Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Romans: Ammianus Marcellinus on the danger of decline into uncivilized lifestyles (late fourth century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified August 2, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=17422.
Ancient authors: Ammianus Marcellinus (late fourth century CE), Roman Antiquities / Res Gestae 14.6 and 28.4.8–31 (link).
Comments: Ammianus Marcellinus was thoroughly embedded for a decade (354-363 CE) within the imperial elites, as he also accompanied emperor Julian (at least that’s what the first person narratives suggest) in some official role during Julian’s principate from 361-363 CE. If Libanius’ reference to a fellow-Antiochian named Marcellinus publicly reading a history at Rome (in ca. 392 CE) is our Ammianus Marcellinus, then it seems clear that our Ammianus Marcellinus was a Greek from Antioch in Syria who later went on to spend further time at Rome itself (on all of this see Matthews 1989). While a Syrian Greek in origin, Ammianus was by no means distant from the ideals of the Roman elites as he consistently places himself firmly within the realm of Romanness throughout his partially preserved history. This is one reason why Ammianus’ ethnographic digressions on the Romans themselves, in which he addresses ostensibly “foreign” readers and actively critiques (certain) Roman lifestyles of his own time, have been a issue of some scholarly debate, with certain scholars seeing this as ironic, Juvenalian satire and others taking a different approach more akin to what I suggest here.
In particular, Tyler Creer (2020) convincingly argues that the ethnographic digressions on Romans which you can read further below are, in part, quite consciously drawing on or alluding to Ammianus’ characterizations of other foreign or “barbarian” peoples, such as Gauls (link), Persians (link), and Pontic peoples (link). He does so in order to critique certain behavioural tendencies at Rome. Note, for instance, the comparison between the bad sexual behaviour of some Romans and the tendencies of female monarchs among Parthians, Egyptians, Carians, and Palmyrenes. See also Ammianus’ complaint that some Romans behave like the worst of all “savages,” the Taurians north of the Black Sea. Compare the excessive drinking of some Romans with his depiction of a “descent group greedy for wine” in his account of Gauls (link) and, generally, set the Roman decline into luxury alongside his account of “effeminate” and luxury-loving Persians, particularly with respect to clothing (link). Despite the supposed decline in Roman mores among some, Ammianus seems to hope for a full return to some idealistic picture of the Roman past, but on Roman elite terms.
While Ammianus’ two passages critique both the Roman elites and the common people, it is important to notice that it is only a few of the Roman elites who are under fire while the entire body of the plebeians is condemned for their lifestyles. Somewhat typical Roman elite class prejudice is at work here. Moreover, despite the critiques and calls for a return to the good old days, Ammianus ultimately presumes Roman elite supremacy over all other “savage” peoples and over the lower strata of the population at Rome itself.
Works consulted: T. Creer, “Ethnography and the Roman Digressions of Ammianus Marcellinus,” Histos 14 (2020): 255-274 (link); J. Matthews, The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London: Duckworth, 1989) (link).
Source of translation: J. C. Rolfe, Ammianus Marcellinus: Roman History, 3 volumes, LCL (Cambridge: HUP, 1935-1940), public domain (Rolfe passed away in 1943), adapted and modernized by Harland.
[For Ammianus’ previous discussion of Arabians / Saracens, go to this link.]
[Romans explained to foreigners]
(14.6) Meanwhile Orfitus was governing the eternal city [of Rome] with the rank of prefect [353/ CE], and with an arrogance beyond the limit of the power that had been conferred upon him. He was a man of wisdom, it is true, and highly skilled in legal practice, but less equipped with the adornment of the liberal arts than became a man of noble rank. During his term of office serious riots broke out because of the scarcity of wine; for the people, eager for an unrestrained use of this commodity, are roused to frequent and violent disturbances.
Now I think that some foreigners (peregrini) who will perhaps read this work (if I will be so fortunate) may wonder why it is that when the narrative turns to the description of what goes on at Rome, I tell of nothing except dissensions, taverns, and other similar vulgarities. Accordingly, I will briefly touch upon the reasons, intending nowhere to depart intentionally from the truth.
[Romans’ rise to supremacy]
At the time when Rome first began to rise into a position of world-wide splendour, in order that she might grow to a towering stature, Virtue and Fortune, ordinarily at variance, formed a pact of eternal peace. If either one of them had failed Rome, Rome had not come to complete supremacy. Her people, from the very cradle to the end of their childhood, a period of about three hundred years, carried on wars around her walls. Then, entering adult life, after many toilsome wars, they crossed the Alps and the sea. Grown to youth and manhood, from every region which the vast globe includes, they brought back laurels and triumphs. And now, declining into old age, and often owing victory to its name alone, it has come to a quieter period of life.
[Subjugation of savage peoples and respect for Romans]
Thus the venerable city, after humbling the proud necks of savage (efferatum) descent groups (gentes), and making laws, the everlasting foundations and moorings of freedom, like a thrifty parent, wise and wealthy, has entrusted the management of her inheritance to the Caesars, as to her children. And although for some time the tribes (tribus) have been inactive and the centuries at peace, and there are no contests for votes but the tranquillity of Numa’s [legendary king often imagined as active in the eighth-seventh centuries BCE] time has returned, yet throughout all regions and parts of the earth she [Rome] is accepted as mistress and queen. Everywhere the white hair of the senators and their authority are revered and the name of the Roman people is respected and honoured.
[Critique of the minority of elite Romans who aimed at personal honour, luxury, wealth, clients, and excessive banquets]
But this magnificence and splendour of the assemblies is marred by the rude worthlessness of a few, who do not consider where they were born. Instead, as if freedom were granted to crime, descend to error and lust. For as the lyric poet Simonides tells us, one who is going to live happy and in accord with perfect reason should above all else have a glorious fatherland. Some of these men eagerly strive for statues, thinking that by them they can be made immortal, as if they would gain a greater reward from senseless brazen images than from the consciousness of honourable and virtuous conduct. They also put effort into having them overlaid with gold, a fashion first introduced by Acilius Glabrio [ca. BCE], after his skill and his arms had overcome king Antiochos. But how noble it is, scorning these slight and trivial honours, to aim to read the long and steep ascent to true glory, as the bard of Ascra expresses it, is made clear by Cato the censor. For when he was asked why he alone among many did not have a statue, he replied: “I would rather that good men should wonder why I did not deserve one than (which is much worse) should mutter ‘Why was he given one?'”
Other men, taking great pride in the coaches higher than common and in ostentatious finery of apparel, sweat under heavy cloaks, which they fasten about their necks and bind around their very throats, while the air blows through them because of the excessive lightness of the material. They lift them up with both hands and wave them with many gestures, especially with their left hands, in order that the over-long fringes and the tunics embroidered with party-coloured threads in multiform figures of animals may be conspicuous.
Others, though no one questions them, assume a grave expression and greatly exaggerate their wealth, doubling the annual yield of their fields, well cultivated (as they think), of which they assert that they possess a great number from the rising to the setting sun. They are clearly unaware that their ancestors, through whom the greatness of Rome was so far flung, gained renown, not by riches, but by fierce wars, and not differing from the common soldiers in wealth, mode of life, or simplicity of attire, overcame all obstacles by valour. For that reason the eminent Valerius Publicola [usually imagined as active in the late 500s BCE] was buried by a contribution of money. Also, through the aid of her husband’s friends the needy wife of Regulus and her children were supported. And the daughter of Scipio received her dowry from the public treasury, since the nobles blushed to look upon the beauty of this marriageable maiden long unsought because of the absence of a father of modest means.
But these days, if as a stranger of good position you enter for the first time to pay your respects to some man who is well-to‑do and therefore puffed up, at first you will be greeted as if you were an eagerly expected friend, and after being asked many questions and forced to lie, you will wonder, since the man never saw you before, that a great personage should pay such marked attention to your humble self as to make you regret, because of such special kindness, that you did not see Rome ten years earlier. When, encouraged by this affability, you make the same call on the following day, you will hang around unknown and unexpected, while the man who the day before urged you to call again counts up his clients, wondering who you are or whence you came. But when you are at last recognized and admitted to his friendship, if you devote yourself to calling upon for three years without interruption, then are away for the same number of days, and return to go through with a similar course, you will not be asked where you were, and unless you abandon the quest in sorrow, you will waste your whole life to no purpose in paying court to the blockhead.
When, after a sufficient interval of time, the preparation of those tedious and unwholesome banquets begins, or the distribution of the customary doles, it is debated with anxious deliberation whether it will be suitable to invite a stranger, with the exception of those to whom a return of hospitality is due. And if, after full and mature deliberation, the decision is in the affirmative, the man who is invited is one who watches all night before the house of the charioteers, or who is a professional dicer, or who pretends to the knowledge of certain secrets. For they avoid learned and serious people as unlucky and useless, in addition to which the announcers of names, who are accustomed to trafficking in these and similar favours, on receiving a bribe, admit to the doles and the dinners obscure and low-born intruders.
But I pass over the gluttonous banquets and the various allurements of pleasures, to avoid going too far. I move on to the fact that certain persons hurry without fear of danger through the broad streets of the city and over the upturned stones of the pavements as if they were driving post-horses with hoofs of fire (as the saying is), dragging after them armies of slaves like groups of bandits and not leaving even Sannio at home, as the comic writer says. Many matrons, imitating them, rush around through all quarters of the city with covered heads and in closed litters. And as skilful directors of battles place in the van dense throngs of brave soldiers, then light-armed troops, after them the javelin-throwers, and last of all the reserve forces, to enter the action in case chance makes it needful, in the same way those who have charge of a city household, made conspicuous by wands grasped in their right hands, carefully and diligently draw up the array. Then, as if the signal had been given in camp, close to the front of the carriage all weavers march. Next to these the blackened service of the kitchen, then all the rest of the slaves without distinction, accompanied by the idle plebeians of the neighbourhood. Italy, the throng of eunuchs, beginning with the old men and ending with the boys, sallow and disfigured by the distorted form of their members. The result is that, wherever a person goes, beholding the troops of mutilated men, he would curse the memory of that queen Semiramis [of Assyria] of old, who was the first of all to castrate young males, thus doing violence, as it were, to Nature and wresting her from her intended course. For at the very beginning of her life she, through the primitive founts of the seed, by a kind of secret law, shows the ways to propagate posterity.
In consequence of this state of things, the few houses that were formerly famed for devotion to serious pursuits now teem with the sports of sluggish indolence, re-echoing to the sound of singing and the tinkling of flutes and lyres. In short, in place of the philosopher the singer is called in, and in place of the orator the teacher of stagecraft, and while the libraries are shut up forever like tombs, water-organs are manufactured and lyres as large as carriages, and flutes and instruments heavy for gesticulating actors.
At last we have reached such a state of baseness, that whereas not so very long ago [ca. 383-384 CE], when there was fear of a scarcity of food, foreigners were driven neck and crop from the city, and those who practised the liberal disciplines (very few in number) were thrust out without a breathing space. Yet the genuine attendants upon actresses of the mimes, and those who for the time pretended to be such, were kept with us, while three thousand dancing girls, without even being questioned, remained here with their choruses, and an equal number of dancing masters. Wherever you turn your eyes, you may see a throng of women with curled hair, who might, if they had married, by this time, so far as age goes, have already produced three children, sweeping the pavements with their feet to the point of weariness and whirling in rapid gyrations, while they represent the innumerable figures that the stage-plays have devised.
Furthermore, there is no doubt that when once upon a time Rome was the abode of all the virtues, many of the nobles detained here foreigners of free birth by various kindly attentions, as the Lotophagians (“Lotus-eaters”) of Homer did by the sweetness of their fruits. But now the vain arrogance of some men regards everything born outside the sacred boundary (pomerium) of our city as worthless, except the childless and unmarried. It is beyond belief with what various kinds of obsequiousness men without children are courted at Rome. And since among them, as is natural in the capital of the world, cruel disorders gain such heights that all the healing skill is powerless even to mitigate them, it has been provided, as a means of safety, that no one will visit a friend suffering from such a disease, and by a few who are more cautious another sufficiently effective remedy has been added, namely, that servants sent to inquire after the condition of a man’s acquaintances who have been attacked by that disorder should not be readmitted to their masters’ house until they have purified their persons by a bath. So fearful are they of a contagion seen only by the eyes of others. But yet, although these precautions are so strictly observed, some men, when invited to a wedding, where gold is put into their cupped right hands, although the strength of their limbs is impaired, will run even all the way to Spoletium. Such are the habits of the nobles.
[Critique of the customs of the common people of Rome]
But of the multitude of lowest condition and greatest poverty some spend the entire night in wineshops, some lurk in the shade of the awnings of the theatres, which Catulus in his aedileship, imitating Campanian wantonness, was the first to spread. Otherwise they quarrel with one another in their games at dice, making a disgusting sound by drawing back the breath into their resounding nostrils. Still further, there is the favourite among all amusements: from sunrise until evening, in sunshine and in rain, they stand open-mouthed, examining minutely the good points or the defects of charioteers and their horses. And it is most remarkable to see an innumerable crowd of plebeians [i.e. the lower strata], their minds filled with a kind of eagerness, hanging on the outcome of the chariot races. These and similar things prevent anything memorable or serious from being done in Rome. Accordingly, I must return to my subject.
Gallus Caesar’s [351- CE] lawlessness was now more widely extended. Becoming offensive to all good men, and from this point on showing no restraint, he harassed all parts of the East, sparing neither ex-magistrates nor the chief men of the cities, nor even the plebeians. . . [omitted remainder of narrative about Gallus Caesar.]
[For Ammianus’ subsequent discussion of Celts / Gauls, go to this link.]
[For Ammianus’ previous discussion of Isaurians, go to this link.]
[Critique of lifestyles among a few Roman elites]
(28.4.8–31) After long lasting and serious dispersion from affairs in Rome, constrained by the great mass of foreign events, I will return to a brief account of these, beginning with the prefecture of Olybrius [ca. 368-370 CE], which was exceedingly peaceful and mild. For he never allowed himself to be turned from humane conduct, but was careful and anxious that no word or act of his should ever be found harsh. He severely punished calumny, cut down the profits of the public treasury wherever it was possible, fully and impartially distinguished justice from injustice, and showed himself most lenient towards those whom he governed. But a cloud was thrown over all these merits by a fault which indeed was not harmful to the community, but yet was a stain on a high official. For during almost his entire private life, since he was inclined to luxury, he spent in playhouses and love affairs, though the latter were neither unlawful nor incestuous.
After him Ampelius governed the city, a man who himself also lusted after pleasures. Born at Antioch, he had been formerly marshal of the court, was twice raised to the rank of proconsul, and then, long afterwards, to the high honour of the prefecture. Although admirable in other respects and well suited to gaining the favour of the people, he was nevertheless sometimes hard, and I wish he had been steadfast of purpose. For he could have corrected in part, even though to a small extent, the incitements of appetite and gross gluttony, if he had not let himself be turned to laxity and thus lost enduring fame. For he gave orders that no wine-shop should be opened before the fourth hour, that no one of the common people should heat water, that up to a fixed hour of the day no one should offer cooked meat for sale, and that no respectable man should be seen chewing anything in public. These shameful acts, and others worse than these, had, by being constantly overlooked, blazed up to such unbridled heights that not even that celebrated Cretan Epimenides, if, after the manner of myth, he had been called up from the lower world and returned to our times, would have able single-handed to purify Rome. Such was the stain of incurable errors that had overwhelmed most people.
And first, as often, according to the quantity of topics, I will give an account of the delinquencies of the nobles and then of the common people, condensing the events in a rapid digression. Some men, distinguished (as they think) by famous fore-names, pride themselves beyond measure in being called Reburri, Flavonii, Pagonii, Gereones, and Dalii, along with Tarracii and Pherrasii, and many other equally fine-sounding indications of eminent ancestry. Others, resplendent in silken garments, as though they were to be led to death, or as if (to speak without any evil omen) they were bringing up the rear preceded by an army, are followed by a throng of slaves drawn up in troops, amid noise and confusion. When such men, each attended by fifty servants, have entered the vaulted rooms of a bath, they shout in threatening tones: “Where on earth are our attendants?” If they have learned that an unknown courtesan has suddenly appeared, some woman who has been a common prostitute of the crowd of our city, some old sexually promiscuous woman, they all strive to be the first to reach her, and caressing the new-comer, extol her with such disgraceful flattery as the Parthians do Semiramis, the Egyptians their Cleopatras, the Carians Artemisia, or the people of Palmyra Zenobia. And those who stoop to do such things are men in the time of whose forefathers a senator was punished with the censor’s brand of infamy, if he had dared, while this was still considered unseemly, to kiss his wife in the presence of their own daughter.
Some of these men, when one begins to salute them chest to chest, like menacing bulls turn to one side their heads, where they should be kissed, and offer their flatterers their knees to kiss or their hands, thinking that quite enough to ensure them a happy life. They believe that a stranger is given an abundance of all the duties of courtesy, even though the great men may perhaps be under obligation to him, if he is asked what hot baths or waters he uses, or at what house he has been put up.
Although they are so important and, in their own opinion, such cultivators of the virtues, if they learn that someone has announced that horses or chariots are coming from anywhere whatsoever, they hover over this same man and ask him questions as anxiously as their ancestors looked up to the two sons of Tyndareus, when they filled everything with joy by announcing those famous victories in the old days.
Their houses are frequented by idle chatterboxes, who with various pretenses of approval applaud every word of the man of loftier fortune, emulating the witty flatteries of the parasites in the comedies. For just as the parasites puff up boastful soldiers by attributing to them the sieges and battles against thousands of enemies, comparing them with the heroes of the old days, so these also, admiring the rows of columns hanging in the air with lofty façade, and the walls gleaming with the remarkable colours of precious stones, raise these noble men to the gods. Sometimes at their banquets the scales are even called for, in order to weigh the fish, birds, and dormice that are served, whose great size they recommend again and again, as hitherto unexampled, often repeating it to the weariness of those present, especially when thirty secretaries stand near by, with pen-cases and small tablets, recording these same items, so that the only thing lacking seems to be a schoolmaster.
Some of them hate learning as they do poison, and read with attentive care only Juvenal and Marius Maximus, in their boundless idleness handling no other books than these, for what reason it is not for my humble mind to judge. Whereas, considering the greatness of their fame and of their parentage, they should pore over many and varied works. They should learn that Socrates, when condemned to death and thrown into prison, asked a musician, who was skilfully rendering a song of the lyric poet Stesichoros, that he might be taught to do this while there was still time. And when the musician asked of what use that could be to him, since he was to die on the following day, Socrates replied: “In order that I may know something more before I depart from life.”
But a few among them are so strict in punishing offences, that if a slave is slow in bringing the hot water, they condemn him to suffer three hundred lashes. If a slave has intentionally killed a man, although many people insist that he be condemned to death, his master cries out: “What should a worthless fellow do, notorious for wicked deeds? But if he dares to do anything else like that from now on, he will be punished.” But the height of refinement with these men at present is that it is better for a stranger to kill any man’s brother than to decline his invitation to dinner. For a senator thinks that he is suffering the loss of a rich property, if the man whom he had, after considerable weighing of pros and cons, invited once, fails to appear at his table.
Some of them, if they make a longer journey to visit their estates, or to hunt by the labours of others, think that they have equalled the marches of Alexander the Great or of Caesar. Otherwise, if they have sailed in their brightly-painted boats from the lake of Avernus to Puteoli, it is the adventure of the golden fleece, especially if they should dare it in the hot season. And if amid the golden fans flies have lighted on the silken fringes, or through a rent in the hanging curtain a little ray of sun has broken in, they lament that they were not born in the land of the Kimmerians. Then when they come from the bath of Silvanus or from the healing waters of Mamaea, as any one of them emerges he has himself dried with the finest linens, opens the presses and carefully searches among garments shimmering with shifting light, of which he brings enough with him to clothe eleven men. At length, some are chosen and he puts them on. Then he takes back his rings, which, in order that the dampness may not injure them, he has handed to a servant, and after his fingers have been as good as measured to receive them, he departs.
In fact, if any veteran has recently retired because of his years from service with the emperor, such a company of admirers attend him that . . . [text missing in manuscript] is considered to be the leader of the old song. The others quietly listen to what he says. He alone, like the father of a family, tells irrelevant stories and entertaining tales, and in most of them cleverly deceiving his hearers.
Some of these people, though few in number, shrink from the name of gamblers, and therefore desire to be called rather dice-players, persons who differ from each other only as much as thieves do from bandits. But this must be admitted, that while all friendships at Rome are lukewarm, those alone which are formed at the gambling table, as if they were gained by glorious toil, have a bond of union and are united by a complete firmness of exceeding affection. So some members of these companies are found to be so harmonious that you would take them for the brothers Quintilius. You may see a man of low station, who is skilled in the secrets of dice-playing, walking abroad like Porcius Cato after his unexpected and unlooked-for defeat for the praetorship, with a set expression of dignity and sorrow because at some great banquet or assemblage a former proconsul was given a higher place of honour.
Some lie in wait for men of wealth, old or young, childless or unmarried, or even for those who have wives or children – for no distinction is observed in this respect – enticing them by wonderful trickeries to make their wills. When they have set their last decisions in order and left some things to these men, to humour whom they have made their wills in their favour, they promptly die, so that you would not think that the death was brought about by the working of the allotment of destiny, nor could an illness easily be proved by the testimony of witnesses. Nor is the funeral of these men attended by any mourners. Another, who attained some rank, moderate though it be, walking with neck puffed up, looks askance at his former acquaintances, so that you might think that a Marcellus was returning after the taking of Syracuse.
Many of these people, who deny that there are higher powers in heaven, neither appear in public nor eat a meal nor think they can with due caution take a bath, until they have critically examined the calendar and learned where, for example, the planet Mercury is, or what degree of the constellation of the Crab the moon occupies in its course through the heavens.
Another, if he finds a creditor of his demanding his due with too great urgency, resorts to a charioteer who is all too ready to dare any enterprise, and causes the creditor to be charged with being a poisoner; and he is not let off until he has surrendered the bill of indebtedness and paid heavy costs. And besides, the accuser has the voluntary debtor put in prison as if he were his property, and does not set him free until he acknowledges the debt.
In another place a wife by hammering day and night on the same anvil (as the old proverb has it) drives her husband to make a will, and the husband insistently urges his wife to do the same. Skilled jurists are brought in on both sides, one in a bedroom, the other, his rival, in the dining-room to discuss disputed points. These are joined by opposing interpreters of horoscopes, on the one side making profuse promises of prefectures and the burial of rich matrons, on the other telling women that for their husbands’ funerals now quietly approaching they must make the necessary preparations. And a maid-servant bears witness, by nature somewhat pale, . . . As Cicero says: “They know of nothing on earth that is good unless it brings gain. Of their friends, as of their cattle, they love those best from whom they hope to get the greatest profit.” When these people seek any loan, you will see them in slippers like a Micon or a Laches. When they are urged to pay, they wear such lofty buskins and are so arrogant that you would think them Kresphontes and Temenos, the famous Heraklidians. So much for the senate.
[Critique of lifestyles among the common people of Rome]
Let us now turn to the idle and lazy commons. Among them some who have no shoes are conspicuous as though they had cultured names, such as the Messores, Statarii, Semicupae and Serapini, and Cicymbricus, with Gluturinus and Trulla, and Lucanicus with Porclaca and Salsula, and countless others. These spend all their life with wine and dice, in low haunts, pleasures, and the games. Their temple, their dwelling, their assembly, and the height of all their hopes is the Circus Maximus. You may see many groups of them gathered in the fora, the cross-roads, the streets, and their other meeting-places, engaged in quarrelsome arguments with one another, some (as usual) defending this, others that. Among them those who have enjoyed a surfeit of life, influential through long experience, often swear by their grey hair and wrinkles that the state cannot exist if in the coming race the charioteer whom each favours is not first to rush forth from the barriers, and fails to round the turning-point closely with his ill-omened horses. And when there is such a dry rot of thoughtlessness, as soon as the longed-for day of the chariot-races begins to dawn, before the sun is yet shining clearly they all hasten in crowds to the spot at top speed, as if they would outstrip the very chariots that are to take part in the contest. Torn by their conflicting hopes about the result of the race, the greater number of them in their anxiety pass sleepless nights.
If from there they come to worthless theatrical pieces, any actor is hissed off the boards who has not won favour of the low rabble with money. And if this noisy form of demonstration is lacking, they cry in imitation of the Taurian descent group (gens) that all foreigners – on whose aid they have always depended and stood upright – should be driven from city. All this in foul and absurd terms, very different from the expressions of their interests and desires made by your common people in the old days, of whose many witty and happy sayings tradition tells us. And it has now come to this, that in place of the lively sound of approval from men appointed to applaud, at every public show an actor of short plays, a person who puts on animal fights, a charioteer, every kind of player, and the magistrates of higher and lower rank – no, even matrons – are greeted with the shout “You should be these fellows’ teachers!” but what they should learn no one is able to explain.
The greater number of these, given over to over-stuffing themselves with food, led by the charm of the odour of cooking and by the shrill voices of the women, like a flock of peacocks screaming with hunger, stand even from cockcrow beside the pots on tip-toe and gnaw the ends of their fingers as they wait for the dishes to cool. Others hang over the nauseous mass of half-raw meat, while it is cooking, watching it so intently that one would think that Demokritos with other dissectors was examining the internal organs of dismembered animals and showing by what means future generations might be cured of internal pains.
But enough for now about this account of affairs in the city. Now let us return to the other events which were caused by various incidents in the provinces.
[For Ammianus’ subsequent discussion of Maurians and Ausourianians, go to this link.]