthy. Him whom at his coming the German feared, at his departure he loved. Those dread tribes whose wont it was ever to set their price on peace and let us purchase repose by shameful tribute, offered their children as hostages and begged for peace with such suppliant looks that one would have thought them  p381 captives, their hands bound behind their backs, and they mounting the Tarpeian rock with the chain of slavery upon their necks. All those lands that lie between Ocean and the Danube trembled at the approach of one man. Boreas was brought into servitude without a blow; the Great Bear was disarmed.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] In so short a time didst thou win so many battles without loss of blood, and, setting out with the moon yet new, thou didst return or ever it was full; so didst thou compel the threatening Rhine to learn gentleness with shattered horns, that the Salian now tills his fields, the Sygambrian beats his straight sword into a curved sickle, and the traveller, as he looks at the two banks, asks over which Rome rules. The Belgian, too, pastures his flock across the river and the Chauci heed it not; Gallic herds cross the mid Elbe and wander over the hills of the Franks. Safe it is to hunt amid the vast silence of the distant Hercynian forest, and in the woods that old-established superstition has rendered awful our axes fell the trees the barbarian once worshipped and nought is said.​b

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Nay more, devoted to their conqueror this people offers its arms in his defence. How oft has Germany begged to add her troops to thine and to join her forces with those of Rome! Nor yet was she angered when her offer was rejected, for though her aid was refused her loyalty came off with praise. Provence will sooner drive out the governor thou sendest than will the land of the Franks expel the ruler thou hast given them. Not to rout rebels in the field but to punish them with chains is now the law; under our judge a Roman prison holds inquest  p383 on the crimes of kings. Marcomeres and Sunno​7 give proof: the one underwent exile in Etruria, the other, proclaiming himself the exile's avenger, fell beneath the swords of his own soldiers. Both were eager to arouse rebellion, both hated peace — true brothers in character and in a common love of crime.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] After the conquest of the north arose a fresh storm in another quarter. The trumpets of war rang out in the south that there might be no part of the world untouched by thy victories. Gildo stirred up all the Moorish tribes living beneath mount Atlas and those whom the excessive heat of the sun cuts off from us in the interior of Africa, those too whom Cinyps' wandering stream waters, and Triton, neighbour of the garden of the Hesperides; those who dwell beside the waters of Gir, most famous of the rivers of Ethiopia, that overflows its banks as it had been another Nile. There came at his summons the Nubian with his head-dress of short arrows, the fleet Garamantian, the Nasamonian​c whose impetuous ardour not even the sinister predictions of Ammon could restrain. The plain of Numidia was overrun, their dust covered the Gaetulian Syrtes; the sky of Carthage was darkened with their arrows. Some, mounted, guide their horses with sticks, others are clad in tawny lion-skins and pelts of the nameless animals that range the vast deserts of Meroë. Severed heads of serpents with gaping jaws serve them for helmets, the bright sealy skin of the viper fashions their quivers. Simois trembled not so violently when swart Memnon led his dusky troops o'er Ida's summit. Not so fearful was Ganges when Porus approached, mounted on his towering elephant and surrounded with his far-shooting Indian soldiery.  p385 Yet Porus was defeated by Alexander, Memnon by Achilles, and Gildo by thee.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] It was not, however, only the South that fierce Mars aroused but also the East. Though loyalty cried out against it Gildo had transferred the nominal rule of Libya to the Eastern empire, cloaking his base treason under the name of legitimate government.​8 Thus with diverse terror a twofold war arose; here were arms, there were wiles. Africa supported the one with her savage tribes, the other the conspiring East nurtured with treachery. From Byzantium came edicts to subvert the loyalty of governors; from Africa that refused her crops black famine pressed and had beleaguered trembling Rome. Libya openly meditated our destruction; over the civic strife shame had laid her veil of silence.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Though such storms raged on either hand, though the twofold tempest buffeted the torn empire on this side and on that, no whit did our consul's courage yield to weariness, but ever watchful against threatening doom and soon to win prosperous issue, shone greater amid dangers: as the ship's pilot, tossed in mid Aegean by the storms of rainy Orion,​d eludes the waves' buffeting by the least turn of the tiller, skilfully guiding his vessel now on straight, now on slanting course, and struggles successfully against the conjoint fury of sea and sky.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] At what, Stilicho, shall I first marvel? At the providence that resisted all intrigues, whereby no treacherous missive, no bribe-fraught hand escaped thy notice? Or because thatº amid the general terror thou spakest no word unworthy of Latium? Or because thou didst ever give haughty answer to the East and later made that answer  p387 good? They held thy goods, thy lands, thy houses, yet wast thou unmoved. This thou didst account a trifling loss nor ever preferred private to public interest. Thy mighty task thou dost parcel out, yet dost thou face it all alone, debating the problems that must needs be thought out, acting where deeds are called for, ever ready to dictate where aught is to be accomplished by writing. What hundred-handed monster, what Briareus, whose arms ever grew more numerous as they were lopped off, could cope with all these things at once? To avoid the snares of treachery, to strengthen existing regiments and enroll new ones, to equip two fleets, one of cornº-ships, one of men-of‑war, to quell the tumult of the court and alleviate the hunger of the Roman populace — what eyes, never visited by the veil of sleep, have had the strength to turn their gaze in so many directions and over so many lands or to pierce so far? Fame tells how Argus girt with a hundred eyes could guard but one heifer with his body's watch.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Whence comes this mass of corn? What forest fashioned all those vessels? Whence has sprung this untutored army with all its young recruits? Whence has Gaul, its age once more at the spring, won back the strength that Alpine blows twice shattered?​9 Methinks 'tis no levy but the ploughshare of the Phoenician Cadmus that has raised up thus suddenly a host sprung from the sowing of the dragon's teeth; 'tis like the crop that in the fields of Thebes drew the sword of kin in threatened battle with its own sower when, the seed once sown, the earth-born giants clave the earth, their mother's womb, with their springing helms and a harvest of  p389 young soldiery burgeoned along the armèd furrows. This too must not be passed over without full meed of praise, that the avenging expedition did not embark until the senate had, in accordance with antique usage, declared war. Stilicho re-established this custom, neglected for so many ages, that the Fathers should give generals charge to fight, and by decree of the toga-clad Senate the battle-token pass auspiciously among the legions. We acknowledge that the laws of Romulus have now returned when we see arms obedient to our ministers.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thou couldst have filled the Tyrrhene sea with all thy standards, the Syrtes with thy fleet and Libya with thy battalions, but wrath was stayed o'ercome by prudent fear lest Gildo, terrified at the thought that thou wast in arms against him and suspecting that thy forces were of overwhelming strength, might retire into the hot desert and the torrid zone, or travel east in flight or, to console him for the certainty of death, might destroy his cities with fire. Marvellous it is to tell: thou wast fearful of being feared and forbade him to despair whom thy vengeance awaited. How greatly was his confidence our gain! Safe are the towers of hostile Carthage, and the Phoenician fields rejoice in their unharmed husbandmen, fields he might have laid waste in his flight. Deluded by a vain hope he spared what was ours without escaping chastisement for himself. Madman, to measure Rome by the numbers instead of the valour of her soldiers! He advanced as though he would ride them all down by means of his fleet cavalry and, as he often boasted, would overwhelm in the dust the Gauls enervated by the sun's heat. But he soon learned that neither wounds  p391 made more deadly by the poisoned arrow of Ethiopia nor thick hail of javelins nor clouds of horsemen can withstand Latin spears. The cowardly Nasamonian troops are scattered, the Garamantian hurls not his spears but begs for mercy, the swift-footed Autololes fly to the desert, the terror-stricken Mazacian flings away his arms, in vain the Moor urges on his flagging steed. The brigand flees in a small boat and driven back by the winds met with his just fate in the harbour of Tabraca, discovering that no element offered refuge, Stilicho, to thine enemies. There he was destined to undergo the insults of the overjoyed populace and to bow his guilty head before a lowly judgement-seat.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Let not Fortune claim aught for herself. Let her ever be favourable; but we trusted not the issue to a single fight, nor was the hazard set with all our force to be lost at a single throw. Had hard chance at all prevailed, a second fleet pressed on behind, a greater leader was yet to come.

[Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Never was a more famous victory nor one that was the object of more heart-felt prayers. Will anyone compare with this the defeat of Tigranes, of the king of Pontus, the flight of Pyrrhus or Antiochus, the capture of Jugurtha, the overthrow of Perses or Philip? Their fall meant but the enlargement of the empire's bounds; on Gildo's depended the very existence of Rome. In those cases delay entailed no ill; in this a late-won victory was all but a defeat. On this supreme issue, while leanness racked her people, hung the fate of Rome; and to win back Libya was a greater gain than its first conquest, even as to lose a possession stirs a heavier pain than never to have had it. Who would  p393 now be telling of the Punic wars, of you, ye Scipios, or of thee, Regulus; who would sing of cautious Fabius, if, destroying right, the fierce Moor were trampling on an enslaved Carthage? This victory, Rome, has revived the laurels of thy heroes of old; Stilicho has restored to thee all thy triumphs.

The Translator's Notes:

1 We know really nothing of Stilicho's parentage save that the family was a Vandal one: Vandalorum genere editus, Oros. VII.38.

2 By Assyria Claudian means Persia. He refers to the dispatch of Stilicho in 387 as ambassador to the court of Sapor III (383‑388) to arrange about the partition of Armenia.

3 Promotus, who had rescued Theodosius from an ambush in his war against the Visigoths in 390, lost his life in the same war the year after. Stilicho succeeded to his command.

4 i.e. Eugenius.

5 i.e. of East and West.

6 i.e. Arethusa.

7 Marcomeres and Sunno, brother chiefs of the Ripuarian Franks, had (? in connexion with Maximus' revolt) invaded Roman territory near Cologne in 388 and been defeated by Arbogast. Stilicho's success­ful campaign against them, of which we read here, is to be dated 395 (? March).

8 Africa belonged to the West. Gildo, in the words of Zosimus (V.11.2), ἀφίστησι τὴν χώραν τῆς Ὀνωρίου βασιλείας καὶ τῇ Ἀρκαδίου προστίθησιν.

9 In the wars against, respectively, Eugenius and the Goths.

Thayer's Notes:

a This one passage best points out just how great yet transient were Stilicho's achievements: none of these problems ever really went away, but even to have attacked all three simultaneously with a measure of temporary success is unique in European history.

The Rhine frontier and the wars between Gaul and Germany have been the chief destabilizing factor on the continent. Once the Roman empire in the West collapsed, two generations after Stilicho, tribes poured into Gaul from Germany for a few centuries; then a great solution was found, and uneasily maintained for 600 years, that of the buffer state of Lotharingia then Burgundy until its collapse in turn; the devastating series of wars followed that we all know, from the Thirty Years' War to Louis XIV's ruthless invasions and dismantling of Germany, to much the same from Napoleon, to the series of German reprisals in 1870, 1914, and 1940; and a third solution, brought to you by the Adenauer-De Gaulle talks that led to the treaty of 1963, in which Gaul and Germany sought no longer to partition Europe but to rule her jointly — a solution that appears no more stable than the others, since not all Europeans want to be dominated by a Franco-German axis, and already now we see signs of chafing under the yoke.

Spain's worst troubles with the Moors still lay ahead, of course: Moslem religious imperialism reduced Spain to 800 years of subjection. The antidote was a mirror imperialism stiffened by the great bulwark of Catholicism; as Christianity appears to slough off into irrelevancy, there is every indication that the Moslems and Moors are gaining ground in Spain (and elsewhere in Europe).

The related problem of African piracy and raids has in the past been less important, but nonetheless a persistent thorn to civilization, from the raids on Italy in the 8th and 9th centuries (including the desecration of St. Peter's tomb in Rome) that was one of the main triggers of the Crusades, to the Afro-Moslem and Turkish piracies after the fall of Constantinople that were checked by Lepanto, winked at by Louis XIV, fought by the United States in its war against the Barbary Pirates and solved for a while by the French occupation of most of North Africa in the 19th century. In our own time, however, of the three problems Claudian credits Stilicho with solving, this is currently the worst, not only the resumed piracies and hijackings, but with 15% of the population of France, to take example, being in fact a fifth column of Africans and Moslems that now exert a significant pressure on the policy of the French government — and the unassimilated African presence in other countries of Europe not far behind.

b This too is calling victory too soon; St. Boniface was still fighting German worship of trees in the early 8c and merely succeeded in converting it into our familiar Christmas tree custom.

c See the interesting (and illustrated) pages Garamantes and Nasamones at Livius.

d The constellation Orion was considered rainy by many ancient peoples, for several possible reasons, but only one plausible, viz., that when you saw it in the evening, it was the beginning of winter, which in the warm climates of classical Antiquity means storms and rains. For details, see R. H. Allen on Star Names, p306.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 17 Mar 18