Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History. London: Bohn (1862) Book 23. pp.316-345.
[Translated by C.D.YONGE]
§ 1. To pass over minute details, these were the principal events of the year. But Julian, who in his third consulship had taken as his colleague Sallustius, the prefect of Gaul, now entered on his fourth year, and by a novel arrangement took as his colleague a private individual; an act of which no one recollected an instance since that of Diocletian and Aristobulus.
2. And although, foreseeing in his anxious mind the various accidents that might happen, he urged on with great diligence all the endless preparations necessary for his expedition, yet distributing his diligence everywhere; and being eager to extend the recollection of his reign by the greatness of his exploits, he proposed to rebuild at a vast expense the once magnificent temple of Jerusalem, which after many deadly contests was with difficulty taken by Vespasian and Titus, who succeeded his father in the conduct of the siege. And he assigned the task to Alypius of Antioch, who had formerly been proprefect of Britain.
3. But though Alypius applied himself vigorously to the work, and though the governor of the province co-operated with him, fearful balls of fire burst forth with continual eruptions close to the foundations, burning several of the workmen and making the spot altogether inaccessible. And thus the very elements, as if by some fate, repelling the attempt, it was laid aside.
4. About the same time the emperor conferred various honours on the ambassadors who were sent to him from the Eternal City, being men of high rank and established excellence of character. He appointed Apronianus to be prefect of Rome, Octavianus to be proconsul of Africa, Venustus to be viceroy of Spain, and promoted Rufinus Aradius to be count of the East in the room of his uncle Julian, lately deceased.
5. When all this had been carried out as he arranged, he was alarmed by an omen which, as the result showed, indicated an event immediately at hand. Felix, the principal treasurer, having died suddenly of a hemorrhage, and Count Julian having followed him, the populace, |318 looking on their public titles, hailed Julian as Felix and Augustus.
6. Another bad omen had preceded this, for, on the very first day of the year, as the emperor was mounting the steps of the temple of the Genius, one of the priests, the eldest of all, fell without any one striking him, and suddenly expired; an event which the bystanders, either out of ignorance or a desire to flatter, affirmed was an omen affecting Sallustius, as the elder consul; but it was soon seen that the death it portended was not to the elder man, but to the higher authority.
7. Besides these several other lesser signs from time to time indicated what was about to happen; for, at the very beginning of the arrangements for the Parthian campaign, news came that there had been an earthquake at Constantinople, which those skilful in divination declared to be an unfavourable omen to a ruler about to invade a foreign country; and therefore advised Julian to abandon his unreasonable enterprise affirming that these and similar signs can only be disregarded with propriety when one's country is invaded by foreign armies, as then there is one everlasting and invariable law, to defend its safety by every possible means, allowing no relaxation nor delay. News also came by letter that at Rome the Sibylline volumes had been consulted on the subject of the war by Julian's order, and that they had in plain terms warned him not to quit his own territories that year.
§ 1. But in the mean time embassies arrived from several nations promising aid, and they were liberally received and dismissed; the emperor with plausible confidence replying that it by no means became the power of Rome to rely on foreign aid to avenge itself, as it was rather fitting that Rome should give support to its friends and allies if necessity drove them to ask it.
2. He only warned Arsaces, king of Armenia, to collect a strong force, and wait for his orders, as he should soon know which way to march, and what to do. Then, as soon as prudence afforded him an opportunity, hastening to anticipate every rumour of his approach by the |319 occupation of the enemy's country, before spring had well set in, he sent the signal for the advance to all his troops, commanding them to cross the Euphrates.
3. As soon as the order reached them, they hastened to quit their winter quarters; and having crossed the river, according to their orders, they dispersed into their various stations, and awaited the arrival of the emperor. But he, being about to quit Antioch, appointed a citizen of Heliopolis, named Alexander, a man of turbulent and ferocious character, to govern Syria, saying that he indeed had not deserved such a post, but that the Antiochians, being covetous and insolent, required a judge of that kind.
4. When he was about to set forth, escorted by a promiscuous multitude who wished him a fortunate march and a glorious return, praying that he would be merciful and kinder than he had been, he (for the anger which their addresses and reproaches had excited in his breast was not yet appeased) spoke with severity to them, and declared that he would never see them again.
5. For he said that he had determined, after his campaign was over, to return by a shorter road to Tarsus in Cilicia, to winter there: and that he had written to Memorius, the governor of the city, to prepare everything that he might require in that city. This happened not long afterwards; for his body was brought back thither and buried in the suburbs with a very plain funeral, as he himself had commanded.
6. As the weather was now getting warm he set out on the fifth of March, and by the usual stages arrived at Hieropolis; and as he entered the gates of that large city a portico on the left suddenly fell down, and as fifty soldiers were passing under it at that moment it wounded many, crushing them beneath the vast weight of the beams and tiles.
7. Having collected all his troops from thence, he marched with such speed towards Mesopotamia, that before any intelligence of his inarch could arrive (an object about which he was especially solicitous) he came upon the Assyrians quite unexpectedly. Then having led his whole army and the Scythian auxiliaries across the Euphrates by a bridge of boats, he arrived at Batnae, a town of Osdroene, and there again a sad omen met him. |320
8. For when a great crowd of grooms was standing near an enormously high haystack, in order to receive their forage (for in this way those supplies used to be stored in that country), the mass was shaken by the numbers who sought to strip it, and falling down, overwhelmed fifty men.
§ 1. Leaving this place with a heavy heart, he marched with great speed, and arrived at Carrhae, an ancient town notorious for the disasters of Crassus and the Roman army. From this town two royal roads branch off, both leading into Persia; that on the left hand through Adiabena and along the Tigris, that on the right through the Assyrians and along the Euphrates.
2. There he stayed some days, preparing necessary supplies; and according to the custom of the district he offered sacrifices to the moon, which is religiously worshipped in that region; and it is said that while before the altar, no witness to the action being admitted, he secretly gave his own purple robe to Procopius, and bade him boldly assume the sovereignty if he should hear that he had died among the Parthians.
3. Here while asleep his mind was agitated with dreams, and foresaw some sad event about to happen; on which account he and the interpreters of dreams considering the omens which presented themselves, pronounced that the next day, which was the nineteenth of March, ought to be solemnly observed. But, as was ascertained subsequently, that very same night, while Apronianus was prefect of Rome, the temple of the Palatine Apollo was burnt in the Eternal City; and if aid from all quarters had not come to the rescue the violence of the conflagration would have destroyed even the prophetic volumes of the Sibyl.
4. After these things had happened in this manner, and while Julian was settling his line of march, and making arrangements for supplies of all kinds, his scouts come panting in, and bring him word that some squadrons of the enemy's cavalry have suddenly passed the frontier in |321 the neighbourhood of the camp, and have driven off a large booty.
5. Indignant at such atrocity and at such an insult, he immediately (as indeed he had previously contemplated) put thirty thousand chosen men under the orders of Procopius, who has been already mentioned, uniting with him in this command Count Sebastian, formerly Duke of Egypt; and he ordered them to act on this side of the Tigris, observing everything vigilantly, so that no danger might arise on any side where it was not expected, for such things had frequently happened. He charged them further, if it could be done, to join King Arsaces; and march with him suddenly through Corduena and Moxoene, ravaging Chiliocomus, a very fertile district of Media, and other places; and then to rejoin him while still in Assyria, in order to assist him as he might require.
6. Having taken these measures, Julian himself, pretending to march by the line of the Tigris, on which road he had purposely commanded magazines of provisions to be prepared, turned towards the right, and after a quiet night, asked in the morning for the horse which he was accustomed to ride: his name was Babylonius. And when he was brought, being suddenly griped and starting at the pain, he fell down, and rolling about scattered the gold and jewels with which his trappings were decked. Julian, in joy at this omen, cried out, amid the applause of those around, that "Babylon had fallen, and was stripped of all her ornaments."
7. Having delayed a little that he might confirm the omen by the sacrifice of some victims, he advanced to Havana, where he had a garrison-fortress, and where the river Belias rises which falls into the Euphrates. Here he refreshed his men with food and sleep, and the next day reached Callinicus, a strong fortress, and also a great commercial mart, where, on the 27th of March (the day on which at Rome the annual festival in honour of Cybele is celebrated, and the car in which her image is borne is, as it is said, washed in the waters of the Almo), he kept the same feast according to the manner of the ancients, and then, retiring to rest, passed a triumphant and joyful night.
8. The next day he proceeded along the bank of the |322 river, which other streams began to augment, marching with an armed escort; and at night he rested in a tent, where some princes of the Saracenic tribes came as suppliants, bringing him a golden crown, and adoring him as the master of the world and of their own nations: he received them graciously, as people well adapted for surprises in war.
9. And while addressing them a fleet arrived equal to that of the mighty sovereign Xerxes, under the command of the tribune Constantianus, and Count Lucillianus; they threw a bridge over the broadest part of the Euphrates: the fleet consisted of one thousand transports, of various sorts and sizes, bringing large supplies of provisions, and arms, and engines for sieges, and fifty ships of war, and as many more suitable for the construction of bridges.
§ 1. I am reminded by the circumstances to explain instruments of this kind briefly, as far as my moderate talent may enable me to do, and first I will set forth the figure of the balista.
2. Between two axletrees a strong large iron bar is fastened, like a great rule, round, smooth, and polished; from its centre a square pin projects for some distance, hollowed out into a narrow channel down its middle. This is bound by many ligatures of twisted cords: to it two wooden nuts are accurately fitted, by one of which stands a skilful man who works it, and who fits neatly into the hollow of the pin or pole a wooden arrow with a large point; and as soon as this is done, some strong young men rapidly turn a wheel.
3. When the tip of the arrow's point has reached the extremity of the cords, the arrow is struck by a blow from the balista, and flies out of sight; sometimes even giving forth sparks by its great velocity, and it often happens that before the arrow is seen, it has given a fatal wound.
4. The scorpion, which they now call the wild-ass, is in the following form. Two axletrees of oak or box are cut out and slightly curved, so as to project in small humps, and they are fastened together like a sawing machine, being perforated with large holes on each side; and between |323 them, through the holes, strong ropes are fastened to hold the two parts together, and prevent them from starting asunder.
5. From these ropes thus placed a wooden pin rises in an oblique direction, like the pole of a chariot, and it is so fastened by knotted cords as to be raised or depressed at pleasure. To its top, iron hooks are fastened, from which a sling hangs, made of either cord or iron. Below the pin is a large sack filled with shreds of cloth, fastened by strong ties, and resting on heaped-up turves or mounds of brick. For an engine of this kind, if placed on a stone wall, would destroy whatever was beneath it, not by its weight, but by the violence of its concussion.
6. Then when a conflict begins, a round stone is placed on the sling, and four youths on each side, loosening the bar to which the cords are attached, bend the pin back till it points almost upright into the air; then the worker of the engine, standing by on high ground, frees by a blow with the heavy hammer the bolt which keeps down the whole engine; and the pin being set free by the stroke, and striking against the mass of cloth shreds, hurls forth the stone with such force as to crush whatever it strikes.
7. This engine is called a tormentum, because all its parts are twisted (torquetur); or a scorpion, because it has an erect sting; but modern times have given it the name of the wild-ass, because when wild asses are hunted, they throw the stones behind them by their kicks so as to pierce the chests of those who pursue them, or to fracture their skulls.
8. Now let us come to the battering ram. A lofty pine or ash is chosen, the top of which is armed with a long and hard head of iron, resembling a ram, which form has given the name to the engine. It is suspended from iron beams running across on each side, like the top of a pair of scales, and is kept in its place by ropes hanging from a third beam. A number of men draw it back as far as there is room, and then again drive it forward to break down whatever opposes it by mighty blows, like a ram which rises up and butts.
9. By the frequent blows of this rebounding thunderbolt, buildings are torn asunder and walls are loosened and thrown down. By this kind of engine, if worked with proper vigour, garrisons are deprived of their defences, and |324 the strongest cities are laid open and sieges rapidly brought to a conclusion.
10. Instead of these rams, which from their common use came to be despised, a machine was framed called in Greek the helepolis, by the frequent use of which Demetrius, the son of king Antigonus, took Rhodes and other cities, and earned the surname of Poliorcetes.
11. It is constructed in this manner. A vast testudo is put together, strengthened with long beams and fastened with iron nails; it is covered with bullocks' hides and wickerwork made of freshly cut twigs, and its top is smeared over with clay to keep off missiles and fiery darts.
12. Along its front very sharp spears with three points are fastened, heavy with iron, like the thunderbolts represented by painters or sculptors, and strong enough with the projecting points to tear to pieces whatever it strikes.
13. A number of soldiers within guide this vast mast with wheels and ropes, urging with vehement impulse against the weaker parts of the wall, so that, unless repelled by the strength of the garrison above, it breaks down the wall and lays open a great breach.
14. The firebolts, which are a kind of missile, are made thus. They take an arrow of cane, joined together between the point and the reed with jagged iron, and made in the shape of a woman's spindle, with which linen threads are spun; this is cunningly hollowed out in the belly and made with several openings, and in the cavity fire and fuel of some kind is placed.
15. Then if it be shot slowly from a slack bow (for if it be shot with too much speed the fire is extinguished), so as to stick anywhere, it burns obstinately, and if sprinkled with water it creates a still fiercer fire, nor will anything but throwing dust upon it quench it. This is enough to say of mural engines; let us now return to our original subject.
§ 1. Having received the reinforcements of the Saracens which they so cheerfully offered, the emperor advanced with speed, and at the beginning of April entered Circesium, a very secure fortress, and skilfully built: it is surrounded by the two rivers Aboras (or Chaboras) and Euphrates, which make it as it were an island. |325
2. It had formerly been small and insecure, till Diocletian surrounded it with lofty towers and walls when he was strengthening his inner frontier within the very territories of the barbarians, in order to prevent the Persians from overrunning Syria, as had happened a few years before to the great injury of the province.
3. For it happened one day at Antioch, when the city was in perfect tranquillity, a comic actor being on the stage with his wife, acting some common play, while the people were delighted with his acting, the wife suddenly exclaimed, "Unless I am dreaming, here are the Persians;" and immediately the populace turning round, were put to flight, and driven about in every direction while seeking to escape the darts which were showered upon them; and so the city being burnt and numbers of the citizens slain, who, as is usual in time of peace, were strolling about carelessly, and all the places in the neighbourhood being burnt and laid waste, the enemy loaded with booty returned in safety to their own country after having burnt Mareades alive, who had wickedly guided them to the destruction of his fellow-citizens. This event took place in the time of Gallienus.
4. But Julian, while remaining at Circesium to give time for his army and all its followers to cross the bridge of boats over the Aboras, received letters with bad news from Sallust, the prefect of Gaul, entreating him to suspend his expedition against the Parthians, and imploring him not in such an unseasonable manner to rush on irrevocable destruction before propitiating the gods.
5. But Julian disregarded his prudent adviser, and advanced boldly; since no human power or virtue can ever avail to prevent events prescribed by the order of the Fates. And immediately, having crossed the river, he ordered the bridge to be taken to pieces, that the soldiers might have no hope of safety by quitting their ranks and returning.
6. Here also a bad omen was seen; the corpse of an officer who had been put to death by the executioner, whom Sallust, the prefect, while in this country had condemned to death, because, after having promised to deliver an additional supply of provisions by an appointed day, he disappointed him through some hindrance. But after the unhappy man had been executed, the very next day there |326 arrived, as he had promised, another fleet heavily laden with corn.
7. Leaving Circesium, we came to Zaitha, the name of the place meaning an olive-tree. Here we saw the tomb of the emperor Gordian, which is visible a long way off, whose actions from his earliest youth, and whose most fortunate campaigns and treacherous murder we related at the proper time, and when, in accordance with his innate piety he had offered due honours to this deified emperor, and was on his way to Dura, a town now deserted, he stood without moving on beholding a large body of soldiers.
8. And as he was doubting what their object was, they brought him an enormous lion which had attacked their ranks and had been slain by their javelins. He, elated at this circumstance, which he looked on as an omen of success in his enterprise, advanced with increased exultation; but so uncertain is fortune, the event was quite contrary to his expectation. The death of a king was certainly foreshown, but who was the king was uncertain.
9. For we often read of ambiguous oracles, never understood till the results interpreted them; as, for instance, the Delphic prophecy, which foretold that after crossing the Halys, Croesus would overthrow a mighty kingdom; and another, which by hints pointed out the sea to the Athenians as the field of combat against the Medes; and another, later than these, but not less ambiguous:—
"O son of Aeacus,
I say that you the Romans can subdue."
10. The Etrurian soothsayers who accompanied him, being men skilful in portents, had often warned him against this campaign, but got no credit; so now they produced their books of such signs, and showed that this was an omen of a forbidding character, and unfavourable to a prince who should invade the country of another sovereign however justly.
11. But he spurned the opposition of philosophers, whose authority he ought to have reverenced, though at times they were mistaken, and though they were sometimes obstinate in cases which they did not thoroughly understand. In truth, they brought forward as a plausible argument to secure credit to their knowledge, that in time |327 past, when Caesar Maximianus was about to fight Narses, king of the Persians, a lion and a huge boar which had been slain were at the same time brought to him, and after subduing that nation he returned in safety; forgetting that the destruction which was now portended was to him who invaded the dominions of another, and that Narses had given the offence by being the first to make an inroad into Armenia, a country under the Roman jurisdiction.
12. On the next day, which was the 7th of April, as the sun was setting, suddenly the air became darkened, and all light wholly disappeared, and after repeated claps of thunder and flashes of lightning, a soldier named Jovianus was struck by the lightning and killed, with two horses which he was leading back from the river to which he had taken them to drink.
13. When this was seen, the interpreters of such things were sent for and questioned, and they with increased boldness affirmed that this event forbade the campaign, demonstrating it to be a monitory lightning (for this term is applied to signs which advise or discourage any line of action). And this, as they said, was to be the more guarded against, because it had killed a soldier of rank, with war-horses; and the books which explain lightnings pronounce that places struck in this manner should not be trodden on, nor even looked upon.
14. On the other hand, the philosophers declared that the brilliancy of this sacred fire thus suddenly presented to the eye had no special meaning, but was merely the course of a fiercer breath descending by some singular power from the sky to the lower parts of the world; and that if any foreknowledge were to be derived from such a circumstance, it was rather an increase of renown which was portended to the emperor now engaged in a glorious enterprise; since it is notorious that flame, if it meet with no obstacle, does of its own nature fly upwards.
15. The bridge then, as has been narrated, having been finished, and all the troops having crossed it, the emperor thought it the most important of all things to address his soldiers who were advancing resolutely, in full reliance on their leader and on themselves. Accordingly, a signal having been given by the trumpets, the centurions, cohorts, and maniples assembled, and he, standing on a mound of |328 earth, and surrounded by a ring of officers of high rank, spoke thus with a cheerful face, being favourably heard with the unanimous good will of all present.
16. "Seeing, my brave soldiers, that you are full of great vigour and alacrity, I have determined to address you, to prove to you by several arguments that the Romans are not, as spiteful grumblers assert, now for the first time invading the kingdom of Persia. For, to say nothing of Lucullus or of Pompey, who, having forced his way through the Albani and Massagetse, whom we call Alani, penetrated through this nation also so as to reach the Caspian lake; we know that Ventidius, the lieutenant of Antony, gained many victories in these regions.
17. "But to leave those ancient times, I will enumerate other exploits of more recent memory. Trajan, and Verus, and Severus have all gained victories and trophies in this country; and the younger Gordian, whose monument we have just been honouring, would have reaped similar glory, having conquered and routed the king of Persia at Resaina, if he had not been wickedly murdered in this very place by the faction of Philip, the prefect of the praetorium, with the assistance of a few other impious men.
18. "But his shade was not long left to wander unavenged, since, as if Justice herself had laboured in the cause, all those who conspired against him have been put to death with torture. Those men, indeed, ambition prompted to the atrocious deed; but we are exhorted by the miserable fate of cities recently taken, by the unavenged shades of our slaughtered armies, by the heaviness of our losses, and the loss of many camps and fortresses, to the enterprise which we have undertaken. All men uniting in their wishes that we may remedy past evils, and having secured the honour and safety of the republic on this side, may leave posterity reason to speak nobly of us.
19. "By the assistance of the eternal deity, I, your emperor, will be always among you as a leader and a comrade, relying, as I well believe, on favourable onions. But if variable fortune shall defeat me in battle, it will still be sufficient for me to have devoted myself for the welfare of the Roman world, like ancient Curtii and Mucii, and the illustrious family of the Decii. We have to abolish a most pernicious nation, on whose swords the blood of our kindred is not yet dry. |329
20. "Our ancestors have before now devoted ages to cause the destruction of enemies who harassed them. Carthage was overthrown after a long and distressing war; and its great conqueror feared to let it survive his victory. After a long and often disastrous siege, Scipio utterly destroyed Numantia. Rome destroyed Fidenae, that it might not grow up as a rival to the empire; and so entirely laid waste Falisci and Veii, that it is not easy to attach so much faith to ancient records as to believe that those cities ever were powerful.
21. "These transactions I have related to you as one acquainted with ancient history. It follows that all should lay aside, as unworthy of him, the love of plunder, which has often been the insidious bane of the Roman soldier, and that every one should keep steadily to his own troop and his own standard, when the necessity for fighting arises, knowing that should he loiter anywhere he will be hamstrung and left to his fate. I fear nothing of our over-crafty enemies but their tricks and perfidy.
22. "Finally, I promise you all, that when our affairs have met with success, without entrenching myself behind my imperial prerogative, so as to consider all my own decisions and opinions irrefragably just and reasonable because of my authority, I will give, if required, a full explanation of all that I have done, that you may be able to judge whether it has been wise or not.
28. "Therefore, I entreat you, now summon all your courage, in full reliance on your good fortune, sure at all events that I will share all dangers equally with you, and believing that victory ever accompanies justice."
24. When he had ended his harangue with this pleasant peroration, the soldiers, exulting in the glory of their chief, and elated with the hopes of success, lifted up their shields on high, and cried out that they should think nothing dangerous nor difficult under an emperor who imposed more toil on himself than on his common soldiers.
25. And above all the rest his Gallic troops showed this feeling with triumphant shouts, remembering how often while he as their leader was marshalling their ranks, they had seen some nations defeated and others compelled to sue for mercy and peace. |330
§ 1. Our history here leads us to a digression explanatory of the situation of Persia. It has been already dilated upon by those who describe different nations, though but few of them have given a correct account; if my story should be a little longer, it will contribute to a better knowledge of the country. For whoever affects excessive conciseness while speaking of things but little known, does not so much consider how to explain matters intelligibly, as how much he may omit.
2. This kingdom, formerly but small, and one which had been known by several names, from causes which we have often mentioned, after the death of Alexander at Babylon received the name of Parthia from Arsaces, a youth of obscure birth, who in his early youth was a leader of banditti, but who gradually improved his condition, and rose to high renown from his illustrious actions.
3. After many splendid and gallant exploits he defeated Nicator Seleucus, the successor of the above-named Alexander, who had received the surname of Nicator from his repeated victories; and having expelled the Macedonian garrisons, he lived for the remainder of his life in peace, like a merciful ruler of willing subjects.
4. At last, after all the neighbouring districts had been brought under his power, either by force or by fear, or by his reputation for justice, he died a peaceful death in middle age, after he had filled all Persia with flourishing cities and well-fortified camps and fortresses, and had made it an object of terror to its neighbours whom previously it used to fear. And he was the first of these kings who had by the unanimous consent of all his countrymen of all ranks, in accordance with the tenets of their religion, had his memory consecrated as one now placed among the stars.
5. And it is from his era that the arrogant sovereigns of that nation have allowed themselves to be entitled brothers of the sun and moon. And, as the title of Augustus is sought for and desired by our emperors, so now the additional dignities first earned by the fortunate auspices |331 of Arsaces are claimed by all the Parthian kings, who were formerly abject and inconsiderable.
6. So that they still worship and honour Arsaces as a god, and down to our day have given him so much honour that, in conferring the royal power, one of his race has been always preferred to any one else. And also in intestine quarrels, such as are common in that nation, every one avoids as sacrilege wounding any descendant of Arsaces, whether in arms or living as a private individual.
7. It is well known that this nation, after subduing many others by force, extended its dominions as far as the Propontis and Thrace; but that it subsequently became diminished and suffered great disasters, owing to the arrogance of its ambitious monarchs, who carried their licentious inroads into distant countries. First, in consequence of the conduct of Cyrus, who crossed the Bosphorus with a fabulous host, but was wholly destroyed by Tomyris, queen of the Scythians, who thus terribly avenged her sons.
8. After him, when Darius, and subsequently Xerxes, changed the use of the elements and invaded Greece, they had nearly all their forces destroyed by land and sea, and could scarcely escape in safety themselves. I say nothing of the wars of Alexander, and of his leaving the sovereignty over the whole nation by will to his successor.
9. Then, a long time after these events, while our republic was under consuls, and was afterwards brought under the power of the Caesars, that nation was constantly warring with us, sometimes with equal fortune; being at one time defeated, and at another victorious.
10. Now I will in a few words describe the situation and position of the country as well as I can. It is a region of great extent both in length and breadth, entirely surrounding on all sides the famous Persian gulf with its many islands. The mouth of this gulf is so narrow, that |332 from Harmozon, the promontory of Carmania, the opposite headland, which the natives call Maces, is easily seen.
11. When the strait between these capes is passed, and the water becomes wider, they are navigable up to the city Teredon, where, after having suffered a great diminution of its waters, the Euphrates falls into the sea. The entire gulf, if measured round the shore, is 20,000 furlongs, being of a circular form as if turned in a lathe. And all round its coasts are towns and villages in great numbers; and the vessels which navigate its waters are likewise very numerous.
12. Having then passed through this strait we come to the gulf of Armenia on the east, the gulf of Cantichus on the south, and on the west to a third, which they call Chalites. These gulfs, after washing many islands, of which but few are known, join the great Indian Ocean, which is the first to receive the glowing rising of the sun, and is itself of an excessive heat.
13. As the pens of geographers delineate it, the whole of the region which we have been speaking of is thus divided. From the north to the Caspian gates it borders on the Cadusii, and on many Scythian tribes, and on the Arimaspi, a fierce one-eyed people. On the west it is bounded by the Armenians, and Mount Niphates, the Asiatic Albani, the Red Sea, and the Scenite Arabs, whom later times have called the Saracens. To the south it looks towards Mesopotamia, on the east it reaches to the Ganges, which falls into the Southern Ocean after intersecting the countries of the Indians.
14. The principal districts of Persia, under command of the Vitaxae, that is to say of the generals of the cavalry, and of the king's Satraps, for the many inferior provinces it would be difficult and superfluous to enumerate, are Assyria, Susiana, Media, Persia, Parthia, the greater Carmania, Hyrcania, Margiana, the Bactrians, the Sogdians, the Sacae, Scythia beyond Mount Emodes, Serica, Aria, the Paropanisadae, Drangiana, Arachosia, and Gedrosia. |333
15. Superior to all the rest is that which is the nearest to us, Assyria, both in renown, and extent, and its varied riches and fertility. It was formerly divided among several peoples and tribes, but is now known under one common name as Assyria. It is in that country that amid its abundance of fruits and ordinary crops, there is a lake named Sosingites, near which bitumen is found. In this lake the Tigris is for a while absorbed, flowing beneath its bed, till, at a great distance, it emerges again.
16. Here also is produced naphtha, an article of a pitchy and glutinous character, resembling bitumen: on which if ever so small a bird perches, it finds its flight impeded and speedily dies. It is a species of liquid, and when once it has taken fire, human ingenuity can find no means of extinguishing it except that of heaping dust on it.
17. In the same district is seen an opening in the earth from which a deadly vapour arises, which by its foul odour destroys any animal which comes near it. The evil arises from a deep well, and if that odour spread beyond its wide mouth before it rose higher, it would make all the country around uninhabitable by its fetid effect.
18. There used, as some affirm, to be a similar chasm near Hierapolis in Phrygia; from which a noxious vapour rose in like manner with a fetid smell which never ceased, and destroyed everything within the reach of its influence, except eunuchs; to what this was owing we leave natural philosophers to determine.
19. Also near the temple of the Asbamaean Jupiter, in Cappadocia (in which district that eminent philosopher Apollonius is said to have been born near the town of Tyana), a spring rises from a marsh, which, however swollen with its rising floods, never overflows its banks.
20. Within this circuit is Adiabene, which was formerly called Assyria, but by long custom has received its present name from the circumstance, that being placed between the two navigable rivers the Ona and the Tigris, it can never be approached by fording; for in Greek we use διαβαίνειν for to "cross:" this was the belief of the ancients.
21. But we say that in this country there are two rivers which never fail, which we ourselves have crossed, the |334 Diabas, and the Adiabas: both having bridges of boats over them; and that Adiabene has received its name from this last, as Homer tells us Egypt received its name from its great river, and India also, and Commagena which was formerly called Euphratensis, as did the country now called Spain, which was formerly called Iberia from the Iberus. And the great Spanish province of Boetica from the river Boetis.
22. In this district of Adiabene is the city of Nineveh, named after Ninus, a most mighty sovereign of former times, and the husband of Semiramis, who was formerly queen of Persia, and also the cities of Ecbatana, Arbela, and Gaugamela, where Alexander, after several other battles, gave the crowning defeat to Darius.
23. In Assyria there are many cities, among which one of the most eminent is Apamia, surnamed Mesene, and Teredon, and Apollonia, and Vologesia, and many others of equal importance. But the most splendid and celebrated are these three, Babylon, the walls of which Semiramis cemented with pitch; for its citadel indeed was founded by that most eminent monarch Belus. And Ctesiphon which Vardanes built long ago, and which subsequently King Pacorus enlarged by an immigration of many citizens, fortifying it also with walls, and giving it a name, made it the most splendid place in Persia—next to it Seleucia, the splendid work of Seleucus Nicator.
24. This, however, as we have already related, was stormed by the generals of Verus Caesar, who carried the image of the Cumaean Apollo to Rome, and placed it in the temple of the Palatine Apollo, where it was formally dedicated to that god by his priests. But it is said that after this statue was carried off, and the city was burnt, the soldiers, searching the temple, found a narrow hole, and when this was opened in the hope of finding something of value in it, from some deep gulf which the secret science of the Chaldaeans had closed up, issued a pestilence, loaded with the force of incurable disease, which in the time of Verus and Marcus Antoninus polluted the whole world from the borders of Persia to the Rhine and Gaul with contagion and death. |335
25. Near to this is the region of the Chaldaeans, the nurse of the ancient philosophy, as the Chaldeans themselves affirm; and where the art of true divination has most especially been conspicuous. This district is watered by the noble rivers already mentioned, by the Marses, by the Royal river, and by that best of all, the Euphrates, which divides into three branches, and is navigable in them all, having many islands, and irrigating the fields around in a manner superior to any industry of cultivators, making them fit both for the plough and for the production of trees.
26. Next to these come the Susians, in whose province there are not many towns; though Susa itself is celebrated as a city which has often been the home of kings, and Arsiana, and Sele, and Aracha. The other towns in this district are unimportant and obscure. Many rivers flow through this region, the chief of which are the Oroates, the Harax, and the Meseus, passing through the narrow sandy plain which separates the Caspian from the Red Sea, and then fall into the sea.
27. On the left, Media is bounded by the Hyrcanian Sea; a country which, before the reign of the elder Cyrus and the rise of Persia, we read was the supreme mistress of all Asia after the Assyrians had been conquered; the greater part of whose cantons had their name changed into one general appellation of Acrapatena, and fell by right of war under the power of the Medes.
28. They are a warlike nation, and the most formidable of all the eastern tribes, next to the Parthians, by whom alone they are conquered. The region which they inhabit is in the form of a square. All the inhabitants of these districts extend over great breadth of country, reaching to the foot of a lofty chain of mountains known by the names of Zagrus, Orontes, and Jasonium.
29. There is another very lofty mountain called Coronus; and those who dwell on its western side abound in corn land and vineyards, being blessed with a most fertile soil, and one enriched by rivers and fountains.
30. They have also green meadows, and breeds of noble horses, on which (as ancient writers relate, and as we |336 ourselves have witnessed) their men when going to battle mount with great exultation. They call them Nesaei.
31. They have also as many cities as Media, and villages as strongly built as towns in other countries, inhabited by large bodies of citizens. In short, it is the richest quarter of the kingdom.
32. In these districts the lands of the Magi are fertile; and it may be as well to give a short account of that sect and their studies, since we have occasion to mention their name. Plato, that most learned deliverer of wise opinions, teaches us that Magias is by a mystic name Machagistia, that is to say, the purest worship of divine beings; of which knowledge in olden times the Bactrian Zoroaster derived much from the secret rites of the Chaldaeans; and after him Hystaspes, a very wise monarch, the father of Darius.
33. Who while boldly penetrating into the remoter districts of upper India, came to a certain woody retreat, of which with its tranquil silence the Brahmans, men of sublime genius, were the possessors. From their teaching he learnt the principles of the motion of the world and of the stars, and the pure rites of sacrifice, as far as he could; and of what he learnt he infused some portion into the minds of the Magi, which they have handed down by tradition to later ages, each instructing his own children, and adding to it their own system of divination.
34. From his time, though many ages to the present era, a number of priests of one and the same race has arisen, dedicated to the worship of the gods. And they say, if it can be believed, that they even keep alive in everlasting fires a flame which descended from heaven among them; a small portion of which, as a favourable omen, used to be borne before the kings of Asia.
35. Of this class the number among the ancients was small, and the Persian sovereigns employed their ministry in the solemn performance of divine sacrifices, and it was profanation to approach the altars, or to touch a victim before a Magus with solemn prayers had poured over it a preliminary libation. But becoming gradually more |337 numerous they arrived at the dignity and reputation of a substantial race; inhabiting towns protected by no fortifications, allowed to live by their own laws, and honouied from the regard borne to their religion.
36. It was of this race of Magi that the ancient volumes relate that after the death of Cambyses, seven men seized on the kingdom of Persia, who were put down by Darius, after he obtained the kingdom through the neighing of his horse.
37. In this district a medical oil is prepared with which if an arrow be smeared, and it be shot gently from a loose bow (for it loses its effect in a rapid flight), wherever it sticks it burns steadily, and if any one attempts to quench it with water it only burns more fiercely, nor can it be put out by any means except by throwing dust on it.
38. It is made in this manner. Those skilful in such arts mix common oil with a certain herb, keep it a long time, and when the mixture is completed they thicken it with a material derived from some natural source, like a thicker oil. The material being a liquor produced in Persia, and called, as I have already said, naphtha in their native language.
39. In this district there are many cities, the most celebrated of which are Zombis, Patigran, and Gazaca; but the richest and most strongly fortified are Heraclia, Arsacia, Europos, Cyropolis, and Ecbatana, all of which are situated in the Syromedian region at the foot of Mount Jasonius.
40. There are many rivers in this country, the principal of which are the Choaspes, the Gyndes, the Amardus, the Charinda, the Cambyses, and the Cyrus, to which, on account of its size and beauty, the elder Cyrus, that amiable king, gave its present name, abolishing that which it used to bear, when he was proceeding on his expedition against Scythia; his reason being that it was strong, as he accounted himself to be, and that making its way with great violence, as he proposed to do, it falls into the Caspian Sea.
41. Beyond this frontier ancient Persia, stretching towards the south, extends as far as the sea, and is very thickly peopled, being also rich in grain and date-trees, and well supplied with excellent water. Many of its rivers fall into the gulf already mentioned, the chief of which are the Vatrachites, the Rogomanis, the Brisoana, and the Dagrada. |338
42. Its inland towns are very considerable; it is uncertain why they built nothing remarkable on the sea-coast. Those of most note are Persepolis, Ardea, Obroatis, and Tragonice. The only islands visible from that coast are these:—Tabiana, Fara, and Alexandria.
43. On the borders of this ancient Persia towards the north is Parthia, a country subject to snow and frost; the principal river which intersects that region is the Choatres; the chief towns are Genonia, Moesia, Charax, Apamia, Artacana, and Hecatompylos; from its frontier along the shores of the Caspian Sea to the Caspian gates is a distance of 1040 furlongs.
44. The inhabitants of all the countries in that district are fierce and warlike, and they are so fond of war and battle that he who is slain in battle is accounted the happiest of men, while those who die a natural death are reproached as degenerate and cowardly.
45. These tribes are bounded on the east and the south by Arabia Felix, so called because it abounds equally in corn, cattle, vines, and every kind of spice: a great portion of that country reaches on the right down to the Red Sea, and on its left extends to the Persian Gulf; so that the inhabitants reap the benefits of both.
46. There are in that country many havens and secure harbours, and well-frequented marts; many spacious and splendid abodes for their kings, and wholesome springs of water naturally warm, and a great number of rivers and streams; the climate is temperate and healthy, so that if one considers the matter rightly, the natives seem to want nothing to perfect their happiness.
47. There are in it very many cities both on the coast and inland; many fertile hills and valleys. The chief cities are Geapolis, Nascon, Baraba, Nagara, Mephra, Taphra, and Dioscurias. And in both seas it possesses several islands lying off the coast, which it is not worth while to enumerate. But the most important of them is Turgana, in which there is said to be a magnificent temple of Serapis.
48. Beyond the frontier of this nation is the greater Carmania, lying on high ground, and stretching to the Indian Sea; fertile in fruit and timber trees, but neither so productive nor so extensive as Arabia. With rivers it |339 is as well supplied, and in grass and herbage scarcely inferior.
49. The most important rivers are the Sagareus, the Saganis, and the Hydriacus. The cities are not numerous, but admirably supplied with all the necessaries and luxuries of life; the most celebrated of them all are Carmania the metropolis, Portospana, Alexandria, and Hermopolis.
50. Proceeding inland, we next come to the Hyrcanians, who live on the coast of the sea of that name. Here the land is so poor that it kills the seed crops, so that agriculture is not much attended to; but they live by hunting, taking wonderful pleasure in every kind of sport. Thousands of tigers are found among them, and all kinds of wild beasts; we have already mentioned the various devices by which they are caught.
51. Not indeed that they are ignorant of the art of ploughing, and some districts where the soil is fertile are regularly sown; nor are trees wanting to plant in suitable spots: many of the people too support themselves by commerce.
52. In this province are two rivers of universal celebrity the Oxus and the Maxera, which tigers sometimes, when urged by hunger, cross by swimming, and unexpectedly ravage the neighbouring districts. It has also besides other smaller towns some strong cities, two on the seashore named Socunda and Saramanna; and some inland, such as Azmorna and Sole, and Hyrcana, of higher reputation than either.
53. Opposite to this tribe, towards the north, live the Abii, a very devout nation, accustomed to trample under foot all worldly things, and whom, as Homer somewhat fabulously says, Jupiter keeps in view from Mount Ida.
54. The regions next to the Hyrcaneans are possessed by the Margiani, whose district is almost wholly surrounded by high hills, by which they are separated from the sea; and although the greater part of this province is deserted from want of water, still there are some towns in it; the best known of which are Jasonium Antiochia, and Nisaea.
55. Next to them are the Bactrians, a nation formerly very warlike and powerful, and always hostile to the Persians, till they drew all the nations around under their |340 dominion, and united them under their own name; and in old time the Bactrian kings were formidable even to Arsaces.
56. The greater part of their country, like that of the Margiani, is situated far from the sea-shore, but its soil is fertile, and the cattle which feed both on the plains and on the mountains in that district are very large and powerful; of this the camels which Mithridates brought from thence, and which were first seen by the Romans at the siege of Cyzicus, are a proof.
57. Many tribes are subject to the Bactrians, the most considerable of which are the Tochari: their country is like Italy in the number of its rivers, some of which are the Artemis and the Zariaspes, which were formerly joined, and the Ochus and Orchomanes, which also unite and afterwards fall into the Oxus, and increase that large river with their streams.
58. There are also cities in that country, many of them on the border of different rivers, the best of which are Chatra, Charte, Alicodra, Astacea, Menapila, and Bactra itself, which has given its name both to the region and to the people.
59. At the foot of the mountains lie a people called the Sogdians, in whose country are two rivers navigable for large vessels, the Araxates and the Dymas, which, flowing among the hills and through the valleys into the open plain, form the extensive Oxian marsh. In this district the most celebrated towns are Alexandria, Cyreschata, and Drepsa the metropolis.
60. Bordering on these are the Sacae, a fierce nation dwelling in a gloomy-looking district, only fit for cattle, and on that account destitute of cities. They are at the foot of Mount Ascanimia and Mount Comedus, along the bottom of which, and by a town called the Stone Tower, is the long road much frequented by merchants which leads to China.
61. Around the glens at the bottom of the Imauian and Tapurian mountains, and within the Persian frontier, is a tribe of Scythians, bordering on the Asiatic Sarmatians, and touching the furthest side of the Allemanni, who, like dwellers in a secluded spot, and made for solitude, are scattered over the regions at long distances from one another, and live on hard and poor food. |341
62. And various tribes inhabit these districts, which, as I am hastening to other topics, I think superfluous to enumerate. But this is worth knowing, that among these tribes, which are almost unapproachable on account of their excessive ferocity, there are some races of gentle and devout men, as the Jaxartae and the Galactophagi, whom Homer mentions in his verses:—
Γλακτοφαγων, Ἀβίωντε, δικαιοτάτων ἀνθρώπων. (Il. xiii. 10)
63. Among the many rivers which flow through this land, either uniting at last with larger streams, or proceeding straight to the sea, the most celebrated are the Roemnus, the Jaxartes, and the Talicus. There are but three cities there of any note, Aspabota, Chauriana, and Saga.
64. Beyond the districts of the two Scythias, on the eastern side, is a ring of mountains which surround Serica, a country considerable both for its extent and the fertility of its soil. This tribe on their western side border on the Scythians, on the north and the east they look towards snowy deserts; towards the south they extend as far as India and the Ganges. The best known of its mountains are Annib, Nazavicium, Asmira, Emodon, and Opurocarra.
65. The plain, which descends very suddenly from the hills, and is of considerable extent, is watered by two famous rivers, the Oechardes and the Bautis, which is less rapid than the other. The character too of the different districts is very varied. One is extensive and level, the other is on a gentle slope, and therefore very fertile in corn, and cattle, and trees.
66. The most fertile part of the country is inhabited by various tribes, of which the Alitrophagi, the Annibi, the Sisyges, and the Chardi lie to the north, exposed to the frost; towards the east are the Rabannae, the Asmirae, and the Essedones, the most powerful of all, who aro joined on the west by the Athagorae, and the Aspacarae; and on the south by the Betae, who live on the highest slopes of the mountains. Though they have not many cities they have some of great size and wealth; the most beautiful and renowned of which are Asmira, Essedon, Asparata, and Sera.
67. The Seres themselves live quietly, always |342 avoiding arms and battles; and as ease is pleasant to moderate and quiet men, they give trouble to none of their neighbours. Their climate is agreeable and healthy; the sky serene, the breezes gentle and delicious. They have numbers of shining groves, the trees of which through continued watering produce a crop like the fleece of a sheep, which the natives make into a delicate wool, and spin into a kind of fine cloth, formerly confined to the use of the nobles, but now procurable by the lowest of the people without distinction.
68. The natives themselves are the most frugal of men, cultivating a peaceful life, and shunning the society of other men. And when strangers cross their river to buy their cloth, or any other of their merchandise, they interchange no conversation, but settle the price of the articles wanted by nods and signs; and they are so moderate that, while selling their own produce, they never buy any foreign wares.
69. Beyond the Seres, towards the north, live the Ariani; their land is intersected by a navigable river called the Arias, which forms a huge lake known by the same name. This district of Asia is full of towns, the most illustrious of which are Bitaxa, Sarmatina, Sotera, Nisibis, and Alexandria, from which last down the river to the Caspian Sea is a distance of fifteen hundred furlongs.
70. Close to their border, living on the slopes of the mountains, are the Paropanisatae, looking on the east towards India, and on the west towards Mount Caucasus. Their principal river is Ortogordomaris, which rises in Bactria. They have some cities,the principal being Agazaca, Naulibus, and Ortopana, from which if you coast along the shore to the borders of Media which are nearest to the Caspian gates, the distance is two thousand two hundred furlongs.
71. Next to them, among the hills, are the Drangiani, whose chief river is the Arabis, so called because it rises in Arabia; and their two principal towns are Prophthasia and Aniaspe, both wealthy and well known.
72. Next to them is Arachosia, which on the right extends as far as India. It is abundantly watered by a river much smaller than the Indus, that greatest of rivers, which gives its name to the surrounding regions; in fact |343 their river flows out of the Indus, and passes on till it forms the marsh known as Arachotoscrene. Its leading cities are Alexandria, Arbaca, and Choaspa.
73. In the most inland districts of Persia is Gedrosia; which on its right touches the frontier of India, and is fertilized by several rivers, of which the greatest is the Artabius. There the Barbitani mountains end, and from their lowest parts rise several rivers which fall into the Indus, losing their own names in the greatness of that superior stream. They have several islands, and their principal cities are Sedratyra and Gynaecon.
74. We need not detail minutely every portion of the sea-coast on the extremity of Persia, as it would lead us into too long a digression. It will suffice to say that the sea which stretches from the Caspian mountains along the northern side to the straits above mentioned, is nine thousand furlongs in extent; the southern frontier, from the mouth of the Nile to the beginning of Carmania, is fourteen thousand furlongs.
75. In these varied districts of different languages, the races of men are as different as the places. But to describe their persons and customs in general terms, they are nearly all slight in figure, swarthy or rather of a pale livid complexion; fierce-looking, with goat-like eyes, and eyebrows arched in a semicircle and joined, with handsome beards, and long hair. They at all times, even at banquets and festivals, wear swords; a custom which that excellent author Thucydides tolls us the Athenians were the first of the Greeks to lay aside.
76. They are generally amazingly addicted to amatory pleasures; each man scarcely contenting himself with a multitude of concubines: from unnatural vices they are free. Each man marries many or few wives, as he can afford them, so that natural affection is lost among them because of the numerous objects of their licence. They are frugal in their banquets, avoiding immoderate indulgence and especially hard drinking, as they would the plague.
77. Nor, except at the king's table, have they any settled time for dining, but each man's stomach serves as his sun-dial; nor does any one eat after he is satisfied.
78. They are marvellously temperate and cautious, so that when sometimes marching among the gardens and |344 vineyards of enemies, they neither desire nor touch anything, from fear of poison or witchcraft.
79. They perform all the secret functions of nature with the most scrupulous secrecy and modesty.
80. But they are so loose in their gait, and move with such correct case and freedom, that you would think them effeminate, though they are most vigorous warriors; still they are rather crafty than bold, and are most formidable at a distance. They abound in empty words, and speak wildly and fiercely; they talk big, are proud, unmanageable, and threatening alike in prosperity and adversity; they are cunning, arrogant, and cruel, exercising the power of life and death over their slaves, and all low-born plebeians. They flay men alive, both piecemeal, and by stripping off the whole skin. No servant while waiting on them, or standing at their table, may gape, speak, or spit, so that their mouths are completely shut.
81. Their laws are remarkably severe; the most stringent are against ingratitude and against deserters; some too are abominable, inasmuch as for the crime of one man they condemn all his relations.
82. But as those only are appointed judges who are men of proved experience and uprightness, and of such wisdom as to stand in no need of advice, they laugh at our custom of sometimes appointing men of eloquence and skill in public jurisprudence as guides to ignorant judges. The story that one judge was compelled to sit on the skin of another, who had been condemned for his injustice, is either an ancient fable, or else, if ever there was such a custom, it has become obsolete.
83. In military system and discipline, by continual exercises in the business of the camp, and the adoption of the various manoeuvres which they have learnt from us, they have become formidable even to the greatest armies; they trust chiefly to the valour of their cavalry, in which all their nobles and rich men serve. Their infantry are armed like mirmillos, and are as obedient as grooms; and they always follow the cavalry like a band condemned to everlasting slavery, never receiving either pay or gratuity. This nation, besides those whom it has permanently |345 subdued, has also compelled many others to go under the yoke; so brave is it and so skilful in all warlike exercises, that it would be invincible were it not continually weakened by civil and by foreign wars.
84. Most of them wear garments brilliant with various colours, so completely enveloping the body that even though they leave the bosoms and sides of their robes open so as to flutter in the wind, still from their shoes, to their head no part of their person is exposed. After conquering Croesus and subduing Lydia, they learnt also to wear golden armlets and necklaces, and jewels, especially pearls, of which they had great quantities.
85. It only remains for me to say a few words about the origin of this stone. Among the Indians and Persians pearls are found in strong white sea-shells, being created at a regular time by the admixture of dew. For the shells, desiring as it were a kind of copulation, open so as to receive moisture from the nocturnal aspersion. Then, becoming big they produce little pearls in triplets, or pairs, or unions, which are so called because the shells when scaled often produce only single pearls, which then are larger.
80. And a proof that this produce arises from and is nourished by some aerial derivation rather than by any fattening power in the sea, is that the drops of morning dew when infused into them make the stones bright and round; while the evening dew makes them crooked and red, and sometimes spotted. They become either small or large in proportion to the quality of the moisture which they imbibe, and other circumstances. When they are shaken, as is often the case by thunder, the shells either become empty, or produce only weak pearls, or such as never come to maturity.
87. Fishing for them is difficult and dangerous, and this circumstance increases their value; because, on account of the snares of the fishermen they are said to avoid the shores most frequented by them, and hide around rocks which are difficult of access and the hiding-places of sharks.
88. We are not ignorant that the same species of jewel is also produced and collected in the remote parts of the British sea; though of an inferior value.
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