Border Wars and Christian Persecution
from the Church History of Socrates Scholasticus
Renewal of Hostilities between the Romans and Persians after the Death of
Yazdegird I (399-420/1) King of the Persians.
Yazdegird, king of the Persians, who had in no way molested the Christians in his dominions,
having died, his son Vararanes Varahran (Bahram)V (420/1-438/9) by name succeeded him in the kingdom. This prince yielding to the influence of the magi, persecuted the Christians there with rigor, by inflicting on them a variety of Persian punishments and tortures. They were therefore on account of the oppression obliged to desert their country and seek refuge among the Romans, entreating them not to suffer them to be completely extirpated. Atticus the bishop received these suppliants with great benignity, and did his utmost to help them in whatsoever way it was possible: accordingly he made the emperor Theodosius acquainted with the facts. It happened at the same time that another grievance of the Romans against Persians came to light. The Persians, that is to say, would not send back the laborers in the gold mines who had been hired from among the Romans; and they also plundered the Roman merchants. The bad feeling which these things produced was greatly increased by the flight of the Persian Christians into the Roman territories. For the Persian king immediately sent an embassy to demand the fugitives. But the Romans were by no means disposed to deliver them up; not only as desirous of defending their suppliants, but also because they were ready to do anything for the sake of the Christian religion. For which reason they chose rather to renew the war with the Persians, than to suffer the Christians to be miserably destroyed. The league was accordingly broken, and a fierce war followed. Of which war I deem it not unseasonable to give some brief account.
The Roman emperor first sent a body of troops under the command of the general Ardaburius; who making an irruption through Armenia into Persia, ravaged one of its provinces called Azazene. Narsaeus the Persian general marched against him with the Persian army; but on coming to an engagement he was defeated, and obliged to retreat. Afterwards he judged it advantageous to make an unexpected irruption through Mesopotamia into the Roman territories there unguarded, thinking by this means to be revenged on the enemy. But this design of Narsaeus did not escape the observation of the Roman general. Having therefore plundered Azazene, he then himself also hastily marched into Mesopotamia. Wherefore Narsaeus, although furnished with a large army, was prevented from invading the Roman provinces; but arriving at Nisibis -a city in the possession of the Persians situated on the frontiers of both empires-he sent Ardaburius desiring that they might make mutual arrangements about carrying on the war, and appoint a time and place for an engagement. But he said to the messengers, `Tell Narsaeus that the Roman emperors will not fight when it pleases him.' The emperor perceiving that the Persian was mustering his whole force, made additional levies to his army, and put his whole trust in God for the victory: and that the king was not without immediate benefit from this pious confidence the following circumstance proves. As the Constantinopolitans were in great consternation, and apprehensive respecting the issue of the war, angels from God appeared to some persons in Bithynia who were travelling to Constantinople on their own affairs, and bade them tell the people not to be alarmed, but pray to God and be assured that the Romans would be conquerors. For they said that they themselves were appointed by God to defend them. When this message was circulated it not only comforted the residents of the city, but rendered the soldiers more courageous. The seat of war being transferred, as we have said, from Armenia. to Mesopotamia, the Romans shut up the Persians in the city of Nisibis, which they besieged; and having constructed wooden towers which they advanced by means of machines to the walls, they slew great numbers of those who defended them, as well as of those who ran to their assistance. When Vararanes the Persian monarch learned that his province of Azazene on the one hand had been desolated, and that on the other his army was closely besieged in the city of Nisibis, he resolved to march in person with all his forces against the Romans: but dreading the Roman valor, he implored the aid of the Saracens, who were then governed by a warlike chief named Alamundarus. This prince accordingly brought with him a large reinforcement of Saracen auxiliaries, exhorted the king of the Persians to fear nothing, for that he would soon reduce the Romans under his power, and deliver Antioch in Syria into his hands. But the event did not realize these promises; for God infused into the minds of the Saracens a terrible panic; and imagining that the Roman army was falling upon them, and finding no other way of escape, they precipitated themselves, armed as they were, into the river Euphrates, wherein nearly one hundred thousand of them were drowned. Such was the nature of the panic.
The Romans besieging Nisibis, understanding that the king of Persia was bringing with him a great number of elephants, became alarmed in their turn, burnt all the machines they had used in carrying on the siege, and retired into their own country. What engagements afterwards took place, and how Areobindus another Roman general killed the bravest of the Persians in single combat, and by what means Ardaburius destroyed seven Persian commanders in an ambuscade, and in what manner Vitian another Roman general vanquished the remnant of the Saracen forces, I believe I ought to pass by, lest I should digress too far from my subject.
Kind Treatment of the Persian Captives by Acacius Bishop of Amida.
A noble action of Acacius bishop of Amida, at that time greatly enhanced his reputation among all men. As the Roman soldiery would on no consideration restore to the Persian king the captives whom they had taken, these captives, about seven thousand in number, were being destroyed by famine in devastating Azazene, and this greatly distressed the king of the Persians. Then Acacius thought such a matter was by no means to be trifled with; having therefore assembled his clergy, he thus addressed them: `Our God, my brethren, needs neither dishes nor cups; for he neither eats nor drinks, nor is in want of anything. Since then, by the liberality of its faithful members the church possesses many vessels both of gold and silver, it behooves us to sell them, that by the money thus raised we may be able to redeem the prisoners and l also supply them with food.' Having said these things and many others similar to these, he ordered the vessels to be melted down, and from the proceeds paid the soldiers a ransom for their captives, whom he supported for some time; and then furnishing them with what was needful for their journey, sent them back to their sovereign. This benevolence on the part of the excellent Acacius, astonished the king of the Persians, as if, the Romans were accustomed to conquer their enemies as well by their beneficence in peace as their prowess in war. They say also that the Persian king wished that Acacius should come into his presence, that he might have the pleasure of beholding such a man; a wish which by the emperor Theodosius' order was soon gratified. So signal a victory having through Divine favor been achieved by the Romans, many who were illustrious for their eloquence, wrote panegyrics in honor of the emperor, and recited them in public. The empress herself also composed a poem in heroic verse: for she had excellent literary taste; being the daughter of Leontius the Athenian sophist, she had been instructed in every kind of learning by her father; Atticus the bishop had baptized her a little while previous to her marriage with the emperor, and had then given her the Christian name of Eudocia,
instead of her pagan one of Athena¤s.