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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Persian Wars


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!


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(Vol. I) Procopius
Persian Wars

Book II (continued)

 p489  26 1 And in the following year, Chosroes, the son of Cabades, for the fourth time invaded the land of the Romans, leading his army towards Mesopotamia. 2 Now this invasion was made by this Chosroes not against Justinian, the Emperor of the Romans, nor indeed against any other man, but only against the God whom the Christians reverence. 3 For when in the first invasion he retired, after failing to capture Edessa,​1 both he and the Magi, since they had been worsted by the God of the Christians, fell into a great dejection. 4 Wherefore Chosroes, seeking to allay it, uttered a threat in the palace that he would make slaves of all the inhabitants of Edessa and bring them to the land of Persia, and would turn the city into a pasture for sheep. 5 Accordingly when he had approached the  p491 city of Edessa with his whole army, he sent some of the Huns who were following him against that portion of the fortifications of the city which is above the hippodrome, with the purpose of doing no further injury than seizing the flocks which the shepherds had stationed there along the wall in great numbers: for they were confident in the strength of the place, since it was exceedingly steep, and supposed that the enemy would never dare to come so very close to the wall. 6 So the barbarians were already laying hold of the sheep, and the shepherds were trying most valiantly to prevent them.​a 7 And when a great number of Persians had come to the assistance of the Huns, the barbarians succeeded in detaching something of a flock from there, but Roman soldiers and some of the populace made a sally upon the enemy and the battle became a hand-to‑hand struggle; meanwhile the flock of its own accord returned again to the shepherds. 8 Now one of the Huns who was fighting before the others was making more trouble for the Romans than all the rest. 9 And some rustic made a good shot and hit him on the right knee with a sling, and he immediately fell headlong from his horse to the ground, which thing heartened the Romans still more. 10 And the battle which had begun early in the morning ended at midday, and both sides withdrew from the engagement thinking that they had the advantage. 11 So the Romans went inside the fortifications, while the barbarians pitched their tents and made camp in a body about seven stades from the city.

12 Then Chosroes either saw some vision or else the thought occurred to him that if, after making two  p493 attempts, he should not be able to capture Edessa, he would thereby cover himself with much disgrace. 13 Accordingly he decided to sell his withdrawal to the citizens of Edessa for a great sum of money. 14 On the following day, therefore, Paulus the interpreter came along by the wall and said that some of the Roman notables should be sent to Chosroes. 15 And they with all speed chose out four of their illustrious men and sent them. 16 When these men reached the Median camp, they were met according to the king's order by Zaberganes, who first terrified them with many threats and then enquired of them which course was the more desirable for them, whether that leading to peace, or that leading to war. 17 And when the envoys agreed that they would choose peace rather than the dangers of war, Zaberganes replied: "Therefore it is necessary for you to purchase this for a great sum of money." 18 And the envoys said that they would give as much as they had provided before, when he came against them after capturing Antioch. 19 And Zaberganes dismissed them with laughter, telling them to deliberate most carefully concerning their safety and then to come again to the Persians. 20 And a little later Chosroes summoned them, and when they came before him, he recounted how many Roman towns he had previously enslaved and in what manner he had accomplished it; then he threatened that the inhabitants of Edessa would receive more direful treatment at the hands of the Persians, unless they should give them all the wealth which they had inside the fortifications; for only on this condition, he said, would the army depart. 21 When the envoys heard this, they agreed  p495 that they would purchase peace from Chosroes, if only he would not prescribe impossible conditions for them: but the outcome of a conflict, they said, was plainly seen by no one at all before the struggle. 22 For there was never a war whose outcome might be taken for granted by those who waged it. Thereupon Chosroes in anger commanded the envoys to be gone with all speed.

23 On the eighth day of the siege he formed the design of erecting an artificial hill against the circuit wall of the city; accordingly he cut down trees in great numbers from the adjacent districts and, without removing the leaves, laid them together in a square before the wall, at a point which no missile from the city could reach; then he heaped an immense amount of earth right upon the trees and above that threw on a great quantity of stones, not such as are suitable for building, but cut at random, and only calculated to raise the hill as quickly as possible to a great height. 24 And he kept laying on long timbers in the midst of the earth and the stones, and made them serve to bind the structure together, in order that as it became high it should not be weak. 25 But Peter, the Roman general (for he happened to be there with Martinus and Peranius), wishing to check the men who were engaged in this work, sent some of the Huns who were under his command against them. 26 And they, by making a sudden attack, killed a great number; and one of the guardsmen, Argek by name, surpassed all others, for he alone killed twenty-seven. 27 From that time on, however, the barbarians kept a careful guard, and there was no further opportunity for anyone to go out against them. 28 But when the  p497 artisans engaged in this work, as they moved forward, came within range of missiles, then the Romans offered a most vigorous resistance from the city wall, using both their slings and their bows against them. Wherefore the barbarians devised the following plan. 29 They provided screens of goat's hair cloth, of the kind which are called Cilician, making them of adequate thickness and height, and attached them to long pieces of wood which they always set before those who were working on the "agesta"​2 (for thus the Romans used to call in the Latin tongue the thing which they were making). 30 Behind this neither ignited arrows nor any other weapon could reach the workmen, but all of them were thrown back by the screens and stopped there. 31 And then the Romans, falling into a great fear, sent the envoys to Chosroes in great trepidation, and with them Stephanus, a physician of marked learning among those of his time at any rate, who also had once cured Cabades, the son of Perozes, when ill, and had been made master of great wealth by him. 32 He, therefore, coming into the presence of Chosroes with the others, spoke as follows: "It has been agreed by all from of old that kindness is the mark of a good king. 33 Therefore, most mighty King, while busying thyself with murders and battles and the enslavement of cities it will perhaps be possible for thee to win the other names, but thou wilt never by any means have the reputation of being 'good.' 34 And yet least of all cities should Edessa suffer any adversity at thy hand. 35 For there was I born, who, without any foreknowledge of what was coming to pass, fostered thee from childhood and counselled  p499 thy father to appoint thee his successor to the kingdom, so that to thee I have proved the chief cause of the kingship of Persia, but to my fatherland of her present woes. 36 For men, as a general thing, bring down upon their own heads the most of the misfortunes which are going to befall them. 37 But if any remembrance of such benefaction comes to thy mind, do us no further injury, and grant me this requital, by which, O King, thou wilt escape the reputation of being most cruel." Such were the words of Stephanus. 38 But Chosroes declared that he would not depart from there until the Romans should deliver to him Peter and Peranius, seeing that, being his hereditary slaves, they had dared to array themselves against him. 39 And if it was not their pleasure to do this, the Romans must choose one of two alternatives, either to give the Persians five hundred centenaria of gold, or to receive into the city some of his associates who would search out all the money, both gold and silver, as much as was there, and bring it to him, allowing everything else to remain in the possession of the present owners. 40 Such then were the words which Chosroes hurled forth, being in hopes of capturing Edessa with no trouble. And the ambassadors (since all the conditions which he had announced to them seemed impossible), in despair and great vexation, proceeded to the city. 41 And when they had come inside the city-wall, they reported the message from Chosroes, and the whole city was filled with tumult and lamentation.

42 Now the artificial hill was rising to a great height and was being pushed forward with much haste.  p501 And the Romans, being at a loss what to do, again sent off the envoys to Chosroes. 43 And when they had arrived in the enemy's camp, and said that they had come to make entreaty concerning the same things, they did not even gain a hearing of any kind from the Persians, but they were insulted and driven out from there with a great tumult, and so returned to the city. 44 At first, then, the Romans tried to overtop the wall opposite the hill by means of another structure. But since the Persian work was already rising far above even this, they stopped their building and persuaded Martinus to make the arrangements for a settlement in whatever way he wished. He then came up close to the enemy's camp and began to converse with some of the Persian commanders. 45 But they, completely deceiving Martinus, said that their king was desirous of peace, but that he was utterly unable to persuade the Roman Emperor to have done with his strife with Chosroes and to establish peace with him at last. 46 And they mentioned as evidence of this the fact that Belisarius, who in power and dignity was far superior to Martinus, as even he himself would not deny, had recently persuaded the king of the Persians, when he was in the midst of Roman territory, to withdraw from there into Persia, promising that envoys from Byzantium would come to him at no distant time and establish peace securely, but that he had done none of the things agreed upon, since he had found himself unable to overcome the determination of the Emperor Justinian.

 p503  27 1 In the meantime the Romans were busying themselves as follows: They made a tunnel from the city underneath the enemy's embankment, commanding the diggers not to leave this work until they should get under the middle of the hill. By this means they were planning to burn the embankment. 2 But as the tunnel advanced to about the middle of the hill, a sound of blows, as it were, came to the ears of those Persians who were standing above. 3 And perceiving what was being done, they too began from above and dug on both sides of the middle, so that they might catch the Romans who were doing the damage there. 4 But the Romans found it out and abandoned this attempt, throwing earth into the place which had been hollowed out, and then began to work on the lower part of the embankment at the end which was next to the wall, and by taking out timbers and stones and earth they made an open space just like a chamber; then they threw in there dry trunks of trees of the kind which burn most easily, and saturated them with oil of cedar and added quantities of sulphur and bitumen. 5 So, then, they were keeping these things in readiness; and meanwhile the Persian commanders in frequent meetings with Martinus were carrying on conversations with him in the same strain as the one I have mentioned, making it appear that they would receive proposals in regard to peace. 6 But when at last their hill had been completed, and had been raised to a great elevation, approaching the circuit-wall of the city and  p505 rising far above it in height, then they sent Martinus away, definitely refusing to arrange the treaty, and they intended from then on to devote themselves to active warfare.

7 Accordingly the Romans straightway set fire to the tree-trunks which had been prepared for this purpose. But when the fire had burned only a certain portion of the embankment, and had not yet been able to penetrate through the whole mass, the wood was already entirely exhausted. But they kept throwing fresh wood into the pit, not slackening their efforts for a moment. 8 And when the fire was already active throughout the whole embankment, some smoke appeared at night rising from every part of the hill, and the Romans, who were not yet willing to let the Persians know what was being done, resorted to the following device: 9 They filled small pots with coals and fire and threw these and also ignited arrows in great numbers to all parts of the embankment. And the Persians who were keeping guard there, began to go about in great haste and extinguish these, and they supposed that the smoke arose from them. 10 But since the trouble increased, the barbarians rushed up to help in great numbers, and the Romans, shooting them from the wall, killed many. 11 And Chosroes too came there about sunrise, followed by the greater part of the army, and, upon mounting the hill, he first perceived what the trouble was. 12 For he disclosed the fact that the cause of the smoke was underneath, not in the missiles which the enemy were hurling, and he ordered the whole army to come to the rescue with all speed. 13 And the Romans, taking courage, began to insult them, while the barbarians were at work,  p507 some throwing on earth, and others water, where the smoke appeared, hoping to get the better of the trouble; however, they were absolutely unable to accomplish anything. 14 For where the earth was thrown on, the smoke, as was natural, was checked at that place, but not long afterwards it rose from another place, since the fire compelled it to force its way out wherever it could. And where the water fell most plentifully it only succeeded in making the bitumen and the sulphur much more active, and caused them to exert their full force upon the wood near by; and it constantly drove the fire forward, since the water could not penetrate inside the embankment in a quantity at all sufficient to extinguish the flame by its abundance. 15 And in the late afternoon the smoke became so great in volume that it was visible to the inhabitants of Carrhae and to some others who dwelt far beyond them. 16 And since a great number of Persians and of Romans had gone up on top of the embankment, a fight took place and a hand-to‑hand struggle to drive each other off, and the Romans were victorious. 17 Then even the flames rose and appeared clearly above the embankment, and the Persians abandoned this undertaking.

18 On the sixth day after this, at early dawn, they made an assault secretly upon a certain part of the circuit-wall with ladders, at the point which is called the Fort. 19 And since the Romans who were keeping guard there were sleeping a quiet, peaceful sleep, as the night was drawing to its close, they silently set the ladders against the wall and were already ascending. 20 But one of the rustics alone among the  p509 Romans happened to be awake, and he with a shout and a great noise began to rouse them all. 21 And a hard struggle ensued in which the Persians were worsted, and they retired to their camp, leaving the ladders where they were; these the Romans drew up at their leisure. 22 But Chosroes about midday sent a large part of the army against the so‑called Great Gate in order to storm the wall. 23 And the Romans went out and confronted them, not only soldiers, but even rustics and some of the populace, and they conquered the barbarians in battle decisively and turned them to flight. 24 And while the Persians were still being pursued, Paulus, the interpreter, came from Chosroes, and going into the midst of the Romans, he reported that Rhecinarius had come from Byzantium to arrange the peace; and thus the two armies separated. 25 Now it was already some days since Rhecinarius had arrived at the camp of the barbarians. 26 But the Persians had by no means disclosed this fact to the Romans, plainly awaiting the outcome of the attempts upon the wall which they had planned, in order that, if they should be able to capture it, they might seem in no way to be violating the treaty, while if defeated, as actually happened, they might draw up the treaty at the invitation of the Romans. 27 And when Rhecinarius had gone inside the gates, the Persians demanded that those who were to arrange the peace should come to Chosroes without any delay, but the Romans said that envoys would be sent three days later; for that just at the moment their general, Martinus, was unwell.

28 And Chosroes, suspecting that the reason was not a sound one, prepared for battle. And at that time  p511 he only threw a great mass of bricks upon the embankment; but two days later he came against the fortifications of the city with the whole army to storm the wall. 29 And at every gate he stationed some of the commanders and a part of the army, encircling the whole wall in this way, and he brought up ladders and war‑engines against it. 30 And in the rear he placed all the Saracens with some of the Persians, not in order to assault the wall, but in order that, when the city was captured, they might gather in the fugitives and catch them as in a drag‑net. 31 Such, then, was the purpose of Chosroes in arranging the army in this way. And the fighting began early in the morning, and at first the Persians had the advantage. 32 For they were in great numbers and fighting against a very small force, since the most of the Romans had not heard what was going on and were utterly unprepared. 33 But as the conflict advanced the city became full of confusion and tumult, and the whole population, even women and little children, were going up on to the wall. 34 Now those who were of military age together with the soldiers were repelling the enemy most vigorously, and many of the rustics made a remarkable show of valorous deeds against the barbarians. 35 Meanwhile the women and children, and the aged also, were gathering stones for the fighters and assisting them in other ways. 36 Some also filled numerous basins with olive‑oil, and after heating them over fire a sufficient time everywhere along the wall, they sprinkled the oil, while boiling fiercely, upon the enemy who were assailing  p513 the wall, using a sort of whisk for the purpose, and in this way harassed them still more. 37 The Persians, therefore, soon gave up and began to throw down their arms, and coming before the king, said that they were no longer able to hold out in the struggle. 38 But Chosroes, in a passion of anger, drove them all on with threats and urged them forward against the enemy. 39 And the soldiers with much shouting and tumult brought up the towers and the other engines of war to the wall and set the ladders against it, in order to capture the city with one grand rush. 40 But since the Romans were hurling great numbers of missiles and exerting all their strength to drive them off, the barbarians were turned back by force; and as Chosroes withdrew, the Romans taunted him, inviting him to come and storm the wall. 41 Only Azarethes at the so‑called Soinian Gate was still fighting with his men, at the place which they call Tripurgia.3

42 And since the Romans at this point were not a match for them, but were giving way before their assaults, already the outer wall, which they call an outwork, had been torn down by the barbarians in many places, and they were pressing most vigorously upon those who were defending themselves from the great circuit-wall; but at last the Persians with a large number of soldiers and some of the citizens went out against them and defeated them in battle and drove them off. 43 And the assault which had begun early in the morning ended in the late afternoon, and both sides remained quiet that night, the Persians fearing for their defences and for themselves, and the Romans gathering stones and taking them to the parapets and putting everything else in  p515 complete readiness, so as to fight against the enemy on the morrow when they should attack the wall. 44 Now on the succeeding day not one of the barbarians came against the fortifications; but on the day after that a portion of the army, urged on by Chosroes, made an assault upon the so‑called Gate of Barlaus; but the Romans sallied forth and confronted them, and the Persians were decidedly beaten in the engagement, and after a short time retired to the camp. 45 And then Paulus, the interpreter of the Persians, came along the wall and called for Martinus, in order that he might make the arrangements for the truce. 46 Thus Martinus came to conference with the commanders of the Persians, and they concluded an agreement, by which Chosroes received five centenaria from the inhabitants of Edessa, and left them, in writing, the promise not to inflict any further injury upon the Romans; then, after setting fire to all his defences, he returned homeward with his whole army.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Book II.xii.31‑34.

2 Latin agger, "mound."

3 "Three Towers."

Thayer's Note:

a Is it just me, or will you too find it strange that having vowed to turn Edessa into a sheep pasture, the first thing Chosroes does is to remove the sheep? The town was already a sheep pasture. What gives?

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