Cassius Dio
Roman History

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Epitome of Book LXXV

Severus, on becoming emperor in the manner described, inflicted the death penalty on the Pretorians who had taken part in the slaying of Pertinax; and as for the others, he summoned them, before he came to Rome, and having surrounded them in the open while they were ignorant of the fate in store for them, uttered many bitter reproaches against them for their lawless deed against their emperor, and then relieved them of their arms, took away their horses, and banished them from Rome. Thereupon the majority of them proceeded reluctantly to throw away their arms and let their horses go, and were scattering, wearing only their tunics and ungirded; but one man, when his horse would not go away, but kept following him and neighing, slew both the beast and himself, and it seemed to the spectators that the horse, too, was glad to die.

After doing this Severus entered Rome. He advanced as far as the gates on horseback and in cavalry costume, but there he changed to civilian attire and proceeded on foot; and the entire army, both infantry and cavalry, accompanied him in full armour. The spectacle proved the most brilliant of any that I have witnessed; for the whole city had been decked with garlands of flowers and laurel and adorned with richly coloured stuffs, and it was ablaze with torches and burning incense; the citizens, wearing white robes and with radiant countenances, uttered many shouts of good omen; the soldiers, too, stood out conspicuous in their armour as they moved about like participants in some holiday procession; and finally, we senators were walking about in state. The crowd chafed in its eagerness to see him to hear him say something, as if he had been somehow changed by his good fortune; and some of them held one another aloft, that from a higher position they might catch sight of him.

Having entered the city in this manner, he made us some brave promises, such as the good emperors of old had given, to the effect that he would not put any senator to death; and he took oath concerning this matter, and, what was more, also ordered it to be confirmed by a joint decree, prescribing that both the emperor and anyone who should aid him in any such deed should be considered public enemies, both they and their children. Yet he himself was the first to violate this law instead of keeping it, and made away with many senators; indeed, Julius Solon himself, who framed this decree at his behest, was murdered not long afterwards. There were many things Severus did that were not to our liking, and he was blamed for making the city turbulent through the presence of so many troops and for burdening the State by his excessive expenditures of money, and most of all, for placing his hope of safety in the strength of his army rather than in the good will of his associates in the government. But some found fault with him particularly because he abolished the practice of selecting the body-guard exclusively from Italy, Spain, Macedonia and Noricum, — a plan that furnished men of more respectable appearance and of simpler habits, — and ordered that any vacancies should be filled from all the legions alike. Now he did this with the idea that he should thus have guards with a better knowledge of the soldier's duties, and should also be offering a kind of prize for those who proved brave in war; but, as a matter of fact, it became only too apparent that he had incidentally ruined to youth of Italy, who turned to brigandage and gladiatorial fighting in place of their former service in the army, and in filling the city with a throng of motley soldiers most savage in appearance, most terrifying in speech, and most boorish in conversation.

The signs which had led him to hope for the imperial power were as follows. When he was admitted to the senate, he dreamed that he was suckled by a she-wolf just as Romulus had been. When he was about to marry Julia, Faustina, the wife of Marcus, prepared their nuptial chamber in the temple of Venus near the palace. On another occasion water gushed from his hand, as from a spring, while he slept. When he was governor at Lugdunum, the whole Roman dominion approached and saluted him — in a dream, I mean. At another time he was taken up by someone to a place commanding a wide view, and as he gazed down from there upon all the land and all the sea he laid his fingers on them as one might on an instrument capable of playing all modes, and they all sang together. Again, he thought that in the Roman Forum a horse threw Pertinax, who had mounted it, but readily took himself on its back. These things he had learned from dreams; but also when awake he had, while yet a youth, seated himself through ignorance upon the imperial throne. These, then, were some of the signs that pointed in his case to the supreme power.

Upon establishing himself in power he erected a shrine to Pertinax, and commanded that his name should be mentioned at the close of all prayers and all oaths; he also ordered that a golden image of Pertinax should be carried into the Circus on a car drawn by elephants, and that three gilded thrones should be borne into the other amphitheatres in his honour. His funeral, in spite of the time that had elapsed since his death, was carried out as follows. In the Roman Forum a wooden platform was constructed hard by the marble rostra, upon which was set a shrine, without walls, but surrounded by columns, cunningly wrought of both ivory and gold. In it there was placed a bier of the same materials, surrounded by heads of both land and sea animals and adorned with coverlets of purple and gold. Upon this rested an effigy of Pertinax in wax, laid out in triumphal garb; and a comely youth was keeping the flies away from it with peacock feathers, as though it were really a person sleeping. While the body lay in state, Severus as well as we senators and our wives approached, wearing mourning; the women sat in the porticos, and we men under the open sky. After this there moved past, first, images of all the famous Romans of old, then choruses of boys and men, singing a dirge-like hymn to Pertinax; there followed all the subject nations, represented by bronze figures attired in native dress, and the guilds of the City itself — those of the lictors, the scribes, the heralds, and all the rest. Then came images of other men who had been distinguished for some exploit or invention or manner of life. Behind these were the cavalry and infantry in armour, the race-horses, and all the funeral offerings that the emperor and we senators and our wives, and the corporations of the City, had sent. Following them came an altar gilded all over and adorned with ivory and gems of India. When these had passed by, Severus mounted the rostra and read a eulogy of Pertinax. We shouted our approval many times in the course of his address, now praising and now lamenting Pertinax, but our shouts were loudest when he concluded. Finally, when the bier was about to be moved, we all lamented and wept together. It was brought down from the platform by the high priests and the magistrates, not only those who were actually in office at the time by also those who had been elected for the ensuing year; and they gave it to certain knights to carry. All the rest of us, now, marched ahead of the bier, some beating our breasts and others playing a dirge on the flute, but the emperor followed behind all the rest; and in this order we arrived at the Campus Martius. There a pyre had been built in the form of a tower having three stories and adorned with ivory and gold as well as a number of statues, while on its very summit was placed a gilded chariot that Pertinax had been wont to drive. Inside this pyre the funeral offerings were cast and the bier was placed in it, and then Severus and the relatives of Pertinax kissed the effigy. The emperor then ascended a tribunal, while we, the senate, except the magistrates, took our places on wooden stands in order to view the ceremonies both safely and conveniently. The magistrates and the equestrian order, arrayed in a manner befitting their station, and likewise the cavalry and the infantry, passed in and out around the pyre performing intricate evolutions, both those of peace and those of war. Then at last the consuls applied fire to the structure, and when this had been done, an eagle flew aloft from it. Thus was Pertinax made immortal.

Although a warlike nature usually ends up by being harsh and a peaceful one cowardly, Pertinax excelled equally in both respects, being formidable in war and shrewd in peace. He showed boldness, of which bravery is an ingredient, toward foreigners and rebels, but clemency, into which justice enters, toward his countrymen and the orderly element. When advanced to preside over the destinies of the world, he never showed himself unworthy of his increased dignity, so as to appear more subservient in some things and more haughty in others than was fitting, but remained unchanged absolutely from first to last — being dignified without sullenness, gentle without humility, shrewd without knavery, just without excessive strictness, frugal without stinginess, high-minded without boastfulness.

Severus now made a campaign against Niger. This man was an Italian of the equestrian order, and was remarkable for nothing either good or bad, so that one could neither praise nor censure him very much; and so he had been assigned to Syria by Commodus. He had as one of his lieutenants Aemilianus, since this man, by remaining neutral and watching events in order to take advantage of them, seemed to surpass all the senator of that day in understanding and in experience of affairs (he had been tested in many provinces and as a result had grown conceited), and also because he was a relative of Albinus.

Niger was not a man of keen intelligence in any case, but made mistakes in spite of his vast power. At this time he was more puffed up than ever, so that, when men called him a new Alexander, he showed his pleasure, and when a man asked, "Who gave you permission to do this?" he pointed to his sword and answered, "This."

When the war broke out, Niger proceeded to Byzantium and from there advanced against Perinthus. But he was disturbed by unfavourable omens that came to his notice; for an eagle perched upon a military standard and remained there until captured, in spite of attempts to drive it away, and bees made honeycomb around the military standards and especially around his images. For these reasons he returned to Byzantium.

Aemilianus, joining battle with some of Severus' generals near Cyzicus, was defeated by them and slain. Afterwards amid the narrow passes of Nicaea and Cius a great battle took place between the two armies, with varying fortunes. Some fought in close order on the plain, others occupied the hills and hurled stones and javelins at their opponents from the higher ground, and still others got into boats and discharged their arrows at the enemy from the lake. At first the followers of Severus, commanded by Candidus, were victorious, for they had an advantage in fighting from the higher ground; the later, when Niger himself appeared, the pursuers became the pursued, and victory rested with Niger's men. Then Candidus seized hold of the standard-bearers and forced them to turn round facing the enemy, at the same time upbraiding the soldiers for their flight; at this his men were ashamed, turned back, and once more got the upper hand of their opponents. Indeed, they would have utterly destroyed them, had not the city been near and had not a dark night come on.

After this there was a tremendous battle at Issus, near the "Gates," as they are called. In this struggle Valerianus and Anullinus commanded the army of Severus, while Niger himself was present with his own forces and arrayed them for the battle. This pass, the "Cilician Gates," is so named because of its narrowness; for on the one side precipitous mountains tower aloft and on the other high cliffs descend to the sea. Niger, now pitched his camp here on a well-fortified hill; and he stationed in his front line the heavy-armed troops, then the javelin-men and stone-throwers, and behind all the rest the archers, in order that the front ranks, fighting at close range, should hold back their antagonists, while the others from a distance should bring their strength into play over the heads of those in front. As for his flanks, he was protected on the left and on the right respectively by the cliffs on the side of the sea and by the forest, è impenetrable. Thus he arrayed his army; and he stationed the baggage-carriers in the rear, so that none of the troops would be able to flee even if they wished. Anullinus, seeing this, placed his heavy-armed troops in front and behind them all his light-armed forces, in order that the latter by discharging their weapons from a distance over the heads of the others should hold back the enemy, while the men in front made the advance up the slope safe for them; his cavalry he sent with Valerianus, ordering them to get around the forest as best they could and fall suddenly upon the troops of Niger from the rear. When they came to close quarters, the soldiers of Severus held their shields some in front of them and some above their heads, so as to form a testudo, and in this manner they approached the enemy. The battle was indecisive for a long time, but at length Niger's forces proved distinctly superior, thanks both to their numbers and to the terrain. They would have been completely victorious had it not been for the fact that clouds gathered out of a clear sky, a wind sprang up after a calm, and there followed heavy thunderclaps, sharp lightnings, and a violent rain-storm, all of which they had to face. This did not trouble Severus' troops, as it was at their backs; but it caused great confusion to Niger's men, since it was directly in their faces. Most of all, this opportune coming of the storm inspired courage in the one side, which believed it was being aided by Heaven, and fear in the other, which felt that Heaven was warring against it; thus it made the one army strong beyond its own strength, and terrified the other in spite of its real power; and as the forces of Niger were already taking to flight, Valerianus came in sight. Upon seeing him, they faced about again, and then, when Anullinus beat them back, they once more turned around. Then, running this way and that, wherever they could break through, they wandered about the country.

This proved to be the greatest disaster of the war; for twenty thousand of Niger's followers perished. And this evidently was the meaning of the priest's dream. It seems that while Severus was in Pannonia the priest of Jupiter in a dream saw a black man force his way into the emperor's camp and come to his death by violence; and by interpreting the name of Niger people recognized that he was the black man in question. Upon the capture of Antioch not long after this, Niger fled from there toward the Euphrates, intending to make his escape to the barbarians; but his pursuers overtook him and cut off his head. Severus caused the head to be sent to Byzantium and to be set up on a pole, that the sight of it might induce the Byzantines to join his cause. After this he proceeded to punish those who had belonged to Niger's party.

As for the various cities and private citizens, Severus punished some and rewarded others; of the Roman senators he slew none, but deprived most of them of their property and confined them on islands. He was merciless in his raising of funds; thus, for example, he exacted four times the amount that any individuals or peoples had given to Niger, whether they had done so voluntarily or under compulsion. He himself doubtless perceived that he was ill spoken of because of this, but, as he required large sums of money, he paid no attention to what people said.

Cassius Clemens, a senator, when on trial before Severus himself, did not conceal the truth, but freely expressed his mind, to this general effect: "I," he said, "was acquainted with neither you nor Niger, but, finding myself in the midst of his partisans, I was constrained to look to the moment, not with the purpose of fighting you, but of deposing Julianus. I therefore did nothing wrong, either in this respect, since I strove in the beginning for the same ends as you, nor, later, in refusing to desert the master once given me by the will of Heaven and to come over to you. For you would not have liked it, either to have any of these men who are sitting with you here in judgment betray you and desert to him Do not, then, investigate our persons and our names, but the facts themselves. For in every point in which you condemn us you will be passing sentence against both yourself and your associates; since, however secure you may be from conviction in any suit or verdict, nevertheless, in your reputation with mankind, the memory of which will last forever, you will be represented as bringing against others the very charges to which you yourself are liable." Severus admired the man for his frankness, and allowed him to retain half his property.

Many who had never even seen Niger and had not joined his faction were dealt with harshly on the ground that they had favoured his cause.

The Byzantines performed many remarkable deeds both while Niger was still living and after his death. Their city is most favourably situated in relation both to the two continents and to the sea that lies between them, and possesses strong defences both in the lie of the land and in the nature of the Bosporus. For the city is built on high ground and juts out into the sea; and the latter, rushing down from the Euxine like a mountain torrent and hurling itself against the headland, is diverted in part to the right, forming there the bay and the harbours, but the greater part of the water flows on with great speed past the city itself toward the Propontis. Moreover, their walls were very strong. The breastwork of the walls was constructed of massive squared stones fastened together by bronze plates, and on the inside they were strengthened with mounds and buildings, so that the whole seemed to be one thick wall on top of which there was a covered passageway easy of defence. There were many large towers constructed on the outside of the wall and provided with windows set close together on every side, so that anyone assailing the wall would be intercepted between them; for as they were built at short intervals and not in a straight line, but some here and some there along a rather crooked circuit, they were bound to command any attacking party from every side. The sections of the wall on the land side were raised to a great height, so as to repel even any chance assailants from that quarter, but the portions along the sea were lower; for there the rocks on which the walls were built and the dangerous character of the Bosporus proved wonderfully effective allies for the Byzantines. The harbours within the wall had both been closed with chains and their breakwaters carried towers that jutted far out on either side, making approach impossible for the enemy. In a word, the Bosporus is of the greatest advantage to the inhabitants; for it is absolutely inevitable that, once anyone gets into its current, he will be cast up on the land in spite of himself. This is a condition most satisfactory to friends, but most embarrassing to enemies.

It was thus that Byzantium had been fortified; and in addition there were engines in the greatest variety along the entire length of the wall. Some, for example, hurled rocks and wooden beams upon any who drew near, and others discharged stones and other missiles and spears against such as stood at a distance, with the result that over a considerable area none could come near them without danger. still others had hooks, which they would let down suddenly and so draw up ships and machines through the short intervening space. Priscus, a fellow-countryman of mine, designed most of the engines, and for this very reason was both condemned to death and spared; for Severus, learning of his skill, prevented his execution, and later made use of his services on various occasions, especially at the siege of Hatra, where his machines were the only ones not burned by the barbarians. The Byzantines had also got ready five hundred ships, most of them with one bank of oars, but some with two, and all equipped with beaks. Some of them were provided with rudders at both ends, at the prow as well as the stern, and had a double complement of helmsmen and sailors, in order that they might both attack and retire without turning round and might out-manoeuvre their opponents both in advancing and in retreating.

Many, now, were the exploits and the experiences of the Byzantines, since for the entire space of three years they were besieged by the armaments of practically the whole world. I shall relate a few of the incidents that were in any way marvellous. They used to capture not only ships that were sailing past, by making opportune attacks, but also triremes that were in their opponents' roadstead. They accomplished this by causing divers to cut their anchors under water and drive in the ships' sides nails that were attached by ropes to the friendly shore; then they would draw the ships towards them, so that these appeared to be sailing up all by themselves, of their own accord, with neither oarsman nor wind to urge them forward. There were even instances in which traders purposely allowed themselves to be captured by the Byzantines, though they pretended it was against their will, and after selling their wares for a great price, made their escape by sea.

When all the supplies in the city had been consumed both their fortunes and the hopes based thereon had been reduced to extreme straits, at first, even though they were in dire distress, cut off as they were from all outside aid, they nevertheless continued to resist. For their ships they used timbers taken from the houses and braided ropes made from the hair of their women; and as often as any of the foe assaulted the wall, they would hurl down upon them the stones from the theatres and whole bronze horses and statues of bronze. When even their customary food failed them, they proceeded to soak hides and eat them. Then, when these, too, were used up, the greater part of the population, after waiting for a storm and rough water, so that no one could put out against them, sailed away with the determination either to perish or to secure provisions; and falling upon the countryside without warning, they plundered everything indiscriminately. Those who were left behind did a monstrous thing; for when they were reduced to the last extremity, they had recourse to themselves and devoured one another. Such was the condition in which these people found themselves.

The rest, when they had laden their boats with even more than these could bear, set sail, after waiting this time also for a great storm. They did not succeed, however, in profiting by it; for the Romans, observing that their vessels were overheavy and weighted down almost to the water's edge, put out against them. So they fell upon the craft, which were scattered about as wind and wave carried them, and what followed was anything but a naval battle; for they simply battered the enemy's boats mercilessly, thrusting at many of them with their boat-hooks, ripping many open with their beaks, and even capsizing some by their mere onset. The people in the boats were unable to do anything, however much they might wish; and when they attempted to escape anywhere, they would either be sunk by the force of the wind, to which they spread their sails to the full, or else would be overtaken by the enemy and destroyed. The people in Byzantium, as they watched this scene, for a time kept calling on the gods for help, and uttering various shouts at the different incidents, according as one was affected by the spectacle or the disaster. But when they saw their friends perishing all together, the united throng sent up a chorus of groans and lamentations, and after that they mourned for the rest of the day and the whole night. The total number of the wrecks proved so great that some drifted on the islands and the Asiatic coast, and the defeat became known by these relics before it had been heard of. The next day the horror was increased still more for the townspeople; for when the waves had subsided, the whole sea in the vicinity of Byzantium was covered with corpses and wrecks and blood, and many of the remains were cast up on shore, with the result that their disaster appeared even worse to their eyes than it had been in reality.

The Byzantines, accordingly, were constrained to surrender the city at once. The Romans put to death all the soldiers and magistrates, but spared all the rest except the pugilist who had greatly aided the Byzantines and injured the Romans. He perished at the very outset; for, in order to make the soldiers angry enough to kill him, he promptly struck one of them with his fist and leaped upon another with his heels. Severus was so pleased at the capture of Byzantium that he blurted out the fact to his soldiers in Mesopotamia, where he was at the time: "We have taken Byzantium, too." He deprived the city of it independence and of its proud position as a state, and made it tributary, confiscating the property of the citizens. He granted the city and its territory to the Perinthians, and they, treating it like a village, visited every kind of insult upon it. Thus far he seemed, in a way, to be justified in what he did; but in demolishing the walls of the city he failed to cause the inhabitants any greater grief than was involved in the loss of the glory which they had derived from the displaying of their walls; whereas he did destroy a strong Roman outpost and base of operations against the barbarians from Pontus and Asia. I myself saw the walls after they had fallen, looking as if they had been captured by some other people rather than by the Romans. I had also seen them standing and had even heard them "talk." I should explain that there were seven towers extending from the Thracian Gates to the sea, and if a person approached any of these but the first, it was silent; but if he shouted anything at that one or threw a stone against it, it not only echoed and "spoke" itself, but also caused the second to do the same; and thus the sound continued from one to another through the whole seven, and they did not interrupt one another, but all in their proper turn, as each received the sound from the one before it, took up the echo and the voice and sent it on.

Such were the walls of Byzantium. But while this siege was going on, Severus, out of a desire for glory, made a campaign against the barbarians — against the Osroëni, the Adiabeni, and the Arabians.

The Osroëni and the Adiabeni had revolted and laid siege to Nisibis, and had been defeated by Severus; but now, after Niger's death, they sent an embassy to him, not, indeed, to ask his pardon, as if they had committed any wrong, but to demand reciprocal favours, pretending that they had acted as they had on his behalf; for they claimed it was for his sake that they had destroyed the soldiers who favoured Niger's cause. They also sent him some gifts and promised the captives and whatever spoils there were still left; yet they were unwilling either to abandon the forts that they had captured or to receive garrisons, but actually demanded the removal from their country of such garrisons as still remained. It was this that led to the present war.

After crossing the Euphrates and invading the enemy's territory, where the country is always destitute of water and at that time by reason of the heat had become especially parched, he came very near losing a vast number of soldiers. For when they were already wearied by their march and by the hot sun, they encountered a dust-storm that caused them great distress, so that they could no longer march or even talk, but only cry, "Water! Water!" And when water did appear, on account of its strangeness it meant no more to them than if it had not been found at all, — until Severus called for cup, and filling it with the water, drained it in full view of all; then, indeed, some others likewise drank and were refreshed. Afterwards Severus reached Nisibis, and tarrying there himself, sent Lateranus, Candidus, and Laetus in various directions among the barbarians named; and these generals upon reaching their goals proceeded to lay waste barbarians' land and to capture their cities. While Severus was pluming himself on this achievement, as if he surpassed all mankind in both understanding and bravery, a most incredible thing happened. A certain robber named Claudius, who was overrunning Judaea and Syria and was being very vigorously pursued in consequence, came to him one day with some horsemen, like some military tribune, and saluted and kissed him; and he was neither discovered at the time nor caught later.

The Arabians, inasmuch as none of their neighbours was willing to aid them, sent envoys again to Severus with more reasonable offers; nevertheless, they did not obtain what they wanted, as they had not come along themselves.

The Scythians were in a mood for fighting at this time; but while they were consulting together, thundering and lightnings, accompanied by rain, suddenly broke over them, and thunderbolt fell, killing their three chief men, and this restrained them.

Severus again made three divisions of his army, and giving one to Laetus, one to Anullinus, and one to Probus, sent them against †Arche;† and they invaded it in three divisions and subdued it, yet not without difficulty. Severus bestowed some dignity upon Nisibis and entrusted the city to a knight. He used to declare that he had added a vast territory to the empire and had made it a bulwark of Syria. On the contrary, it is shown by the facts themselves that this conquest has been a source of constant wars and great expense to us. For it yields very little and uses up vast sums; and now that we have reached out to peoples who are neighbour of the Medes and the Parthians rather than of ourselves, we are always, one might say, fighting the battles of those peoples.

End of Etext Cassius Dio Roman History  Epitome of Book LXXV Return to www.BrainFly.Net