Chiefly a pastoral people they tended, on foot or on horseback, their numerous herds in the luxuriant meadows of the modern Shirvan; their few tilled fields were still cultivated with the old wooden plough without iron share. Coined money was unknown, and they did not count beyond a hundred. Each of their tribes, twenty-six in all, had its own chief and spoke its distinct dialect. Far superior in number to the Iberians, the Albanians could not at all cope with them in bravery. The mode of fighting was on the whole the same with both nations; they fought chiefly with arrows and light javelins, which they frequently after the Indian fashion discharged from their lurking-places in the woods behind the trunks of trees, or hurled down from the tops of trees on the foe; the Albanians had also numerous horsemen partly mailed after the Medo-Armenian manner with heavy cuirasses and greaves. Both nations lived on their lands and pastures in a complete independence preserved from time immemorial. Nature itself as it were, seems to have raised the Caucasus between Europe and Asia as a rampart against the tide of national movements; there the arms of Cyrus and of Alexander had formerly found their limit; now the brave garrison of this partition-wall set themselves to defend it also against the Romans.

Albanians Conquered By Pompeius Iberians Conquered

Alarmed by the information that the Roman commander-in-chief intended next spring to cross the mountains and to pursue the Pontic king beyond the Caucasus--for Mithradates, they heard, was passing the winter in Dioscurias (Iskuria between Suchum Kale and Anaklia) on the Black Sea--the Albanians under their prince Oroizes first crossed the Kur in the middle of the winter of 688-689 and threw themselves on the army, which was divided for the sake of its supplies into three larger corps under Quintus Metellus Celer, Lucius Flaccus, and Pompeius in person. But Celer, on whom the chief attack fell, made a brave stand, and Pompeius, after having delivered himself from the division sent to attack him, pursued the barbarians beaten at all points as far as the Kur. Artoces the king of the Iberians kept quiet and promised peace and friendship; but Pompeius, informed that he was secretly arming so as to fall upon the Romans on their march in the passes of the Caucasus, advanced in the spring of 689, before resuming the pursuit of Mithradates, to the two fortresses just two miles distant from each other, Harmozica (Horum Ziche or Armazi) and Seusamora (Tsumar) which a little above the modern Tiflis command the two valleys of the river Kur and its tributary the Aragua, and with these the only passes leading from Armenia to Iberia. Artoces, surprised by the enemy before he was aware of it, hastily burnt the bridge over the Kur and retreated negotiating into the interior. Pompeius occupied the fortresses and followed the Iberians to the other bank of the Kur; by which he hoped to induce them to immediate submission. But Artoces retired farther and farther into the interior, and, when at length he halted on the river Pelorus, he did so not to surrender but to fight. The Iberian archers however withstood not for a moment the onset of the Roman legions, and, when Artoces saw the Pelorus also crossed by the Romans, he submitted at length to the conditions which the victor proposed, and sent his children as hostages.

Pompeius Proceeds To Colchis

Pompeius now, agreeably to the plan which he had formerly projected, marched through the Sarapana pass from the region of the Kur to that of the Phasis and thence down that river to the Black Sea, where on the Colchian coast the fleet under Servilius already awaited him. But it was for an uncertain idea, and an aim almost unsubstantial, that the army and fleet were thus brought to the richly fabled shores of Colchis. The laborious march just completed through unknown and mostly hostile nations was nothing when compared with what still awaited them, and if they should really succeed in conducting the force from the mouth of the Phasis to the Crimea, through warlike and poor barbarian tribes, on inhospitable and unknown waters, along a coast where at certain places the mountains sink perpendicularly into the sea and it would have been absolutely necessary to embark in the ships-- if such a march should be successfully accomplished, which was perhaps more difficult than the campaigns of Alexander and Hannibal-- what was gained by it even at the best, corresponding at all to its toils and dangers? The war doubtless was not ended, so long as the old king was still among the living; but who could guarantee that they would really succeed in catching the royal game for the sake of which this unparalleled chase was to be instituted? Was it not better even at the risk of Mithradates once more throwing the torch of war into Asia Minor, to desist from a pursuit which promised so little gain and so many dangers? Doubtless numerous voices in the army, and still more numerous voices in the capital, urged the general to continue the pursuit incessantly and at any price; but they were the voices partly of foolhardy Hotspurs, partly of those perfidious friends, who would gladly at any price have kept the too-powerful Imperator aloof from the capital and entangled him amidst interminable undertakings in the east. Pompeius was too experienced and too discreet an officer to stake his fame and his army in obstinate adherence to so injudicious an expedition; an insurrection of the Albanians in rear of the army furnished the pretext for abandoning the further pursuit of the king and arranging its return. The fleet received instructions to cruise in the Black Sea, to protect the northern coast of Asia Minor against any hostile invasion, and strictly to blockade the Cimmerian Bosporus under the threat of death to any trader who should break the blockade. Pompeius conducted the land troops not without great hardships through the Colchian and Armenian territory to the lower course of the Kur and onward, crossing the stream, into the Albanian plain.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book