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Appian's History of Rome: The Illyrian Wars §§16-20


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. The Illyrian wars, which were part of the book on the Macedonian wars, belong to these better preserved parts. They are a valuable source for the history of the western Balkan peninsula.

The translation was made by Horace White; additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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Bust of Augustus as high priest. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida (Spain). Photo Marco Prins.
Bust of Octavian/Augustus as high priest. Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, Mérida.
[§16] When Augustus had made himself master of everything, he informed the Senate, by way of contrast with Antony's slothfulness, that he had freed Italy from the savage tribes that had so often raided it. He overcame the Oxyaei, the Perthoneatae, the Bathiatae, the Taulantii, the Cambaei, the Cinambri, the Meromenni, and the Pyrissaei in one campaign. By more prolonged effort he also overcame the Docleatae, the Carui, the Interphrurini, the Naresii, the Glintidiones, and the Taurisci. From these tribes he exacted the tributes they had been failing to pay. When these were conquered, the Hippasini and the Bessi, neighboring tribes, were overcome by fear and surrendered themselves to him. Others which had revolted, the Meliteni and the Corcyreans, who inhabited islands and practiced piracy, he destroyed utterly, putting the young men to death and selling the rest as slaves. He deprived the Liburnians of their ships because they also practiced piracy. The Moentini and the Avendeatae, two tribes of the Iapydes, dwelling within the Alps, surrendered themselves to him at his approach. The Arrepini, who are the most numerous and warlike of the Iapydes, betook themselves from their villages to their city, but when he arrived there they fled to the woods. Augustus took the city, but did not burn it, hoping that they would deliver themselves up, and when they did so he allowed them to occupy it.


[§17] Those who gave him the most trouble were the Salassi, the transalpine Iapydes, the Segestani, the Dalmatians, the Daesitiatae, and the Pannonians, far distant from the Salassi, who occupy the higher Alpine mountains, difficult of access, the paths being narrow and hard to climb. For this reason they had not only preserved their independence, but had levied tolls on those who passed through their country.

[Gaius Antistius] Vetus assaulted them unexpectedly, seized the passes by stratagem, and besieged them for two years. They were driven to surrender for want of salt, which they use largely, and they received a Roman garrison; but when Vetus went away they expelled the garrison forthwith, and, possessing themselves of the mountain passes, they mocked at the forces that Augustus sent against them, as unable to accomplish anything of importance.

[34] Thereupon Augustus, anticipating a war with [Marc] Antony, acknowledged their independence and allowed them to go unpunished for their offenses against Vetus. But as they were suspicious of what might happen, they laid in large supplies of salt and made incursions into the Roman territory until [Marcus Valerius] Messala Corvinus [1] was sent against them and reduced them by hunger. In this way were the Salassi subjugated.

[§18] The transalpine Iapydes, a strong and savage tribe, drove back the Romans twice within the space of about twenty years, overran Aquileia, and plundered the Roman colony of Tergestus. [35] When Augustus advanced against them by a steep and rugged road, they made it still harder for him by felling trees. As he advanced farther they took refuge in another forest, where they lay in ambush for the approaching foe. Augustus, who was always suspecting something of this kind, sent forces to occupy certain ridges which flanked both sides of his advance through the flat country and the fallen timber. The Iapydes darted out from their ambush and wounded many of the soldiers, but the greater part of their own forces were killed by the Romans who fell upon them from the heights above. The remainder again took refuge in the thickets, abandoning their town, the name of which was Terponus. Augustus took this town, but did not burn it, hoping that they also would give themselves up, and they did so.

[§19] Thence he advanced to another place called Metulus, which is the chief town of the Iapydes. It is situated on a heavily timbered mountain, on two ridges with a narrow valley between them. Here were about 3,000 warlike and well-armed youth, who easily beat off the Romans who surrounded their walls.

The latter raised a mound. The Metulians interrupted the work by assaults by day and by night, and harassed the soldiers from the walls with engines which they had obtained from the war which Decimus [Junius] Brutus had waged there with [Marc] Antony and Augustus. When their wall began to crumble they built another inside, abandoned the ruined one, and took shelter behind the other.

The Romans captured the abandoned one and burned it. Against the new fortification they raised two mounds and from these threw four bridges to the top of the wall. Then, in order to distract their attention, Augustus sent a part of his force around to the rear of the town and ordered the others to dash across the bridges to the walls. He ascended to the top of a high tower to see the result.


Bust of Agrippa from Magnesia on the Meander. Altes Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bust of Agrippa from Magnesia on the Meander (Altes Museum, Berlin)

[§20] Some of the barbarians ran from the parapet to meet the Romans who were crossing, while others, unseen, sought to undermine the bridges with their long spears. They were much encouraged at seeing one bridge fall and a second one follow on top of it. When a third one went down a regular panic overtook the Romans, so that no one ventured on the fourth bridge until Augustus leaped down from the tower and reproached them. As they were not roused to their duty by his words, he seized a shield and sprang upon the bridge himself.

[Marcus Vipsanius] Agrippa and Hiero, two of the generals, and one of his bodyguard, Lucius, and Volas ran with him, only these four with a few armor-bearers. He had almost crossed the bridge when the soldiers, overcome by shame, rushed after him in crowds. Then this bridge, being overweighted, fell also, and the men on it went down in a heap. Some were killed and others were carried away with broken bones. Augustus was injured in the right leg and in both arms. 

Nevertheless, he ascended the tower with his signals forthwith and showed himself safe and sound, lest dismay should arise from a report of his death. In order that the enemy might not fancy that he was going to give in and retire he began to construct new bridges; by which means he struck terror into the Metulians, who thought that they were contending against an unconquerable will.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Illyrian wars   :   part 5





Note 1:
He lived from 64 BCE to 8 CE and was consul in 31. He is best known as protector of the poet Propertius.




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