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THE EMBARKATION OF CONSTANTIUS.
A CELTIC FRAGMENT.
By J. FITZGERALD PENNIE, Author of “ The Royal Minstrel," “ Britain's
Historical Drama," Epic Poems," 8c.
On the storm-infested sea of Garumna* rode the navy of Constantius Chlorus. His ships of burthen, transports, and war-galleys, with their numerous banks of skilful rowers, waited to convey him and all his legions, drawn from distant lands, across the ocean to the shores of Britain. High on Rupella's strand was erected an altar to Neptune, by which stood the arch-flamen of the fleet, and many priests in their purple robes and pointed copes, with the aruspices and augurs. The altar was strewed with verbena, or sacred herbs, grass, and flowers, from which the fame-wreathed smoke ascended lightly on the ocean winds. The heads of seven white bulls, devoted to the sacred fire, were crowned with garlands, and from their horns streamed fillets of purest white. Cornet, trump, and pipe, awoke the hymn to the god of waters, and all the armed ranks throughout the many legions, drawn up on the shore, joined in the loud chorus, which floated round islet, cliff, and rock, while echo repeated from every hollow cavern the soul-thrilling strains; then sunk the pealing anthem into silence, and the high pontiff chanted to all the gods a solemn invocation for safety and success to Constantius and his warlike host; then he scattered on the heads of the victim beasts, the mingled mola, frankincense, and corn, and, from a golden vase, poured the wine libation, first touching it with his lips, between their gilded horns, plucking out by the roots the curling hair from their white foreheads, which he cast as a primeval offering into the flames. The victimarii and popæ, with their garments drawn up, prepared with all due rites 'the sacrifice. The aruspices stood prognosticating around the dying beasts, and in their vitals read happy tokens of success to the martial enterprise. The sacrificial parts laid by the flamens on the blazing altar, were soon consumed with prosperous omen.
Brightly towered the pyramidic flame, smokeless and pure, while the glad priests burst forth into pæans of joy and victory to their chief, with chanted prophesy of boundless dominion in the sca-encir
* The sea of Biscay, or Aquitain, so called by Cæsar.
cled isle of the west. The tubicines, with horn and widemouthed clarion, poured from their glancing instruments fresh notes of joy; the clanging cymbals flung their flashing splendors to the sun ; the flamens threw flowery garlands on the waves; and every legion, eager to win new glory in that land so famed, beyond the seas, uplifted the sonorous acclaim from more than thrice ten thousand voices, sounding like the mighty tempest when it rushes along the skirts of some mountain forest.
Constantius paid but little attention to the worship of Neptune, or the propitious omens of the sacrifice; for notwithstanding his late vision or dream of the ocean,* he still retained strong doubts respecting the plurality of gods, and all the wild theogony, imposing forms, and endless ceremonials of the Roman religion. The ritual offerings performed, Constantius Cæsar commanded that a transvictio, or a review of the whole army, should take place previous to its embarkation. He mounted his beautiful charger, of the Palmatian race of Cappadocia,t fleet as the wind in his speed, and white as the silvery cloud that embosoms the moonbeam. He was adorned with trappings of purple and gold; his bridle was also of gold, set with rubies and pearls; round his arching neck hung massy chains of the same precious metal; and he tossed his flowing mane on high, interweaved with sapphires on threads of silver.
And now every manipulus and cohort in each legion of foot, and justus equitatus of horse and knightly troop, with the two great bodies of auxiliaries, and their battalions of the Extraordinarii and Ablecti, marched in magnificent procession before their imperial leader along the sandy shores of Rupella.
First, the light-armed Velites passed in distinct companies, each bearing seven javelins, with slender points like arrows; and a parma, or orbed shield, covered with leather; on their heads they wore helmets overlaid with the shaggy skins, and crested with the figures of various forest animals, which gave them a fierce and savage-like appearance. These, mingled with native Romans, were of many nations, from the shores of Celtiberia to the isles of Greece and the distant regions of Syria. Then marched rank on rank,
* This refers to another portion of the fragment.
+ See Godefroy on the sacred breed of Cappadocian horses, destined for the service of the emperors.
cohort on cohort, to martial sounds of triumph, and horn, syrinx, and cymbal-clash; all the heavy-armed legions with their prior and posterior centurions, bearing the vine-rods of their authority at the head of each centesimal division. These warriors had long bucklers with iron bosses, covered with plates of radiant steel; their head-pieces, of burnished brass, reaching down to their shoulders, were nobly adorned with glittering crests and lofty plumes of many colours: their coats of mail and breast-plates were formed of scales and iron rings and broad pieces of polished metal: their greaves were of brass, and each man was armed with a broad pointless sword, and two spears, his military robe or sagum, being fastened on the shoulder with a massy clasp of silver. As they moved along in martial order to the war-breathing notes of the æneatorii, in the full blaze of the western sun, with trophied ensign and streaming banner, rich with gold, with the winged figures of victory, and the images of their gods, the appearance of the host was truly glorious, and worthy the warlike grandeur of the world's proud conquerors.
Between each thousand passed the military tribunes, the legati consulares, and the legati prætorii, splendid in their war-habiliments as Darius, when he met the Grecian hero on the banks of the Granicus. Their helmets shone like globes of fire, and their breast-plates shot forth vivid streams of light. These troops were all of true Roman blood, and well experienced in the discipline and exercises of camp and field. Every soldier wore a wreath of olive, and bore the gifts and ornaments which he had received from the emperors or their legates, as a reward for noble service in the cause of Rome and in pursuit of glory.
Down bowed banner, trophy, helm and plumes, spear and lance, as the military pageant passed before the Cæsar; the soldiers waved on high the trophies of their might, in the hour of victory, and up rose the universal shout of thousands on thousands, with the long and sonorous peal of many trumpets, and the brazen clamour of shield and sword, till the concussio armorum sounded like thunder from cliff to cliff.
Then followed in dense masses the evocati, whose files were formed of the oldest and most experienced soldiers, invited by the emperor himself, or his officers, to join the army, every man ranking in honour with the centurions. These, with their officers, were drawn from the banks of the
golden-sanded Tagus, from the mountains of Vandalitia, the Ausonian shores of the mid-sea, the primeval forests of Almaine, the vine-dales of Burgundy, the wilds of Thrace, the date-groves of Egypt, and the plains of Bythinia; who, although of many nations, had for their long and well-tried services received the honour of being made free citizens of Rome. These veteran warriors guarded the imperial banner, which now moved forward, waving its refulgent folds on the ocean winds, like a cloud all glorious with the departing light of heaven, surrounded by the gilded images of the emperor, and the worshipped eagles of victory, that seemed to Hing the lightning from their golden pinions, spread out in triumph o'er all the vanquished regions of the world.
Next came the knights and troops of horse, in long and imposing array Each turma led by its decuriona, or commander of ten, and between every cohort belonging to each legion rode, in all the far-gleaming pomp of arms on his caparisoned steed, a præfectus alæ.
The Roman chivalry was composed of stern and high-minded spirits, armed in flashing cuirass, helmet and crest, and lofty plume, with sword and spiked javelin; many of them were enrolled in the noble equestrian order, and all were gallant warriors of prowess and fame. After these followed the cavalry of the allies and auxiliaries; some ensheathed in brigandines of Roman mail, and others in the strange and lighter armour of the multitudinous nations who had submitted to the wide dominion of the eternal city. These plunderers of the camp were Numidian bands from the banks of Mazafran, and the lion-hunted deserts of Maritania, who gracefully bestrode their beautiful Arab steeds, adorned with silver bells and skins of the spotted leopard, guiding them through the battle's fiercest tumult, without curb or bridle; mountaineers from the highlands of the towering Pyrenees, and horsemen from the green valleys through which the Iberus loves to wander, and the myrtle-groves that shade the golden shores of the Tagus, who, mounted on their fire-eyed jennets of coal-black hue, couched their bright spears in warlike pride, which flashed to the sun, as their well-ranged enfilades passed onward, like lightning glances from the clouds of evening when they spread their dark skirts o'er the northern sky. Other fierce-visaged squadrons formed the rear; warriors from Æmathia, famed throughout the world for their bravery and skill in the strife of arms and Thracian horse, whose savage riders were
grimly painted, like the Britons, to render their appearance more formidable and terrific in the hour of battle, and who in their home-wars sacrificed their captives on the altars of their barbarous gods. Bow and quiver hung gleaming on their brawny shoulders, and their sheathless swords shone in long and silvery lines of light.
This grand and military spectacle of Roman pride and power, having passed along the shore in review before Constantius, the army wheeled about, and formed into perfect order of battle. Cæsar gazed long on this imposing host of many realms and tongues, and his heart dilated with exultation, glorying in their numbers, their might, and their proud achievements, when by him led to former victories over the stern Goth, the wild Scythian, and the ferocious Almanian.
The command now issued from his lips that the soldiers should strike their tents, and hasten to embark by sunset on board the galleys. The order of the army was instantly broken up: then what a scene of running to and fro, of noisy work and busy preparation ! Down were laid the pretorian pavilions in the upper camp; down fell the farextended lines of tents prostrate on the ground. These, with altar, image, ensign, and eagle, the cumbrous luggage of the camp, balistæ and catapultæ, for throwing great stones and other missiles, battering-ram, and tolleon, for lifting soldiers to the top of the walls of cities besieged, with all the machinery of destructive warfare, were hurried to the shore, and hoisted on board the galley-transports. So when in the lovely valleys of Helvetia the mountain avalanch, down rushing, stops the course of some flowing river till it becomes a broad and tranquil lake, reflecting in its waveless surface forest and hamlet spire, with snowtipt alp and rosy sky, suddenly at evening hour, when all is still, save the music of the groves and the song of the chamoise-hunter, returning homeward, the mighty waters burst their trembling barriers; then sweeps the inundation forth with thunderous roar on every side; woods are torn up by the roots, and flocks, herds, peasants, and villagers, are lost and overwhelmed in the general destruction.
The host embarks; squadron on squadron presses forward, horse on horse, and legion on legion, all eager to dare with dauntless spirit quicksand and tempest, dashing billow and distant foe. The shores resound with the clang of brazen armour, the shrill neighing of war-steeds, the