Zosimus, New History 5.40

Zosimus (Greek Ζώσιμος): Early Byzantine, pagan author of a history of the Roman Empire, published in the first quarter of the sixth century CE.

The translation of ZosimusNew History offered here was printed in 1814 by W. Green and T. Chaplin in London, and was probably prepared by J. Davis of the Military Chronicle and Military Classics Office. The translator is anonymous. The text was found at Tertullian.org. The notes were added by Jona Lendering.


[5.40.1] But the distress was arrived to such extremity, that they were in danger of being eaten by each other. They tried all methods of support, which are abominable in the eyes of all mankind. They then resolved on sending an embassy to the enemy, to inform him that they were willing to accept any reasonable conditions of peace, and at the same time were ready for war, since the people of Rome had taken up arms, and by means of continual military exercise were become well disposed for action.

[5.40.2] Basilius was appointed their ambassador, who was a Spaniard, and governor of a province. Johannes, the chief of the imperial notaries, went with him, because he was acquainted with Alaric, and might be the cause of a reconciliation. The Romans did not certainly know whether Alaric himself was present or not, or whether it was he who besieged the city. For they were deluded by a report that it was another person, who had been a friend of Stilicho, which had occasioned him to come against their city.

[5.40.3] When the ambassadors came to him, they were ashamed of the ignorance in which the Romans had so long remained, but delivered the message of the Senate. When Alaric heard it, and that the people having been exercised to arms were ready for war, he remarked, "The thickest grass is more easy to cut than the thinnest." Having said this, he laughed immoderately at the ambassadors. But when they spoke of peace, he used such expressions as were in the extreme of arrogance and presumption. He declared, that he would not relinquish the siege on any condition but that of receiving all the gold and silver in the city, all the household goods, and the barbarian slaves.

[5.40.4] One of the ambassadors observing, "If you take all these, what will you leave for the citizens ?" He replied, "Their souls." When the ambassadors received this answer, they desired time to communicate it to the citizens, and to consult with them in what manner they should act. Having obtained that permission, they related all the conversation that had passed in their embassy. On this the Romans, being convinced that it was really Alaric who attacked them, and despairing therefore of all things that conduce to human strength, called to mind the aid which the city had formerly met with in emergencies; and that they, by transgressing their ancient institutions, were now left destitute of it.