Constantius, as though the Temple of Janus had been closed and all enemies had been laid low, was longing to visit Rome and, following the death of Magnentius, to hold a triumph, without a victory title and after shedding Roman blood. For he did not himself defeat any belligerent nation or learn that any had been defeated through the courage of his commanders, nor did he add anything to the empire, and in dangerous circumstances he was never seen to lead from the front, nor even to be among the front ranks. But he wanted to display an exaggeratedly long procession, standards stiff with gold and the beauty of his attendants, to a population who were living more peacefully, neither anticipating nor wishing to see this or anything like it. For perhaps he was unaware that some earlier emperors had been content with lictors in peacetime, but when the heat of battle could not allow inactivity, one of them had entrusted himself to a small fishing boat, blasted by raging gales, another had followed the example of the Decii and offered up his life in a vow for the state, and another had himself explored the enemy camp alongside the regular soldiers; that, in short, various of them had won renown for magnificent deeds, and so committed their glories to the distinguished memory of posterity. …
When he was approaching the city, observing with a serene expression the respectful attendance of the Senate, and the venerable likenesses of the patrician families, he thought, not like Cineas, the legate of Pyrrhus, that a multitude of kings had been assembled together, but rather that this was the refuge of the whole world [cumque urbi propinquaret, senatus officia, reuerendasque patriciae stirpis effigies, ore sereno contemplans, non ut Cineas ille Pyrrhi legatus, in unum coactam multitudinem regum, sed asylum mundi totius adesse existimabat]. Next, when he turned his gaze to the general populace, he was astonished at the speed with which every type of men from everywhere had flowed into Rome. As though he were trying to terrify the Euphrates or the Rhine with the sight of arms, with the standards in front of him on each side, he sat alone in a golden chariot, glittering with the shimmer of many different precious stones, whose flashes seemed to produce a flickering light. After many others had preceded him, he was surrounded by dragons, woven from purple cloth and affixed to the golden, bejewelled tips of spears, open to the wind with their broad mouths and so hissing as though roused with anger, trailing the coils of their tails in the wind [eumque post antegressos multiplices alios, purpureis subtegminibus texti, circumdedere dracones, hastarum aureis gemmatisque summitatibus illigati, hiatu uasto perflabiles, et ideo uelut ira perciti sibilantes, caudarumque uolumina relinquentes in uentum]. Then there came a twin column of armed men, with shields and plumed helmets, shining with glittering light, clothed in gleaming cuirasses, with armoured horsemen, whom they call clibanarii, arranged among them, masked and protected by breastplates, encircled with iron bands, so that you might have thought them to be statues finished by the hand of Praxiteles, not men [sparsique catafracti equites, quos clibanarios dictitant, personati thoracum muniti tegminibus, et limbis ferreis cincti, ut Praxitelis manu polita crederes simulacra, non uiros]. Slender rings of metal plates, fitted to the curves of the body, clothed them, spread across all their limbs, so that, in whatever direction necessity moved their joints, their clothing moved likewise, since the joins had been made to fit so well.
When he was hailed as Augustus with favourable cries, [Constantius] did not shudder at the din that thundered from hills and shores, but showed himself unmoved, as he appeared in his provinces. For, when passing through high gates, he stooped his short body, and, keeping his gaze straight, as though his neck were fixed, he turned his head neither right nor left, as though an image of a man, and he was never seen to nod when the wheel shook, or to spit or wipe or rub his face or nose, or to move his hand [nam et corpus perhumile curuabat portas ingrediens celsas, et uelut collo munito, rectam aciem luminum tendens, nec dextra uultum nec laeua flectebat, tamquam figmentum hominis, nec, cum rota concuteret, nutans, nec spuens, aut os aut nasum tergens uel fricans, manumue agitans uisus est umquam]. Although this behaviour was an affectation, it, and other aspects of his more private life, were however indications of extraordinary endurance, granted to him alone, as it was given to be supposed.
This passage, which describes the
of Ammianus Marcellinus. This historical work was completed by the retired military officer in around 390, with the surviving books covering the period from 353 to the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople in 378. Unsurprisingly, this passage is also one of the most debated. Throughout his work, Ammianus regularly criticized Constantius as a weak, vicious ruler, influenced by women and, in particular, eunuchs, and so contrasted him with his cousin and successor Julian, the emperor who receives the most favourable treatment within this text. The degree and nature of criticism within this particular passage has, however, been the subject of a variety of wildly differing interpretations. It is clear that, at the outset, Ammianus is inveighing against the notion of holding a triumph for victory in a civil war, but there has been debate over whether Constantius was actually celebrating a triumph or merely the anniversary of his accession. Similarly, the description of the Senate as ‘the refuge of the whole world’ has been read in contrasting ways, being regarded as derogatory by Johannes Straub, as neutral, or even positive, by Pierre Dufraigne, and as respectful by R.C. Blockley. While this passage as a whole is generally read as an attack on Constantius for his pretentions to ill-deserved military glory, it also raises the question of whether Ammianus was also criticizing Constantius for the way in which he performed his
, emphasizing his pompous and autocratic behaviour in order to contrast him with Julian, who preferred to behave more like a
in public. Of course, such a reading almost inevitably produces a portrait of Ammianus as an impractically nostalgic figure, harking back to a style of rule which was anachronistic in the post-Diocletianic Later Roman Empire. In addition, Ammianus also presented Julian as performing an
into Constantinople in 361, employing some phrases that were similar to those used to describe Constantius’ procession in 357. Furthermore, as John Matthews has illustrated, Ammianus’ presentations of the occasions when Julian eschewed late-antique imperial protocol are not without tinges of criticism, and his judgement on the propriety of different modes of imperial behaviour varied dependent on the context.