Home > Uncategorized > Ammianus Marcellinus: War’s landscape: discolored with the hue of dark blood

Ammianus Marcellinus: War’s landscape: discolored with the hue of dark blood

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Ammianus Marcellinus: Empowering the military…with foreseeable results

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Ammianus Marcellinus
From History
Translated by John C. Rolfe

The barbarians, who are always alert and nimble, threw at our men huge clubs, hardened in the fire, and ran their swords through the breasts of those who showed most resistance; thus they broke through the left wing. When this gave way, a strong troop of reserves bravely hastened to their aid from near at hand, and rallied them when death already sat upon their necks. Then the battle grew hot and the slaughter was great; all the more active rushed into the thick of the fray and met their death from the arrows that flew like hail, or from the swords. Those who fled were pursued on this side and on that by troops of cavalry, who with mighty strength slashed at their heads and backs; and likewise on both sides by foot soldiers, hamstringing those who were in the toils of fear and had fallen. And while the whole battlefield was covered with corpses, some were lying among them who were mortally wounded, and cherished a vain hope of life; some were smitten with a bullet from a sling or pierced with arrows tipped with iron; the heads of others were split through mid forehead and crown with swords and hung down on both shoulders, a most horrible sight…Finally, some of the dead, who were men of distinction, were buried in such manner as the present circumstances allowed; the bodies of the rest of the slain were devoured by the foul birds that are wont at such a time to feed upon corpses, as is shown by the plains even now white with bones…

Here one might see a barbarian…his cheeks contracted in a hiss, hamstrung or with right hand severed, or pierced through the side, on the very verge of death threateningly casting about his fierce glance; and by the fall of the combatants on both sides the plains were covered with the bodies of the slain strewn over the ground, while the groans of the dying and of those who had suffered deep wounds caused immense fear when they were heard…The ground covered with streams of blood whirled their slippery foothold from under them, so they could only strain every nerve to sell their lives dearly; and they opposed the onrushing foe with such great resolution that some fell by the weapons of their own comrades. Finally, when the whole scene was discoloured with the hue of dark blood, and wherever men turned their eyes heaps of slain met them, they trod upon the bodies of the dead without mercy…

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