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Synesius of Cyrene


Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais. Photo Marco Prins.
Mosaic depicting an angel. Museum of Ptolemais
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 text of Letter 125 is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. It was written in 405.

Letter 125: Building an Army

To his Brother

How sad it is to have only bad news to send when we write to each other, for, behold, the enemy has occupied Battia, he has attacked Aprosylis, he has burnt the threshing-floors, ravaged the fields, sold the women into slavery; and as to the men, there was no quarter given. Formerly they used to take away the little boys alive, but now, I suppose, they do not consider themselves sufficient in number to guard the booty, and at the same time to meet all the necessities of war, in case any one should attack them.

However, none of us shows any indignation. We remain helpless in our homes. We always wait for our soldiers to defend us, and a sorry help they are! And, in spite of this, we are never done talking about the pay we give them and the privileges which they enjoy in time of peace, as if this were the moment to impeach then, and not the moment to hurl back the barbarians.

When shall we have done with our useless chatter? When shall we act seriously? Let us collect our peasants, the tillers of the soil, to advance upon the enemy, to assure the safety of our wives, of our children, of our country, and also, I may add, of our soldiers. It will be a fine thing in time of peace to go about saying that we took care of the troops, and that we saved them.

I am dictating this letter almost from my horse. I myself enrolled companies and officers with the resources I had at my disposal. I am collecting a very considerable body of Asusamas also, and I have given the Dioestae word to meet me at Cleopatra. Once we are on the march, and when it is announced that a young army has collected round me, I hope that many more will join us of their own free will. They will come from every side, the best men to associate themselves with our glorious undertaking, and the worthless to get booty.
Online 2007
Revision: 15 August 2007
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