On 22 June I left Vienne at the head of an army of twelve thousand men—cuirassiers, crossbowmen and infantry. The whole town came out to see us off. Florentius radiated irony, while Marcellus could hardly disguise his amusement. I am sure that they thought this was the last they would see of me. Helena bade me farewell with stoic dignity. She was the essence of a Roman matron, quite prepared for me to return upon my shield.
It was a sunny day as we rode out of the city. On my right was Sallust and on my left Oribasius. Directly in front of me a standard-bearer carried a hideously lifelike image of Constantius, crowned and wearing the imperial robe. My cousin had recently sent me this effigy, with a long set of instructions on how I was to show it off. He also reminded me that I had not been sent to Gaul as monarch but as a representative of the Emperor whose principal task was to display the imperial robe and image to the people. Despite this small humiliation, I was in high spirits as we took to the road.
We arrived at Autun 26 June. On that same day I defeated the Germans and set the city free. Note to secretary: At this point insert relevant chapter from my book, The Gallic Wars. It should be that section which covers the campaign from Autun to Auxerre to Troyes to Rheims, where I passed the month of August.
Priscus: As Julian described, Sallust on his right, Oribasius on his left, and myself just behind.
His official account of the campaign is generally accurate. From Julius Caesar on, commanders tend to give themselves the best of it in their memoirs, but Julian was usually honest. Of course he tended not to mention his mistakes.
He does not tell how he lost the better part of a legion through carelessness: he sent them through a forest where he had been warned that there were Germans… and there were Germans. But in general, Julian was a cautious commander. He seldom committed a man unless he was certain that the odds were in his favour. Or so the experts assure us. I know practically nothing of military matters, even though I served with Julian both in Gaul and Persia. I was not of course a soldier, though I did fight from time to time, with no pleasure. I experienced none of that blood lust he referred to some pages back, a rather surprising admission because in conversation Julian never once admitted to a liking for war.
Sallust took care of all details. He was most capable and in every way an admirable man. Too admirable, perhaps? One often had the feeling that he was playing a part (usually that of Marcus Aurelius); he was invariably demure and diffident and modest and sensible, all those things the world believes it admires. Which is the point. Less self-conscious men invariably have traits we do not admire. The good and the bad are all mixed together. Sallust was all good. That must have taken intense self- discipline as well as the awareness that he was indeed trying to be something he was not. But no matter what his motives, he was impressive, and a good influence on Julian.
Julian lifted the siege at Autun. He then marched north to Auxerre. He rested there a few days. He always took every possible opportunity to refresh his troops, unlike so many generals who drive them past their strength. From Auxerre we moved to Troyes. This was a difficult journey. We were continually harassed by Germans. They are a frightening-looking people, tall and muscular, with long hair dyed bright red, a tribal custom. They dress pretty much like us, wearing armour pilfered from Roman corpses. In open country, they are easily vanquished, but in forests they are dangerous.
At Troyes we spent several hours outside the walls trying to explain to the frightened garrison that we were not Germans and that this was indeed the Caesar. Finally Julian himself, with that “hideously lifelike” image of Constantius beside him, ordered the people to open the gates.
We stayed at Troyes a day. Then we moved on to Rheims. Julian had previously agreed with Florentius that the main army of Gaul would be concentrated there in August, preparatory to retaking Cologne. So Marcellus was already at Rheims when we got there. Shortly after we arrived, a military council was called. Weary from the long ride and longing for the baths, I accompanied Julian and Sallust to the meeting.
Marcellus was hardly pleased to find Julian so obviously thriving on military life. When Julian inquired if the troops were ready, he was told that they were not. When would they be ready? Evasion. Finally: a major offensive was not possible this year.
Then Julian rose and lied with the genius of a Ulysses. I could hardly believe my ears. He spoke first in sorrow. “I had hoped to find all of you here eager and ready to fight the tribes. Instead, I find nothing is planned and we are on the defensive, as usual.” Marcellus began to mutter dangerously but Julian was in full flow. You know what he was like when the spirit (often identified as Helios) was upon him.
“I was sent here, General, by the divine Emperor to show his image to the barbarians. I was also sent here to recover the cities you have lost. I was sent here to drive the savages back to their forests beyond the Rhine. I have sworn as Caesar to conquer them or to die.”
“But Caesar, we…” That was all Marcellus was allowed to say. As Julian talked through him, he withdrew a document from his tunic. It was the booklet on etiquette that Constantius had given him. “Do you see this, General? All of you?” Julian waved it like a standard in the air. No one could tell what it was exactly, but the imperial seal was perfectly visible.
“It is from the divine Emperor. It is to me. It arrived by special messenger at Autun. It contains orders. We are to regain Cologne. Those are his commands and we are his slaves. We have no choice but to obey.”
There was consternation on Marcellus’s side of the council table. No one had heard of these instructions for the excellent reason that they did not exist. But the bold lie worked largely because Marcellus was a true politician in the sense that he could not admit that there was anything which he ought to know that in fact he did not know. He gave Julian the army.