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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The 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,
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(Vol. V) Procopius

Book VIII (continued)

 p287  23 1 Long before this Totila had sent an army of Goths into Picenum, in order to capture Ancon; and he appointed as commanders over this army the most notable men among the Goths, Scipuar and Gibal and Gundulf, the last named having once been a guardsman of Belisarius. 2 And some called him Indulf.1 And  p289 he gave them also forty-seven ships of war, in order that, in besieging the fortress by land and sea, they might make the overmastery of it easier and less laborious. 3 And after this siege had been continued a long time it came about that the besieged were hard pressed by the scarcity of provisions.

4 When this was learned by Valerian, who was waiting at Ravenna, being unable single-handed to succour the Romans in Ancon, he sent a messenger to John the nephew of Vitalian who was at Salones with the following letter. "Ancon is the only city left us to the south of the gulf, as you yourself know, if indeed it is now still left us. 5 For such is the situation of the Romans who are being most closely besieged in this city, that I fear lest we be late with our assistance, shewing zeal after the critical time, and displaying our enthusiasm for it a day too late. But I shall cease. 6 For the constraint imposed upon the besieged does not permit my letter to be made longer, since it strictly appropriates the time to its own uses, while the danger demands assistance more swift than words." 7 When John had read this letter, he dared, though it had been forbidden him by the emperor, to go on his own initiative, considering the straitened condition brought about by chance more weighty than the imperial commands. 8 So selecting men whom he considered the most able fighters of all, and manning thirty-eight ships of war with them — boats of great swiftness and built  p291 with all possible care for warfare on the sea — and putting a few of his provisions aboard, he set sail from Salones and put in at Scardon.2 And Valerian also came thither not long afterwards with twelve ships.

9 After joining forces they conferred with each other and considered the plans which seemed to promise them the greatest advantage; then they set sail from there and upon reaching the opposite mainland anchored at a place which the Romans call Senogallia,3 not far away from Ancon. 10 When the Gothic generals learned this, they too immediately manned with the notable Goths the ships of war which they had with them, forty-seven in number, 11 and leaving the rest of the army engaged in the siege of the fortress they advanced straight against their enemy. 12 Now Scipuar, on the one hand, commanded those who remained to carry on the siege, and Gibal and Gundulf commanded the men on the ships. 13 And when the two forces came near each other, both commanders stopped their ships and drew them close together and made an exhortation to the soldiers.

14 And John and Valerian spoke first as follows. "Let not one of you, fellow-soldiers, think that on the present occasion you are to struggle in behalf of this city of Ancon alone and the Romans besieged in it, nor that the result of this struggle will affect that matter only, but you must consider that the  p293 main issue of the whole war, to speak comprehensively, is here involved, and to whichever side the battle inclines, there will be bestowed also the final decision of fortune. 15 For you should regard the present situation thus: War depends for its decision in large measure upon the commissary, and those in want of supplies are inevitably bound to be defeated by their enemy. 16 For valour cannot dwell together with hunger, since nature will not permit a man to be starving and to be brave at the same time. 17 This being the case, we have no other stronghold left us from Dryus to Ravenna, where we can deposit the food supplies for ourselves and our horses, and the enemy are so thoroughly masters of the land that not a single town remains there friendly to us, from which we could even in small measure provide ourselves with supplies. 18 And it is on Ancon alone that our whole expectation is based that the army sailing in from the opposite mainland can land here and be in safety. 19 Consequently, if we fare well in to‑day's encounter, and secure Ancon, as is probable, for the emperor, we shall perhaps be in a position henceforth to hope that what remains of the Gothic war will likewise go well for us. 20 If, however, we fail in this battle, — but of further calamity we would not speak, only may God grant to the Romans the lasting mastery of Italy. And this too is worthy of our consideration, that, if we shew ourselves cowards in the struggle, even flight will be impossible. 21 For neither will you have the land, seeing it is held fast by our opponents, nor will you be able to sail the sea, since the enemy control it as they do; but  p295 it has come to this — that our hope of safety lies in our own strength alone and will shape itself in accordance with our performance during the combat. 22 Be valiant, then, as far as in you lies, laying to heart this one thought, that if, on the one hand, you are defeated on the present occasion, you will suffer your last defeat, but if, on the other hand, you are victorious, you will not only win glory but will also be ranked with the very fortunate."

23 Thus spoke John and Valerian. And the commanders of the Goths made the following exhortation. "Since these accursed rascals, after being driven away from all Italy and hiding for a long time in we know not what corners of the earth or the sea, have now had the hardihood to engage with us and have come against us with the purpose of renewing the fight, it is necessary to check4 with full determination the daring which their folly has engendered in them, so that it may not happen by reason of our giving way that the result of their madness grows to something great. 24 For foolishness which is not checked in the beginning does mount up to boundless daring, but ends in irreparable calamity to those concerned. 25 Shew them, therefore, as quickly as possible that they are Greeklings and unmanly by nature and are merely putting on a bold front when defeated, and do not consent that this experiment of theirs proceed further. 26 For cowardice, when merely despised, proceeds to flaunt itself still more, because rashness just by continuing comes to be devoid of fear. 27 And do not by any means suppose that they will resist you long if you play the part of brave men. For when a lofty spirit is not matched  p297 by a commensurate power on the part of those who indulge in it, though before the event it may appear exalted to the highest pitch, yet when the combat begins, it is wont to ebb away. 28 Seeing then that this is true, call to mind in what manner the enemy have fared on many occasions when they have made trial of your valour, and consider that in coming against you they have not become better men on the spur of the moment, but shewing merely a degree of daring similar to that on previous occasions, they will now also achieve the same fortune."

29 After the Gothic commanders had made this exhortation, they confronted the enemy and without delay came to close quarters with them. And the fighting was exceedingly fierce and resembled a battle on land. 30 For both sides set their ships head on with the bows against those of their opponents and discharged their arrows against each other, and all those who laid some claim to valour brought their ships close enough to touch one another and then engaged from the decks, fighting with sword and spear just as if on a plain. 31 Such was the opening stage of this encounter.

But after this the barbarians, through lack of experience in sea‑fighting, began to carry on the combat with great disorder; for some of them became so far separated from one another that they gave their enemy opportunity to ram them singly, while others drew together in large groups and were constantly hindered by one another because of the crowding of the boats. 32 One would have thought that the decks of their boats were built together like a mat. And neither could they shoot  p299 their bows against those of their opponents who were at a distance except late and with difficulty, nor could they use sword or spear whenever they saw them bearing down upon them; but their attention was constantly engrossed by the shouting and crowding among themselves, as they continually collided with each other and then pushed off again with their poles in a disorderly manner, sometimes pushing their prows into the crowded space, and sometimes backing off to a great distance, thus making trouble for their own side in either case. 33 And each crew kept shouting orders and howling wildly to those nearest them, not to urge them against the enemy, but in order that their own ships might get the proper intervals from each other. 34 And being thus preoccupied by their difficulty with each other, they themselves became the chief cause of victory for their enemy.

The Romans, on the other hand, handled the fighting manfully and their ships with skill, putting their boats head on and neither separating far from one another nor crowding together closer than was necessary, but always keeping their movements toward or from each other properly co‑ordinated; and whenever they observed an enemy ship separated from the rest, they rammed and sunk it with no difficulty, and whenever they saw some of the enemy in a confused mass, there they directed showers of arrows, and, as soon as they fell upon them when in disorder and utterly exhausted by the labour which their confusion entailed, they would destroy them out of hand. 35 So the barbarians giving up the struggle against the adversities of fortune and the errors which they had made during the  p301 battle, knew not how they should continue to fight, for they neither continued the sea‑fight nor yet stood upon their decks as in a land battle, but abandoning the struggle they came to a perilous pause, having now left all to chance. 36 Consequently the Goths in great disorder turned to a disgraceful retreat, and they no longer thought of valour or of orderly flight nor of anything else which would insure their safety, but scattered as they were for the most part among their enemy's ships, they were completely helpless. 37 And some of them fled unobserved with eleven ships and were saved, but all the rest to a man fell into the hands of their enemy. 38 Many of these the Romans slew with their own hands, and many others they destroyed by sinking them with their ships; and of the generals Gundulf escaped unobserved with the eleven ships, but the other was captured by the Romans.

39 After this the men on the eleven ships disembarked on the land and immediately set the ships on fire so that they might not fall into the hands of their enemy, while they themselves proceeded on foot to the army which was besieging the city of Ancon. 40 And after they had announced to them what had taken place, they all made a hasty retreat together, abandoning their camp to the enemy, and ran as hard as they could and in great confusion up to the neighbouring city of Auximus. 41 And the Romans, coming to Ancon not long afterwards, captured the enemy's camp without a man in it and then, after carrying in provisions for those in the fortress, sailed  p303 away from there. 42 And Valerian, for his part, proceeded to Ravenna, while John returned to Salones. This engagement especially broke the spirit and weakened the power of Totila and the Goths.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf.  Book VII.xxxv.23 ff.

2 Modern Scardona.

3 Sena Gallica, modern Sinigaglia.

Thayer's Note: Now Senigallia.

4 Lit. "pull back by the hair."

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Page updated: 14 Sep 20