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We discussed it on the french late antique forum:

A third source is Heliodore in his Ethiopiques, second half of the 4th century. It is a roman novel of adventures about a love story and wars between Persians and Ethiopians in 5th century BC Egypt Smile
But the description is really precise.

Quote:"Voici quelle est la forme de leur armure. L'homme est choisi pour sa vigueur exceptionnelle. Il est coiffé d'un casque compact, fait d'une seule pièce, qui, tel un masque, représente exactement une figure humaine et recouvre entièrement la tête depuis le sommet du crane jusqu'au cou, sauf les yeux, pour permettre de voir. Sa main droite est armée d'une lance (Kontos) plus longue qu'une haste (lonkhè); la main gauche reste libre pour tenir les rênes. Une épée (Kopis) est suspendue à son coté. La poitrine et tout le reste du corps sont cuirassés. Voici comment est faite la cuirasse; des plaques de bronze et de fer, quadrangulaire, et d'un empan dans chaque sens, sont liées entre elles par leurs extrémités, s'imbriquant les unes dans les autres dans le sens de la hauteur et dans le sens de la largeur, d'une façon continue. Elles sont attachées ensemble par-dessous par des liens lâches à l'endroit où elles se rejoignent. C'est comme un vêtement d'écailles qui adhère au corps sans le blesser et l'enveloppe complètement, entourant chaque jambe séparément sans gêner les mouvements, car il peut se contracter et s'allonger. Elle a des manches et va du col au genou, ouverte seulement à hauteur des cuisses pour permettre à l'homme de monter à cheval. Sur une telle cuirasse, le traits rebondissent et nulle blessure n'est à redouter. La cnémide va de la pointe du pied au genou et s'attache à la cuirasse. Une armure semblable protége aussi le cheval: ses membres sont entourés de jambières; sa tête complètement couverte de plaques frontales; de son dos pend de chaque coté, sur les flancs, une housse de lames de fer qui le protège, tout en laissant libre le dessous du ventre afin de ne pas gêner sa course. Le cheval ainsi armé et pour ainsi dire enchâssé, le cavalier l'enfourche; mais il ne se hisse pas seul; il faut qu'on le soulève à cause de son poids. Et quand arrive le moment du combat, il lâche la bride, éperonne sa monture et s'élance de toute sa fougue sur l'ennemi, pareil à un homme de fer ou à une statue sculptée dans la masse qui se mettrait en mouvement. Le Kontos horizontale darde au loin sa pointe. Il est soutenu du coté du fer par un lien attaché au col du cheval, tandis que sa poignée est fixée à la croupe par un lacet. Ainsi il ne cède pas sous les chocs, mais aide la main du cavalier qui n'a qu'à diriger le coup. L'homme se raidit et s'arc-boute pour faire une blessure plus profonde, et son élan est si impétueux qu'il transperce tout ce qu'il trouve devant lui, et souvent, d'un seul coup, désarçonne deux ennemis à la fois."
Héliodore, Ethiopiques, IX, 15; traduction d'après Maillon, J., Paris, Les belles Lettres, C.U.F. 1960.

Google translations gives:
"Here is what form of armor. Man is chosen for its exceptional strength. He is wearing a helmet compact, made of one piece, which, like a mask, a human figure is exactly and entirely covers header from the top of the skull to the neck, except the eyes, so he can see. His right hand is armed with a lance (Kontos) longer than haste (lonkhè), the left hand is free to hold the reins. A sword (Kopis) is suspended to his side. chest and the rest of the body are armored. Here's how the armor is made; plates of bronze and iron, square, and a span in each direction , are joined together by their ends, which overlap each other in the height direction and the width direction, in a continuous manner. They are joined together below by loose links to where they meet. It's like a garment scales that adheres to the body without harming the shell and completely surrounding each leg separately without disturbing the movements because it can shrink and grow. It sleeves and neck knee will open up only the thighs to allow the man to ride. Upon such armor, the lines bounce and no injury is to be feared. greave is the tip of the foot to knee and attaches to the armor. A similar armor also protects the horse: its members are surrounded leggings, his head completely covered faceplates, his back hangs on each side, on the sides, a cover of blades iron protects, while leaving the bottom of the belly so as not to interfere with its course.'s horse and armed and well entrenched say, the rider mounts, but it does not hoist alone should that is lifted due to its weight. And when the moment of the fight, he dropped the bridle, spurs his horse and rushed to his full fury on the enemy, like a man of iron or statue carved in mass movement that would. Kontos The horizontal darts off the tip. It is supported by the side of the iron link attached to the neck of horse, while the handle is attached to the rump by a shoelace. thus it gives not in shock, but with the rider's hand which has only direct the blow. The man stiffened and buttressed to make a deeper wound, and his enthusiasm is so impetuous that pierces everything in front of him, and often all at once, floored two enemies at once. "
The full text of Heliodorus' Aethiopica is available online in an antiquated translation here:

For those interested, the relevant passage quoted above in a Google translation is as follows in this text:

The manner of their armament is thus. A picked fellow of great strength putteth upon him a close helmet made in one piece fitting as tightly as a mask. This covereth his head down to his shoulders, saving that there be holes left for him to look out of. In his right hand is a great staff, bigger than a spear; with his left hand he holds the horse’s reins; by his side hangeth a sword; and all his body is covered with a coat of mail. The mail is made thus. With pieces of brass and iron, as big as the palm of a man’s hand, they make a coat, as it were, of scales, laying the end and sides of each piece upon another — so that the nether part of one goeth over the top of the other — and then they sew them together, and this coat lieth upon every part of the body without any ado. It covers every limb, and gives this way and that easily at each movement; for it hath sleeves and reacheth from the neck down to the knees, saving that necessity compels it to be cut between the thighs, that the man may sit upon his horse. Such is their coat of mail, which beateth off all darts and keepeth off all manner of blows. Over their legs to their knees they pull on a boot which is tied to their jacket. They arm their horses also in the same fashion. About his legs they tie greaves and cover his head with a frontal of iron, while from his back down beneath his belly there hangeth a cloth with metal rings which doth both protect him and by reason of its looseness hindereth not his course at all. Being thus appointed and in a manner forced into his armour the man sitteth upon his horse: marry he leapeth not up himself, but others help him, so encumbered is he with the weight of his arms. When the time of battle comes, he gives his horse the reins and spurs him with his heels and rides upon his enemies at full speed like a man made of iron or a statue fashioned with hammers. His great staff at its pointed end is tied with a cord to the horse’s neck and the hinder end is made fast to its buttocks, so that in the conflict it does not yield but helps the horseman’s hand, who does but guide the same aright. Thus it gives the greater blow and runs through every man it hits, and often carries away two men together pierced by one stroke.
A more modern translation, taken from Heliodorus, Ethiopian Story (trans. Sir Walter Lamb), London, 1997, is as follows:

'Their fighting equipment is furnished in this way: a picked man, chosen for his bodily strength, is capped with a helmet which has been compacted and forged in one piece and skilfully fashioned like a mask into the exact shape of a man’s face; this protects him entirely from the top of his head to the neck, except where the eye-holes allow him to see through it. His right hand is armed with a pike (kontō) of greater length than a spear, while his left is at liberty to hold the reins. He has a sabre slung at his side, and his corslet extends, not merely over his breast, but also over all the rest of his body. This corslet is constructed thus: plates of bronze and of iron are forged into a square shape measuring a span each way, and are fitted one to another at the edges on each side, so that the plate above overlaps the one below, and laterally one overlaps the next one to it, all forming a continuous surface; and they are held together by means of hooks and loops under the flaps. Thus is produced a kind of scaly tunic which sits close to the body without causing discomfort, and clings all round each limb with its individual casing and allows unhindered movement to each by its contraction and extension. It has sleeves, and descends from neck to knee, with an opening only for the thighs so far as is required for mounting a horse’s back. Such a corslet is proof against any missiles, and is a sure defence against all wounds. The greaves reach from above the flat of the foot to the knee, and are joined on to the corslet. The horse is protected by a similar equipment: round his feet greaves are fastened, and his head is tightly bound all about with frontlets. From his back to his belly hangs on either side a housing of plaited strips of iron, serving as armour, but at the same time so pliable as not to impede his more rapid paces. The horse being thus equipped and, as it were, encased, the rider bestrides him, not vaulting of himself into the saddle, but lifted up by others because of his weight. When the moment comes to engage in battle, he gives his horse the rein, applies his spurs, and in full career charges the enemy, to all appearance some man made of iron, or a mobile statue wrought with the hammer. His pike projects with its point thrust far ahead: it is supported by a loop attached to the horse’s neck, and has its butt-end suspended by a strap alongside the horse’s haunches; so that it does not recede in the clashes of conflict, but lightens the task of the rider’s hand, which only directs the blow. He braces himself and, firmly set so as to increase the gravity of the wound, by his mere impetus transfixes anyone who comes in his way, and may often impale two persons at a single stroke.'
(Heliodorus, Aethiopica, 9.15)
Thanks for those Heliodoruses! I knew of the Aethiopica references (mentioned them here!), but I'd only seen the brief 'statue' quote and not the whole thing, so didn't know that masks were mentioned too.

Interesting that the helmet is 'forged in one piece' - this suggests that it is indeed something like those 2nd-3rd century 'sports' helmets that enclose the whole head, rather than a normal helmet with an added mask.

However, there might be problems with this. There are suggestions that Julian was drawing on Heliodorus in his panegyric to Constantius: his highly exaggerated description of the siege of Nisibis in 340 is very similar to the siege-by-flooding in the novel, and quite unlike other accounts of the same conflict (which have Shapur using the river to undermine the walls, but not to surround the city with a lake!). Since this is the same panegyric that mentions the masked clibanarii, it could be that Julian was drawing on Helidorus's dramatic description for that too - the two accounts are quite similar...

Which doesn't mean that the bit about the masks is just invented, of course. But we should maybe remain a bit cautious about Julian and Heliodorus all the same.
Nathan, if I may be presumptive for a moment (and at the risk of derailing the original topic here), can I quote a post I made some time ago on another site re the issues you have raised:

I would like to open up Heliodorus and his novel ‘The Aethiopica’ a little more as I indicated in an earlier post. I now have a copy bought from Amazon of the newer translation but without the introduction which confirms a late 4th century date. I have however located and read the authority which was originally used to validate this date in the introduction and so do not need it in its entirety now.

The following then is a summation of the research of Bowersock as presented in Appendix B, 'History as Fiction'

But why ‘The Aethiopica’? Well, it provides a striking description of a cataphract rider, possibly the longest and most detailed of all the ancient sources; it deploys well-known tropes in relation to the cataphract; and it presents unknown details about this rider which deserve more study. The argument against the validity of the description is two-fold and simple: the description is set in a work of fiction and therefore not necessarily accurate; that the dating is indeterminate and therefore any description as such remains provisional and not helpful in the study of either 3rd century or 4th century cavalry equipment and tactics.

Let’s start off then with some specifics.

The novel is a romance set in the 3-5th century BC and written in Greek. It is primarily set in Aegypt at a time when it is ruled by the Persians (before Alexander conquered them) and also in Aethiopica. It has a series of stories set within it which take place in ancient Greece also. It is authored by Heliodorus who, as he tells us in the work, is a native of Emesa and descended from the Sun, hence his name.

The ancients did not have a sense of historical authenticity or indeed veracity in their works in the way we now do and so details within the work – manners, customs, rituals, descriptions, actions, clothings, etc – are all derived either from a 3rd century or 4th century AD sensibility. The work is pagan in its outlook but contains themes of chastity which will sit comfortably within a naive Christian teleology.

So let’s summarise the dating issue in a little more detail and this will then allow us to re-evaluate the cataphract context more fully.

The earliest commentary upon the author Heliodorus is by Socrates Scholasticus who states clearly

It is said that the author of the usage which obtains in Thessaly was Heliodorus bishop of Tricca in that country; under whose name there are love books extant, entitled Ethiopica . . .

Photius, for example, writes the following

Read the Dramaticon of Iamblichus, a narrative of love adventures. The author makes less show of indecencies than Achilles Tatius, but he is more immoral than the Phoenician Heliodorus. Of these three writers, who have all adopted the same subject and have chosen love intrigues as the material for their stories, Heliodorus is more serious and restrained, lamblichus less so, while Achilles Tatius pushes his obscenity to impudence

This locates him in an Emesan locale.

A much later source, Nicophorus Callistus, states that this Bishop when later asked to renounce the work written in his early years or resign his bishopric, choose to renounce the work.

There is little biographical detail in the work itself.

As to dating, this is where it gets interesting. Previous consensus was that Heliodorus wrote the work within the reign of the emperor Theodosius. This was largely confirmed by the work of Carlo Conti Rossini around 1919 who drew attention to the striking parallels between a description of the triumphal procession of the emperor Aurelian in 274 AD as decribed in the Historia Augusta and a similar procession in Book X of The Aethiopica. Rossini observed that the procession included two peoples from Meroe and Aksum. This similarity or paring was also observed by later scholars and therefore would seem to argue for a late 4th century date which would allow these two peoples to co-habit a parade. In otherwords, it would have been anachronistic to place these peoples in a parade in the 3rd century (under the reign of Aurelian) or indeed even earlier. It would have been similar to writing that Claudian invaded Britain and was opposed by Atecotti and Picti.

So scholarly opinion up to around the early 1970s seems to concur on a late 4th century date for the The Aethiopica based on the fact that both works linked a series of peoples together who historically existed as contemporaries in that period. The Historia Augusta was written in the late 4th century therefore it seems reasonable to identify Heliodorus' work as existing alongside it also and sharing a level of intertextuality.

This was complicated with the arrival of Tibor Saepessy’s work on Heliodorus in 1975. He argued quite forcefully that The Aethiopica belonged to the 3rd century and not the 4th. His work resonated among scholars and still does so that in many works you will find an assumption of a 3rd century date to the exclusion of a late 4th century one. Szepessy argued not in relation to the similarities of the peoples assembled in the Book X parade and the triumph of Aurelian but instead on the siege of Nisibis in 351 AD under Shapur II. This siege is described in literature by Julian Augustus and Ephreim the Syrian (who wrote to counter Julian’s paganism) and seems to find a remarkable parallel in Book IX of The Aethiopica. Szepessy argued from a close reading of Ephreim’s work that in fact it differed in a key element from Julian’s version.

This difference was the nature of the earthworks thrown up by the Sassanids about the city of Nisibis. Julian states – as does Heliodorus – that the city was surrounded by earth ramparts and then flooded by the river Mygdonius (the Nile in the latter writer’s case). Szepessy argued that Ehpeim wrote that 'mounds' were erected not walls (tumuli is the Latin word he uses in place of the original Syriac) and therefore differs in a key aspect. Note: Szepessy is using a 19th century Latin translation. As a result of this, Szepessy argues that Julian is in fact echoing Heliodorus and his earlier work and creating a literary topos. Therefore the work by Heliodorus must have been written much earlier.

This argument won over many and as mentioned above still holds currency to this day. Bowersock however shows up the fallacy of this arguement by reverting to the original Syraic and noting that Epheim uses the word tall in its plural which can mean mound and also earthworks and is variously translated into Latin as aggeres and moles. The Syriac plural – talala – matches precisely the Greek word used by both Julian and Heliodorus. In other words, Ehpreim matches exactly the description as written by Julian regarding the siege – and echoed in the fictional work of Heliodorus.

This refutes Szepessy’s argument and again brings The Aethiopica into orbit, as it were, with Julian and the Historia Augusta. The inference is obviously that Heliodorus is in fact echoing Julian as it would be improbable that Julian copied a work of fiction that miraculously predicted the siege of Nisibis in 351 AD.

Bowersock goes further. He turns specifically to two other striking parallels in The Aethiopica – the description of the cataphract riders and the battle in which they are defeated in Book X. He comments on the detail of the cataphracts and the specific poetic conceit of the moving statue as a literary topos in late Roman literature. Again, Julian is cited as an example. Claudian is referenced also in this regard.

More importantly, Bowersock cites Ammianus Marcellinus as using this trope. For Bowersock this is an important comparison in that Ammianus Marcellinus, in the Res Gestae, describes how the these Roman elite heavy cavalry were unhorsed and defeated by light barbarian infantry springing up underneath the horses to surprise and unhorse the riders. This was a tactic previously used by the Romans under Crassus. What interests Bowersock however is the concurrence of the moving statue image and the barbarian tactic in unhorsing these cataphracts. Both these elements occur in Book IX of The Aethiopica.

In summation, what Bowersock explores is the seeming intertextuality of a number of late Roman works:

The panegyrics of Julian (Nisibis and cataphracts)

The Historia Augusta (the triumphal procession under Aurelian and Severus Alexander)

The Res Gestae (the triumphal procession under Constantius II and the battle of Argentoratum)

The poetry/hymns of Ephreim the Syrian (the siege of Nisibis)

The Aethiopica (the procession in Book X, the cataphracts and the siege in Book XI)

Hence a certain genealogy wherein Julian’s work provides inspiration for the siege, Ammianus for the battle tactics, the writer of the Res Gestae provides the procession, all three provide references to cataphracts as 'living statues' or clibanarii. Therefore Heliodorus is either writing within the textual web of these works or conversely these works (Julian’s being excepted) are drawing upon the romance novel.

This brings the work of Heliodorus into an unequivocable late 4th century date. It shows that Heliodorus drew on a striking number of images and events which pre-existed his own work and synthesised them into a narrative re-cast back into ancient Aegypt under the Achaemenid Persians. If this is true, then this combined with his location at Emesa and the period in which he lived allows a certain degree of authenticity to be allowed into his writings. His description, for example, of the fictional cataphracts under the Achaemenid Persians must be allowed some degree of veracity in that it is more detailed and may be, as a result, derived from first hand observation, if perhaps misunderstood. 5 vexillations of Roman clibanarii alone were stationed within the field army of the Orient and therefore may have been observed by Heliodorus on maneuvers near or indeed within Emesa. His lifetime saw massive incursions of Sassanid armies and the counter-invasion of Julian with its tragic consequences which rendered the 'Persians' in his work as a contemporary danger which his readers might have easily identified with.

However, the opposite might also be argued – that indeed the decriptions of the cataphracts as 'living statues' was now a literary topos and one that was quite common; such that not only were imperial panegyricists using it along with historians, so, too, were romance writers! Therefore Heliodorus is merely adapting a commonplace to terrify his readers . . .


Res Gestae


Historia Augusta

Panegyrics of Julian

Epheim the Syrian

Bowersock 'Fiction as History'
Hmm, interesting, but very tricky - especially when using the (undated) Historia Augusta to try and date the (undated) Aethiopica, in turn to try and date the appearance of a literary topos!

Presumptious again, maybe, but I have a couple of problems with Bowerstock's analysis:

Quote:it would have been anachronistic to place these peoples in a parade in the 3rd century (under the reign of Aurelian) or indeed even earlier... So scholarly opinion up to around the early 1970s seems to concur on a late 4th century date for the The Aethiopica based on the fact that both works linked a series of peoples together who historically existed as contemporaries in that period.

Or did they? The HA was supposed to have been written in the era of Diocletian or thereabouts. These African peoples would perhaps (like the Picts, in fact) fit into a late 3rd-early 4th C timeframe. If the Aethiopica was written then, it would still predate Julian...

Quote:Ehpreim matches exactly the description as written by Julian regarding the siege – and echoed in the fictional work of Heliodorus... The inference is obviously that Heliodorus is in fact echoing Julian as it would be improbable that Julian copied a work of fiction that miraculously predicted the siege of Nisibis in 351 AD.

But Julian's account is still 'improbable'. The siege of 351 (not 340 as I said above - whoops! There were three sieges, and details are a bit confused...) is described in the Acts of St Ephraim, also Zonares, Theophanes, Chronica Paschale, Theodoret and Gennadius (pace Dodgeon & Lieu). None of these authors describe Shapur creating a lake around the city and launching ships against the walls! The Mydonius is too small a river to make this remotely feasible.

Heliodorus, on the other hand, has his general diverting the Nile to form a lake around the besieged city to float his fleet upon - much more reasonable (if still fictional!).

So it seems more likely to me that Julian was beefing up his account of the 351 Nisibis siege (which everyone knew involved a river being diverted in some way) with additional material lifted from Heliodorus. Maybe it was an intentional and amusing literary reference? Perhaps his audience would have known of Heliodorus, and appreciated the allusion?

(Alternatively, of course, Julian could just have invented the details of Shapur's amazing naval assault on a desert city, and Heliodorus taken the idea and relocated it somewhere closer to a major river! Either way, it seems likely that one is quoting the other to some degree, and so both cannot be regarded as independent evidence on the clibanarii question.)
I think if we carry one discussing Heliodorus and his work's relationship to the veracity of a cataphract description (and if said description is borrowing a conceit or actually referencing a real account) then a split-off might be appropriate.

However, if the discussion moves back to the original issue of Late Roman infantry wearing face-masks, then no!

I follow the opinion that the HA is the product of a single author writing during the period of Theodosius and creating a number of pen-names proporting to be writing under the earlier Tetrarchy. This places the Severus Alexander account in the late 4th century and allows the Axumites and the Merovians a more natural placement. These peoples were simpy not on the Roman's radar, as it were, in an earlier period. But as Nathan has pointed out there are issues here:

Ammianus wrote also under Theodosius some - what? - twenty years after the events he is describing. Julian however wrote his panegyric under Constantius II so that places his text a good twenty years before Ammianus. Julian's account of the siege is echoed in detail by Ephreim so we can assume that in its broad details it is correct. Also the siege of Nisibis (all of them) were icons of the period in terms of Roman defiance against the aggressive actions of Shapur. The inference here is that in general terms people knew about it and therefore both Julian's and Ephreim's descriptions were in some ways accountable. This defiance of Nisibis was one of the reasons Jovian's surrender of it was so galling to the locals who had beaten off every Persian attempt to take that city.

However, where in this broad period lies the Aethiopica? If Heliodorus borrowed from and embelished Julian and Ephreim then after that siege. He also quotes light infantry creeping under the armoured horses and unsaddling the riders - and echo of Ammianus describing Argentoratum. But was that detail known in general terms before Ammianus wrote about it twenty years later? Or perhaps not only is it a literary commonplace - as Robert has alluded to - it is also a common military tactic now used against catafacts?

What I find interesting about Heliodorus is how he seems to sythesise a number of Late Roman tropes or historical details scattered in other contemporary texts. And also adds interesting odd details. For example, did anyone notice his description of the straps used to stabilise the contus? These, I think I remember, have been dismissed as an amateur's imagination however having recently read Mielczarek's study on Cataphracts and Clibinarii I noticed that he points out a similar description of straps used by Polish Hussars to steady the long lance when in an upright position. He argues that Heliodorus has simply seem an arrangement and projected it into a charge position from a rest position.

Fascinating stuff!
Quote:These peoples were simpy not on the Roman's radar, as it were, in an earlier period.

But do we have evidence of that, indepedent of the HA? We don't know whether the details in the HA are appropriate for a) the period in question (ie Aurelian), b) the supposed date of composition (c. Diocletian), or c) the actual date (c. Theodosius). This makes all the HA's details practically useless as evidence!

Quote:Julian's account of the siege is echoed in detail by Ephreim

Ah, but it's not - or I don't think so anyway... The sieges of Nisibis are tricky, as most of our accounts are hagiographic and therefore sort of ahistorical. There were three of them (337, 340 and 351) - the first defence during was supposedly directed by the bishop Mar Iacob, another by his disciple Ephraim, and another by Lucillianus (possibly Dux Mesopotamiae or something similar, at the time - he later appears in Ammianus). Details of the three are confused, but it appears that during the third (and possibly the first too!) the Persians turned the river against the walls...

What I think happened, during the third siege if not the first as well, is this:

1. Shapur dammed the river Mygdonius above the city (initially to cut the water supply?)

2. His troops then undermined the city walls to the east where the dry river bed runs closely beneath them.

3. Shapur broke the dams, releasing the pent-up water down the river-bed, creating a water 'ram' of sufficient force to tear out the foundations of the eastern wall and collapse the wall itself.

4. However, during the intervening period the defenders had guessed Shapur's plan and built a second wall inside the first - Shapur's assault against the demolished wall was bogged down in the sea of mud (his elephants especially getting stuck) and then thrown back from the new second wall inside the first.

5. The boggy flooded ground bred swarms of mosquitoes (possibly malarial?), which irritated the Persians greatly. Shapur eventually withdrew. This insect plague was believed to be a divine intervention caused by Ephraim's prayers to Mar Iacob.

This is what I gathered from the accounts in the life of Ephraim and the other sources mentioned above. It's a best guess, perhaps, but it's also quite different to Julian's account, which had Shapur creating an artificial lake around the city and launching ships upon it to attack the walls. This is much more like what happens in Heliodorus.

So it still seems to me that Julian was using elements of Aethiopica in his panegyric!

Quote:Yes, Robert! Something like his seems practical indeed.

Practical maybe, but the description of the helmet 'forged in one piece' suggests it and the mask were integral...
It is a tricky question regarding the Aksumites and the Merovians, I agree! However, there are a number coincidences which bear examining here: Heliodorus in Book X describes a parade after the defeat of the Persians (and their pesky cataphracts) in which Hydapses, King of Meroe, receives his allies and friends. This is a parade which lists a number of peoples and animals. The Seres, the Blemmyes and the Aksumites together with camelopardali or giraffes. This is a list which is practically unique and yet which re-appears almost step-by-step in the Historia Augusta where the triumph of Aurelian is detailed in 274ad. Here again, we find the Blemmye, the Aksumites, the Seres and giraffes. It is Bowersock who notes that the Seres, or Chinese (with presents of silk) stand out as atypical of the listing and so highlights an intertexuality between these two works. He further argues that Aksum was in the ascendance after the mid-fourth century conversion of its King Aezanas to Christianity and that this argues for their appearance within Late Roman works.

It is arguable that the author of the Historia Augusta is borrowing from the Aethiopica but for the fact that other literary tropes within the latter text seem to in fact ‘borrow’ from works by Julian or indeed Ephreim or Ammianus.

The siege issue is crucial here, I think. Julian’s Second Oration to Constantius describes the following events in vivid and full rhetorical detail and while some events may be exaggerated via a comparison to Homer I find it difficult to imagine Julian falsifying a well-known event by using material from an older work by Heliodorus. The events according to Julian are as follows:

The city is besieged by Shapur II and encircled with dykes and dams which allow the Mygdonius river to flow about the city’s walls thus forming a lake. Nisibis is described as being like an island.

4 months of siege follow in which siege engines are brought up against the walls on rafts and ships. These suffer horrendously at the hands of the besieged and are variously burnt, shattered or even hauled up.

A dyke/damn gives way 4 months later under a full tide and the subsequent flood washes away a huge portion of the defending walls.

Shapur initiates a full assault but a dogged Roman phalanx holds the gap. Shapur orders a second assault using the elephants hoping to undermine Roman morale but these are goaded into approaching too closely and are savaged by missile and artillery fire. Shapur then orders a third assault using troops in rotation to keep pressure on the Roman phalanx at the gap.

Unknown to Shapur however a second rear wall has been built throughout these assaults and once it rises to a height where it is seen, Persian morale collapses and Shapur retreats having seen his army ravaged by famine as well as battle losses.

Ephraim’s three Nisibene Hymns echo many of these details. The First Hymn describes the City itself as the Ark of the Flood encompassed not just by waters but also by ‘mounds and weapons and waves.’ The wall is still standing at this point. The second Hymn celebrates the city’s deliverance and uses the collapse of the walls from the flooding as the very bedrock of its victory. By rebuilding the walls, dismay sets in the Persians and a retreat occurs. The third hymn states the walls fell on the Sabbath and were raised again on the Day of Resurrection.

Now Heliodorus echoes in detail Ephraim’s language here as Bowersock has pointed out. All three writers use the same Syrian and Greek synonyms to describe the walls about Nisibis and Syene. All three describe similar events and it would be unusual for Julian and Ephraim to borrow from a Greek Romance novel to describe the Third Siege of Nisibis which had acquired a certain notoriety in its own right.

If this is true and Heliodorus borrowed from both Julian and Ephraim then it follows that Heliodorus wrote after the publication of Julian’s Oration to Constantius. It might follow then that the unknown author of the Historia Augusta in describing Aurelian’s triumph borrowed from Heliodorus as an homage to a writer who had recently revived a literary genre.

Of course, none of this can be proved but makes for entertaining speculation!
By popular account, this discussion wa split off from the 'Late Roman cavalry face mask' discussion.
I know you have moved on from different versions of the translations, but I have a new one, from J.R. Morgan, which was printed in B.P. Reardon’s 2008 Collected Ancient Greek Novels. It has some notes that look to be of particular interest.

The form of their armor is as follows. (208) A man chosen for his exceptional physical strength dons a close-fitting helmet, beaten from a single piece of metal and cunningly crafted into a realistic representation of a human face, like a mask. This covers the head completely from crown to neck, apart from slits over the eyes so that he can see. His right hand is armed with a lance somewhat longer than a spear, leaving his left free to work the reins. A scimitar hangs at his right side. His body armor covers not just his breast but the whole of the rest of his body as well. It is constructed in the following way. They take rods of bronze and iron and beat them into squares about a span in size; these are then fitted together so that they overlap at the edges, each plate riding over the one beneath and the one beside it so as to leave no gaps. This contexture is then fastened together with stiches underneath the overlaps, thus producing a garment of plate-mail that sits comfortably on the body, yet fits tightly all over, shaping itself onto every limb and contracting and expanding so as to allow unimpeded movement. The armor also has sleeves and extends from head to knee, the only opening being at the thighs, where it is necessary for the rider to bestride his horse. This, then is their body armor, impervious to arrows and resistant to all injury. Their greaves reach from the soles of the feet to the knee, where they meet the body armor.

The horse too is protected by armor of a very similar kind: shinplates are fastened round its legs, its head is totally sheathed in tight-fitting frontlets, and a skirt of iron mail is draped over its back, down to its belly on either side, thus affording the animal protection while at the same time being loose enough not to hamper its galloping. Equipped and virtually encased(209) in armor of this kind, the rider bestrides his steed, though he is so heavy that he cannot mount it by himself but has to rely on others to lift him on. Then, in the hour of battle, he gives his horse its rein, digs in his spurs, and bears down at full tilt on the enemy, looking just like a man of steel or a hammer-worked statue come to life.(210) The sharp end of the lance projects some way ahead horizontally and is supported by a clasp on the horse’s neck, while the butt end is fastened into a loop on the animal’s flank. Thus the lance is held firm against the force of impact and does not act against the rider’s hand, which has only to direct the thrust as the rider braces himself and lunges forward to increase the force of the impact – which is so violent that the lance transfixes everyone in its path, often impaling two or more opponents at a single blow and carrying them along, skewered.

(208) Although the Persians did employ armored cavalry of a kind, the description that follows is based on the cataphracts introduced into the Roman imperial army from the East by Alexander Severus, and has many points of contact with similar descriptions in other writers of the third and fourth centuries. We are therefore dealing with a literary commonplace, not firsthand observation.

(209) Retaining the manuscript reading... [sorry, I can't type Greek letters] The printed text makes these participles refer to the horse rather than its rider.

(210) A statue made by beating sheets of metal onto wooden shapers rather than by casting. The indentations left by the hammer blows resemble the plates making up the suit of armor.
Quote:If this is true and Heliodorus borrowed from both Julian and Ephraim then it follows that Heliodorus wrote after the publication of Julian’s Oration to Constantius. It might follow then that the unknown author of the Historia Augusta in describing Aurelian’s triumph borrowed from Heliodorus as an homage to a writer who had recently revived a literary genre.

So we now have three works: Ephraim's Nisibene Hymns, Julian's Oration to Constantius and Heliodorus' Aethiopica, all referring to a siege using waterworks and all somehow related to each other, with a further relation to the Historia Augusta!

The Nisibene Hymns are available online HERE (Hymn I, with II and III on following pages).

It's difficult to draw much from such poetic and metaphoric language, but luckily we have several other accounts of the Nisibis siege to supply additional details. Julian's is the most obvious (describing the third siege, of 350, as Ephraim apparently does here).

Theodoret provides two accounts of the besieged Nisibis and Shapur's aquatic attack on the walls (available online in an excerpt from Dodgeon & Lieu's Roman Eastern Frontier...). However, Theodoret is here describing the first siege, of c.337. In his account there is no mention of ships or lakes; Shapur used the dammed river as a 'battering ram' to bring down the city wall. Michael the Syrian's Chronicon (Dodgeon p.150, as above link) agrees that this floodwater attack happened during the first siege, but adds Ephraim as a disciple of the principal defender, Bishop Iacob.

This is tricky, as Ephraim himself was apparently present at all three sieges. His Nisibene Hymns refer several times to the three 'breaches', relating them to the trinity (the neatness of this comparison might make it suspect...). However, neither Ephraim himself nor any other account of the first or third siege mentions a lake surrounding the city or ships launched against the walls (as far as I know - my notes from Dodgeon & Lieu are very scrappy though, and if anyone has a copy of the book it might be worth checking!)

The Introduction to the Nisibene Hymns by John Gwynn dismisses the date confusion by dismissing Theodoret and insisting that the river attack happened during the third siege only. Gwynn does this by referring to Julian's oration for supporting evidence. But Julian's oration seems to expand considerably on what any of the other commentators describe, adding ships and lakes and so on. It's almost as if Julian is taking Ephraim's metaphors about the Ark and the waves and turning them into reality...

So what really happened, at either the first or third (or both) sieges of Nisibis? A map of the ancient city would help, but I've never seen one. Google's Satellite View of Nusaybin gives an idea of the current orientation of city and river. The ancient centre was presumably somewhere in the vicinity of the surviving church of Mar Iacob (Mor Iacub Kilisesi), although I read somewhere (Philip Parker's The Empire Stops Here, I think) that the remains of the Roman forum were until recently still visible in the no-man's-land between the Syrian and Turkish border defences.

Either way, the Mygdonius appears to flow close to where the eastern walls would have been. It's a small river, and the area of the ancient centre appears to be on higher ground (Nisibis is possibly related to a Syriac word meaning 'set upon' - or at least Ephraim seems to pun on the connection).

So, could Shapur really have dammed such a narrow deep-flowing river enough to create a lake around the whole city? It seems very unlikely. Far more likely is the idea, suggested by Theodoret, that the Persian plan involved damming the river until a large body of water had built up then releasing it against the eastern wall of the city (presumably this wall stood above the riverbank?). Whether that plan would work on a practical level is another question. But it seems a lot more plausible than trying to create a huge dyke around the city and flooding the whole thing...

And the ships? As I say, I don't think any other source mentions them. In fact, the earlier accounts by Theodoret and Michael explicitly state that Shapur waited for the waters to recede before attacking the collapsed wall. Did Julian invent the ships?

It seems, I suppose, that Heliodorus must have drawn his idea from Julian after all. But Julian's account of the Nisibis siege may itself be a fictionalised dramatisation of what actually happened (maybe itself drawing on some other source?), either in 337 or 350...
The discussion has periodically touched upon the Sasanid siege of Nisibis in AD 350 -- I'd like to just add one minor detail. If I were writing a commentary on Julian's account, I would point out that, strictly speaking, he doesn't claim that the town was surrounded by a lake (although he cunningly implies it, to magnify our impression of the Sasanid efforts). He does describe a λίμνη, which is a body of standing water of indeterminate size ("pool, pond, lake"), and he does describe the diverting of the River Mygdonius against the walls ("the Mydonius flowed in, flooding the land around the town"), and he does claim (somewhat surprisingly) that siege-machinery was floated on ships; but the flooding was probably localised, and it is not necessary to imagine the city standing in the midst of a lake (imho).
Quote:he does claim (somewhat surprisingly) that siege-machinery was floated on ships; but the flooding was probably localised, and it is not necessary to imagine the city standing in the midst of a lake

Ah, right! That does make things a bit more plausible, if we assume that Shapur dammed the river to the south-east of the city, causing it to burst its banks and rise against the eastern wall. If the wall itself was of mud-brick, this might cause the water to wash out the foundations and bring the wall down, perhaps...

The ships remain a problem, though. It does seem a little like Julian was developing Ephraim's metaphor of the Ark surrounded by the waves - I'm not sure how familiar the imperial court would have been to Syriac hymns by eastern bishops though. It's surely unlikely that Shapur would have brought boats with him to the siege (across a desert!), and the vicinity of Nisibis, today and I would imagine then too, is not heavily stocked with available timber for constructing massive rafts.

Theodoret's and Michael's (mid 5th century?) accounts of the earlier siege both suggest that Shapur used the river to collapse the walls - perhaps they misunderstood quite how this was done, or perhaps Shapur did indeed use the directed pressure of the water? - and then waited for the flood to recede before attacking. Surely if the Persians had launched ships, these later commentators would have noted such a marvellous feat?

It's also possible, of course, that Shapur tried his river trick twice, in 337 and in 350, hoping to succeed a second time when the first attempt so nearly worked...
I agree about the language here. Both the Classical allusions in Julian and the Biblical ones in Ephraim do cloud the ability to accurately disentangle fact from rhetoric. Both writers use the flood image to bolster their respective tropes to the extent that one might well question the veracity of that scene at all. However, I do find it interesting that a single incident agreed by both writers is used to bolster their own respective styles, as it were. Both can’t have made it up - unless (and here it gets interesting!) Julian is deliberately adapting a false conceit penned by Ephraim to mock the Christianisation of the imperial court under Constantius II.

Let’s look at Ephraim in more detail. The first Hymn is explicit in the references to Nisibis being flooded by the Mygdonius: passages like

3. Lo! all the billows trouble me; and Thou hast given more favour to the ark: for waves
alone encompassed it, mounds and weapons and waves encircle me. It was unto Thee a
storehouse of treasures, but I have been a storehouse of debts: it in Thy love subdued the
waves; I in Thy wrath, am left desolate among the weapons; the flood bore it, the river
threatens me. O Helmsman of that ark, be my pilot on the dry land! To it Thou gavest rest
in the haven of a mountain; to me give Thou rest also in the haven of my walls!


6. An ark in Thy mercy Thou didst prepare, that Thou mightest preserve in it all the
remnants. That Thou shouldest not desolate the earth in Thy wrath, Thy compassion made
an earth of wood. Thou didst empty them one into the other; Thou didst render them back
one unto the other. But my lands have thrice been filled and emptied again; and now against
me the waves rebel, to overwhelm the remnant that has escaped in me. In the ark Thou
didst save a remnant; save in me, O Lord, yea in me a leaven. The ark upon the mountain
brought forth; let me in my lands bring forth my imprisoned one


8. The flood assails, and dashes against our walls: may the all-sustaining might uphold
them! It falls not as the building of the sand, for I have not built my doctrine upon the sand:
a rock shall be for me the foundation, for on Thy rock have I built my faith; the secret
foundation of my trust, shall support my walls. For the walls of Jericho fell, because on the
sand she had built her trust. Moses built a wall in the sea, for on a rock his understanding
built it. The foundation of Noah was on a rock; the dwelling place of wood it bore up in
the sea.

However, these passages are equally open to an allegorical interpretation in which Ephraim is using the Ark surrounded by water as an image for Nisibis surrounded by war. There is a danger of reading too literally here, I think. Certainly, damming, waters, waves and war are referenced as actual events but I think it is impossible to ascertain to what extent. Was Nisibis really environed within a wilderness of sea (to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus)? Or has Ephraim conjoined a wonderful Old Testament story and the 3rd siege using dramatic license?

The success of the defenders in fighting off the Persians wrought that event into one of epic proportions such that this siege is remembered all across the Orient. Perhaps in that transmission, Ephraim’s Hymn takes on a life of its own and allegory supplants fact. Now Julian enters the fray and decides to use Classical imagery to both celebrate Constantius II’s reign and also launch a sly dig at Christian allegory. He composes his own version of the siege based perhaps on actual imperial records and incorporates Ephraim’s flood version. The result is a clear account of a Persian siege in which for four months the city is surrounded by water -

the King of the Parthians,
crossing the Tigris from the mainland, encircled
the city with dykes. Then he let the Mygdonius
flow into these, and transformed all the space
about the city into a lake, and completely hemmed
it in as though it were an island, so that only the
ramparts stood out and showed a little above the
water. Then he besieged it by bringing up ships
with siege-engines on board. This was not the work
of a day, but I believe of almost four months.

The following battle-account reads like a military report and if we accept my crazy proposition then there is no reason to doubt that the events are accurate - except that there is no ‘lake’ or ‘island’, only a part of the walls washed away.

If this is the true then Ephraim’s account is taken up and exaggerated to the extent that it becomes fact. Julian subverts it by adapting it into a Classical style replete with Trojans and Greeks and by doing so slyly mocks the Christian tendency to attribute God in everything.

Somewhere later, Heliodorus reads Julian’s 2nd Oration and incorporates both the cataphract trope and the Nisibis siege trope knowing that both are now well-known or well-read sequences. His Aethiopica now moves Christian allegory and Classical Oratory into Romance.

My partner says I need to get out more but my mum says I should stay in a lot more . . .
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