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Tacitus: Annals Book 12 [10]

10. About the same time an embassy from the Parthians, which had been sent, as I have stated, to solicit the return of Meherdates, was introduced into the Senate, and delivered a message to the following effect:- "They were not," they said, "unaware of the treaty of alliance, nor did their coming imply any revolt from the family of the Arsacids; indeed, even the son of Vonones, Phraates's grandson, was with them in their resistance to the despotism of Gotarzes, which was alike intolerable to the nobility and to the people. Already brothers, relatives, and distant kin had been swept off by murder after murder; wives actually pregnant, and tender children were added to Gotarzes' victims, while, slothful at home and unsuccessful in war, he made cruelty a screen for his feebleness. Between the Parthians and ourselves there was an ancient friendship, founded on a state alliance, and we ought to support allies who were our rivals in strength, and yet yielded to us out of respect. Kings' sons were given as hostages, in order that when Parthia was tired of home rule, it might fall back on the emperor and the Senate, and receive from them a better sovereign, familiar with Roman habits."

10. Per idem tempus legati Parthorum ad expetendum, ut rettuli, Meherdaten missi senatum ingrediuntur mandataque in hunc modum incipiunt: non se foederis ignaros nec defectione a familia Arsacidarum venire, set filium Vononis, nepotem Pharaatis accersere adversus dominationem Gotarzis nobilitati plebique iuxta intolerandam. iam fratres, iam propinquos, iam longius sitos caedibus exhaustos; adici coniuges gravidas, liberos parvos, dum socors domi, bellis infaustus ignaviam saevitia tegat. veterem sibi ac publice coeptam nobiscum amicitiam, et subveniendum sociis virium aemulis cedentibusque per reverentiam. ideo regum obsides liberos dari ut, si domestici imperii taedeat, sit regressus ad principem patresque, quorum moribus adsuefactus rex melior adscisceretur.

11. In answer to these and like arguments Claudius began to speak of the grandeur of Rome and the submissive attitude of the Parthians. He compared himself to the Divine Augustus, from whom, he reminded them, they had sought a king, but omitted to mention Tiberius, though he too had sent them sovereigns. He added some advice for Meherdates, who was present, and told him not to be thinking of a despot and his slaves, but rather of a ruler among fellow citizens, and to practise clemency and justice which barbarians would like the more for being unused to them. Then he turned to the envoys and bestowed high praise on the young foster-son of Rome, as one whose self-control had hitherto been exemplary. "Still," he said, "they must bear with the caprices of kings, and frequent revolutions were bad. Rome, sated with her glory, had reached such a height that, she wished even foreign nations to enjoy repose." Upon this Caius Cassius, governor of Syria, was commissioned to escort the young prince to the bank of the Euphrates.

11. Vbi haec atque talia dissertavere, incipit orationem Caesar de fastigio Romano Parthorumque obsequiis, seque divo Augusto adaequabat, petitum ab eo regem referens omissa Tiberii memoria, quamquam is quoque miserat. addidit praecepta (etenim aderat Meherdates), ut non dominationem et servos, sed rectorem et civis cogitaret, clementiamque ac iustitiam, quanto ignota barbaris, tanto laetiora capesseret. hinc versus ad legatos extollit laudibus alumnum urbis, spectatae ad id modestiae: ac tamen ferenda regum ingenia neque usui crebras mutationes. rem Romanam huc satietate gloriae provectam ut externis quoque gentibus quietem velit. datum posthac C. Cassio, qui Syriae praeerat, deducere iuvenem ripam ad Euphratis.

12. Cassius was at that time pre-eminent for legal learning. The profession of the soldier is forgotten in a quiet period, and peace reduces the enterprising and indolent to an equality. But Cassius, as far as it was possible without war, revived ancient discipline, kept exercising the legions, in short, used as much diligence and precaution as if an enemy were threatening him. This conduct he counted worthy of his ancestors and of the Cassian family which had won renown even in those countries. He then summoned those at whose suggestion a king had been sought from Rome, and having encamped at Zeugma where the river was most easily fordable and awaited the arrival of the chief men of Parthia and of Acbarus, king of the Arabs, he reminded Meherdates that the impulsive enthusiasm of barbarians soon flags from delay or even changes into treachery, and that therefore he should urge on his enterprise. The advice was disregarded through the perfidy Acbarus, by whom the foolish young prince, who thought that the highest position merely meant self-indulgence, was detained for several days in the town of Edessa. Although a certain Carenes pressed them to come and promised easy success if they hastened their arrival, they did not make for Mesopotamia, which was close to them, but, by a long detour, for Armenia, then ill-suited to their movements, as winter was beginning.

12. Ea tempestate Cassius ceteros praeminebat peritia legum: nam militares artes per otium ignotae, industriosque aut ignavos pax in aequo tenet. ac tamen quantum sine bello dabatur, revocare priscum morem, exercitare legiones, cura provisu perinde agere ac si hostis ingrueret: ita dignum maioribus suis et familia Cassia per illas quoque gentis celebrata. igitur excitis quorum de sententia petitus rex, positisque castris apud Zeugma, unde maxime pervius amnis, postquam inlustres Parthi rexque Arabum Acbarus advenerat, monet Meherdaten barbarorum impetus acris cunctatione languescere aut in perfidiam mutari: ita urgeret coepta. quod spretum fraude Acbari, qui iuvenem ignarum et summam fortunam in luxu ratum multos per dies attinuit apud oppidum Edessam. et vocante Carene promptasque res ostentante, si citi advenissent, non comminus Mesopotamiam, sed flexu Armeniam petivit, id temporis importunam, quia hiems occipiebat.

13. As they approached the plains, wearied with the snows and mountains, they were joined by the forces of Carenes, and having crossed the river Tigris they traversed the country of the Adiabeni, whose king Izates had avowedly embraced the alliance of Meherdates, though secretly and in better faith he inclined to Gotarzes. In their march they captured the city of Ninos, the most ancient capital of Assyria, and a fortress, historically famous, as the spot where the last battle between Darius and Alexander the power of Persia fell. Gotarzes meantime was offering vows to the local divinities on a mountain called Sambulos, with special worship of Hercules, who at a stated time bids the priests in a dream equip horses for the chase and place them near his temple. When the horses have been laden with quivers full of arrows, they scour the forest and at length return at night with empty quivers, panting violently. Again the god in a vision of the night reveals to them the track along which he roamed through the woods, and everywhere slaughtered beasts are found.

13. Exim nivibus et montibus fessi, postquam campos propinquabant, copiis Carenis adiunguntur, tramissoque amne Tigri permeant Adiabenos, quorum rex Izates societatem Meherdatis palam induerat, in Gotarzen per occulta et magis fida inclinabat. sed capta in transitu urbs Ninos, vetustissima sedes Assyriae, [et] castellum insigne fama, quod postremo inter Darium atque Alexandrum proelio Persarum illic opes conciderant. interea Gotarzes apud montem, cui nomen Sanbulos, vota dis loci suscipiebat, praecipua religione Herculis, qui tempore stato per quietem monet sacerdotes ut templum iuxta equos venatui adornatos sistant. equi ubi pharetras telis onustas accepere, per saltus vagi nocte demum vacuis pharetris multo cum anhelitu redeunt. rursum deus, qua silvas pererraverit, nocturno visu demonstrat, reperiunturque fusae passim ferat.

14. Gotarzes, his army not being yet in sufficient force, made the river Corma a line of defence, and though he was challenged to an engagement by taunting messages, he contrived delays, shifted his positions and sent emissaries to corrupt the enemy and bribe them to throw off their allegiance. Izates of the Adiabeni and then Acbarus of the Arabs deserted with their troops, with their countrymen's characteristic fickleness, confirming previous experience, that barbarians prefer to seek a king from Rome than to keep him. Meherdates, stript of his powerful auxiliaries and suspecting treachery in the rest, resolved, as his last resource, to risk everything and try the issue of a battle. Nor did Gotarzes, who was emboldened by the enemy's diminished strength, refuse the challenge. They fought with terrible courage and doubtful result, till Carenes, who having beaten down all resistance had advanced too far, was surprised by a fresh detachment in his rear. Then Meherdates in despair yielded to promises from Parrhaces, one of his father's adherents, and was by his treachery delivered in chains to the conqueror. Gotarzes taunted him with being no kinsman of his or of the Arsacids, but a foreigner and a Roman, and having cut off his ears, bade him live, a memorial of his own clemency, and a disgrace to us. After this Gotarzes fell ill and died, and Vonones, who then ruled the Medes, was summoned to the throne. He was memorable neither for his good nor bad fortune; he completed a short and inglorious reign, and then the empire of Parthia passed to his son Vologeses.

14. Ceterum Gotarzes, nondum satis aucto exercitu, flumine Corma pro munimento uti, et quamquam per insectationes et nuntios ad proelium vocaretur, nectere moras, locos mutare et missis corruptoribus exuendam ad fidem hostis emercari. ex quis Izates Adiabeno, mox Acbarus Arabum cum exercitu abscedunt, levitate gentili, et quia experimentis cognitum est barbaros malle Roma petere reges quam habere. at Meherdates validis auxiliis nudatus, ceterorum proditione suspecta, quod unum reliquum, rem in casum dare proelioque experiri statuit. nec detrectavit pugnam Gotarzes deminutis hostibus ferox; concursumque magna caede et ambiguo eventu, donec Carenem profligatis obviis longius evectum integer a tergo globus circumveniret. tum omni spe perdita Meherdates, promissa Parracis paterni clientis secutus, dolo eius vincitur traditurque victori. atque ille non propinquum neque Arsacis de gente, sed alienigenam et Romanum increpans, auribus decisis vivere iubet, ostentui clementiae suae et in nos dehonestamento. dein Gotarzes morbo obiit, accitusque in regnum Vonones Medos tum praesidens. nulla huic prospera aut adversa quis memoraretur: brevi et inglorio imperio perfunctus est, resque Parthorum in filium eius Vologesen translatae.

15. Mithridates of Bosporus, meanwhile, who had lost his power and was a mere outcast, on learning that the Roman general, Didius, and the main strength of his army had retired, and that Cotys, a young prince without experience, was left in his new kingdom with a few cohorts under Julius Aquila, a Roman knight, disdaining both, roused the neighbouring tribes, and drew deserters to his standard. At last he collected an army, drove out the king of the Dandaridae, and possessed himself of his dominions. When this was known, and the invasion of Bosporus was every moment expected, Aquila and Cotys, seeing that hostilities had been also resumed by Zorsines, king of the Siraci, distrusted their own strength, and themselves too sought the friendship of the foreigner by sending envoys to Eunones, who was then chief of the Adorsi. There was no difficulty about alliance, when they pointed to the power of Rome in contrast with the rebel Mithridates. It was accordingly stipulated that Eunones should engage the enemy with his cavalry, and the Romans undertake the siege of towns.

15. At Mithridates Bosporanus amissis opibus vagus, postquam Didium ducem Romanum roburque exercitus abisse cognoverat, relictos in novo regno Cotyn iuventa rudem et paucas cohortium cum Iulio Aquila equite Romano, spretis utrisque concire nationes, inlicere perfugas; postremo exercitu coacto regem Dandaridarum exturbat imperioque eius potitur. quae ubi cognita et iam iamque Bosporum invasurus habebatur, diffisi propriis viribus Aquila et Cotys, quia Zorsines Siracorum rex hostilia resumpserat, externas et ipsi gratias quaesivere missis legatis ad Eunonen qui Aorsorum genti praesidebat. nec fuit in arduo societas potentiam Romanam adversus rebellem Mithridaten ostentantibus. igitur pepigere, equestribus proeliis Eunones certaret, obsidia urbium Romani capesserent.

16. Then the army advanced in regular formation, the Adorsi in the van and the rear, while the centre was strengthened by the cohorts, and native troops of Bosporus with Roman arms. Thus the enemy was defeated, and they reached Soza, a town in Dandarica, which Mithridates had abandoned, where it was thought expedient to leave a garrison, as the temper of the people was uncertain. Next they marched on the Siraci, and after crossing the river Panda besieged the city of Uspe, which stood on high ground, and had the defence of wall and fosses; only the walls, not being of stone, but of hurdles and wicker-work with earth between, were too weak to resist an assault. Towers were raised to a greater height as a means of annoying the besieged with brands and darts. Had not night stopped the conflict, the siege would have been begun and finished within one day.

16. Tunc composito agmine incedunt, cuius frontem et terga Aorsi, media cohortes et Bosporani tutabantur nostris in armis. sic pulsus hostis, ventumque Sozam, oppidum Dandaricae, quod desertum a Mithridate ob ambiguos popularium animos obtineri relicto ibi praesidio visum. exim in Siracos pergunt, et transgressi amnem Pandam circumveniunt urbem Vspen, editam loco et moenibus ac fossis munitam, nisi quod moenia non saxo sed cratibus et vimentis ac media humo adversum inrumpentis invalida erant; eductaeque altius turres facibus atque hastis turba bant obsessos. ac ni proelium nox diremisset, coepta patrataque expugnatio eundem intra diem foret.

17. Next day they sent an embassy asking mercy for the freeborn, and offering ten thousand slaves. As it would have been inhuman to slay the prisoners, and very difficult to keep them under guard, the conquerors rejected the offer, preferring that they should perish by the just doom of war. The signal for massacre was therefore given to the soldiers, who had mounted the walls by scaling ladders. The destruction of Uspe struck terror into the rest of the people, who thought safety impossible when they saw how armies and ramparts, heights and difficult positions, rivers and cities, alike yielded to their foe. And so Zorsines, having long considered whether he should still have regard to the fallen fortunes of Mithridates or to the kingdom of his fathers, and having at last preferred his country's interests, gave hostages and prostrated himself before the emperor's image, to the great glory of the Roman army, which all men knew to have come after a bloodless victory within three days' march of the river Tanais. In their return however fortune was not equally favourable; some of their vessels, as they were sailing back, were driven on the shores of the Tauri and cut off by the barbarians, who slew the commander of a cohort and several centurions.

17. Postero misere legatos, veniam liberis corporibus orantis: servitii decem milia offerebant. quod aspernati sunt victores, quia trucidare deditos saevum, tantam multitudinem custodia cingere arduum: belli potius iure caderent, datumque militibus qui scalis evaserant signum caedis. excidio Vspensium metus ceteris iniectus, nihil tutum ratis, cum arma, munimenta, impediti vel eminentes loci amnesque et urbes iuxta perrumperentur. igitur Zorsines, diu pensitato Mithridatisne rebus extremis an patrio regno consuleret, postquam praevaluit gentilis utilitas, datis obsidibus apud effigiem Caesaris procubuit, magna gloria exercitus Romani, quem incruentum et victorem tridui itinere afuisse ab amne Tanai constitit. sed in regressu dispar fortuna fuit, quia navium quasdam quae mari remeabant in litora Taurorum delatas circumvenere barbari, praefecto cohortis et plerisque auxiliarium interfectis.

18. Meanwhile Mithridates, finding arms an unavailing resource, considered on whose mercy he was to throw himself. He feared his brother Cotys, who had once been a traitor, then become his open enemy. No Roman was on the spot of authority sufficient to make his promises highly valued. So he turned to Eunones, who had no personal animosity against him, and had been lately strengthened by his alliance with us. Adapting his dress and expression of countenance as much as possible to his present condition, he entered the palace, and throwing himself at the feet of Eunones he exclaimed, "Mithridates, whom the Romans have sought so many years by land and sea, stands before you by his own choice. Deal as you please with the descendant of the great Achaemenes, the only glory of which enemies have not robbed me."

18. Interea Mithridates nullo in armis subsidio consultat cuius misericordiam experiretur. frater Cotys, proditor olim, deinde hostis, metuebatur: Romanorum nemo id auctoritatis aderat ut promissa eius magni penderentur. ad Eunonen convertit, propriis odiis [non] infensum et recens coniuncta nobiscum amicitia validum. igitur cultu vultuque quam maxime ad praesentem fortunam comparato regiam ingreditur genibusque eius provolutus 'Mithridates' inquit 'terra marique Romanis per tot annos quaesitus sponte adsum: utere, ut voles, prole magni Achaemenis, quod mihi solum hostes non abstulerunt.'

19. The great name of Mithridates, his reverse, his prayer, full of dignity, deeply affected Eunones. He raised the suppliant, and commended him for having chosen the nation of the Adorsi and his own good faith in suing for mercy. He sent at the same time envoys to Caesar with a letter to this effect, that friendship between emperors of Rome and sovereigns of powerful peoples was primarily based on a similarity of fortune, and that between himself and Claudius there was the tie of a common victory. Wars had glorious endings, whenever matters were settled by an amnesty. The conquered Zorsines had on this principle been deprived of nothing. For Mithridates, as he deserved heavier punishment, he asked neither power nor dominions, only that he might not be led in triumph, and pay the penalty of death.

19. At Eunones claritudine viri, mutatione rerum et prece haud degeneri permotus, adlevat supplicem laudatque quod gentem Aorsorum, quod suam dextram petendae veniae delegerit. simul legatos litterasque ad Caesarem in hunc modum mittit: populi Romani imperatoribus, magnarum nationum regibus primam ex similitudine fortunae amicitiam, sibi et Claudio etiam communionem victoriae esse. bellorum egregios finis quoties ignoscendo transigatur: sic Zorsini victo nihil ereptum. pro Mithridate, quando gravius mereretur, non potentiam neque regnum precari, sed ne triumpharetur neve poenas capite expenderet.

Next: Book 12 [20]