Synesius, Letter 108

Synesius of Cyrene (c.370-c.413) was a Neo-Platonic philosopher who became bishop of Ptolemais in the Cyrenaica. He left behind a small corpus of texts that offer much information about daily life in Late Antiquity, and about the christianization of the Roman world.

The addressee of the letter that is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald, was Synesius' brother Euoptius, who lived in Ptolemais. About a quarter of the entire correspondence was directed to him: letters 51 (394), 55, 56, 54, 136, 135, 110 (all 396), the long letter 4 about a shipwreck in 397, 120, 104, 113 (401), 3, 35, 39, 32, 52, 65, 92, 106, 114, 109, 36 (all in 402), 127, 50, 18 (404), 125, 132 (405), 108, 107, 122, 95 (407), 53, 82, 84, 85, 86, 105 (409), 8, 87, 89 (411).

Ancient text

Letter 108: Preparing for War

[1] To his Brother

I have gained three hundred lances and as many scimitars. As to two-edged swords, I never had more than ten, for they do not manufacture these long iron weapons in our country. I think, however, the scimitars strike the bodies of our enemies a more terrible blow, and for that reason we shall use them.

[2] At a pinch we can have clubs, for our wild-olive trees are excellent. Some of our men carry also hatchets, ground on one side, in their belts. By battering the shields of our enemies with hatchets, we force them to fight on an equal footing with us, as we have no defensive armor.

[3] Tomorrow, I think, the battle will take place. A band of the enemy met some of our scouts recently. It pursued them with vigor, and then, seeing that our people were too well mounted to be overtaken, the barbarians bade them to announce to us tidings, cheerful indeed, if we shall no longer have to wander about looking for men hiding in the vast expanses of the country. For they told us that they would wait for us, that they wished to know what sort of men we were, who had not hesitated to leave our homes for so long a time, to go out to fight a warlike people, wandering tribes accustomed to live perpetually as we live only when we are making an expedition.

[4] I hope, therefore, that tomorrow by the aid of God I may vanquish the enemy, or, that, not to say anything of ill omen, I shall vanquish him in a second attempt.

[5] I commend my children to you. You are their uncle, and ought to remember to show favor to them.