- Dec 2009
If you don't mind me de-railing this excellent and thoughtful post, how is P'awstos regarded as a source amongst late antique historians these days? I know little of the text (and have never actually read it). Yet I feel like for the late sixth and early seventh century, Sebeos has almost moved into position as the best source for political events in the near east. I'm not quite sure where Lewond stands for the history of the eighth century, but now that we have a new critical edition and (French) translation, hopefully that will come to be understood better.This might be considered folklore if it did not originate from a sober, if laconic source. Moreover there is independent attestation from the Armenian writer P’awstos, who fills out gaps in a surprising and intriguing fashion (P’awstos 3.21). In his narrative, Galerius chose two Armenian nobles (Andovk and Arshavir) who were known to him and, disguising themselves as peasants – marketgardeners selling vegetables – they gained entry to the Persian camp and spied out its weaknesses. In particular, they noted that the royal enclosure was not strongly guarded and therefore particularly vulnerable. One might be tempted to reject this tale as folkloric invention but it occurs in two entirely separate historical traditions with little possibility of interdependence (Synesius tells the more plausible story of an unnamed emperor exploring the Persian camp, while disguised as an ambassador (de regno 17))
P’awstos continues that, on the emperor’s return to his own camp, he roused his army and fell upon the Persians, aiming for the royal enclosure. Ammianus adds the detail of a favourable portent (23.5.11). P’awstos’ account is entirely plausible. The Persians were completely surprised. In a letter to Constantius II half a century later, Shapur II complained (Ammianus 17.5.6):
Ideoque Armeniam recuperare cum Mesopotamia debeo, avo meo composita fraude praereptam.
(And so I am under obligation to recover Armenia, along with Mesopotamia, both of which were torn from my grandfather by a trick.)
The defeat rankled years later, not least because it was achieved by subterfuge rather than a set-piece battle. It was a most effective ploy. According to P’awstos, the Romans raided the Persian camp soon after dawn, taking it totally unawares. A number of Persian grandees were captured but, most significantly, the household of the Great King, including his wives and concubines, fell into Roman hands. The camp was looted and Narseh’s queen, Arsane, captured, as were others of the Great King’s women. The Great King himself escaped and fled to Persia proper (Eutropius 9. 25.1; also Zonaras 12. 31; Amm. Marc. 22.4.8; P’awstos 3.21; see Malalas XII, 307 for the name; Lactantius describes it as an ambush (de mort. pers. 9.7)).'
Whether or not we are persuaded by Leadbetter's argument that Galerius did personally scout the camp, it's interesting to see this argument be made.