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Appian's History of Rome: Trajan's Arabian war


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. His account of the emperor Trajan's Arabian war completely lost, except for one single fragment that deals with Arabian prophecy. It is a charming story, nevertheless. It was discovered in an unknown medieval manuscript, and published in 1869 by E. Miller.

The translation was made by Simone Mooij and Jona Lendering.


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Bronze portrait of the emperor Trajan. Glyptothek, München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Trajan (Glyptothek, München)
At the end of his twenty-fourth book, Appian tells the following story.

Once, during a night, when I was trying to make an escape from the Jews during the war in Egypt [1] and tried to reach Arabia Petraea across a branch of the river, where a vessel was ready to bring me to Pelusium, I had an Arab as guide.[2] I thought I was not far from my ship, but when he heard a crow screech at dawn, he was utterly confused and said "We have lost the way". And when the crow screeched again, he said "We have completely lost the way".

Now, I was confused too and started to look if I could see someone on the road, but I didn't see someone, as is likely early in the morning, especially in a country where a war is being fought. But when the Arab heard the bird for the third time, he was very glad and said "We have favorably lost the way and have found a shortcut".

I smiled, although I thought we were still lost and feared for my life. Everything was hostile and I could not return to my enemies, from which I was trying to escape. But because there was no alternative, I followed him and believed his prophecy. Right then, we unexpectedly saw another branch of the river, the part that is closest to Pelusium, and saw a galley passing, going in the direction of Pelusium. I went aboard, and this turned out to save my life: the vessel on the other branch had been captured by the Jews. Fortune had been kind to me by giving me this prophecy.

The Arabs are, in general, pious prophets and farmers, and well acquainted with magical herbs. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that as farmers, as pious, prophetic people, and as experts in herbal and astral magic, they have received a warm welcome in Egypt, and that they have remained there among those like-minded souls.






Appian   :   Roman History





[1]
In 116-117, the Jews of the Cyrenaica and Egypt revolted, believing that one Lukuas was the Messiah. There was a lot of fighting and Appian is not the only one who mentions the horrors of this war (more...).

[2]
In fact, Appian says that he was trying to escape through Arabia Petraea, which is impossible.





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