The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 2)

Once more Eutychius switches over again to the lost Sassanid Persian chronicle which he is interweaving with the Greek chronicles; and then back.  We are not told what became of Maximian: evidently the Sassanid chronicle did not say.

5.  As for Sabur, son of Hurmuz, king of the Persians, he grew up and become a young man, and, throughout his kingdom, order prevailed everywhere.  Hearing one day someone speak of Maximian, King of the Romans, and what he did to the Christians, he said to his men: “I want to go alone into the territory of the Romans so that I can see personally what is the condition of their kings, their armies and the streets of their countries.  When I have done this, I will return to my kingdom, filled with all the things that I have learned from them, and which I can use to attack them.”  But his men tried to dissuade him from the perils and the dangers which he might encounter.  He, however, did not accept their advice and, journeyed until he reached the heart of the territory of the Romans.  He continued for some time to wander from place to place when suddenly there came to him the news that a son of Maximian had offered a banquet, and that his father had given orders that the rabble and the poor should gather with him and sit with him at table, after the nobles had eaten their meal.  Sabur went there then, begging to be also present at the banquet.  As he sat at the table, there was carried to Maximian a glass of Sabur, on which was engraved the image of the Persian king.  The servants served drinks to the king and the nobles who were sat about, until the cup came into the hands of a sage, who could read the fate of men through the stars and had excellent knowledge of physiognomy. He looked carefully at the effigy – he had already happened to see the face of Sabur sitting among the other guests -, and he said: “I see a man among the guests who looks similar to the image on this cup.  If this man is not Sabur, there is nobody in the world like him.” King Maximilian said: “What do you mean?” He answered: “I see on this cup the image of Sabur, and that this man is he,” and so saying he took Sabur by the hand and led him before the king. The king then asked him who he was and Sabur said: “I am a poor Persian”. But being suspicious as he looked at him, Maximian suspected that he had not told the truth.  Therefore he persisted in his request, and Sabur said to them: “If you really want to know the truth, know then that I come from a state of Persia. My father committed a grave offense against our king who had him killed and  confiscated his goods. And since I had good reason to fear of my life, I have come here to you with the hope of obtaining protection in your country.  Having fallen into poverty and been made destitute, I have come here to you from famine, and extreme poverty”.  They took pity on him, and, thinking that he told the truth they decided to let him go.  But the sage opposed this, saying: “He is definitely Sabur. Put him to the test until you learn who he really is.”  Then King Maximian resorted to harsh measures, and threatened to kill him, but promised him safety provided that he revealed his true identity.  Sabur said: “It is strange that you can think that Sabur would prefer misery and hardship in your country, rather than occupy the place in his kingdom that is his.” But they did not believe his words.  Eventually he confessed that he was Sabur in person.  King Maximian then ordered him to be thrown into the belly of a statue in the shape of a cow, covered with cowhide, and he had him locked up, putting guards and custodians.  Maximian then marched against the land of the Persians, wrought carnage among their population, destroyed their city, cut down their trees and their palms, taking Sabur with him, wherever he went.  He continued so until he came to Gunday-Sabur (17) where leaders of Persia had fortified themselves.  He then built catapults and managed to destroy half the city without being able, however, to enter.  It was on that occasion that one night the keepers of Sabur relaxed their guard on the prisoner, forgetting to close the door, by which he brought food inside the statue.  It was the night of Ashan (18) (In another text [it says]: “It was the night of a party”).  There were around him, many residents of al-Ahwaz that the Romans had made prisoners.  Sabur heard their words and he understood their language. There were, nearby, wineskins full of oil and when night fell [Sabur] rose, called to a prisoner and said: “Get one of these skins and empty it out.” The prisoner did as he asked, and the strap with which he was held bound was all soaked.  He went out crawling like a reptile until he came to the gate of the city and gave a cry.  The sentries responded to his shout, and also he told them his name.  They recognized the voice and opened the gates of the city.

Great was the joy they felt for him, when he entered the city, and they raised their voices praising and glorifying God.  The men of Maximian awoke, and thought that reinforcements had arrived on the opposite side.  Sabur said to those who were in the fortress: “Get ready, and when you hear the sound of the nāqūs, attack”.  They did as he had told them, and broke out on the Romans, making great slaughter and seizing their property and all that they had accumulated.  Then Sabur penetrated the territory of the Romans, sowing death everywhere, and he destroyed many cities and picked up a huge booty.  On the lands of the Romans there then followed a severe famine and pestilence and plague, so that they were no longer able to bury the corpses because there were too many deaths.  So it was that the war of Sabur, the famine and the pestilence prevented the Romans from killing the Christians.

6.  As for Maxentius, king of Rome, he was the most wicked of the kings who had reigned before him and angered all who were in Rome, particularly the Christians, confiscating their property and killing men, women and children.  When the inhabitants of Rome heard about Constantine, of how he hated evil and loved good and that the people of his kingdom lived in peace and quiet, the leaders of the city of Rome wrote him a letter asking him to free them from the tyranny of Maxentius.  Reading their letter, Constantine was greatly worried and was perplexed, not knowing what to do.  As he was so full of thought, there appeared in the sky at noon, a cross of stars shining, around which was written “In this conquer”(19).  Then he came out and said to his men: “Did you see what I saw?” “Yes,” they answered, and at that time he embraced the Christian faith.  This happened six years after the death of his father Constantius.

4 thoughts on “The Annals of Eutychius of Alexandria (10th c. AD) – chapter 11 (part 2)

  1. I enjoyed the politically-incorrect term ‘rabble’ for the downtrodden Roman riff-raff who were invited to eat after the ‘spectabiles’. ‘Canaglia’ in Italian, I assume?

    There’s an amusing book to be written one of these days on political incorrectness in the classical and post-classical world, particularly racist and gender insults. I came across a nice one in Michael the Syrian the other day. Describing an earthquake in one or other of the Mediterranean cities, he said that it was so severe that ‘not even a eunuch or a woman’ escaped.

  2. Probably.

    I’m sure there are endless dull books about this, but an amusing one could not be published, I fear. There is something curious about complaining that people 2,000 years ago didn’t observe the rules invented, quite arbitarily, in late 20th century California. Nice quote tho!

  3. I suppose that women and eunuchs were considered to be more prone to trepidation than real men, and would have bolted at the first tremors had they been given the chance.

    I agree with you about the absurdities created by the modern PC cult. A boon for the PhD industry, though. Think how many affronted young students are writing theses at this very moment complaining that Shakespeare was sexist/racist/ageist etc, and unspeakably pre-modern. As C. S. Lewis once said, ‘If you don’t like the past, don’t read old books.’

  4. Hence the saying, “no balls”? 🙂

    I suppose a certain percentage of scholarship in every age consists of condemning the past for not being the present, oblivious of the fact that the future will say the same about them.

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