Sacred Texts  Classics  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Tacitus: Annals Book 15 [10]

10. Paetus, ignorant of the impending danger, was keeping the 5th legion at a distance in Pontus; the rest he had weakened by indiscriminate furloughs, till it was heard that Vologeses was approaching with a powerful force bent on war. He summoned the 12th legion, and then was discovered the numerical feebleness of the source from which he had hoped for the repute of an augmented army. Yet even thus the camp might have been held, and the Parthian foe baffled, by protracting the war, had Paetus stood firm either by his own counsels or by those of others. But though military men had put him on his guard against imminent disasters, still, not wishing to seem to need the advice of others, he would fall back on some quite different and inferior plan. So now, leaving his winter quarters, and exclaiming that not the fosse or the rampart, but the men's bodies and weapons were given him for facing the foe, he led out his legions, as if he meant to fight a battle. Then, after losing a centurion and a few soldiers whom he had sent on in advance to reconnoitre the enemy's forces, he returned in alarm. And, as Vologeses had not pressed his advantage with much vigour, Paetus once again, with vain confidence, posted 3000 chosen infantry on the adjacent ridge of the taurus, in order to bar the king's passage. He also stationed some Pannonian troopers, the flower of his cavalry, in a part of the plain. His wife and son he removed to a fortress named Arsamosata, with a cohort for their defence, thus dispersing the troops which, if kept together, could easily have checked the desultory skirmishing of the enemy. He could, it is said, scarcely be driven to confess to Corbulo how the enemy was pressing him. Corbulo made no haste, that, when the dangers thickened, the glory of the rescue might be enhanced. Yet he ordered 1000 men from each of his three legions with 800 cavalry, and an equal number of infantry to be in instant readiness.

10. Accitur legio duodecima, et unde famam aucti exercitus speraverat, prodita infrequentia. qua tamen retineri castra et eludi Parthus tractu belli poterat, si Paeto aut in suis aut in alienis consiliis constantia fuisset: verum ubi a viris militaribus adversus urgentes casus firmatus erat, rursus, ne alienae sententiae indigens videretur, in diversa ac deteriora transibat. et tunc relictis hibernis non fossam neque vallum sibi, sed corpora et arma in hostem data clamitans, duxit legiones quasi proelio certaturus. deinde amisso centurione et paucis militibus, quos visendis hostium copiis praemiserat, trepidus remeavit. et quia minus acriter Vologaeses institerat, vana rursus fiducia tria milia delicti peditis proximo Tauri iugo imposuit, quo transitum regis arcerent; alares quoque Pannonios, robur equitatus, in parte campi locat. coniux ac filius castello, cui Arsamosata nomen est, abditi, data in praesidium cohorte ac disperso milite, qui in uno habitus vagum hostem promptius sustentavisset aegre compulsum ferunt, ut instantem Corbuloni fateretur. nec a Corbulone properatum, quo gliscentibus periculis etiam subsidii laus augeretur. expediri tamen itineri singula milia ex tribus legionibus et alarios octingentos, parem numerum e cohortibus iussit.

11. Vologeses meanwhile, though he had heard that the roads were blocked by Paetus, here with infantry, there with cavalry, did not alter his plan, but drove off the latter by the menace of an attack, and crushed the legionaires, only one centurion of whom, Tarquitius Crescens, dared to defend a tower in which he was keeping guard. He had often sallied out, and cut to pieces such of the barbarians as came close up to the walls, till he was overwhelmed with volleys of firebrands. Every foot soldier still unwounded fled to remote wilds, and those who were disabled, returned to the camp, exaggerating in their terror the king's valour, and the warlike strength of his tribes, everything in short, to the simple credulity of those who trembled with like fear. Even the general did not struggle against his reverses. He had indeed wholly abandoned all the duties of a soldier, and had again sent an entreaty to Corbulo, that he would come with speed to save the standards and eagles, and the name yet left to the unfortunate army; they meantime, he said, would hold to their fidelity while life lasted.

11. At Vologaeses, quamvis obsessa a Paeto itinera hinc peditatu inde equite accepisset, nihil mutato consilio, sed vi ac minis alares exterruit, legionarios obtrivit, uno tantum centurione Tarquitio Crescente turrim, in qua praesidium agitabat, defendere auso factaque saepius eruptione et caesis, qui barbarorum propius suggrediebantur, donec ignium iactu circumveniretur. peditum si quis integer, longinqua et avia, vulnerati castra repetivere, virtutem regis, saevitiam et copias gentium, cuncta metu extollentes, facili credulitate eorum, qui eadem pavebant. ne dux quidem obniti adversis, sed cuncta militiae munia deseruerat, missis iterum ad Corbulonem precibus, veniret propere, signa et aquilas et nomen reliquum infelicis exercitus tueretur: se fidem interim, donec vita suppeditet, retenturos.

12. Corbulo, perfectly fearless, left half his army in Syria to retain the forts built on the Euphrates, and taking the nearest route, which also was not deficient in supplies, marched through the country of Commagene, then through Cappadocia, and thence into Armenia. Beside the other usual accompaniments of war, his army was followed by a great number of camels laden with corn, to keep off famine as well as the enemy. The first he met of the defeated army was Paccius, a first-rank centurion, then many of the soldiers, whom, when they pleaded various excuses for flight, he advised to return to their standards and throw themselves on the mercy of Paetus. "For himself," he said, "he had no forgiveness but for the victorious." As he spoke, he went up to his legions, cheering them and reminding them of their past career, and pointing the way to new glory. "It was not to villages or towns of Armenia, but to a Roman camp with two legions, a worthy recompense for their efforts, that they were bound. If each common soldier were to have bestowed on him by the emperor's hand the special honour of a crown for a rescued citizen, how wonderfully great the glory, when the numbers would be equal of those who had brought and of those had received deliverance." Roused by these and like words into a common enthusiasm, and some too were filled with an ardour peculiarly their own by the perils of brothers and kinsfolk, they hurried on by day and night their uninterrupted march.

12. Ille interritus et parte copiarum apud Syriam relicta, ut munimenta Euphrati imposita retinerentur, qua proximum et commeatibus non egenum, regionem Commagenam, exim Cappadociam, inde Armenios petivit. comitabantur exercitum praeter alia sueta bello magna vis camelorum onusta frumenti, ut simul hostem famemque depelleret. primum e perculsis Paccium primi pili centurionem obvium habuit, dein plerosque militum; quos diversas fugae causas obtendentes redire ad signa et clementiam Paeti experiri monebat: se nisi victoribus immitem esse. simul suas legiones adire, hortari; priorum admonere, novam gloriam ostendere. non vicos aut oppida Armeniorum, sed castra Romana duasque in iis legiones pretium laboris peti. si singulis manipularibus praecipua servati civis corona imperatoria manu tribueretur, quod illud et quantum decus, ubi par eorum numerus aspiceretur, qui adtulissent salutem et qui accepissent! his atque talibus in commune alacres (et erant quos pericula fratrum aut propinquorum propriis stimulis incenderent) continuum diu noctuque iter properabant.

13. All the more vigorously did Vologeses press the besieged, now attacking the legions' entrenchments, and now again the fortress, which guarded those whose years unfitted them for war. He advanced closer than is the Parthian practice, seeking to lure the enemy to an engagement by such rashness. They, however, could hardly be dragged out of their tents, and would merely defend their lives, some held back by the general's order, others by their own cowardice; they seemed to be awaiting Corbulo, and should they be overpowered by force, they had before them the examples of Candium and Numantia. "Neither the Samnites, Italian people as they were, nor the Carthaginians, the rivals of the Roman empire, were, it seemed, equally formidable, and even the men of old, with all their strength and glory, whenever fortune was adverse, had taken thought for safety." The general, although he was overcome by the despair of his army, first wrote a letter to Vologeses, not a suppliant petition, but in a tone of remonstrance against the doing of hostile acts on behalf of the Armenians, who always had been under Roman dominion, or subject to a king chosen by the emperor. Peace, he reminded him, was equally for the interest of both, and it would be well for him not to look only at the present. He indeed had advanced with the whole strength of his kingdom against two legions, while the Romans had all the rest of the world with which to sustain the war.

13. Eoque intentius Vologaeses premere obsessos, modo vallum legionum, modo castellum, quo imbellis aetas defendebatur, adpugnare, propius incedens quam mos Parthis, si ea temeritate hostem in proelium eliceret. at illi vix contuberniis extracti, nec aliud quam munimenta propugnabant, pars iussu ducis, et alii propria ignavia aut Corbulonem opperientes, ac vis [si] ingrueret, provisis exemplis Caudinae Numantinaeque [pacis; neque] eandem vim Samnitibus, Italico populo, aut [Hispanis quam] Parthis, Romani imperii aemulis. validam quoque et laudatam antiquitatem, quotiens fortuna contra daret, saluti consuluisse. qua desperatione exercitus dux subactus primas tamen litteras ad Vologaesen non supplices, sed in modum querentis composuit, quod pro Armeniis semper Romanae dicionis aut subiectis re[g]i, quem imperator delegisset, hostilia faceret: pacem ex aequo utilem. ne praesentia tantum spectaret: ipsum adversus duas legiones totis regni viribus advenisse; at Romanis orbem terrarum reliquum, quo bellum iuvarent.

14. To this Vologeses replied nothing to the purpose, but merely that he must wait for his brothers Pacorus and Tiridates, that the place and time of their meeting had been fixed on as the occasion when they would decide about Armenia, and that heaven had granted them a further honour, well worthy of the Arsacids, the having to determine the fate of Roman legions. Messengers were then despatched by Paetus and an interview requested with the king, who ordered Vasaces, the commander of the cavalry, to go. Thereupon Paetus dwelt on the memories of the Luculli and Pompeii, and of all that the Caesars had done in the way of holding or giving away Armenia, while Vasaces declared that we had the mere shadow of possession and of bestowing, but the Parthians, the reality of power. After much arguing on both sides, Monobazus of the Adiabeni was called the next day to be a witness to the stipulations into which they had entered. It was agreed that the legions should be released from the blockade, that all the troops should quit Armenian territory, and that the forts and supplies should be surrendered to the Parthians, and when all this had been completed, Vologeses was to have full permission to send envoys to Nero.

14. Ad eo Vologaeses nihil pro causa, sed opperiendos sibi fratres Pacorum ac Tiridaten rescripsit; illum locum tempusque consilio destinatum, quid de Armenia cernerent; adiecisse deos dignum Arsacidarum, simul ut de legionibus Romanis statuerent. missi posthac Paeto nuntii et regis conloquium petitum, qui Vasacen praefectum equitatus ire iussit. tum Paetus Lucullos, Pompeios et si qua C[a]esa[res] obtinendae donandaeve Armeniae egerant, Vasaces imaginem retinendi largiendive penes nos, vim penes Parthos memorat. et multum in vicem disceptato, Monobazus Adiabenus in diem posterum testis iis quae pepigissent adhibetur. placuitque liberari obsidio legiones et decedere omnem militem finibus Armeniorum castellaque et commeatus Parthis tradi, quibus perpetratis copia Vologaesi fieret mittendi ad Neronem legatos.

15. Meanwhile Paetus threw a bridge over the river Arsanias, which flowed by the camp, apparently with the view of facilitating his march. It was the Parthians, however, who had required this, as an evidence of their victory; for the bridge was of use to them, while our men went a different way. Rumour added that the legions had been passed under the yoke, with other miserable disgraces, of which the Armenians had borrowed imitations. For they not only entered our lines before the Roman army began to retire, but also stood about the camp streets, recognizing and dragging off slaves or beasts of burden which we had previously captured. They even seized clothes and detained weapons, for the soldiers were utterly cowed and gave up everything, so that no cause for fighting might arise. Vologeses having piled up the arms and bodies of the slain in order to attest our defeat, refrained from gazing on the fugitive legions. He sought a character for moderation after he had glutted his pride. Seated himself on an elephant, he crossed the river Arsanias, while those next to his person rushed through it at the utmost speed of their horses; for a rumour had gained ground that the bridge would give way, through the trickery of its builders. But those who ventured to go on it found it to be firm and trustworthy.

15. Interim flumini Arsaniae (is castra praefluebat) pontem imposuit, specie sibi illud iter expedientis, sed Parthi quasi documentum victoriae iusserant; namque iis usui fuit, nostri per diversum iere. addidit rumor sub iugum missas legiones et alia ex rebus infaustis, quorum simulacrum ab Armeniis usurpatum est. namque et munimenta ingressi sunt, antequam agmen Romanum excederet, et circumstetere vias, captiva olim mancipia aut iumenta adgnoscentes abstrahentesque; raptae etiam vestes, retenta arma, pavido milite et concedente, ne qua proelii causa existeret. Vologaeses armis et corporibus caesorum aggeratis, quo cladem nostram testaretur, visu fugientium legionum abstinuit: fama moderationis quaerebatur, postquam superbiam expleverat. flumen Arsaniam elephanto insidens, proximus quisque regem vi equorum perrupere, quia rumor incesserat pontem cessurum oneri dolo fabricantium; sed qui ingredi ausi sunt, validum et fidum intellexere.

16. As for the besieged, it appeared that they had such an abundance of corn that they fired the granaries, and Corbulo declared that the Parthians on the other hand were in want of supplies, and would have abandoned the siege from their fodder being all but exhausted, and that he was himself only three days' march distant. He further stated that Paetus had guaranteed by an oath, before the standards, in the presence of those whom the king had sent to be witnesses, that no Roman was to enter Armenia until Nero's reply arrived as to whether he assented to the peace. Though this may have been invented to enhance our disgrace, yet about the rest of the story there is no obscurity, that, in a single day Paetus traversed forty miles, leaving his wounded behind him everywhere, and that the consternation of the fugitives was as frightful as if they had turned their backs in battle. Corbulo, as he met them with his forces on the bank of the Euphrates, did not make such a display of his standards and arms as to shame them by the contrast. His men, in their grief and pity for the lot of their comrades, could not even refrain from tears. There was scarce any mutual salutation for weeping. The spirit of a noble rivalry and the desire of glory, emotions which stir men in success, had died away; pity alone survived, the more strongly in the inferior ranks.

16. Ceterum obsessis adeo suppeditavisse rem frumentariam constitit, ut horreis ignem inicerent, contraque prodiderit Corbulo Parthos inopes copiarum et pabulo attrito relicturos oppugnationem, neque se plus tridui itinere afuisse. adicit iure iurando Paeti cautum apud signa, adstantibus iis, quos testificando rex misisset, neminem Romanum Armeniam ingressurum, donec referrentur litterae Neronis, an paci adnueret. quae ut augendae infamiae composita, sic reliqua non in obscuro habentur, una die quadraginta milium spatium emensum esse Paetum, desertis passim sauciis, neque minus deformem illam fugientium trepidationem, quam si terga in acie vertissent. Corbulo cum suis copiis apud ripam Euphratis obvius non eam speciem insignium et armorum praetulit, ut diversitatem exprobraret: maesti manipuli ac vicem commilitonum miserantes ne lacrimis quidem temperare; vix prae fletu usurpata consalutatio. decesserat certamen virtutis et ambitio gloriae, felicium hominum adfectus: sola misericordia valebat, et apud minores magis.

17. Then followed a short conversation between the generals. While Corbulo complained that his efforts had been fruitless and that the war might have been ended with the flight of the Parthians, Paetus replied that for neither of them was anything lost, and urged that they should reverse the eagles, and with their united forces invade Armenia, much weakened, as it was, by the departure of Vologeses. Corbulo said that he had no such instructions from the emperor; it was the peril of the legions which had stirred him to leave his province, and, as there was uncertainty about the designs of the Parthians, he should return to Syria, and, even as it was, he must pray for fortune under her most favourable aspect in order that the infantry, wearied out with long marches, might keep pace with the enemy's untiring cavalry, certain to outstrip him on the plains, which facilitated their movements. Paetus then went into winter quarters in Cappadocia. Vologeses, however, sent a message to Corbulo, requiring him to remove the fortresses on the further bank of the Euphrates, and to leave the river to be, as formerly, the boundary between them. Corbulo also demanded the evacuation of Armenia by the garrisons posted throughout it. At last the king yielded, all the positions fortified by Corbulo beyond the Euphrates were destroyed, and the Armenians too left without a master.

17. Ducum inter se brevis sermo secutus est, hoc conquerente inritum laborem, potuisse bellum fuga Parthorum finiri; ille integra utrique cuncta respondit: converterent aquilas et iuncti invaderent Armeniam abscessu Vologaesis infirmatam. non ea imperatoris habere mandata Corbulo: periculo legionum commotum e provincia egressum; quando in incerto habeantur Parthorum conatus, Syriam repetiturum. sic quoque optimam fortunam orandam, ut pedes confectus spatiis itinerum alacrem et facilitate camporum praevenientem equitem adsequeretur. exim Paetus per Cappadociam hibernavit. at Vologaesi ad Corbulonem missi nuntii, detraheret castella trans Euphraten amnemque, ut olim, medium faceret; ille Armeniam quoque diversis praesidiis vacuam fieri expostulabat. et postremo concessit rex; dirutaque quae Euphraten ultra communiverat Corbulo, et Armenii sine arbitro relicti sunt.

18. At Rome meanwhile trophies for the Parthian war, and arches were erected in the centre of the Capitoline hill; these had been decreed by the Senate, while the war was yet undecided, and even now they were not given up, appearances being consulted, in disregard of known facts. And to hide his anxious fears about foreign affairs, Nero threw the people's corn, which was so old as to be spoilt, into the Tiber, with the view of keeping up a sense of security about the supplies. There was no addition to the price, although about two hundred ships were destroyed in the very harbour by a violent storm, and one hundred more, which had sailed up the Tiber, by an accidental fire. Nero next appointed three ex-consuls, Lucius Piso, Ducennius Geminus, and Pompeius Paulinus, to the management of the public revenues, and inveighed at the same time against former emperors whose heavy expenditure had exceeded their legitimate income. He himself, he said, made the state an annual present of sixty million sesterces.

18. At Romae tropaea de Parthis arcusque medio Capitolini montis sistebantur, decreta ab senatu integro adhuc bello neque tum omissa, dum adspectui consulitur spreta conscientia. quin et dissimulandis rerum externarum curis Nero frumentum plebis vetustate corruptum in Tiberim iecit, quo securitatem annonae sustentaret. cuius pretio nihil additum est, quamvis ducentas ferme naves portu in ipso violentia tempestatis et centum alias Tiberi subvectas fortuitus ignis absumpsisset. tres dein consulares, L. Pisonem, Ducenium Geminum, Pompeium Paulinum vectigalibus publicis praeposuit, cum insectatione priorum principum, qui gravitate sumptuum iustos reditus anteissent: se annuum sexcenties sestertium rei publicae largiri.

19. A very demoralizing custom had at this time become rife, of fictitious adoptions of children, on the eve of the elections or of the assignment of the provinces, by a number of childless persons, who, after obtaining along with real fathers praetorships and provinces, forthwith dismissed from paternal control the sons whom they had adopted. An appeal was made to the Senate under a keen sense of wrong. Parents pleaded natural rights and the anxieties of nurture against fraudulent evasions and the brief ceremony of adoption. "It was," they argued, "sufficient reward for the childless to have influence and distinction, everything, in short, easy and open to them, without a care and without a burden. For themselves, they found that the promises held out by the laws, for which they had long waited, were turned into mockery, when one who knew nothing of a parent's solicitude or of the sorrows of bereavement could rise in a moment to the level of a father's long deferred hopes." On this, a decree of the Senate was passed that a fictitious adoption should be of no avail in any department of the public service, or even hold good for acquiring an inheritance.

19. Percrebuerat et tempestate pravus mos, cum propinquis comitiis aut sorte provinciarum plerique orbi fictis adoptionibus adsciscerent filios, praeturasque et provincias inter patres sortiti statim emitterent manu, quos adoptaverant. [igitur qui filios genuerant] magna cum invidia senatum adeunt, ius naturae, labores educandi adversus fraudem et artes et brevitatem adoptionis enumerant. satis pretii esse orbis, quod multa securitate, nullis oneribus gratiam honores, cuncta prompta et obvia haberent. sibi promissa legum diu exspectata in ludibrium verti, quando quis sine sollicitudine parens, sine luctu orbus longa patrum vota repente adaequaret. factum ex eo senatus consultum, ne simulata adoptio in ulla parte muneris publici iuvaret ac ne usurpandis quidem hereditatibus prodesset.

Next: Book 15 [20]