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miracle of an Empire which sent its legions to fight on the Tees and the Euphrates, and included within its orbit all the peoples of the Mediterranean world? To a contemporary, the crushing defeat of Julian at Ctesiphon, the immense disaster of the Gothic victory at Adrianople, might well have seemed to be unfavourable episodes, carrying with them no sinister omen of ruin nor seed of mischief beyond repair. For centuries the Romans had fought and absorbed the barbarians; and Ammianus saw little reason to doubt that Rome would continue to fight and absorb barbarians to the end of time.*

One other circumstance may help to explain the survival, despite much cause for despondency, of a firm imperial faith in the spirit of Ammianus. The last and most impressive book of the history is devoted to an account of the Gothic invasion of Thrace, which culminated in the rout of a Roman army and the death of the Emperor Valens. The story of this great calamity is told with sombre force, and loses none of its tragical quality in the hands of Ammianus, who, after working steadily up to the great climax of the battle, ends with two minor but startlingly significant episodes—a Gothic attack upon Constantinople, which was repulsed by a sally of Saracen mercenaries, and the treacherous massacre by order of a Roman governor of a large body of Gothic youths who had been distributed through the cities of Asia Minor. In the light of our later knowledge these ominous passages might seem to be inspired by a profound valedictory emotion, but there is nothing consciously valedictory in the attitude of Ammianus. The history was not composed under the immediate impulse of the disaster of Adrianople, but was begun some ten years later, when the military vigour of Theodosius was asserting itself; so that, writing in a brief oasis of calm when the sky was blue and the sunshine again golden, Ammianus could recount the perils of the past, gravely indeed, but yet without a note of weakness or despair.

Almost all the little that we know of the life of

Fifty years later the Greek historian, Sozomen, started a philosophy of the Decline and Fall; but Rutilius Namatianus, writing shortly after the sack of Rome by Alaric, was still of opinion that the Empire would last for ever.

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Ammianus is derived from allusions in his own writings. Sprung of noble lineage, he passed early into the ranks of the Protectores Domestici,' a corps d'élite which may be compared to our Guards Brigade, and was soon attached to the person of Ursicinus, a distinguished and experienced soldier who inspired the confidence and admiration of his youthful aide-de-camp. A better opening for an ambitious and enterprising young man, fond of travel, adventure and companionship, could not have been contrived; and, before Ammianus had reached the age of thirty, he had voyaged on military and official errands from Mesopotamia to Gaul and from Gaul to Mesopotamia, and had tasted the excitements of a siege, a reconnaissance and a campaign. It is one of our misfortunes that, with a few rare exceptions, he refrains from recounting his personal experiences, and that his impressions of travel, which must have been various and diverting, are sacrificed to the austere tradition of classical history. Nevertheless here and there we descry traces of his activity. He was at Cologne with Ursicinus in 355, and witnessed the downfall of the rebel Silvanus and the beginnings of Julian's work in Gaul. Two years later he returned to the East, when Roman rule was once more exposed to grave peril from the energy and ambitions of Shapur the Great, the most formidable of the Sassanian kings of Persia. As he recounts this period of his career, Ammianus drops for a moment the impersonal tone which generally marks his history. He describes with some vividness of feeling his own part in the Persian campaign-how he was sent on a mission to the Emir of Corduene, how he took part in the famous defence of Amida (the modern Diarbekr), and joined in that expedition to the Tigris which resulted in Julian's death and the repulse of the Roman legions at Ctesiphon. After that catastrophe he returned to Antioch and for many years vanishes from history. When he emerges, it is as the spectator of the high-treason trials at Antioch in 371, as the tourist visiting the plain of Adrianople that he may inspect the site still strewn with the whitened bones of Goth and Roman, or finally as the man of letters, recently established in Rome and receiving the compliments of his friend, Libanius, upon a successful course of historical lectures. The sun-browned veteran

was, in fact, reading instalments of his magnum opus to the intellectuals of the capital and tasting the sweets of literary fame. We may guess that his last reading was not later than 392.

It has been conjectured, on the ground of his interest in legal affairs, that, after the death of Julian, Ammianus abandoned a military for a civil career, and that the later part of his life was divided between judicial and literary pursuits. Such a development is not impossible, for the Protectores Domestici' constituted a school of training for civil as well as for military duties. Nor is it easy to suppose that a man of so active a temperament would have retired altogether from public life at so early a point in his course. But there is no direct evidence, and we must be content with surmises. We only know that, resembling the Father of History in curiosity and love of movement, Ammianus travelled widely, visiting Egypt and Greece as well as Thrace, and carrying, as we may conjecture, in his head, the exciting design of the great book, the Tacitus brought up to date, which was to be recited before an exacting and distinguished audience in the marble capital of the Empire.

The circumstance that the history was intended for recitation was unfavourable to its quality as a work of art. It is a common experience that lectures, effective enough on first delivery, fail through some lack of subtlety and finish to preserve their power when issued to the world in cold print; and the historical lectures of the Syrian veteran were probably injured for posterity by too close an attention to the recondite tastes of an affected public. Ammianus had a rough but powerful mind, and, what is even more important in an historian, and priceless by reason of its rarity in that age, an essential sincerity and justness of judgment. Unfortunately he thought it necessary to conform himself to a literary fashion which we suspect to have been foreign to his real nature. His narrative is stuffed with turgid declamation and interrupted by long stretches of encyclopædic learning which a modern author would omit or at least consign to footnotes or appendices. He breaks off to describe a prodigy, an omen, a cause célèbre, in order that out of the studied variety of his matter he may provide a stimulus, appropriate to the varying

appetites of his audience. Probably, if he had taken literature less seriously, he would have written better, for he is capable, when off his guard, of a simple and soldierly narrative. But, though modest as to his own attainments, he cherished a secret flame of literary ambition. He read furiously. He soaked himself in Livy and Cicero and Virgil, in geographical and scientific handbooks, as well as in the proper and authentic sources for an historical narrative; and he succeeded in manufacturing a declamatory style of which we nothing more charitable than that accurate statements and moderate judgments have seldom been presented in a vesture so artificial and inappropriate.

If we had to single out the special excellence which marks Ammianus as a writer of history, we should find it in his distinct gift for life-like portraiture. He has provided us with a series of personal sketches than which of their kind there is nothing better in ancient literature; for the lives of Plutarch, incomparably more beautiful and attractive, do not come up for comparison, belonging as they do to the category of idealistic literature, whereas the work of Ammianus is founded upon a close and dispassionate study of mixed character. Historians are largely creatures of tradition; and the portraits of Ammianus may have owed something to a gossipy book, then greatly in vogue but now only surviving in a few scanty fragments, the satirical Lives of the Emperors by Marius Maximus. In any case, it is reasonable to infer from the success which Ammianus achieves in a most difficult branch of the historian's art that the study of human character was one of the few departments of intellectual enquiry in which considerable progress had been made in the later years of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately the faculty of discerning portraiture was lost as soon as it had reached a point of distinguished excellence in the careful workmanship of Ammianus. The great calamities of the succeeding generation afforded no leisure for that habit of minute and engaging causticity which flourishes in sheltered and critical communities and is nourished by the drama, the satire and the novel. For eight centuries no greater actor in the stage

* Historicorum Romanorum Fragmenta,' ed. H. Peter, pp. 331–9.

of European history is so well depicted for posterity as are the Constantius, the Julian and the Valentinian of Ammianus. Nor was the full spirit of penetrating psychology recaptured for Europe until the Renaissance of the 16th century.

History having to do with the business of the State, it is certainly no disqualification in a writer of history that he should have some real working knowledge of one of the great public callings. Ammianus approached history from the angle of a soldier, and his work is a repository of military information. He is, indeed, our principal authority upon the art of war in the fourth century, and has left us some careful descriptions, more appropriate to a dictionary than to an historical narrative, of the poliorcetic engines of his time.


we cannot regard him as a good military historian, and that for a reason which may seem curious, in view of the large space which he allots to geographical surveys. He never seems to understand, or rather he never enables his reader to understand, the strategy of a campaign. He seems to put his geography in one department and his military history in another, and never to bring them into fruitful connexion. A siege he will often describe with intelligent particularity, but his battle-pieces are confused, his campaigns sketchy and imperfectly grounded; and it is curious to note that, though he records failure after failure, his work is not greatly distinguished for strategical commentary or criticism. Poliorcetics, however, he thoroughly understands; and the serious interest in practical things, which makes him a master of this branch of military science and betrays itself in a great range and variety of technical disquisitions in other spheres of knowledge, is only part of that masculine sanity of character which constitutes his principal force and attraction.

It is not to be claimed for Ammianus that he never talks nonsense. He talks a deal of nonsense. He believes in omens and prodigies, and delights in describing them to an audience which did not think the worse of a popular lecture for an admixture of the sensational and the ghostly. But the general balance of his judgment was undisturbed by such concessions to vulgar superstition. His mind was essentially strong and secular,

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