Ammianus Marcellinus on Libyan Incursions

The Austuriani, or, as the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (c.330-c.400) prefers to call them, Austoriani, were a federation of Libyan tribes that became increasingly dangerous for the Roman Empire in the fourth century. In his Roman History 28.6, he describes how the tribal warriors attacked the Roman cities of Tripolitana and waged war against general Romanus. This happened between 364 and 378. The translation was made by J.C. Rolfe, and was taken from LacusCurtius.

Libyan Incursions

[28.6.1] From here [...] let us come to the sorrows of the African province of Tripoli, over which (I think) even Justice herself has wept; and from what cause these blazed out like flames will appear when my narrative is completed.

[28.6.2] The Austoriani, who are neighbors to those regions, are savages, always ready for sudden raids and accustomed to live by murder and robbery. These were subdued for a time, but then returned to their natural turbulence, for which they seriously alleged this reason:

[28.6.3] A certain man of their country, Stachao by name, when he was wandering freely in our territory, it being a time of peace, committed some violations of the laws, among which the most conspicuous was, that he tried by every kind of deceit to betray the province, as was proved by most trustworthy testimony. Accordingly he was burned to death.

[28.6.4] To avenge his execution, under the pretext that he was a countryman of theirs and had been unjustly condemned, like beasts aroused by madness, they sallied forth from their homes while Jovian was still ruling,note and, fearing to come near Lepcis, a city strong in its walls and population, they encamped for three days in the fertile districts near the city. There they slaughtered the peasants, whom sudden fear had paralysed or had compelled to take refuge in caves, burned a great deal of furniture which could not be carried off, and returned laden with immense spoils, taking with them also as prisoner one Silva, the most eminent of the local magistrates, who chanced to be found in the country with his wife and children.

[28.6.5] The people of Lepcis, greatly alarmed by this sudden calamity, before the evils which the insolence of the barbarians threatened should increase, implored the protection of Romanus, the newly-promoted commanding-general for Africa. As soon as he arrived, leading his military forces, and was asked to lend his aid in these troubles, he declared that he would not move his camp unless provisions in abundance should first be brought and 4,000 dromedaries equipped.

[28.6.6] The unhappy citizens were stupefied by this answer, and declared that after suffering from fires and pillage they could not procure a remedy for their tremendous losses by providing such enormous supplies. Whereupon the general, after deluding them by spending forty days there, marched away without actually attempting anything.

[28.6.7] The people of Tripolitana, disappointed in this hope and fearing the worst, when the lawful day for the popular assembly (which with them comes once a year) had arrived, appointed Severus and Flaccianus as envoys, who were to take to Valentinian golden statues of Victory because of his accession to power, and to tell him fearlessly of the lamentable ruin of the province.

[28.6.8] As soon as Romanus heard of this, he sent a swift horseman to Remigius, the chief-marshal of the court, a relative of his by marriage and a partner in his robberies, asking him to see to it that the investigation of this affair should be assigned by the emperor's authority to the deputy governor Vincentius and himself.

[28.6.9] The envoys came to the court, and being given audience with the emperor, stated orally what they had suffered; and they presented decrees, containing a full account of the whole affair. Since the emperor, after reading these, neither believed the communication of the marshal, who countenanced the misdeeds of Romanus, nor the envoys, who gave contrary testimony, a full investigation was promised, but it was put off, in the way in which supreme powers are usually deceived among the distractions to which the powerful are liable.

[28.6.10] While the people of Tripolitana were long in a state of anxiety and suspense, looking for some aid from the emperor's military support, the hordes of barbarians again came up, given confidence by what had happened before; and after overrunning the territory of Lepcis and Oea with death and devastation, went away again, laden with vast heaps of booty; a number of decurions were put to death, among whom the former high-priest Rusticianus and the aedile Nicasius were conspicuous.

[28.6.11] But the reason why this inroad could not be prevented was that, although at the request of the envoys the charge of military affairs also had been entrusted to the governor Ruricius, it was soon afterwards transferred to Romanus.

[28.6.12] When now the news of this newly inflicted catastrophe was sent to Gaul, it greatly angered the emperor. Accordingly, Palladius, a tribune and secretary, was sent to pay the wages that were due the soldiers in various parts of Africa, and to investigate and give a fully trustworthy report of what had happened at Tripolitana.

[28.6.13] However, during such delays caused by consultations and waiting for supplies, the Austoriani, made insolent by two successful raids, flew to the spot like birds of prey made more savage by the incitement of blood, and after slaying all those who did not escape danger by flight, carried off the booty which they had previously left behind, besides cutting down the trees and vines.

[28.6.14] Then one Mychon, a high-born and powerful townsman, was caught in the suburbs but gave them the slip before he was bound; and because he was lame and it was wholly impossible for him to make good his escape, he threw himself into an empty well; but the barbarians pulled him out with his rib broken, and placed him near the city gates; there, at the pitiful entreaties of his wife, he was ransomed but was drawn up by a rope to the battlements, and died after two days. 

[28.6.15] Then the savage marauders, roused to greater persistence, assailed the very walls of Lepcis, which re-echoed with the mournful wailing of the women, who had never before been besieged by an enemy, and were half-dead with a terror to which they were unused. But after blockading the city for eight days together, during which some of the besiegers were wounded without accomplishing anything, they returned in saddened mood to their own abodes.

[28.6.16] Because of this the citizens, despairing of being saved and resorting to the last hope, although the envoys they had already sent had not yet returned, dispatched Jovinus and Pancratius to give the emperor a trustworthy account of what they had seen and had personally suffered. These envoys, by inquiring of those mentioned above (Severus, whom they met at Carthage, and Flaccianus), what they had done, learned that they had been ordered to make their report to the deputy and the general. Of these Severus was at once attacked by a painful illness and died; but the aforementioned envoys nevertheless hastened by long marches to the court.

[28.6.17] After this, Palladius had entered Africa, and Romanus, intending to block in advance the purpose for which he had come, in order to secure his own safety, had ordered the officers of the companies through certain confidants of his secrets, that they should hand over to Palladius the greater part of the pay which he had brought, since he was an influential man and in close relations with the highest officials of the palace; and so it was done.

[28.6.18] Palladius immediately, being thus enriched, proceeded to Lepcis, and in order to succeed in ferreting out the truth, he took with him to the devastated regions two eloquent and distinguished townsmen, Erechthius and Aristomenes, who freely told him of their own troubles and those of their fellow-citizens and neighbors.

[28.6.19] They openly showed him everything, and after he had seen the lamentable ashes of the province, he returned, and reproaching Romanus for his inactivity, threatened to give the emperor a true report of everything that he had seen. Then Romanus, filled with anger and resentment, assured him that he also would then at once report that Palladius, sent as an incorruptible notary, had diverted to his own profit all the money intended for the soldiers.

[28.6.20] Therefore, since his conscience was witness to disgraceful acts, Palladius then came to an understanding with Romanus, and on his return to the palace, he misled Valentinian by the atrocious art of lying, declaring that the people of Tripolitana had no cause for complaint. Accordingly, he was sent again to Africa with Jovinus, the last of all the envoys (for Pancratius had died at Trier), in order with the deputy to examine in person the value of the work of the second deputation also. Besides this, the emperor gave orders that the tongues of Erechthius and Aristomenes should be cut out, since the aforesaid Palladius had intimated that they had made some offensive statements.

[28.6.21] The secretary, following the deputy, as had been arranged, came to Tripolitana. As soon as Romanus learned of this, with all speed he sent his attendant thither, and with him an adviser of his, Caecilius by name, a native of that province. Through these all the townspeople were induced - whether by bribes or deceit is uncertain - to make grave charges against Jovinus, positively declaring that they had given him no commission to report what he had reported to the emperor. In fact, their dishonesty went so far that even Jovinus himself was forced to endanger his own life by confessing that he had lied to the emperor.

[28.6.22] When this was known through Palladius, who had now returned, Valentinian, being rather inclined to severity, gave orders that Jovinus, as the originator of the false statement, with Caelestinus, Concordius, and Lucius as accomplices and participants, should suffer capital punishment; further, that Ruricius, the governor, should suffer death as the author of a false report, the following also being counted against him - that there were read in his report certain expressions of his which seemed immoderate.

[28.6.23] Ruricius was executed at Sitifis, the rest were punished at Utica through sentence of the deputy-governor Crescens. Flaccianus, however, before the death of the other envoys, was heard by the deputy and the general; and when he stoutly defended his life, he was all but killed by the angry soldiers, who rushed upon him with shouts and abusive language; for they declared against him that the Tripolitani could not possibly be defended for the reason that they themselves had declined to furnish what was necessary for the campaign.

[28.6.24] And for this reason Flaccianus was imprisoned, until the emperor, who had been consulted about him, should make up his mind what ought to be done. But he bribed his guards - so it was permissible to believe - and made his escape to the city of Rome, where he kept in hiding until he passed away by a natural death.

[28.6.25] In consequence of this remarkable end of the affair, Tripolitana, though harassed by disasters from without and from within, remained silent, but not without defense; for the eternal eye of Justice watched over her, as well as the last curses of the envoys and the governor. For long afterwards the following event came to pass: Palladius was dismissed from service, and stript of the haughtiness with which he swelled, and retired to a life of inaction.

[28.6.26] And when Theodosius, that famous leader of armies, had come into Africa to put an end to the dangerous attempts of Firmus, and, as he had been ordered, examined the movable property of the outlawed Romanus, there was found also among his papers the letter of one Meterius, containing the words, "Meterius to Romanus his Lord and patron," and at the end, after much matter that would here be irrelevant: "The disgraced Palladius salutes you, and says that he was deposed for no other reason than that in the cause of the people of Tripolitana he spoke to sacred ears what was not true."

[28.6.27] When this letter had been sent to the Palace and read, Meterius, on being seized by order of Valentinian, admitted that the letter was his. Therefore Palladius was ordered to be produced, but thinking of the mass of crimes that he had concocted, at a halting-station, as darkness was coming on, on noticing the absence of the guards, who on a festal day of the Christian religion were spending the whole night in church, he knotted a noose about his neck and strangled himself.

[28.6.28] When this favorable turn of fortune was fully known and the instigator of the awful troubles put to death, Erechthius and Aristomenes, who, when they learned that it had been ordered that their tongues should be cut out, as over-lavishly used, had withdrawn to far remote and hidden places, now hastened from concealment; and when the emperor Gratian - for Valentinian had died -was given trustworthy information of the abominable deception, they were sent for trial to the proconsul Hesperius and the deputy Flavianus. These officials, being men of impartial justice combined with most rightful authority, having put Caecilius to the torture, learned from his open confession that he himself had persuaded his citizens to make trouble for the envoys by false statements. This investigation was followed by a report, which disclosed the fullest confirmation of the acts which had been committed; to this no reply was made.

[28.6.29] And that these dramas should leave no awful tragic effect untried, this also was added after the curtain had dropped. Romanus, setting out to the Palace, brought with him Caecilius, who intended to accuse the judges of having been biased in favor of the province; and being received with favor by Merobaudes, he had sought that some more witnesses whom he needed should be produced. 

[28.6.30] When these had come to Milan, and shown by credible evidence that they had been brought there under false pretences to satisfy a grudge, they were discharged and returned to their homes. Nevertheless, in Valentinianus' lifetime, in consequence of what we have stated above, Remigius also after retiring into private life strangled himself, as I shall show in the proper place.