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Appian's History of Rome: The Illyrian Wars §§21-25


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.
[§21] [35] The next day the [Iapides from the city of Metulus] sent messengers to Augustus offering to give fifty hostages whom he might select, and promising to receive a garrison and to assign to them the highest hill while they themselves would occupy the other.

When the garrison entered and he ordered them to lay down their arms they were very angry. They shut their wives and children up in their council chamber and stationed guards there with orders to set fire to the building in case things went wrong with them, and then they attacked the Romans with desperation. Since, however, they made the attack from a lower position upon those occupying higher ground, they were completely overpowered. Since, however, they made the attack from a lower position upon those occupying higher ground, they were completely overpowered. 


Then the guards set fire to the council chamber and many of the women killed their children and themselves. Others, holding in their arms their children still alive, leaped into the flames. Thus all the Metulian youth perished in battle and the greater part of the non-combatants by fire. Their city was entirely consumed, and, large as it was, not a trace of it now remains.

After the destruction of Metulus the remainder of the Iapydes, being terror-stricken, surrendered to Augustus. The transalpine Iapydes were then for the first time brought in subjection to the Romans. After Augustus departed the Poseni rebelled and Marcus Helvius was sent against them. He conquered them and after punishing the leaders of the revolt with death sold the rest as slaves.

[§22] At an earlier time the Romans twice attacked the country of the Segestani, but obtained no hostages nor anything else, for which reason the Segestani became very arrogant. [35] Augustus advanced against them through the Pannonian territory, which was not yet under subjection to the Romans.

(Pannonia is a wooded country extending from the Iapydes to the Dardani. The inhabitants do not live in cities, but scattered through the country or in villages according to relationship. They have no common council and no rulers over the whole nation. They number 100,000 fighting men, but they do not assemble in one body, because they have no common government.)

When Augustus advanced against them they took to the woods, from which they darted out and slew the stragglers of the army. As long as Augustus hoped that they would surrender voluntarily he spared their fields and villages. As none of them came in he devastated the country with fire and sword for eight days, until he came to the Segestani.

Theirs is also Pannonian territory, on the river Save, on which is situated a city strongly fortified by the river and by a very large ditch encircling it. For this reason Augustus greatly desired to possess it as a magazine convenient for a war against the Dacians and the Bastarnae on the other side of the Ister, which is there called the Danube, but a little lower down is called the Ister. The Save flows into it, and Augustus caused ships to be built in the latter stream to bring provisions to the Danube for him.

[§23] For these reasons he desired to obtain possession of Segesta. As he was approaching, the Segestani sent to inquire what he wanted. He replied that he desired to station a garrison there and to have them give him a hundred hostages in order that he might use the town safely as a base of operations in his war against the Dacians. He also asked for as much food as they were able to supply.

The chief men of the town acquiesced, but the common people were furious, yet consented to the giving of the hostages, perhaps because they were not their children, but those of the notables. When the garrison came up, however, they could not bear the sight of them, but shut the gates in a mad fury and stationed themselves on the walls.

Thereupon Augustus bridged the river and surrounded the place with ditch and palisade, and, having blockaded them, raised two mounds. Upon these the Segestani made frequent assaults and, being unable to capture them, endeavored to destroy them with torches and fire thrown from above. When aid was sent to them by the other Pannonians Augustus met and ambuscaded this reinforcement, destroyed a part of their force, and put the rest to flight. After this they got no more help from the Pannonians.

[§24] Thus the Segestani, after enduring all the evils of a siege, were taken by force on the thirtieth day, and then for the first time they began to beg. Augustus, admiring them for their bravery and yielding to their prayers, neither killed nor banished them, but contented himself with a fine.

He caused a part of the city to be separated from the rest by a wall, and in this he placed a garrison of twenty-five cohorts. Having accomplished this he went back to Rome, intending to return to Illyria in the spring.

But a rumor becoming current that the Segestani had massacred the garrison, he set forth hastily in the winter. However, he found that the rumor was false, yet not without cause. They had been in danger from a sudden uprising of the Segestani and had lost many men by reason of its unexpectedness, but on the next day they rallied and put down the insurgents. Augustus turned his forces to Dalmatia, another Illyrian country bordering on Taulantia.

[§25] [34] The Dalmatians, after the slaughter of the five cohorts under [Aulus] Gabinius and the taking of their standards, elated by their success, had not laid down their arms for ten years. When Augustus advanced against them they made an alliance with each other for mutual aid in war. They had upwards of 12,000 fighting men under a general named Versus. He occupied Promona, the city of the Liburni, and fortified it, although it was very strong by nature. It is a mountain stronghold surrounded on all sides by sharp-pointed hills like saw-teeth.

The greater part of his forces were stationed in the town, but he placed guards on the hills and all of them looked down upon the Romans from elevated positions. Augustus in plain sight began to draw a wall around the whole, but secretly he sent his bravest men to seek a path to the highest of the hills. These, concealing themselves in the woods, fell upon the guards by night while they were asleep, slew them, and signaled to Augustus in the twilight. He led the bulk of the army to make an attempt upon the city, and sent another force to hold the height that had been taken, while the captors of it should get possession of the lower hills. Terror and confusion fell upon the barbarians everywhere, for they believed themselves to be attacked on all sides. Especially were those on the hills alarmed lest they should be cut off from their supply of water, for which reason they all fled to Promona.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Illyrian wars   :   part 6
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